Dicko’s view

… the Span­ish made tri­als bikes.

Classic Dirtbike - - Contents -

The elder states­man of tri­als jour­nal­ism re­lates the life and times of the Span­ish and Ital­ian mo­tor­cy­cle fac­to­ries.

I've been asked more than a few times what it was like ‘back in the day’ at the old Span­ish tri­als fac­to­ries. First of all, I'm not ac­tu­ally THAT old, thanks for ask­ing, and in any case you'd get a much bet­ter story from the chaps who were ac­tu­ally there. Sammy is al­most too ob­vi­ous – Dave Thorpe would be a great place to start if you are look­ing for un­likely sto­ries and don't mind sore ribs from laugh­ing. I once rode all day with Dave one day at the Scot­tish, and I'm still laugh­ing now!

What we all want to hear, of course, is that the Span­ish mo­tor­cy­cle in­dus­try of the Six­ties and Seven­ties was a bu­colic throw­back, with bikes built in back­street sheds by swarthy, oily, gnarled engi­neers of the old school, fin­ger­nails black as axle grease, chain smok­ing rough, skinny, foul-smelling roll-ups. They then took long, leisurely lunches in the yard, ca­su­ally lob­bing empty wine bot­tles on to a slowly grow­ing moun­tain of glass, while nois­ily, and with lots of arm-wav­ing ges­tic­u­la­tions, dis­cussing the mer­its of Vesty, Mart, Rat, Mag­i­cal, Soler, Thor­pey, Rob Ed­wards and co.

And there's no way I'm go­ing to spoil that lovely im­age.

Birks did fill me in on one tit-bit from a long ago visit to Barcelona, say­ing: "I used to won­der why no two Mon­te­sas han­dled the same un­til I saw the frames be­ing built. They were built fine, hand welded in a nice sturdy jig – un­til each one was fin­ished, when it was re­moved from the jig and, with the joints still cool­ing, ca­su­ally lobbed the length of the work­shop into a grow­ing pile..."

I did visit Montesa in the early Eight­ies, just af­ter Honda had taken over, for a model launch and the harsh truth is it re­ally was not a happy place. Re­sent­ment seethed from the old-school work­ers and the smiles were very much fixed as the lat­est ma­chine was un­veiled and then it was off to lunch.

The di­vide was even greater away from the fac­tory with the hand­ful of Ja­pa­nese per­son­nel sat on their own be­ing ig­nored by the indige­nous staff. I fool­ishly en­quired to a Span­ish boss how much in­put Honda had in the lat­est model and was dis­missed with a terse, "What do they know about tri­als!"

It was ac­tu­ally all rather sad, a way of life was, clearly, ended for­ever.

Things couldn't have been more dif­fer­ent in Italy round about the same time, when I spent a week skip­ping be­tween the Fan­tic and SWM fac­to­ries in Mi­lan, in be­tween the Ital­ian and Aus­trian world rounds.

Fan­tic was an awe­some set-up, a brand new fac­tory from the ground up, although ef­fec­tively only an assem­bly plant as most com­po­nents were bought in. The stores depart­ment was fully com­puter con­trolled – space age stuff at the time – and full to burst­ing.

The best bit was the com­pe­ti­tion depart­ment, though; there was no mess­ing around, fac­tory bikes, straight from the world round, were put on benches and any­thing they wanted they got. Prob­lem with the forks? Just stick a new set in. Prob­lem solved. Next.

SWM was very dif­fer­ent – and I couldn't re­ally see how the eco­nom­ics stacked up. Then again, in the tri­als world the eco­nom­ics sel­dom do stack up! The pro­duc­tion fa­cil­ity was a small, new-build shed which seemed sparsely manned and only ap­peared to con­tain enough parts to build half a dozen bikes at a time. It was eerily quiet.

In con­trast their com­pe­ti­tion depart­ment was an old build­ing in town, full of char­ac­ter – and teemed with me­chan­ics. Half were work­ing on en­duro bikes, the other half on tri­als mod­els – and the place was ab­so­lutely buzzing! It was like a crazy con­test be­tween the tri­als and en­duro camps as to how much new stuff they could swap on to their mounts. It was all done in the most Ital­ian way imag­in­able with lots of manic arm-wav­ing, shout­ing and throw­ing things around.

Go­ing back to Spain, the orig­i­nal Gas Gas set-up was very close to our Six­ties vi­sion. The orig­i­nal pro­to­type Hal­ley mod­els were ac­tu­ally built in a tiny cor­ner – and I mean tiny – of a ware­house.

The vi­sion of Nar­cis Casas and Joseph Piber­nat, there was a very real feel­ing of fam­ily in the Gas Gas works. Ev­ery­one was on first name terms, all lived and breathed tri­als and most of the work­force ap­peared to be there 24/7.

In the Nineties they staged an an­nual party where they just pulled a wagon load of brand new bikes off the pro­duc­tion line and ev­ery­one present had a fab­u­lous time tri­alling in the woods, fol­lowed by a mon­u­men­tal party with bot­tles pil­ing up in the cor­ner. They ran out of tri­als bikes so I blagged a Pam­pera – on road tyres – and ev­ery­one fell about laugh­ing shout­ing, "English rides tri­als on slicks...!"

It was, if you closed your eyes, not a mil­lion miles from our im­age of a Six­ties Span­ish tri­als fac­tory... Happy days in­deed.

It was all done in the most Ital­ian way imag­in­able with lots of manic arm-wav­ing, shout­ing and throw­ing things around

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