Spe­cial

Classic Trial - - CONTENTS - Words: Yoomee • Pic­tures: Toon Van De Vliet, Yoomee Ar­chive, Mervyn Smith and Eric Kitchen

Honda RTL 360

In early 1985 Bel­gium’s three times World Tri­als Cham­pion for Honda, Eddy Lejeune, was stood in the queue at the ar­rivals area of Brussels In­ter­na­tional Air­port. Apart from his Honda Rac­ing Cor­po­ra­tion jacket he looked like any other per­son ex­cit­edly wait­ing for a loved one to ap­pear. How­ever, in his case it was the ar­rival of the most rad­i­cally de­vel­oped four-stroke tri­als ma­chine the world had seen since the Sammy Miller de­vel­oped ma­chine that Rob Shepherd took to the first four-stroke World round win in Fin­land and Bri­tish Cham­pi­onship ti­tle for Honda back in 1977.

Eddy Lejeune had ar­rived in the World Tri­als Cham­pi­onship way back in 1979 when he scored his first world points for Honda. He would even­tu­ally in­herit the su­perb Honda tri­als ma­chines from Rob Shepherd and duly served his ap­pren­tice­ship in the tough World Cham­pi­onship be­fore tak­ing the first of three con­sec­u­tive World ti­tles start­ing in 1982.

The 360cc twin-shock ma­chine he was rid­ing had reached the ‘peak’ of its de­vel­op­ment but Honda were well aware of the move to the sin­gle rear shock, more com­monly known as the mono-shock tri­als ma­chines, as they wit­nessed Yamaha’s rev­o­lu­tion­ary TY ma­chine steal the show in late 1983.

Dur­ing 1984 he had seen the new ideas Honda in Ja­pan were try­ing and was told that for the 1985 sea­son he would have a brand new ma­chine uniquely tai­lored to suit their num­ber one rider. In Au­gust the Honda tri­als de­vel­op­ment rider and Ja­panese Cham­pion, Mazaya Ya­mamoto, ar­rived at Lejuene’s Bel­gium home with the pre-pro­duc­tion sin­gle shock Honda RTL 250cc.

RTL 250cc

Eddy and the Lejeune broth­ers, Jean-Marie and younger brother Eric, all tested the ma­chine with Ya­mamoto tak­ing notes on the ma­chine’s per­for­mance.

On the 2nd Septem­ber Ya­mamoto made the ma­chine’s de­but at the Fin­ish World round watched by Honda’s HRC pres­i­dent, Mr Aika, and he came home in a very cred­itable sixth po­si­tion and straight into the points. His only con­cern was the ma­chines lack of power for the tough haz­ards.

At the next round he proved the re­sult was no fluke as he came home in the points again in four­teenth place in Swe­den wit­nessed once again by Aika.

In Oc­to­ber Eddy Lejeune vis­ited the Honda Rac­ing Cor­po­ra­tion head­quar­ters in Ja­pan where he ob­served the start of the process of pro­duc­ing the new sin­gle shock pro­duc­tion RTL 250cc and the work the en­gi­neers had car­ried out on the new 360cc model which would be built ex­clu­sively for the Bel­gium rider to de­fend his ti­tle on in 1985. He was so im­pressed with the on-go­ing de­vel­op­ment and ded­i­ca­tion from the Ja­panese en­gi­neers that he signed to the com­pany for a fur­ther three years. Honda also com­mit­ted them­selves to more sup­port to the other Lejeune broth­ers so they could aid Eddy in his cham­pi­onship cam­paign.

It was noted that the Fan­tic team had tried some un­der-handed tac­tics in at­tempt­ing to help their num­ber one rider, French­man Thierry Michaud, take the World Cham­pi­onship ti­tle from Lejeune in 1984.

In early 1985 some more ex­cit­ing news took the tri­als world by storm when Bri­tain’s Steve Saun­ders signed a con­tract with Honda UK to ride the pro­duc­tion RTL 250cc, which was launched at the Dirt Bike Show in late 1984, in the World Cham­pi­onship with some as­sis­tance from the HRC head­quar­ters in Ja­pan.

In late 1984 Saun­ders had had a quick ride on Mazaya Ya­mamoto’s de­vel­op­ment Honda af­ter the last World round and de­cided this was the ma­chine for him and moved from the Bri­tish built Arm­strong two-stroke Hiro pow­ered ma­chine. Ini­tially he rode the TLR Honda be­fore mak­ing a stun­ning UK de­but when he won the open­ing round of the Bri­tish Cham­pi­onship, the Col­more trial, on his sin­gle shock 250cc RTL.

RTL360S

Housed in the new steel square tubed frame was a com­pletely re­designed power plant with an en­gine ca­pac­ity of 360cc, al­though it still re­tained the same bore and stroke, camshaft and car­bu­ret­tor from the 1984 World Cham­pi­onship win­ning twin-shock ma­chine.

The height of the en­gine was still a prob­lem as was the en­gine ‘mass’ of the four-stroke but the en­gine was now 10 lbs lighter in weight and nar­rower and shorter, this hav­ing been achieved by the use of newly cast mag­ne­sium cases. The gear­box shared some com­po­nents, in­clud­ing the gear se­lec­tor mech­a­nism from the 125cc CR mo­tocross en­gine.

The alu­minium gear change lever was also mounted very high on the en­gine and the kick-start shaft was also man­u­fac­tured from the same ma­te­rial. It also fea­tured a Pro-Link sin­gle shock rear sus­pen­sion set-up at­tached to an alu­minium swing­ing arm, which al­lowed for three way ad­just­ment; com­pres­sion and damp­ing on the sep­a­rate oil reser­voir and spring load ad­just­ment on the Showa man­u­fac­tured shock ab­sorber.

The ma­chine was fit­ted with alu­minium front fork bot­toms with in­creased slider di­am­e­ter, mov­ing from 35 mm to 37 mm. Lejeune was in­formed that mag­ne­sium fork bot­toms would be sup­plied to com­pli­ment the sim­i­larly man­u­fac­tured fork yokes to trim even more weight. The drum brake wheels would be fit­ted with the lat­est rub­ber from Miche­lin.

When first seen the ma­chine looked dis­tinctly like the pro­duc­tion 250cc RTL but on closer in­spec­tion was noth­ing like it. With limited room around the ma­chine many parts looked like af­ter fit­ments as the de­sign­ers sim­ply ran out of space and in some people’s opin­ion it looked like the ugli­est tri­als ma­chine ever built, such was its rad­i­cal looks.

Eddy spent hours prac­tis­ing and set­ting up the ma­chine at his Di­son base in Bel­gium, aware that his at­tack on his fourth World crown in 1985 since start­ing with Honda seven sea­sons ago would be the tough­est yet.

All the ma­jor fac­to­ries and Fan­tic in par­tic­u­lar knew they had to move from the old twin-shock rear sus­pen­sion sys­tem to the sin­gle shock type and they too aban­doned their old de­sign for the new one.

WTC – GBR Eddy had to push on in the clos­ing stages af­ter ma­chine prob­lems.

World Cham­pi­onship

At the open­ing World round in Spain, Michaud came out fight­ing to take the win but the big­gest sur­prise was Bri­tain’s Steve Saun­ders in sec­ond place on the pro­duc­tion RTL in front of Lejeune.

On his home ground in Bel­gium Lejeune took the win which re­stored his con­fi­dence but Michaud was on a role, win­ning five of the six open­ing World rounds. The truth is that the new Lejeune ma­chine had proved very trou­ble­some. Lejeune re­cently told Trial Mag­a­zine that he once tried five dif­fer­ent frames over the course of a day in one train­ing ses­sion.

In the early rounds the coat­ing on the cylin­der bar­rel was giv­ing prob­lems and at the Bri­tish round the gear­box caused prob­lems, re­sult­ing in a mid-trial strip down to al­le­vi­ate the is­sues, which were only re­solved by some quick hand­i­work from his Bel­gium me­chanic, An­dre Si­mens, which kept Lejeune in the event. The en­gine was me­chan­i­cally quite noisy and it was ob­vi­ous the han­dling was dif­fi­cult.

Many prob­lems had come to light in the heat of World Cham­pi­onship com­pe­ti­tion and it was ob­vi­ous that the ma­chine had needed more de­vel­op­ment be­fore the sea­son started.

It was soon iden­ti­fied that try­ing to fit the big 360cc en­gine into a smaller frame was not as prac­ti­cal as first thought as it left no room for any­thing else. The rear sus­pen­sion would not per­form as they wanted it to as the shock ab­sorber was too short and dif­fi­cult to ad­just. The chain line was not cor­rect which also hin­dered the rear sus­pen­sions per­for­mance. The oil sump ca­pac­ity was not suf­fi­cient and when more was added the en­gine would not ‘rev’ above 5,000 rpm. The crankcases were so tight around the crankshaft that the oil acted as a hy­draulic brake at high revs.

A new en­gine was sup­plied in­cor­po­rat­ing the mod­i­fi­ca­tions both he and his me­chanic had sug­gested and he gal­lantly fought back with a win in round seven in Aus­tria with more up­dated parts fit­ted to the 360cc, but the dam­age in the early rounds had made a huge ‘dint’ in his cham­pi­onship as­pi­ra­tions.

No World Cham­pi­onship

Saun­ders also re­ceived new parts for his 250cc RTL and soon came to the front as a se­ri­ous chal­lenger for wins which he duly took at the sea­son end in Ger­many as Michaud was crowned World Cham­pion on the Fan­tic. The truth is that in his first year on the semi-works Honda, Saun­ders had a fan­tas­tic sea­son which was so dif­fer­ent than the year Lejeune had. In re­al­ity, Eddy had per­formed mir­a­cles on the un­der de­vel­oped 360cc to win two rounds in a se­ries that Michaud had taken by storm.

For the last two rounds of the se­ries, know­ing his World Cham­pi­onship as­pi­ra­tions were over, the Bel­gium rider re­verted to a ma­chine very sim­i­lar to the one Saun­ders was rid­ing which was a pro­duc­tion RTL 250cc fit­ted with up­graded parts from the Honda Rac­ing Cor­po­ra­tion (HRC) in Ja­pan. In their first year of pro­duc­tion the 250cc RTL ma­chines proved ex­cel­lent ma­chines and it was de­cided to park up the pro­to­type 360cc and con­cen­trate on mak­ing the 250cc into a World Cham­pi­onship win­ner.

De­spite its fail­ure to win the World ti­tle much had been learnt in the dif­fi­cult sea­son with the RTL360S. For 1986 a two man Roth­mans spon­sored team, which in­cluded both Lejeune and Saun­ders, would com­pete for World Cham­pi­onship honours on fac­tory pre­pared RTL 270cc ma­chines which would in­cor­po­rate many of the new ideas which were the prod­uct of the pro­to­type Honda RTL360S.

At the open­ing WTC round in Spain 2nd If you look close enough you can seethe hand fab­ri­cated rear si­lencerEddy Lejeune

WTC - Spain: The pic­ture shows howsteep the haz­ards were. WTC - Eddy con­cen­trates in the Span­ish sun.The ma­chine was an on-go­ing evo­lu­tion.

WTC – France – The worst re­sult of the sea­son 6thWTC – Bel­gium – The ma­chines first win.WTC - GBR – Merthyr Tyd­fil 2nd

WTC – Fin­land - With me­chanic An­dreSi­mens on the left in Fin­land WTC – De­spite mak­ing many changes the ma­chine would not win the cham­pi­onship.WTC – The crowds were keen to see Eddy on the Honda.

The ma­chine with its seat and tank cover re­moved.Some of the en­gi­neers and team per­son­nel in­volved with the RTL project.At the end of the year the pro­duc­tion RTL 250cc was launched with Eddy Lejeune and Steve Saun­ders in at­ten­dance.

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