Dicko’s view

How do you de­fine the in­de­fin­able?

Classic Dirtbike - - Contents -

The el­der states­man of tri­als journalism broaches the ‘what’s the best bike’ sub­ject... that’s brave!

Check­ing out the clas­sic bike stuff on t’ tin­ter­web one dark, wet, cold night over Christ­mas, (the lap­top in the lounge seemed a much bet­ter op­tion to hid­ing in the shed and of course there was noth­ing on the telly), my first point of note was how minutely spe­cialised the sport has be­come. I swear there was a page ded­i­cated purely to ‘yel­low tri­als bikes 1978/79’ – far too re­stricted for me. (I had a quick look all the same!)

A few ran­dom clicks later though, on an­other site, up popped a fa­mil­iar ques­tion al­legedly from a ‘new­bie’: “What’s the best Twin­shock tri­als bike?”

Groan! Do these peo­ple not ever think? There is no more a ‘best’ Twin­shock tri­als bike any more than there is a per­fect road bike, car or vac­uum cleaner – doesn’t stop the ques­tion though does it?

Doesn’t stop peo­ple rush­ing in to an­swer it ei­ther. Cue the first shout of: “Gotta be a Fan­tic, I’ve got one!” Re­peat many times cit­ing half a dozen dif­fer­ent brands un­til I got bored and went in search of a stiff drink.

Of course the per­fect Twin­shock bike doesn’t ex­ist. But that’s part of the attraction isn’t it? There are so many pos­si­ble variations. Small ca­pac­ity en­gines, both two-stroke and four-stroke, ditto for larger mo­tors. Light fly­wheel zippy mo­tors or a slog­ger of a big bore diesel power plant, heavy­weights, lightweights. Short wheel­base, tight steer­ing head an­gle, or a long, lazy gap be­tween the wheels and a near chop­per head an­gle.

One man’s ‘best’ Twin­shock is an­other man’s night­mare. If you are a 349 Mon­tesa afi­cionado then a tweaked 175 Yam isn’t go­ing to float your boat is it?

Just shout­ing FAN­TIC is not an an­swer in it­self any­way. As any hard­core Twin­shocker will tell you, there’s a whole world of dif­fer­ence be­tween the 200 model, which proved im­mensely pop­u­lar when first in­tro­duced, and the much later heav­ier, vastly more pow­er­ful 300 – with the 240 sit­ting in the mid­dle – and not ev­ery­one knows that the ac­tual ca­pac­i­ties are 156cc, 212cc and 249cc!

The lit­tle 156cc 200, less cc than a Ban­tam, was cer­tainly a gem and still is, es­pe­cially if you weigh a svelte nine stone and not the 14-16 stone that some of us have mor­phed into! What Fan­tic fans des­per­ately wanted back in the day was a 200 – but with a bit more oomph. Prob­lem was that when they/we ac­tu­ally got it, the Ital­ians had pro­vided far too much oomph. And in or­der to con­trol this huge power boost, Fan­tic had stretched the chas­sis ev­ery which way – so the whole bike was phys­i­cally much big­ger. In short, com­pared to the docile 200 it was a real lively lit­tle beast!

The 300 was the fi­nal Twin­shock model from the Mi­lan fac­tory. In­ci­den­tally, I did visit the fac­tory in 1981 when it was in full swing with Sig Agrati as the boss. He sat in a smoked glass of­fice with swarthy, sharp suited guys out­side wear­ing sun­glasses. I was with Nigel Bir­kett who was a fac­tory rider at the time and af­ter keep­ing us wait­ing for­ever Birks was even­tu­ally greeted with a grim: “Ah, Mr Bir­kett, so you are the one who costs us all the money...”

The 300 was a dif­fer­ent ket­tle of fish again, with ev­ery­thing sort of slowed down com­pared to the 240. The motor was more fly­wheely, the chas­sis more planted and the whole thing needed to be rid­den more de­lib­er­ately. John Lamp­kin liked it – in fact he still does!

All of which helps to show how many dif­fer­ent ways you can come up with a ‘best’ tri­als bike. But only if you be­lieve such a thing ex­ists!

On a sim­i­lar note I find it some­what strange that Post-65 Twin­shocks have never had the same in­ten­sive de­vel­op­ment that their fore­bears, the Pre-65 Bri­tish bikes, have en­joyed. About 20 years ago I asked Mal­colm Rath­mell, a for­mer Tri­umph fac­tory rider on a Cub, if he ever fan­cied a go at Pre-65 tri­als. Said Malc in his usual no-non­sense way: “No. They were rub­bish in the day and won’t have im­proved any with time.”

He was right then – but I think even Malc would be amazed if he tried some of them to­day.

But re­gard­ing Span­ish Twin­shocks – it’s not as if they couldn’t do with some help, is it? I par­tic­u­larly ap­pre­ci­ated their lovely drum brakes, af­ter be­ing sent over the bars at Ken­more Cor­ner in the Aber­feldy Two Day, when the lin­ings fell off the front brake shoes on my Mon­tesa MK4B... 

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