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Bernie Schreiber

In early 2017 I made the short-haul flight to Barcelona in Spain for a round of the FIM X-Tri­als World Cham­pi­onship at the mag­nif­i­cent Palau Sant Jordi Sta­dium. It was a very spe­cial oc­ca­sion as the Barcelona Indoor event also cel­e­brated 40 years. The or­gan­is­ers had in­vited many peo­ple as­so­ci­ated with the event in its long his­tory, in­clud­ing one of my all-time favourite rid­ers Bernie Schreiber. As the only Amer­i­can World Tri­als Cham­pion, he is still as pop­u­lar now as he was back in the day. I had last seen Bernie speak at the Scot­tish Six Days Trial in the mid-eight­ies but, as I glanced across to a ta­ble of ac­tiv­ity, there he was, as busy as ever, sign­ing au­to­graphs for an excited crowd rem­i­nis­cent of the days when he was con­test­ing the world tri­als cham­pi­onship. Noth­ing had changed. Yes, he was a lit­tle bit older, but as we shook hands, it was as though time had stood still. Words: John Hulme • Pic­tures: Francesco Rap­pini, Eric Kitchen, Yoomee Ar­chive, Clau­dio, Toon Van De Vliet, Mauri/Fontsere Col­lec­tion and the Gi­ulio Mauri Copy­right

Inext came into con­tact with Bernie in Toulouse at the 2018 X-Trial, where he told me he had been in­vited to travel to Great Bri­tain to com­pete in the Bul­taco Re­union Trial run by the West­more­land Mo­tor­cy­cle Club. As many of our read­ers will tell you, they had a fan­tas­tic day at the event as for the first time in many years. He was back rid­ing with his fel­low works rid­ers and meet­ing with his many friends he had made over the years. Af­ter the event, the Clas­sic Trial Mag­a­zine of­fice tele­phone rang many times, and we re­ceived emails en­dors­ing how good it was to see Bernie back with the boots on and rid­ing in tri­als. For those who want to know a lit­tle more about Mr Schreiber, read on!

Come and have a look

The in­tro­duc­tion to the ‘Dirt’ took place af­ter a friend of his fa­ther sug­gested they come and watch his son on his tri­als ma­chine. Both Bernie and his fa­ther were excited at what they had seen, and a con­verted Kawasaki 90 was soon en­tered in a com­pe­ti­tion, and he beat his friend’s son to fin­ish seventh. It was now a life of tri­als at the Schreiber house­hold.

The next step was to a Bul­taco Lo­bito 125cc in the early 70s, and soon the suc­cess came along. He had the tri­als ‘bug’. In Los An­ge­les, the largest Bul­taco dealer, soon of­fered him a con­tract to com­pete in tri­als on a more pro­fes­sional level. As with many of the Span­ish fac­to­ries at this time, they would send rep­re­sen­ta­tives to help them de­velop the tri­als mar­ket, and the USA was no dif­fer­ent. He im­pressed Bul­taco enough to be of­fered the op­por­tu­nity in 1977. As a 17-year-old he trav­elled to Europe to com­pete in the FIM World Tri­als Cham­pi­onship. Af­ter the long-haul flight across the wa­ter, he ar­rived in Brus­sels to be met by the Bel­gian Bul­taco im­porter Mar­cel Wiertz — he was wear­ing a tee-shirt in the cold of Fe­bru­ary.

Speak­ing in Amer­i­can/English, com­mu­ni­ca­tion im­me­di­ately be­came a prob­lem and the cold, wet weather was not what he had an­tic­i­pated. Af­ter a few days of ad­just­ing to the cli­mate, it was straight into a trial.

His first event was typ­i­cal of the Euro­pean tri­als scene at that time of the year with cold weather and muddy con­di­tions greeted by many tri­als fans who lined the haz­ards to watch the Amer­i­can in ac­tion on the Bul­taco.

Sun­shine please

As the world cham­pi­onship sea­son ar­rived so did the sun­shine, and he loved his time in Spain. Af­ter strug­gling in the cold and wet open­ing rounds in Ire­land, Great Bri­tain and Bel­gium, he showed his full po­ten­tial to come home third in Spain with the sun on his back, mak­ing him very happy. Bul­taco was pretty pleased too.

One week later at Sancerre in France, he was fifth and then took sec­ond in Ger­many, and fin­ished his first sea­son in seventh po­si­tion over­all.

Liv­ing away from home at such a young age was dif­fi­cult. Imag­ine; no mo­bile phones and you are liv­ing in Europe. Some kids find it tough in 2018. Of­fered the op­por­tu­nity to stay in Europe with Bul­taco, he took it and knuck­led un­der in the cold and wet once again at the open­ing rounds of the 1978 sea­son. It was tough, but he was learn­ing all the time. With only a few points to show for his ef­forts and no points scored in Bel­gium the break­through would come in France at round four. In a dry com­pe­ti­tion, which fea­tured many turns and rocks, and with the sun shin­ing on his back once again, it felt very much like his Amer­i­can home. He won a very tough trial part­ing with over 100 marks lost. He had ar­rived!

Next, it was Spain some 15 days later at the home of Bul­taco. Many of the work­force had come along to the event to watch their new Amer­i­can star in ac­tion against their other fac­tory sup­ported rid­ers in­clud­ing the 1975 world cham­pion Martin Lamp­kin with his brother Alan, the de­fend­ing world cham­pion Yrjo Ves­ter­i­nen and its top Span­ish rider Manuel Soler.

The main man, Mr Bulto, the owner of the fac­tory, came along for what he con­sid­ered the most im­por­tant trial of the year. Disil­lu­sioned af­ter the open­ing three rounds, the confidence soon came back in France, and, in Spain, he smashed it with an­other win on a very emo­tional day for him­self and the Bul­taco fam­ily. Win­ning two more rounds, one on home Amer­i­can soil and the other in Italy, it lifted to him to third over­all in the cham­pi­onship at the end of the year.

Should I stay or should I go?

He now knew what was needed to win the ti­tle, but again it was a tough start to the year in Ire­land af­ter he re­tired with bent front forks. With a poor show­ing in Great Bri­tain, he was still ques­tion­ing whether he should stay in Europe or re­turn home. Ves­ter­i­nen was putting up a tremen­dous fight for the ti­tle, but for Bernie, the saviour to the se­ries came in Spain with his first win of 1979.

As he found his form, Vesty’s de­serted him and his­tory was made with the first Amer­i­can world tri­als cham­pion. How good does that sound? Bernie and Bul­taco were de­lighted. At the age of 20, he was a World Cham­pion. He had achieved his goal.

With the world cham­pi­onship win came the sad news that Bul­taco was in sig­nif­i­cant fi­nan­cial dif­fi­cul­ties. His ma­chine was al­ready well de­vel­oped, and the fac­tory com­pe­ti­tion ser­vice and devel­op­ment had al­ready been trans­ferred to Comer­fords in Thames Dit­ton, near Lon­don, where he was liv­ing. It was Comer­fords that helped him to con­tinue for the sea­son.

Times were chang­ing in tri­als and the other Euro­pean man­u­fac­tur­ers such as Fan­tic, SWM and Ital­jet wanted a piece of the ac­tion. Pi­etro Ku­ciukian, the team man­ager of SWM, of­fered to sup­port him on a Bul­taco on the understanding he signed for SWM at the end of the year. He had only rid­den Bul­taco ma­chin­ery and was un­sure what to do. The Bul­taco fac­tory sit­u­a­tion had es­ca­lated when the fac­tory doors were locked, and at round nine in Switzer­land, he parted with the Bul­taco for an Ital­jet which was a Bul­taco painted green, lit­er­ally!

Many Bul­taco parts were used to make the ma­chine in­clud­ing the frame, cylin­der bar­rel and pis­ton, ex­haust, sus­pen­sion and wheels. He be­came a devel­op­ment rider overnight which was all new to him, but Leopoldo Tar­tarini, the owner of Ital­jet, was full of ideas. He be­lieved Bernie was the best and could win on any ma­chine. Ital­jet were new to tri­als, and now the Amer­i­can re­alised you also need a good ma­chine to win, and the ‘Green’ ma­chine was not that. Leopoldo Tar­tarini looked af­ter Bernie, and he al­ways de­liv­ered what he promised, it was a good experience, and he learned a lot while at Ital­jet.

Stay­ing ital­ian

Once again it was a tough sea­son in 1981 rid­ing an Ital­jet that was still un­der devel­op­ment, and his re­sults suf­fered. With three non-scor­ing world rounds, he slipped down to sixth in the world, and he be­gan to lose confidence. He ques­tioned his abil­ity and tried amongst other ma­chines a pro­duc­tion Mon­tesa which was bet­ter in his opin­ion than his fac­tory sup­ported Ital­jet.

Be­fore the Amer­i­can round, he an­nounced the re­la­tion­ship with Ital­jet was over. Tar­tarini did not want him to leave as they had just started to sell the pro­duc­tion Ital­jet, but he knew he had a short ca­reer and that he could not con­tinue on an un­der­per­form­ing ma­chine.

In a year of sur­prises, French­man, Gilles Bur­gat, won the world ti­tle on an SWM. Once again, he was in con­tact with Pi­etro Ku­ciukian. He signed for SWM and had a ma­chine he knew he could win on. He started the 1982 sea­son on a high af­ter a very suc­cess­ful indoor sea­son.

The out­door sea­son started well as he and Bel­gium’s Eddy Le­je­une on the Honda bat­tled for the world ti­tle. In May, he won the Scot­tish Six Days Trial, an­other first for an Amer­i­can rider. Life was good. Eddy even­tu­ally won the ti­tle, the first of three con­sec­u­tive ones, on the four-stroke Honda on which he was very con­fi­dent in his rid­ing.

SWM had been de­vel­op­ing a new more pow­er­ful ma­chine, the 'Jumbo', with Martin Lamp­kin. The old SWM 320 was more tech­ni­cal to ride than the Bul­taco or the Ital­jet, but the en­gine was not quite as pow­er­ful. Rid­ing styles were chang­ing with a new gen­er­a­tion of rid­ers ar­riv­ing in world tri­als. Tighter turns and more sig­nif­i­cant steps were ap­pear­ing which needed bru­tal power from a tri­als ma­chine.

He started 1983 with a win on the new ma­chine in Spain. The next three rounds were all wet and muddy events and, in truth, Le­je­une on his Honda were in­cred­i­ble in th­ese con­di­tions. The team continued to de­velop the ‘Jumbo’ model mak­ing progress along the way. His fel­low SWM team rider, Thierry Michaud, from France, was a much bet­ter devel­op­ment rider than Bernie, and he knew ex­actly what was needed.

Here we go again

Once again, fi­nan­cial prob­lems with man­u­fac­tur­ers af­fected Bernie’s ca­reer. He would now be rid­ing for ‘Team KK’. SWM was in sim­i­lar dif­fi­cul­ties to Bul­taco sev­eral years be­fore in the fact they had the ma­chines, the rid­ers, the struc­ture but no money

Ital­ian Pi­etro Ku­ciukian would cre­ate and fi­nance his team for 1984 as the doors fi­nally closed on SWM pro­duc­tion at the fac­tory in Italy.

The two K's in Pi­etro's sur­name be­came that of his team. De­spite two world round wins, he fin­ished the sea­son on the fi­nal step of the podium. He knew it was get­ting harder to win and it was af­fect­ing his confidence. The com­bi­na­tion of Honda and Le­je­une was the man to beat, and Michaud had started to win world rounds, mak­ing him a very se­ri­ous chal­lenger for the world ti­tle. With no fu­ture at SWM as a re­sult of the fi­nan­cial prob­lems, he would have to look else­where for a ride in 1985.

He would make a move to Garelli but, on an un­com­pet­i­tive ma­chine, he was paid not to ride it and the sea­son was writ­ten off.

1986 would be his last full sea­son in the world tri­als cham­pi­onship when he paired up with Gilles Bur­gat in a Yamaha France sup­ported two-man team to fin­ish seventh over­all.

He would fin­ish his ca­reer at the end of 1987 with one last na­tional ti­tle in the USA on a Fan­tic. Af­ter a life in tri­als, he be­came Euro­pean Sales Man­ager for the Amer­i­can equip­ment com­pany Mal­colm Smith Rac­ing. Af­ter that, he moved to Alpines­tars be­fore trans­fer­ring at the be­gin­ning of the mil­len­nium to Tis­sot, a tra­di­tional Swiss watch com­pany. Bernie left in 2010 to take a year's sab­bat­i­cal and soon re­turned to the Swatch Group un­der the high-end Omega brand to de­velop their global golf plat­form.

Since 2017, Bernie has been pur­su­ing new projects and work­ing in­de­pen­dently. Now a dual Swiss/Amer­i­can cit­i­zen he re­sides in Zurich, Switzer­land with his fam­ily.

Bernie Schreiber

Born: 20 Jan­uary 1959 in Los An­ge­les, Cal­i­for­nia, USA. Fac­tory rider for Bul­taco, Ital­jet, SWM, Garelli, Yamaha, Fan­tic. Suc­cesses: World Tri­als Cham­pion 1979 with three Vice World Tri­als Cham­pion in 1980, 1982 and 1983; 20 World round wins and 48 podi­ums. Win­ner SSDT in 1982. USA Cham­pion in 1978, 1982, 1983 and 1987. Bernie is also in the Amer­i­can Mo­tor­cy­cle Hall of Fame.

The dream team at the Nos­tal­gia trial 2018: Bernie Schreiber (USA), Yrjo Ves­ter­i­nen (FIN) and Manuel Soler (ESP).

The move to the painted green Bul­taco was a dif­fi­cult one. At the 1977 Scot­tish Six Days Trial chat­ting with ‘Captain’ Eric Hooke. With the sun on his back and a Bul­taco be­tween his legs Bernie loved his time in Spain. 1980: Chew­ing the fat with, left to right: Ulf Karl­son and Yrjo Ves­ter­i­nen

Seen here at the Span­ish world round in 1981 which opened the sea­son, his form would soon desert him and the Ital­jet. At the fa­mous steps on the Adda River banks in Italy 1981 where the tyre test­ing be­tween Miche­lin and Pirelli was usu­ally done, with the SWM with the clear win­ner and, as we know, Miche­lin. A sec­ond place at the open­ing round of the 1982 FIM World Tri­als Cham­pi­onship in Spain was re­peated in Bel­gium at Bil­stain the fol­low­ing week. De­spite the rain and snow it’s a con­fi­dent Bernie in the 1982 SSDT. Talk­ing with his new team man­ager at SWM, Pi­etro Ku­ciukian. The first SWM vic­tory would come in Great Bri­tain.

The 1982 Scot­tish Six Days win­ner Bernie Schreiber. If you look closely at this pic­ture you will see the Clas­sic Trial Mag­a­zine ed­i­tor John Hulme as the next rider up the ramp! Schreiber rode the SWM in the Torino Indoor and the Au­to­dromo Trial in Monza Italy en­joy­ing a suc­cess­ful indoor sea­son. In 1983 at a photo shoot for SWM. This test ses­sion was close to Do­mo­d­os­sola, the birth­place of his fel­low SWM team rider Danilo Galeazzi. The pic­ture ses­sion was held by Gulio Mauri in or­der to get the right shots for an SWM poster (Schreiber) and an Alpines­tars ad­vert (Galeazzi). Jump­ing back down the fa­mous big step at Berg­amo 1983 in the Ital­ian world round. At the same photo ses­sion; things do not al­ways go to plan!

You can see the phys­i­cal size of the SWM Jumbo model in this pic­ture from Olot in Spain in 1984. The last world round win for the Ital­ian man­u­fac­turer would come a lit­tle later in the year in Ger­many. In 1985 he would make a move to Garelli, but on an un­com­pet­i­tive ma­chine he was paid not to ride it and the sea­son was writ­ten off. Back on an SWM at the 2011 Ven­toux Clas­sic Trial in France. Back in good old Great Bri­tain with Alan ‘Sid’ Lamp­kin at the Nos­tal­gia trial 2018.

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