Ital­ian mini stal­lion

For ex­perts only? Aspes RGS En­duro needs keeping on the boil.

Classic Dirtbike - - Dirttalk - Words and pics: Tim Brit­ton

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. ž

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…

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