Honda TLR 250
When the call came into the office from occasional Classic Trial Magazine test rider Phil Disney that he was thinking of starting to ride in classic trials, we knew he would want something competitive from the word go. In more recent times Phil had been converted to the four-stroke Montesa Cota 4RT and purchased some very exotic examples. He just loved the smooth but powerful Honda four-stroke engine and decided that when the time was right to start riding in classic trials, it would be the Japanese fourstroke machine he would look for, a European model Honda 250 TLR. After some asking around, he was put in touch with Nigel Land, who has quickly gained a good reputation for making the conversion from a good machine to an even better one with the four-stroke Hondas.
Here Nigel explains a little about his background and his passion for the Honda TLR trials models in his own words.
A Honda trials story: Nigel Land
The trials ‘bug’ started in the early 70s; I have been riding in trials since 1974, my first trials motorcycle was a Honda TL125 which, as we all say, I should have kept. I was never more than an average clubman rider and the highlight of my early days was winning the 1977 Stalwarts Trophy Trial with the Spen Valley Club. The Stalwarts trial still takes place, the day after the Spen Valley Annual Dinner Dance, so the trick is to keep topping up your mates’ drinks, and you stick to the lemonade — how many times have you heard that story! Even all those years ago, I was obsessed with keeping the machine in good mechanical order and looking good.
When I saw an advert in Motorcycle News that Sammy Miller had developed the ‘Hi-Boy’ frame kit, I persuaded my mother and brother to fund the purchase. I can still remember the butterflies in my stomach when the parcel arrived containing the lovely chrome-plated frame, and then the hours spent in my father’s greenhouse — which was much warmer than the garage — removing the parts from the old heavy TL frame, cleaning and polishing everything and then fitting them to the Hi-Boy frame kit. Since then, I have dipped in and out of trials. I also had a four-stroke CCM 350 — I wish I had it. That was stolen in 1991. The smell of Castrol R always reminds me, with much fondness, of the BSA engines.
It was in 1992 when an accident competing in a sidecar trial brought an end to my riding, breaking my pelvis and resulting in a permanent right foot injury. It was then in 2004, when on hire with my JCB doing ground works for the Bumpy Trials Academy, near Leeds, that I went back to riding. My good friend Julian Ford, who is sadly no longer with us, was working at Bumpy as off-road manager and together we improved all aspects of the nine-acre trials park with expert advice from Dan Thorpe, who is still working at Bumpy.
Every year, at the Motorcycle Live NEC Show, and in collaboration with the ACU, Bumpy run the Try Trials experience, which is a free 15-minute session on a trials motorcycle for anyone who has never stood up on the footrests. I assist with the event, and it never fails to amaze me how road riders with 20 years’ experience go to pieces when they stand up!
Looking for a suitable twin-shock machine for my return to riding, I attended the Telford Classic Offroad show in 2005, known as Wrighty’s show back then.
Sammy Miller Products
I had seen that Sammy Miller Products were selling an up-to-date Hi-Boy frame kit copied from the old fabricating jigs that would once again bring an old Honda TL 125 model back to life, and I made the journey to the stand at the show to check it out and take a closer look. While looking round the show though I came across the Whitlock frame kit for Honda TLR, and I was in love with a Honda conversion once again! The deposit was paid for the Whitlock frame kit, and I travelled home with a huge smile, just needing to find a good donor Honda TL 125 and off we would go. One was found, and I built the Whitlock TLR Honda during the winter, and it looked superb. It also had superb steering and handling and was really nice to ride and very forgiving. Since then, I have built twelve Honda
trials models to different specifications, always using the Honda four-stroke as the donor machine; a couple of RTLs and the rest have been TLRs.
Over the last four years, I have been fortunate enough to have been able to complete a machine in time for the Telford Offroad show each February and present it to the customer on my stand; the same is planned for 2019 with a Rothmans TLR 250; very similar to Phil Disney’s machine.
The conversation started something along the lines of ‘Dear Nigel’ in January 2018 when Phil contacted me about a TLR conversion. Glen Scholey had ridden one of my machines at the Costa Brava Classic Trial in Spain a few months earlier which attracted Phil’s interest and, after calling Glen to ask about the machine, he contacted me. I had just finished a 250 to top specification for another customer, Paul Jackson, so when Phil came to my workshop, there was something to look at.
After a couple of hours’ discussion, and several mugs of tea, it was decided to go with a Rothmans colour scheme, including a special request of white hubs and black spokes. I was a little sceptical about this combination, but I must admit when it was done it does look good, proving that the customer is always right. Purists will know that the Rothmans colours were only used on the RTL models, but it is very popular on the twin-shocks although, admittedly, not entirely correct.
I explained from the beginning, as I do with all my customers, that the build would take some four to six months, depending on my business workload. As I have been self-employed from leaving college doing ground works and JCB hire, the Honda building is a passion and hobby which has to fit around my ‘proper job’. Fortunately, all my customers have become good friends, and all have agreed to this arrangement on the lead time for the completion of the project!
On the Honda at the Highland Classic Two Day in Scotland.
This Honda four-stroke engine was the first choice for Phil Disney on his entry into classic and twin-shock trials.
Purists will know that the Rothmans colours were only used on the RTL models.
Excellent handling inspires confident riding as seen here — check out the tongue!
From Japan, this HRC based 249cc four-stroke OHC engine offers high torque with a large flywheel mass and maintenance-free capacitor discharge ignition (CDI).
Legendary four-stroke trials power offers exceptional gripping qualities in the right hands.
The S3 aftermarket titanium front pipe gives the engine the ‘Factorysupplied’ look. As with any product from S3 in Spain the fit is perfect.
As with all Japanese engines the gear change is very positive; the TLR uses this aluminium gear lever.
Suspension feedback to the rider is excellent.
The aluminium rear swinging arm amplifies the ‘Factory’ look once again. The footrests are from Apico, giving a good positive feel to the rider.
Renthal 7/8th handlebars are still considered to be the best.
If you’re looking for exceptional front-fork performance look no further than the ones fitted to the RTL Honda models. This was once again at the request of Mr Disney for the Honda TLR 250 build.
Attention to detail is second to none.
To keep the overall weight down titanium fasteners are used throughout. Keeping the customer happy is paramount and the special request of white hubs and black spokes was carried out; they certainly give the desired effect.