Italian mini stallion
For experts only? Aspes RGS Enduro needs keeping on the boil.
Some nations seem to exude certain qualities almost as a national stereotype – we British have our stiff upper lip and our ‘complain dear boy? Not the done thing sir…’ attitude, then there’s the French with the Gallic shrug, Germans with Teutonic thoroughness and order and so it goes on...
Such stereotypes are exactly that and the division is never clear-cut, there are certain things which could only be produced in a particular nation – a vertical twin motorcycle for instance. Other countries have produced them but none as well or as prolifically as the British. See a massive V-twin and one thinks ‘America’ no matter where it was made, a horizontally opposed twin could only really be German and in such illustrious company we give you the Moto Aspes which could only have been produced in Italy.
Yes, other countries have produced a 125 two-stroke enduro and MX machines, but in the mid-seventies did any of them look as stylish as this Aspes?
It wasn’t form over function either as the little machine was a reliable and willing performer as one works supported Mxer found out when his regular machine broke and he was offered the use of an Aspes. We’re not going to say who the mystery man was but we can say what he said about the Aspes: “I revved the nuts off it and it just kept going…” Of course his regular factory weren’t too happy but hey…
It wasn’t just the look of the thing either as the little Aspes exuded quality – quality of feel, quality of build and quality of ancillary components. It looks and feels a much bigger bike and when Michael Simmons hauled it out of his van at our enduro weekend in 2017 I thought it was a 250. But no, it is a 125 from 1974.
Now, the initial question had to be why a 125? Michael isn’t exactly a short lad and I wondered if it was possibly a bit small for him. “No, not a bit of it, I mainly wanted one though because they were the coolest thing in schoolboy MX when I was racing. At one point, in order to win, you had to be on one, they were that good.” He goes on to tell me that at the time the Aspes were doing it on the track he was racing a Suzuki TM125, which was fine but it wasn’t an Aspes.
So, we set to and did the photos and then I thought all I had to do was quiz the lad about the machine and find out what he’d done to it. “Not a lot really, I bought it pretty much as is from Philippe at Old Knobblies and all I’ve done is fit new Doherty grips and cleaned the carb out.” Noticing my crestfallen look he added: “Sorry.”
The carb cleaning is a given these days, especially if the motorcycle is fitted with an older type of glass fibre tank as the ethanol in modern fuel attacks the composition of the resin and the tank delaminates while dumping all the softened resin in the carburettor where it solidifies and does the carb no good at all.
“You daren’t leave petrol in the thing for any length of time,” says Michael, “I’ve not tried any of the tank liners yet, so for safety’s sake I just drain the tank and dry it.” Had Michael tried the bike at all: “Oh yes, I have, it’s pretty high revving and everything happens at the top end, you’ve really got to scream it if you want it to go anywhere, bog down and it’s all over.”
As I was taking photos of the Aspes it was clear the components which make up the machine were of a very high standard yet remarkably simple in construction and of course no one really expected a 125 to produce stump pulling power of the magnitude of say a 370 SWM. Though Michael’s RGES is an enduro machine, built for such events as the ISDT (in reality thanks to the changing face of what was a trial), by the time the Aspes was made, it was being referred to as an ‘enduro’ by everyone but us Brits… By 1980 the ISDT was the ISDE and effectively a show place for Mxers with lights.
I did despair of finding information on the Aspes, something which would put the machine in perspective or tell me something about it, until I happened across a brief feature from March 1975 in the Motorcycle where an RGES 125 Aspes was featured, pretty much similar to the one Michael owns. It threw me for a while as the featured bike was a 250, or so it said, then delving deeper in the feature it was clear what was being written about was this 125.
To use words such as ‘gutless’ in the description of a motorcycle isn’t a good way to start off a feature but it is true of such a high revving machine and the test rider in 1975 found much the same thing as Michael Simmons discovered. Nothing much happens below 7000rpm then in it all comes like a switch and all 21bhp is released at 9800rpm and it’s gone again at 10,000rpm which is great fun on the dirt…
A lot of the Italian manufacturers used variations on Rotax and Minarelli engines either direct or as a starting point for their own ideas, Aspes however made their own motor from scratch and made it to an interesting spec too.
To help in the high revving requirements the basis of the engine is a piston ported square motor with a 54mm x 54mm bore and stroke and an electronic Motoplat ignition system does a far better job of providing sparks at such high revs than points could. The massive finning on both the head and barrel mean it doesn’t get overheated in the cut and thrust of an enduro – or a MX for that matter as the motor is the same one fitted to the scrambles model too – and according to the spec sheet the crankcases are horizontally split.
Reading through the spec sheet it is clear Aspes had put a lot of thought into this engine and expected it to be around for a long time. Inside the alloy barrel the piston, which has only a single Dykes ring on it, runs in a reboreable liner which can also be replaced after the three rebores it will cope with. What isn’t clear is if the rebores are taken care of by an oversize ring fitted to the original piston or does it require an oversize piston? Maybe some of the Aspes enthusiasts can solve this query for me. Converting all this rpm to driving power is done by a geared primary drive rather than a chain and there’s a multiplate clutch in place.
Recognising the off-road world was in a period of change in the Seventies – changing that is from Luddites like myself who felt the only side a gear lever should be on was the right, to those who feel the other side is where it should be – Aspes provided a through shaft allowing individual choice though it comes as standard with gear lever on the left and brake on the right. Surprisingly, to me at least, there are only five gears in the box which means the rider must be really adept at gear changing to keep the engine in the powerband. In part that wouldn’t really be unusual for the smaller motorcycles of the day as they all had to be kept revving. It’s a paradox that the younger riders are restricted to 125s yet in order to get the best from them a rider really needs experience…
Anyway, with the engine spinning round at that sort of rate, the bottom end was clearly strong enough and those we spoke to who know about them have all said the same ‘no problems at all, dead reliable’ which is a good thing. Feeding the pre-mix into the cylinder on the standard machine is a Dellorto 30mm carburettor with the then new-fangled cold start device – or choke lever – and this in turn sucks air through a massive air filter. Speaking with Michael some time after the shoot, he mentioned carburation was something of an on-going issue and he was experimenting with a Mikuni carburettor instead of the Dellorto.
Keeping things in line is a duplex cradle frame with gusseting at the steering head and swinging arm, traditionally points where flex is bad, and the swinging arm itself is an oval tubed affair which positively located the rear wheel. Suspension is interesting too, considering prior to this era most riders were happy if the front and back went up and down and didn’t ping them over the bars. On the rear are Marzocchi oleopneumatic – says so on the spec sheet – rear dampers with remote reservoirs and damping is multi adjustable by increasing or decreasing the air pressure on an internal piston and spring tension has five predetermined positions. Add in there’s 170mm of movement and the back end can be very sweet indeed.
Up front in alloy fork yokes are hydraulic front forks to Aspes own design and providing 190mm of travel from the smart looking units. The stanchion diameter is only 32mm but this was enough to cope with the 102kg overall weight of the bike without flexing at all.
Aspes used Grimeca hubs at either end and laced Akront alloy rims to them, of single leading shoe design these brakes came in for praise in their day but the owner suggests they’re not as good as modern ones. Keeping the alloy from the road is the job of Metzler Six Days tyres of the by then standardised 21in front and 18in rear. Looking at the wheels with a critical, competition, eye they look as though removal would be a simple task needing few tools and in the event of a puncture or a tyre change the rider would be on their way swiftly… four minutes is the traditional time to aim for when changing tyres in the ISDT.
Though I didn’t get a chance to ride this smart little machine, I did cast a leg over it and found it quite comfortable. Actually compared to the trials bikes I’m used to, the seating was plush, with the saddle long enough for the rider to move about and adjust weight position easily.
Handlebars are a subjective thing, we’re all different and feel comfortable with different bends and widths and these days there are a multitude of different styles available but the standard ones would suit me initially. Controls on the Aspes are one of the few non-italian parts, they being Magura and again of high quality.
So, the package as provided by Moto Aspes for the discerning enduro rider is and was in the day, of high quality and a great little machine. From this feature it would be easy to think there was nothing to complain about. That’s not quite true and while having no personal experience of the following aspects of the bike I can see where the Seventies tester was coming from.
One of the special tests in the ISDT included night running, this harked back to the initial idea of the event which was to promote standard motorcycles and show they could cope with all conditions an owner might meet. According to our man back then you’d not want to rely on these lights for a night ride.
1: It’s best not to leave modern fuel in the old glass fibre tank as it will delaminate and leak.
5: A Dellorto carburettor was fitted when we took the photos, we understand the owner is trying a Mikuni though.
2: The motor is high revving but appears to be unburstable. From this angle the alternative position for the gear lever is clear.
4: Suspension was becoming much more sophisticated by the mid-seventies, these Marzochi units are multi adjustable.
3: Aspes made their own forks but used Grimeca hubs.
Above: Massive finning means the engine doesn’t overheat in competition.
Right: Just to let you know who was in front…