Ti, the symbol of the material Titanium, is element 22 on the Periodic Table of the elements. Titanium is synonymous with exclusivity, high performance and high-tech applications. Titanium is used for lightness, high mechanical and corrosion resistance an
When Vertigo presented at the Motosalone di Milano Italy in 2014 its highend model was equipped with a titanium chassis. Most of those present were surprised by the exclusivity and boldness of the brand. However, without taking any merit away from Vertigo, in the ‘70s there were certain achievements that had the ultimate effect of greatly reducing the weight of motorcycles, which is a key factor that has always been in this specialty component. In the mid-1970s the obsession with lightness was followed with the achievements of Walter Luft and Yrjo Vesterinen with their KTM, Puch and Bultaco machines. Less well known is the titanium chassis commissioned by French champion Charles Coutard, to a specialist from the north of France who allowed him to reduce the weight by two kilos ... but costing a whopping 10,000 Francs at the time! The weight ranking back in 1974 was as follows: Walter Luft was riding a 78kg Puch, his compatriot Franz Trummer followed with his 75kg Trummer-PuchOssa, Mick Andrews had managed to lower the weight of his Yamaha to 72kg and it was rumoured that the new prototype Suzuki of Nigel Birkett weighed only 68kg.
GIULIO MAURI’S ARCHIVE
For us readers and motorcycle trials enthusiasts Giulio Mauri’s archive continues to provide unprecedented and interesting material. Luft, Vesterinen, Coutard ... all of them were worldclass riders, and their obsession with weight can be easily understood, but more surprising is the obsession of Pietro Kuciukian, the famous Milanese dentist who would lead the SWM name into trials from the beginning to the rewards of Frenchman Gilles Burgat and his world title in 1981. Go back more than 40 years to 1975 and we will meet Kuciukian, who has trials as his main hobby and rides his 250cc Mick Andrews Replica Ossa when his busy schedule allows it. The MAR is a good machine and he decides to follow in the footsteps of the trials legend Sammy Miller with his obsession to reduce the weight as much as possible. After hearing about the benefits of titanium he decides to build a motorcycle making the most of this material element. All this may seem easy but in 1975 it was quite an ordeal. Kuciukian decides to contact Alessandro Manfredi from the company CO.ME.PRE in Milano who specialised in the manufacture of titanium parts for off-shore projects, bicycles for professional cyclists, etc. For structural calculations Kuciukian relies on the engineer and the professor of Politecnico di Milano Giorgio Valentini. The first problem they encounter is that there is no commercial tubing with the required measurements and it will have to be manufactured from the shields of the precious metal coming from Russia. The frame will be fabricated using 3mm tubing. The professionalism of Manfredi and the desire of Kuciukian soon had it produced and in a short time the chassis was ready to house the rest of the components.
The assembly of the motorcycle was put in the care of a good friend of Kuciukian, Sembenini of Riva di Garda who was the father of the trials riding brothers from Italy who would later become very well known in the sport.
The first version does not have many pieces in titanium but it is looking for the lightness in each of the components. A transparent glass-fibre fuel tank is made that allows you to see the fuel level and flexible plastic mudguards from Great Britain are fitted, and every component that can be lightened by the drilling of holes comes under scrutiny. The engine capacity is 250cc. The first prototype weighs 78kg but Kuciukian quickly contacts Mick Andrews in early 1975 for advice and introduces some modifications to the geometry. The machine is very light but also fragile. He introduces some reinforcement brackets to the frame and angles the rear shock absorbers following Mick’s advice. There are also some more pieces in titanium such as the swinging-arm and rear sub-frame area with double reinforcement to support the shock absorbers. The front mudguard mounting bracket is also titanium. Various engine components also come in for the titanium treatment such as the clutch actuating arm, the exhaust manifold and silencer. The weight reduction continues with the wheel spindles front and rear and the handlebars all manufactured in this precious and expensive material from Russia. The obsession continues as the front fork bottoms visit the lathe to be turned down, a special protective sump shield is produced, the chain adjusting cams, the list is endless… Kuciukian contacts Andrews again in July 1975 and begins to generate the third prototype that will be the definitive version of this Ossa.
It was now time to look at improving the performance of the engine. The compression is increased, the cylinder transfer ports are modified and changes are made to the internal gear ratios. Following the advice of another famous Ossa rider, Sweden’s Thor Evertson, the length of the induction and exhaust manifolds is increased and consequently the carburetion is adjusted to suit. The rear shock absorbers are angled more and the springs are changed. This latest version of the machine now weighs 20kg less than the standard model!
Several leading Italian riders including Giovanni Tosco, Fulvio Adamoli and Albino Teobaldi tested the lightweight Ossa and were very impressed. Tosco rode the machine in the final round of the 1975 Italian championship and took a very easy victory. The season finished on a high for Kuciukian but his restless mind did not. His work on the Ossa had all but reached its limit and he decided to start on another, more ambitious project. He considered the Bultaco to be the ‘Benchmark’ for a trials motorcycle, and made the decision to purchase one and convert it to his own titanium version. In this case the project was much broader as he wanted to make the internal components of the engine including the crankshaft and gear assemblies in his precious titanium. On this second project Piero began with a collaboration with his friend Dario Seregni, who was also a rider who with the passage e of the years would become a reputed technician with several world-wide titles to his credit. The engineer Giorgio Valentini, who also worked in the prestigious Politecnico di Milano University, collaborated with the internal design of the engine having to overcome numerous problems with the gears that showed a tendency to break. Seregni on the other hand turned his hand to the cycle parts, concentrating his efforts in many areas of the machine. Dario collaborated in the development of the exhaust system, which was also in titanium except for the silencer which was aluminium. He also produced the kick-start and gear lever, footrests and handlebars.
Testing of the prototype went well after solving the earlier problems as mentioned. He repeated the experiences with the Ossa of having the top Italian riders test the new Bultaco. Kuciukian continued to use it in trials until he started to look at a new challenge with a fourstroke. As Kuciukian and Seregni began to outline the new adventure the SWM trials project came along and interrupted it as they both joined the brand to work on their proposed trials project at the end of 1977. To end this story it does not hurt to pick up the opinion of the protagonists. Dario Seregni recalls: “Surely there were clear areas for improvement, such as a better study of the length of the exhaust, but we did as much as we could with the tools we had at our disposal”. Kuciukian for his part commented: “I got what we were looking for, which was a lightweight trials motorcycle at the time and we devoted many hours to it, but I think it’s better to forget the economy side of it”. Pietro looks at me smiling in the bright dining room of his house in Milan, he takes a closer look at his inseparable cigarette and does not tell me ... but he thinks: It was another time!
WHO IS PIETRO KUCIUKIAN?
Born in Arco di Trento Italy in1940, of Armenian origin. A surgical doctor from the universities of Padova and Milano, he mixed his profession with his dedication to the sport of motorcycle trials. He was one of the first practitioners in Italy in the early 70s before his ‘second profession’ of trials took over. He was a regular contributor to the motorcycling magazines with his thoughts on trials. As sports manager of the Corse SWM Trial Team he took just four years to give the brand its first world title with Frenchman Gilles Burgat in 1981. The SWM crisis when the factory was in severe economic problems even led him to create Team KK — Kuciukian — in 1984 to try to give continuity to the career of his pupils Italian Danilo Galeazzi and American Bernie Schreiber, of whom he became his ‘European father’. His other claim to fame was when he won the Italian Sidecar Championship in 1981 with his very special SWM. He is also the author of the book Trial and Motoalpinismo from1982. His passion for the trials world was extinguished after the impossibility of finding any factories with an interest in giving continuity to his KK Team. Kuciukian, a high-level intellectual, is currently Armenia’s honorary consul in Italy and has devoted many of his efforts over the last decades to the Armenian cause, publishing multiple articles and books on this subject.
WHO IS DARIO SEREGNI?
Born in Milan in 1942, he was a professional typographer with an immense passion for trials and gifted with his special interest in the mechanics of the trials motorcycle. He was a member of the Thermomathic Trial Team along with the ill-fated Giulio Mauri and Giorgio Speranza, and the Technical Manager of the Reparto Corse Trial at SWM (1977-1984), Garelli (1985-1987) and Fantic (1988-1992). He was a key figure in the world title successes of Gilles Burgat (SWM-FRA) and Thierry Michaud (Fantic-ITA). He continues to compete with his Morini 4T in the Italian Championship of Trial d’Epoca.
VALENTÍ FONTSERÈ: “A big thanks to Pietro Kuciukian and Dario Seregni for the dedicated time and material for the article. Also many thanks to Annamaria, Pietro’s wife, for the excellent meals served and the hospitality given!”
Kuciukian in action with the Ossa prototype, still with the aluminium fuel tank. The original Dream Machine: The Ossa KK Titanium with the transparent fibreglass fuel tank.
Kuciukian in action with the updated prototype, using the fibreglass fuel tank. Trial di Marocche in May 1975. Another action shot of Kuciukian and the early Ossa prototype. Trial di Campi in April 1975.
A young Piero Sembenino, who later became a top Italian trials rider, ‘copies’ his father’s pose. ‘Pappa’ Sembenini, the well-known boss from the Sembenini shop in Riva del Garda Italy and father of Gino and Piero, shows the lightness of the titanium frame. The first pictures of the Bultaco Sherpa prototype during its assembly. A top technician for a top motorcycle. Dario Seregni stands very proud of his work. Some details of the different special parts for the Ossa. More holes than in a Swiss cheese…
The restored Bultaco Sherpa today at the Sembenini Museum in Riva del Garda, Italy. Dario Seregni in 1976 with the Bultaco Sherpa prototype in Milano, Italy. More titanium for the exhaust front pipe. Many components were produced from raw titanium. Aluminium was used for the rear silencer. The focus is on the rear end of the Bultaco Sherpa titanium prototype with its beautiful rectangular swinging arm.
Pietro Kuciukian with his ‘pupil’ Bernie Schreiber at the 1982 world round in Great Britain. Dario Seregni and Pietro Kuciukian with all ‘their’ SWM Team at the Ventoux Trial Classic 2011. From left: Dario Seregni, Thierry Michaud, Bernie Schreiber, Gilles Burgat, Pietro Kuciukian, Giovanni Tosco, Danilo Galeazzi, Charles Coutard and Bernard Cordonnier. Pietro Kuciukian in action at the 1978 SSDT on the 125cc SWM. In the mid-1970s the obsession for lightness was followed with the achievements of Walter Luft at KTM and Puch. This the KTM with the cylinder barrel off at the 1977 SSDT. Pietro Kuciukian would lead the development of the SWM trials effort. Giovani Tosco, seen here at the 1978 SSDT, was one of his first riders. It’s a small world! Trial Magazine editor John Hulme first came into contact with Pietro Kuciukian and Dario Seregni at the 1978 Scottish Six Days Trial when he rode an SWM. Pietro, on the left, is seen with John’s father Ron on the right after the event. Dario is seen in his Bell helmets cap.