Classic Trial - - CONTENTS - Words: Jean-Claude Com­meat and Yoomee Pic­tures: The Soler Collection and his many friends

Manuel Soler

Manuel Soler was born into the Bul­taco clan and left be­hind an im­age of a rider who was smil­ing, happy and tal­ented. Above all though, he will be re­mem­bered as the best Span­ish rider from the seven­ties. Manuel only ever rode ma­chines built in his home re­gion and we were priv­i­leged as he opened up his book of mem­o­ries to us.

A tal­ented child, you were much like French­man Gilles Bur­gat in that it was at a very early age you took up rid­ing tri­als. At what age and with which ma­chines did you start your rid­ing ca­reer? I started rid­ing at the age of three and my first of­fi­cial trial was at the age of 10. It was a trial with all the Bul­taco fac­tory rid­ers at the Bulto fam­ily home in San-An­to­nio. What ma­chine did you ride? It was a Lo­bito pro­to­type adapted to suit my size. In 1974 at the age of 16 years old, for your first big com­pe­ti­tion, you rode in a round of the Euro­pean Cham­pi­onship held in Spain and you fin­ished third. A pretty in­cred­i­ble de­but? I had a good ride and fin­ished third, I was how­ever ex­cluded af­ter some rid­ers protested to the in­ter­na­tional fed­er­a­tion that I was too young. When you fi­nally reached the age of 17 you could legally ride in com­pe­ti­tion and in your first sea­son be­came Span­ish cham­pion. You were the youngest ever cham­pion? Yes, when I started the ’74 sea­son I was 16 years old and by the end I was 17 years old. It was great to be the youngest cham­pion on a Bul­taco. To win this very com­pet­i­tive cham­pi­onship in your first year you must be a tal­ented rider and have had a lot of tri­als ex­pe­ri­ences? I started rid­ing a mo­tor­cy­cle very early, and that was al­ready a big dif­fer­ence in com­par­i­son to other rid­ers. That’s why they gave me the nick-name of “El Mon­stru­ito” or lit­tle monster!

In win­ning your first cham­pi­onship you started a long se­ries of wins, it was fol­lowed by four more… as al­ways on a Bul­taco that ex­cluded all oth­ers? Yes, it was a long and sat­is­fy­ing collection of wins. Did you prac­tise of­ten or do much other prepa­ra­tion on your way to be­com­ing a top rider? At the end of the 1974 sea­son the Bul­taco fac­tory sent me to Eng­land to prac­tise with Martin Lamp­kin, as in Spain we did not have much in the way of muddy con­di­tions. I left for two months of prac­tice. The English were by far the best in these con­di­tions, for which I had no ex­pe­ri­ence.

Bul­taco were keen on you to im­prove for the world cham­pi­onship in these con­di­tions? When I ar­rived at the Lamp­kin house­hold, Dougie was only a few months old, but I was made very wel­come and Martin taught me all he knew about how to ride in muddy con­di­tions. It was a great hon­our for me to prac­tise with him. Thanks to Martin I be­came a tal­ented rider in mud, and we re­main good friends. From the be­gin­ning you rode in the world cham­pi­onship, which in the 70s was par­tic­u­larly tough with the great cham­pi­ons such as Ves­ter­i­nen, Lamp­kin and An­drews. Was it dif­fi­cult for you? It was very dif­fi­cult as there there were also other great rid­ers such as Coutard and Rath­mell. There were many rid­ers in each coun­try who were ca­pa­ble of chal­leng­ing for the ti­tle. In ad­di­tion the pol­i­tics of the fac­to­ries at Bul­taco, Mon­tesa and Ossa were for the fac­tory team to come from coun­tries with the great­est sales po­ten­tial. The sales in Spain were good but the fac­to­ries were more in­ter­ested in other mar­kets. At this time Bul­taco had no real in­ter­est in a Span­ish rider win­ning the world ti­tle. It was in 1979 in Fin­land that you won your first grand prix. You were the first Span­ish rider to win a round and also the first Spa­niard aboard a Span­ish made ma­chine, it was a fan­tas­tic achieve­ment! It was ex­tra­or­di­nary and, more im­por­tantly, in Ves­ter­i­nen’s home coun­try. It was a fab­u­lous day and for me prob­a­bly the pin­na­cle of my ca­reer, be­cause at that mo­ment the Bul­taco fac­tory was in deep fi­nan­cial dif­fi­cul­ties and at the end of the same year closed its doors. With Bul­taco you had seven ex­cel­lent years, with all your Span­ish ti­tles and a world round vic­tory. Tell us about your first con­tacts with Bul­taco, your first con­tract and who gave you this op­por­tu­nity. I was born into the Bul­taco fam­ily and am the nephew of Mr Bulto. How­ever the story be­gan way be­fore this pe­riod as Mr Bulto was one of the founders of Mon­tesa. He gave his first Mon­tesa to my fa­ther at the age of 16 years. With my fa­ther he took the de­sign di­men­sions of the Mon­tesa to make a Bul­taco, af­ter Bulto left Mon­tesa af­ter some dis­agree­ments. I was in­tro­duced to mo­tor­cy­cles very early. My chance came from my fam­ily.

Why did you choose to ride in tri­als and not in mo­tocross or en­duro? Tri­als were very much in fash­ion at the time; I was kind of obliged to fol­low the fash­ion of the times. Why did Bul­taco start de­vel­op­ing tri­als bikes, when the other Span­ish man­u­fac­tur­ers had not done so? Bulto loved tri­als and thought the need for a for­eign rider to de­velop his ma­chine was vi­tal so he con­tacted Sammy Miller. It was at his sug­ges­tion that they worked with the twostrokes, as at the time there were re­ally only four-strokes and Bri­tish ma­chines.

Did it work?

Yes, Sammy came to Barcelona; he helped to de­velop the first Bul­taco tri­als ma­chine and in his first year he won prac­ti­cally all the events in which he com­peted. He had used our ma­chine, the Bul­taco, which more or less ren­dered the four-strokes ob­so­lete.

A real suc­cess story you might say?

From this mo­ment on­wards it was the golden age for Span­ish tri­als ma­chines. It was dur­ing this pe­riod that I grew up. The Bul­taco fac­tory had many cham­pi­ons: Ves­ter­i­nen, Coutard, Schreiber, Lamp­kin and yourself. You were cer­tainly able to ben­e­fit from the Bul­taco fac­tory team and in the prepa­ra­tion of their bikes? Ev­ery­one was treated in the same way by the com­pe­ti­tion depart­ment. When there was a new pro­to­type it was me that com­pleted the first tests. Once we were happy we brought in the other rid­ers to test the ma­chine in their style and al­ways lis­tened to their com­ments to im­prove them.

Did you all prac­tise to­gether?

I rode with ev­ery­one and when they came to Spain, I was in a way their am­bas­sador, I of­ten went to their homes for prac­tice. We had some re­ally pos­i­tive ex­pe­ri­ences in great friend­ship which even 30 years later is still present. In 1980 with Bernie Schreiber win­ning you made a one-two re­sult at the French GP in St Christophe. This was a great way to end your as­so­ci­a­tion with Bul­taco as it was also the last round they won. I re­mem­ber this event very well; it was dif­fi­cult to con­tinue rid­ing the Bul­taco as the fac­tory closed in De­cem­ber ’79. An­other di­rec­tion opened up for the team. Af­ter this round Bernie signed for Ital­jet and I signed for Mon­tesa. At the time ev­ery­one thought you would sign for Ital­jet but fi­nally you ended up as a Mon­tesa rider? It’s a story that I have not told of­ten as it was dif­fi­cult for me: in prin­ci­ple I was go­ing to sign for Ital­jet. Two months be­fore the French round I was in­vited by Mr Tar­tarini. We dis­cussed a con­tract and agreed on the for­mal­i­ties but a week af­ter St Christophe at the mo­ment of sign­ing he pre­sented me with a com­pletely dif­fer­ent con­tract. I dis­cussed this with him and told him I was a man of my word and I re­fused to sign the con­tract.

How were you con­tacted by Mon­tesa?

At St Christophe I was ill the day be­fore the event. I had a high fever and the start of the event was risky. It was in sec­tion five that I came across the Mon­tesa team man­ager who asked me how it was go­ing. It told him that it was not a good day as it was also my last with Bul­taco.

You told him of the sit­u­a­tion?

Yes, Oriel Guixa asked if I was still free and we ar­ranged a meet­ing for the fol­low­ing week. That was when I started my col­lab­o­ra­tion with Mon­tesa.

How rapidly were you in­te­grated into the new struc­ture of team and ma­chine?

Mon­tesa gave me a re­ally good project; we started work im­me­di­ately af­ter the French round. The be­gin­ning was dif­fi­cult as there were many dif­fer­ences be­tween the Bul­taco and Mon­tesa. Fi­nally it all started to click. In the first world round of the 1981 sea­son I won at Saint Llorenc, my first win on the white 349 Mon­tesa.

Be­fore the ‘81 white mod­els, the red ver­sion from ‘80 was vic­to­ri­ous in the Scot­tish Six Days Trial rid­den by Ves­ter­i­nen. Tell us about this ma­chine?

Yrjo be­came the first for­eign rider on a Span­ish ma­chine to win this leg­endary event. I didn’t think it was a very good ma­chine. It­was dif­fi­cult to ride and not very sta­ble. When I ar­rived at Mon­tesa they asked me to work on the new model, which I adapted more to my rid­ing style and this be­came the white model 349.

In 1981 you won three world rounds and fin­ished up in fifth po­si­tion in the fi­nal standings. This was your best re­sult. Was the Mon­tesa the best ma­chine you ever rode?

I cer­tainly had a good ma­chine that sea­son, I was also in good form and this was a ma­chine that worked very well. I was how­ever not con­sis­tent with my re­sults and this dragged me down in the fi­nal standings. My last vic­tory in the Ger­man round al­lowed Mon­tesa to be­come the world con­struc­tors cham­pion for the first time in their his­tory.

You men­tioned the pro­to­types, did you al­ways ride them at both Bul­taco and Mon­tesa? Do you still own one?

No I don’t have any. In my Mon­tesa con­tract it was writ­ten that they would give me a pro­to­type on which I ended the sea­son. In the end I got noth­ing.

The 1982 sea­son did not go as well. What went wrong?

At the end of ’81 I dam­aged my knee, 1982 was a year of re­cu­per­a­tion that lasted 6 months af­ter the oper­a­tion. Mon­tesa were great em­ploy­ers and in­sisted I signed for the sea­son. At the same time, in view of my con­di­tion, they signed Toni Gor­got who was avail­able. They needed a top rider.

How were your re­la­tions with Toni? In his first year of the Span­ish cham­pi­onship he stole your crown which you had worn for the pre­ced­ing four years.

The year Toni ar­rived in the Span­ish cham­pi­onship I left to do my mil­i­tary ser­vice and did not have much time to prac­tice. He first con­cen­trated on the Span­ish cham­pi­onship whereas for me the pri­or­ity was for the world rounds. We worked well to­gether.

In the be­gin­ning of the ‘80s the Bul­taco and Ossa fac­to­ries closed. Was it dif­fi­cult to find a ride? Yes, cer­tainly dif­fi­cult, but it was also ter­ri­ble for the fac­tory work­ers as the govern­ment never re­ally helped these two firms! It was at this time that the Ja­panese came to Spain and Honda as­so­ci­ated it­self with Mon­tesa, and that al­lowed for a sta­bil­ity which re­mains to­day.

In 1983 you signed for Mer­lin, which was a sur­prise.

The tech­ni­cian at Mer­lin was my cousin: Ig­na­cio Bulto, he pro­posed a chal­lenge, which was to con­tinue the Bul­taco project and keep the same phi­los­o­phy; I asked my­self why not?

The project never re­ally worked?

We tried very hard to get the ma­chine to work well but had many prob­lems, a small budget and an en­gine which came from a Ca­giva road ma­chine. It needed a large num­ber of mod­i­fi­ca­tions for use in tri­als. I was still con­va­lesc­ing af­ter the oper­a­tion on my knee. It was a dif­fi­cult year but we tried to do the best we could. From the start of the project to the end of the year my health didn’t re­ally al­low me to con­tinue. It was at this point we de­cided to part.

When did you no­tice the new gen­er­a­tion of rid­ers?

From the time of Thierry Michaud and Jordi Tar­res; they had a dif­fer­ent rid­ing style and tri­als stared to change.

What did you do af­ter stop­ping com­pe­ti­tion?

I have a Honda mo­tor­cy­cle deal­er­ship in Barcelona. I also work for the Span­ish fed­er­a­tion and the tri­als com­mis­sion.

1970: San An­to­nio Trial

1967: San An­toni Trial – Bul­taco Lo­bito Pro­to­type

1971: Vil­ladrau Trial1970: Navidad Trial1972: San An­to­nio Trial

1978: SSDT

1978: SSDT

1981: WTC, GBR

1981: Cin­gles Three Day Trial - Spain

1983: WTC, Spain

1983: WTC, USA

2011: Ven­toux Trial, France

1983: WTC, Spain

1983 – With the Mer­lin staff in­clud­ing Ig­na­cio Bulto

2013: High­land Two Day, Scot­land

2013: High­land Two Day, Scot­land

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