Entering the modern era
A period of economic crisis during the sixties, together with a lack of technological evolution in the UK motorcycle industry since the end of the Second World War would result in big changes in the world of motorcycling, with its consequences on the (little) world of Trial. Big British machines with 4-stroke engines had had their day and would quite quickly give way to 2-stroke machines that were lighter and more efficient. As from 1967, and the first European Individual Trial season, there were no longer any motorcycles with 4-stroke engines. There was still a British bike with a 2-stroke engine, the Greeves, with which riders such as Gordon Farley and Bill Wilkinson achieved good results.
The best riders of that time, all citizens of Her Gracious Majesty, then started to evaluate the possibilities which were proposed from outside the country. Sammy Miller, Don Smith and Mick Andrews were hired by the young Spanish factories (Bultaco, Montesa and Ossa, respectively), on their way to the conquest of new markets. From their entry in the discipline, the Spanish manufacturers brought a new technology for Trial enthusiasts. Sammy Miller, expert rider on his 500cc, 115 kg, HT5 Ariel, worked on the development of a prototype known under the name of Sherpa which, as from its first version, had nothing to do with the machines used up until then – for a start, it weighed some twenty kilos less and had a single-cylinder, 2-stroke engine which had several advantages in terms of handling and mechanical simplicity.
The man who had favoured this changing process and who would surely develop a great passion of so many Spaniards for the motorcycle sport was the late Don Francisco “Paco” Bultò, the boss of Bultaco, a man driven by an unlimited will and who would enter a still new sport in the Iberian Peninsula of that time. Don “Paco” Bulto had left Montesa and created Bultaco in 1958, concentrating on the production on 2-stroke engine machines. He then created a machine for Trial riding – but also cross and road racing machines. Spain, until then rather discreet in competition, would emerge at international level – not only in Trial: Derbi and a certain Angel Nieto won the first title in a long series of Road Racing Grand Prix in 1969. Bultaco’s first title of in road racing would come in 1976 in the 125cc thanks to Angel Nieto. But let’s come back to Trial.
Change of machines and technique
As from the end of the sixties, with the withdrawal of the British 500cc, most machines had a cubic capacity of 250cc – Bultaco would launch a 325cc later. Zündapp also showed up with 175cc and even 125cc machines – the German brand was racing in Enduro in all the small cubic capacities and used the same machines, slightly modified, in Trial, and sometimes even the same riders, such as Josef Wolfgrüber. There were also a 175cc Honda (the only four-stroke!) and even a 128cc Suzuki. All the events of the first season, 67-68, were won by Sammy Miller on a 250cc Bultaco. From the seven best classified riders, six were British, and three of them (Farley, Wilkinson and Weller) were riding the 250cc 2-stroke Greeves. The others rode the 250cc Bultaco (Miller and Smith), and the Suzuki (Gaunt). The German Gustav Franke finished second on a Zündapp.
The following season was also a bridge over two years, 68-69. The countries visited were the same as during the previous year with the addition of Sweden. Six events were on the calendar of which four would count towards the Championship. Don Smith (on a Montesa, after having ridden for Bultaco) succeeded Sammy Miller – who only rode in two events of which he won one – and finished in third, the second being Dennis Jones (on a 128cc Suzuki, with two wins). Miller would win the crown back in the 69-70 season which had nine events: Spain, Finland and Poland had entered the calendar, and names of riders started to appear who would meet with glory in the years to come. Mick Andrews won the first Trial of Sant Llorenc del Munt near to Barcelona, riding the 250cc Ossa. In the classification one can find the names of Charles Coutard, Ignacio Bulto, Pedro Pi, Jean-Marie Lejeune, Yrjo Vesterinen and Martin Lampkin, among others. Sammy Miller dominated with six wins out of nine events.
One British rider left, another arrived: Mick Andrews, Ossa factory rider, took the two European titles in 70-71 and 1972. In 70-71 his main opponents were Malcolm Rathmell on a Bultaco, Dave Thorpe (Ossa), Gordon Farley, Alan and Martin Lampkin (Bultaco). The dates of the Championship were then modified: as from 1972 it was held from January to August. Beside the already named riders, some new names appeared: Rob Shepherd, Fernando Muñoz, and the Scandinavians Ulf Karlsson and Yrjö Vesterinen. Then Martin Lampkin, riding a 325cc Bultaco, took the last European title in the 1973 season, against Rathmell and Andrews. That same year Mick Andrews was hired by Yamaha, a newcomer in Trial. Andrews won various events on the Yamaha but did not succeed in taking the title. In 1974 the Championship became “Euro-American” in order to include a round in the United States, and to allow American riders to participate. It was the turn of Malcolm Rathmell (Bultaco) to clinch the title.
Then the FIM decided to change again the status of the Championship, which became a World Championship in 1975. The winner was British rider Martin Lampkin, still riding a Bultaco – one point ahead of Yrjö Vesterinen and two ahead of Malcolm Rathmell. This was an important coronation as he would be the last British rider World Champion for more than 20 years, the British riders thus losing their dominant position in this discipline. They would recover it only many years later thanks to Martin Lampkin’s son Dougie, who would fly high over Trial as of 1997.
1976: a new era
The second half of the seventies saw the arrival of non-British riders at the top, and the real golden era for the Spanish brands. At that time, everything that counted in terms of Trial came from that country. The best riders, in order to remain competitive, had to ride for one of the three Catalan brands, which confirmed the Barcelona region as the world center for Trial. This period of stability for the Spanish motorcycle industry was also marked by the arrival of great new riders. The Championship would then develop very fast in several countries notably France and Italy, but first there was a Scandinavian intermezzo. It is true that Swedes and Finns were really catching on to this sport. The Trösa Trial in Sweden notably had formed young Swedish riders; Hans Bengtsson at first, then Benny Sellman and Thore Evertsson, among others, and the Finns were not far behind. It was one of them who would soon become one of the greatest riders of all times – in any case the first non-British: Yrjö Vesterinen. Pure talent, technical precision and perfect riding, together with a Scandinavian-type cold-blood, Vesterinen, who was already among the best riders, dominated the opposition as from 1976 and took the World title for three consecutive years. He was the first to achieve this performance. He was also the first “foreigner” to win the Scottish Six Days Trial in 1979. This was like a thunderstorm in the Scottish sky, which was entering an “international” period.
One day a young rider from California came to Europe and went knocking on Bultaco’s door, to talk to Mr Bulto. This young guy – coming from a country where Trial was barely known – was called Bernie Schreiber. He was looking for a way to progress in Trial. He would actually be the first rider at world level to introduce a new, different riding technique: a better control of the bike, more acrobatic riding and more use of the clutch, an element which was practically banned in the “holy canons” of the British riders. In 1978 he finished second, two points behind Vesterinen, but in 1979, this young American inscribed his name in the Golden book of the World Championship, winning a long battle against Vesterinen, the Swede Ulf Karlsson and Martin Lampkin.
Nevertheless, for the three “sisters” of Spanish Trial – Bultaco, Ossa and Montesa – a serious crisis was about to happen, because of a serious drop in sales on the European market, and also because of a national political situation that was undergoing a significant transformation. This time it was the Italian factories which were arriving in Trial. However, Montesa still won the 1980 Championship thanks to the Swede Ulf Karlsson – who took advantage of two DNF results of Schreiber (2nd). Vesterinen finished 3rd. The following year, it was the turn of a young French rider, Gilles Burgat, the official rider of an Italian factory called SWM, who took the title with 35 points in front of Karlsson, 36 over Vesterinen and 37 over Eddy Lejeune. Then it was the turn of Eddy Lejeune – son of Jean-Marie – to arrive at the top, riding a 360cc 4-stroke Honda. This machine, tested in previous Championships by Rob Shepherd, allowed Eddy Lejeune to clinch three consecutive titles (82 to 84). As from 1985, two riders shared the laurels of World Trial. First the Frenchman Thierry Michaud arrived, riding another Italian machine, the Fantic, and won in 1985 and 1986. In 1987 a young Spaniard named Jordi Tarrès, riding a Beta (also Italian), surprised everybody and clinched his first title. 1988 would remain historic thanks to the fight between Michaud and Tarrès until the last event, won by the Frenchman who won his third title, but afterwards Tarrès would win not less than six World titles (only leaving the 1992 one to the Finn Tommy Ahvala and his Aprilia). Tarrès dominated Trial until 1995. After the title of Marc Colomer in 1996, it was then the turn of Dougie Lampkin (Martin’s son) to dominate the World Trial. The following is still news, not yet history …
By Marc Pétrier
Photos Don Morley
Martin Lampkin (father of Dougie) was a Bultaco rider for many years. He clinched an European title in 1973 and the first World title in 1975.
Mick Andrews, Ossa factory rider, won two European Championships in 1971 and 1972. Then he was Yamaha rider, before coming back to Ossa (pictured here 1979).
Malcolm Rathmell had a long career in Trial, starting in the 60s until the 80s.
The best Trial rider in the 70s and one of the best Trial specialists of all times: the Finn Yrjö Vesterinen.
Bernie Schreiber came from California, was hired by Bultaco and won the 1979 Championship, introducing new riding techniques.