Op­por­tu­nity

John Shirt Jnr

Classic Trial - - CONTENTS -

Imag­ine hav­ing a fa­ther who is in­ter­na­tion­ally recog­nised as one of the best de­vel­op­ment en­gi­neers in the more re­cent times of the tri­als motorcycle. John Shirt Snr devel­oped and built a ma­chine with Mick An­drews that would win a world round — the Majesty Yamaha in Great Bri­tain 1980; some ac­co­lade you may think, but then it got even bet­ter. Shirt Snr then went on to help to de­velop the sport-chang­ing mono-shock Yamaha, which changed the de­vel­op­ment of the tri­als motorcycle for­ever. His son, John Shirt Jnr, grew up around and wit­nessed first-hand all these changes, and he had a very suc­cess­ful school­boy ca­reer. Dur­ing that win­ning pe­riod, he had al­ways rid­den two-stroke Yama­has built and devel­oped by his fa­ther. He was now rid­ing what many would term the 'Ul­ti­mate' sin­gle-shock Yamaha. The en­gine in­ter­nals was very much pro­duced by his fa­ther, who was never fright­ened to push into new ar­eas with his de­sign ideas. The frame had been given more ground clear­ance — I could write a book on it! The phone rings and John Shirt Snr takes the call from HRC Honda tri­als me­chanic Der­rick Ed­mon­son: "Honda works rider Eddy Le­je­une is mov­ing from the team at the end of 1987, and I have per­mis­sion from my bosses in Bel­gium and Ja­pan to run a young rider on the 250 Honda RTL. Would John Jnr be in­ter­ested?". It was time for de­ci­sions. Ar­ti­cle: John Hulme • Pictures: Eric Kitchen, Toon Van De Vliet, John Hulme, Yoomee Archive, Snr and Den­nis Fowler

The story starts back in July at the FIM World Cham­pi­onship round in Aus­tria where HRC Tri­als Team boss Fran­cois De­ley an­nounced that the three­year con­tract term for Bel­gium's Eddy Le­je­une would run out and not be re­newed. The three-time world tri­als cham­pion for Honda from 1982-1984, Le­juene ac­cepted the de­ci­sion and would even­tu­ally move to the Span­ish Mer­lin team for 1988. This de­ci­sion would also make his me­chanic and min­der Der­rick Ed­mond­son re­dun­dant.

School­boy Tal­ent

Der­rick had joined the team with Steve Saun­ders in 1986 and was a mine of in­for­ma­tion on the four-stroke tri­als ma­chines from Ja­pan. The ma­chines were very much his 'ba­bies'. He had nur­tured them through the de­vel­op­ment pe­riod with both Steve Saun­ders and Eddy Le­je­une, and he was very well re­spected by his Ja­panese em­ploy­ers. Af­ter speak­ing with HRC in Ja­pan and Fran­cois De­ley, they both agreed that they would send the 270 disc-braked de­vel­op­ment ma­chine back to Ja­pan at the close of the sea­son but keep the three drum­braked 250cc ma­chines which had been at the dis­posal of the team. He had been watch­ing the progress of the best Youth A class rid­ers in the UK and John Shirt Jnr in par­tic­u­lar. The Shirt and Ed­mond­son fam­i­lies had been friends for many years, and Der­rick soon re­alised that it was the choice of 'Shirty' Jnr that he would take the ride on the Works 250cc RTL Honda.

With his world cham­pi­onship com­mit­ments over, Der­rick spoke with John Shirt Snr about his 16-year-old son, also called John, rid­ing the four-stroke ma­chine in 1988. Der­rick would re­main very much in­volved with tri­als as the me­chanic/min­der for Steve Saun­ders with the Fan­tic for the 1988 sea­son. Fa­ther and son agreed it was too good an op­por­tu­nity to turn down and Der­rick pre­pared a 250cc Honda for Jnr to test. This hap­pened in late Novem­ber 1987 at Hawk's Nest with Der­rick in at­ten­dance to ex­plain the ma­chine and how it worked at its best for John. The test went very well de­spite the fact that Jnr had been get­ting very good results on the two-stroke Yamaha his fa­ther had devel­oped and he felt sure he could soon adapt to the at­tributes of the sin­gle cylin­der, air-cooled, four-stroke ma­chine. Der­rick ex­plained to Jnr that all he wanted him to do was en­joy rid­ing the ma­chine and he would note his progress. The deal would be the use of the ma­chine and a sup­ply of the spares he had left over from his three years with Le­je­une. He then dan­gled the 'golden car­rot' with the part­ing words: "If your results are good I could al­ways call Ja­pan and see if they would re­lease the de­vel­op­ment 270 disc brake model for you to use".

Tran­si­tion

It's a well-known fact that the tran­si­tion from a two-stroke en­gine to a four-stroke one is not easy. It would be a case of prac­tice and more prac­tice for the new part­ner­ship of John Shirt Jnr and the Honda. You must re­mem­ber, at this time John Shirt Snr and his wife Mar­garet were still run­ning their suc­cess­ful tri­als busi­ness at Sta­ble Lane in Bux­ton and so time was at a much-val­ued pre­mium. You must also re­mem­ber that John Jnr was not old enough to hold a driv­ing li­cense, and so to help Jnr to get in some rid­ing time on the Honda fam­ily friend John Hulme was on hand to drive to two main ar­eas for prac­tise, which would be Hawk's Nest and the home of Mick An­drews at Hol­loway near Mat­lock. He would have his first com­pet­i­tive ride on the Honda at the North­ern Cen­tre DR Bur­rows Trial in early De­cem­ber. It was a steep learn­ing curve in the pres­ence of some very good rid­ers, but he did him­self proud with a very strong sec­ond po­si­tion be­hind Nigel Bir­kett.

The next ride would be in the Irish Ex­perts, which was re­warded with a fourth po­si­tion. Der­rick re­ported back to Honda that he was happy with John's results and would it be pos­si­ble to send the 270 model back to the UK for John Jnr to com­pete on.

De­vel­op­ment 270

The ma­chine was shipped to John Shirts Snr's tri­als busi­ness premises at Sta­ble Lane over the Christ­mas pe­riod. When it ar­rived, it was like a lot­tery win for the Shirt fam­ily. Apart from the Miche­lin tyres, it was a true 'Works' built tri­als motorcycle. Many of the parts had been hand ma­chined, and it was very dif­fer­ent from the drum brake model he had been rid­ing. Apart from the ob­vi­ous 'one-off ' parts, the main change was the in­crease in the cylin­der ca­pac­ity to 272cc. The en­gine was a lit­tle higher in the frame than the 250cc, and it was very ob­vi­ously much more pow­er­ful, and John Snr ap­plied his magic to make this power as us­able as pos­si­ble.

John Jnr rode the ma­chine in com­pe­ti­tion as much as pos­si­ble, and it was a case of prac­tis­ing at ev­ery op­por­tu­nity. A few Cen­tre vic­to­ries came his way, but as he was not old enough to ride the ma­chine on the pub­lic roads, he was miss­ing the com­pe­ti­tion of rid­ing against the very best rid­ers.

He and his fa­ther had de­cided to ride in the open­ing world round in Spain in March, and to help with this prepa­ra­tion John Snr spoke with the or­gan­is­ers of the first Bri­tish Cham­pi­onship round, the Col­more, to see if young John Jnr could ride. He would ride the RTL in the haz­ards, and his friend, John Hulme, would ride it on the ad­join­ing road sec­tions, Jnr would fol­low him on his Yamaha DT50! Rid­ing at the front of the en­try he would not be al­lowed to be in­cluded in the fi­nal results. At the fin­ish, his score would have put him in the top ten.

World Cham­pi­onship

Com­pet­ing in the open­ing round of the 1988 FIM World Tri­als Cham­pi­onship in Spain would be an eye-opener. On 6th March he made his world round de­but, two days af­ter 17th birth­day. It was a tough world round by any stan­dards, but to­wards the end of the first lap, the top front fork yoke broke. He and his min­der John Hulme dashed back to the pad­dock, where the one from the drum brake ma­chine was fit­ted. He was now very late start­ing his sec­ond lap, and de­spite rush­ing the ma­jor­ity of the haz­ards, he came home in 26th po­si­tion.

At the UK round, held in the wet at Butser Lime Works in the south of the coun­try, he came home in 25th po­si­tion but just eight marks away from the points. One week later in North­ern Ire­land, it was a tough day, re­warded with a lowly 33rd fin­ish. As all this cham­pi­onship ac­tiv­ity was be­ing funded from the pocket of his fa­ther the de­ci­sion was made not to go to the next round in Lux­em­bourg. He only rode the RTL in one more world round in Bel­gium, where he fin­ished in 25th po­si­tion.

Scot­tish Six Days Trial

De­spite strug­gling with the four-stroke characteristics, af­ter some very en­cour­ag­ing results in­clud­ing a sev­enth at the Wye Val­ley Bri­tish Cham­pi­onship round and a fifth at the Vic­tory, John Jnr de­cided that the project was worth stay­ing with; es­pe­cially with the SSDT just around the cor­ner. It was a case of liv­ing the dream for John Jnr be­cause as a small boy all he ever wanted to do was ride in the SSDT. The Honda had been pre­pared for the six days by his fa­ther, who would also sup­ply the sup­port.

The week started very steadily, and with his rid­ing num­ber 45, Jnr got his early day out of the way fin­ish­ing in 11th po­si­tion. He moved up to fourth af­ter Wed­nes­day and things were go­ing well, but he felt the pres­sure and things slipped a lit­tle through the week.

Af­ter en­joy­ing the road-ride day on Fri­day, Shirty was rid­ing on the road with men­tor and hero Nigel Bir­kett, and he stupidly over­took Birks rac­ing on the road just be­fore Rhubarb, and the Honda made a hor­ren­dous noise and stopped. Af­ter restart­ing the en­gine the horrible rat­tle slowly got bet­ter, and he rode Rhubarb hold­ing his breath. It was a slow ride back to the pad­dock to be greeted by his fa­ther, and he then ex­plained what had hap­pened. John se­nior found that a pop-rivet was miss­ing from the air­box which had gone through into the en­gine. Noth­ing could be done at this stage, and Shirty ner­vously rode the last day to fin­ish 10th over­all and to the Best New­comer in a qual­ity field.

The cylin­der head was re­moved back in Bux­ton to find the rivet imbed­ded in it…very lucky in­deed, was the ver­dict!

Not For Me

John was still strug­gling to find grip with the 272cc en­gine; one minute it was grip­ping, and the next sec­ond it would de­liver the power very harsh. Der­rick Ed­mond­son told John that Eddy Le­je­une had ex­pe­ri­enced the same prob­lem and pre­ferred the less pow­er­ful 250cc en­gine. De­spite these prob­lems, John recorded his only na­tional win on the RTL at the Dave Row­land Na­tional. John Shirt Snr at this point was hav­ing to look af­ter his busi­ness in­ter­ests af­ter the Yamaha years had fin­ished, and had started to im­port the Gas Gas ma­chines from Spain. Both fa­ther and son Shirts spoke with Der­rick Ed­mond­son and af­ter a long test ses­sion with the new two-stroke Gas Gas John Jnr de­cided that was where his fu­ture would lie.

Dur­ing the gen­er­a­tion of this ar­ti­cle, we use quite an ex­ten­sive archive for pictures. If we have used any pictures by mis­take for which we do not own the copy­right works and you are the orig­i­nal au­thor, please con­tact us at eng­[email protected] trial­mag.com

On the rocks in the Wain­wright Na­tional Trial in York­shire.

Con­cen­trat­ing and feel­ing for wheel grip in the Jack Wood Na­tional Trial.

His fi­nal ap­pear­ance in the WTC on the RTL in Bel­gium where he fin­ished in 25th po­si­tion.

Great Bri­tain: The world round was made more dif­fi­cult as heavy rain af­fected the area, mak­ing for a dif­fi­cult day for ev­ery­one as the mud changed the event.

SSDT: Fo­cussing on stay­ing on line in the wa­ter at Lag­naha, the fi­nal haz­ards of the fourth day.

SSDT: Af­ter some good solid rid­ing, seen here at Creag Lundie, the re­ward was mov­ing up to fourth over­all at the close of day three.

SSDT: The dream of rid­ing in the fa­mous event be­comes a re­al­ity.

SSDT: With the over-suit on and the RTL given the once over all was look­ing good as he headed out on day three.

Spain – WTC: Queu­ing up for tech­ni­cal in­spec­tion and sign­ing on.

Spain – Team: John Jnr and John Hulme with the drum brake RTL and the disc brake model at the front.

Spain: It’s a re­lived fa­ther and son Shirt as he fin­ishes his first ever world round in 26th po­si­tion from an en­try of 70 rid­ers just days af­ter his 17th birth­day.

Great Bri­tain – Butser Lime Works: The world round started just out­side Peters­field.

Prac­tis­ing on the RTL at Sant Llorenc De Morunys in the spring sun­shine in Spain.

It was a fully loaded Tal­bot van seen here on route to the open­ing round of the World Tri­als Cham­pi­onship in March 1988. This picture is at the French bor­der crossing on the way to Spain.

John Jnr, seen here in his early years with his very proud mother Mar­garet. She was very in­stru­men­tal in the busi­ness she and John Snr built be­tween them. She sadly passed away in 2004.

John Snr and Jnr in 1984.

John Jnr with the Yamaha Mono-Shock his fa­ther was so in­volved with de­vel­op­ing into a ma­chine which changed the face of the tri­als world for­ever, af­ter the ear­lier Yamaha trial in­volve­ment with the Majesty project. Seen here in this picture is a very...

As with many young rid­ers the ad­ven­ture into off-road motorcycle sport started with the good old Yamaha TY80. This is the Majesty ver­sion built by John Shirt Snr.

In 1988 John Snr had started to im­port the Gas Gas tri­als ma­chines. John Jnr knew he needed this work to se­cure the fu­ture and he moved to the Gas Gas to ride and pro­mote the prod­uct, he is still do­ing it some 30 years on. John Jnr is on the far left...

Now the mil­lion-dol­lar ques­tion, what did re­ally hap­pen to the Honda RTL John Shirt Jnr rode? He was re­united with the ma­chine at the Telford Off-Road Show on the RTLR Honda Own­ers’ Club stand, seen here with Patrick Pis­sis who along with Olivier...

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