I can proudly say that I rode in the same team as the late great Ulf Karlson. In 1982 I had a contract to ride in Halvarsson clothing as they tried to break into the European trials market - I still have the contract — and Ulf was in the team. My first sight of Ulf was at the 1977 Scottish Six Days Trial when I was a youngster watching the trial and 'snapping' away with my little Kodak camera. He looked a very tough, determined competitor, to put it mildly. Wind the clock forward to a few years ago when I spoke to him at the Swedish world round in 2015 and, in truth, he still looked very much the same — just a little older. His passing was a shock to the trials world as he was quite a private person who lived a very normal life after the winning years in trials. His values on life regarding loyalty would see him ride for just one manufacturer during his successful trials career, Montesa. I have some very good friends in the trials world, and one of the most enduring relationships is with Toon van de Vliet, who I first met at the 1978 SSDT. Toon knows so many people from the trials world in particular, from during their winning years, Yrjo Vesterinen, Bernie Schreiber and of course Ulf Karlson. It was Toon who I turned to for some memoirs of the late great Ulf Karlson. Words: Toon van de Vliet and John Hulme • Pictures: Toon van de Vliet, Yoomee Archive, Rappini/Comment, Eric Kitchen, Mauri/Fontsere Collection and the Giulio Mauri Copyright, Iain Lawrie and Eddie Karlsson Family
The loss of a unique motorcycle rider like the Swedish 1980 FIM World Champion Ulf Karlson was a big shock for the world of trials and those special people who met him during his career. His fellow competitors and the great number of supporters he had will never forget him and his great style of riding and handling of an off-road motorcycle. He was dedicated to the Spanish manufacturer Montesa for his whole career and the only ever rider to win the world championship for them on a 100 per cent Spanish born-andbred Cota model. In 1975 he was kindly rewarded by the Montesa factory with his own Ulf Karlson Replica Cota 247 when he finished second in the European Championship competition in 1974.
Ulf Karlson was born in Alvangen, Sweden, on the 6th of March 1952 and started trials riding on an air-cooled Puch 50cc moped from Austria. Aged 15 he was attracted to trials just to do something different from the much more popular motocross sport in Sweden, which had a much larger following. When he turned 18-years-old, he bought his first Montesa and started as a Junior rider, and was very successful. He achieved Senior status very quickly and also got a little support from the Swedish Montesa importer.
Karlson had to go to other countries to develop his riding and started to go to trials in Belgium, Spain and some events in Great Britain too. At first, he was travelling with some friends and, together with Bennie Selman, drove a Volkswagen Beatle because he had to pay for everything out of his pocket.
Working from a very young age as a painter he had to fund everything himself after his father died who was just 50-yearsold. Ulf was just 18 and he had to stand on his own two feet. He worked very hard for his money. Travelling abroad was expensive but necessary because Sweden is covered in snow for more than a half the year, making it difficult to pursue a career in motorcycle trials! But the strong Scandinavian sportsman would aim to become a champion at all costs. Helped by his wife Ewa and with his will to succeed he did that in a more than glorious way!
In the early seventies as his career was still in its infancy, he had to contest with three other fellow Swedish riders Benny Sellman, Tore Evertsson and Bo Nilsson. They all carried the same traits as Ulf in being very strong and determined competitors. They had some great battles to win the National Championship as both Sellman and Evertsson shared the honours until Karlson made the breakthrough in 1976.
In the 1975 Scottish Six Days Trial on the Montesa Cota 247. CLASSIC TRIAL MAGAZINE 2018 • ISSUE 25
Ulf Karlson on the left with fellow Swedish rider Benny Sellman in 1974 at the Italian European round. They enjoyed many good trials battles.
1975 in the Italian world round.