Rid­ing the bikes – The 80


This was a far cry from the hard to ride, all-ornoth­ing 125 I’d been sam­pling ear­lier in the day, and a lot less peaky than pre­vi­ous 80cc bikes I’d rid­den from the Span­ish team. Even with­out a power valve, the Derbi pulled cleanly from 10,000rpm, came on strong just be­low 12,000 revs and peaked at 14,500rpm, where­after the power died away abruptly and you had to grab a higher gear via the light-ac­tion right foot one-up gearchange. This may not sound much of a power­band, but it was quite enough to op­er­ate with even if, like me, you were far from be­ing phys­i­cally equipped to get the best out of such a small bike, and made the Derbi into a sur­pris­ingly for­giv­ing ma­chine. Though with a top speed of 136mph the lit­tle Derbi was hardly a snail. It felt al­most like rid­ing a slow-mo­tion ver­sion of the 125, with more time to think and re­act, and thus para­dox­i­cally de­liv­ered greater con­fi­dence. Af­ter four years of de­vel­op­ment, the chas­sis was now thor­oughly well sorted and the han­dling ex­cep­tional for such a small bike, with the WP sus­pen­sion soak­ing up Jarama’s bumps and rip­ples even with my ex­tra weight aboard. This gave me the en­cour­age­ment to brake later and en­ter turns later and harder than I’d dared with the 125, aided by a much less fierce front brake ac­tion in com­plete con­trast to the big­ger Der­bis, where only a minute move­ment of the lever brought in­stant and to­tal stop­ping power. As­par had the 80cc Derbi set up so that he could squeeze the front brake lever quite hard be­fore get­ting any­thing like the same amount of bite, which in turn meant he could vary his de­gree of brak­ing more. Since the ap­proved tech­nique with 80cc rac­ers was to brake as lit­tle and late as pos­si­ble to main­tain hard-earned mo­men­tum to the max, this ‘soft’ front brake helped de­liver that. It also made it eas­ier for a neo­phyte like me to start to get the hang of do­ing this, es­pe­cially at the dou­ble right-han­der at the end of the Jarama main straight, called Nu­volari and Fan­gio.

Pulling 14,000rpm in sixth down the straight – the ‘miss­ing’ 500rpm be­ing ac­counted for by the large lumps of me stick­ing out of the Derbi stream­lin­ing and act­ing as a wind brake – I could brake hard just on the 100 me­tre board, zip down through the gears to sec­ond and al­most ig­nore Nu­volari as a bend, scrub­bing off speed on both wheels as I made an imag­i­nary apex half­way be­tween the two turns to get the right line and an early drive in and out of Fan­gio. Try do­ing that with the 125, and I’d have still chick­ened out be­cause the sense of re­as­sur­ance and al­most toy-like han­dling of­fered by the 80 wasn’t there, in spite of the sim­i­lar build of the bikes. Just as on the 125, though, you still had to preload the throt­tle en­ter­ing a turn, but not to any­thing like the same ex­tent on the smaller ca­pac­ity bike. Could be it was the use here of a cylin­dri­cal slide Dell’orto carb, com­pared to the 125’s flat-slide that was re­spon­si­ble for this, but it all added any­way to the 80’s semi-road­ster feel. Like the 125, the rid­ing po­si­tion of­fered a semi-re­clin­ing stance with a lot of weight on your wrists to load up the front wheel fur­ther than al­ready ob­tained by the 52/48% for­ward weight dis­tri­bu­tion (at 57.5kg with oil/wa­ter but no fuel, the Derbi was al­most 5% over the 55kg class limit, a fact the Span­ish firm had cho­sen not to at­tack that year). Un­able to tuck away be­hind the screen, thanks to my height,i couldn’t park any of my body weight on the quite tall fuel tank, and soon ended up with a very sore right wrist, mak­ing it hard to brake prop­erly. I had a cou­ple of very ex­cit­ing cor­ners – in­vol­un­tar­ily, at As­par-like speeds – be­fore the mes­sage sunk in. I cruised to the pits to re­tire, also nurs­ing a bad case of cramp in my right, gear-change leg and hav­ing a healthy re­spect for one of the great rid­ers of our era, as well as Europe’s then lead­ing race bike man­u­fac­turer, for their com­bined ef­forts in evolv­ing such a phe­nom­e­nal lit­tle bike.

Each man is worth sec­onds a lap, don't cross the line and don't in­ter­rupt them as they as­sem­ble some of the quick­est tiny bikes the world ever saw.

As­par now, pos­ing for a por­trait shot be­fore head­ing out on track. Steely eyes still set.

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