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.