A Life-Time with a Cota! I bought My Montesa Cota 248 early in 1986, and paid the princely sum of £290. She had had two previous recorded keepers; John Townsend, of Southam, in Warwickshire, and Duncan Elliot, of Leamington, in Warwickshire.
If either of you see this site; this is what has happened to 'Your Old Bike'. Feel free to drop me an e-mail with anything pertinent during the time you looked after her.
But the story starts around 1979, which was when I discovered that the excuse "You can't have a motorbike until you're 16" wasn't QUITE true. Parents, lie to you. It's their job, apparently!
I was eight years old, and had been struck by the biking bug since as long as I could remember; probably since before I could walk! Certainly family 'lore' would have it that as a toddler, I used to 'kick-start' my Raleigh 'budgie' bicycle, even before the stabilisers came off.
Any way, struck by the bug, and aged about nine, had come to realise that I COULD have a motorbike before I was 16. Which brought about a whole new raft of excuses, as to why I couldn't. Predominantly, these were that you needed somewhere to ride a motorbike, that they were expensive, and often needed fixing! But mainly, I think it was the 'expensive' bit; and as parents do, I think that they hoped that I would get bored with the idea and go back to playing with action men, or discover balsa-wood aeroplanes or train sets or something! But, no. I was not to be dissuaded so easily!
I discovered, in my grandparents shed, the remains of various motorcycles. My uncle Rod, had moved out of home, and left behind a yellow Lambretta, that he had taken apart to 'restore' and sell; but never got further than painting the frame and panels. His BSA C15, was similarly forlorn. A succession of teenage owners had tried 'tuning' it, and the engine was in pieces in apple crates. More promising, was my Mum's old Vespa. My aunt had been T-boned on it some five years before; and it sat in the back of the garage, with no front fork. But, besides that, was a Batavas step through moped.
This, my mother had bought to replace the Vespa and to commute to college on. "JYG 738N". It became my first motorbike, and the number plate hangs above my fire place!
It had failed it's MOT, but still ran. Only problem with it was that the lights didn't work. Now, had I been more enterprising, it was probably not a difficult fault to fix, only my Granddad was not inclined; and neither was the local mechanic, who deemed it 'not worth fixing'. So, I claimed it, stripped off the headlights and rode it around the garden until the wheels fell off!
Mean-while, I REALLY wanted to go scrambling. But for that I needed something a bit more purposeful than an old moped. So, helping out on a milk round, mowing lawns and saving my pocket money, I set out to buy myself a schoolboy scrambler.
Buying T&MX news every week, I often came across bikes I could just about afford; but, the excuses were always prepared. I was told that if I spent all my money on the motorbike, I wouldn't have anything left to fix it, and 'cheap' bikes always needed fixing. I was told I had no helmet; no boots; no-where to ride it; the list went on, and on and on. For five years!
Until eventually, I had the situation 'sussed'. I had discovered, Trials Riding. Well, I say 'discovered'. Peter Purvis was on TV commentating 'Kick-Start'! Which wasn't that exiting, until he did 'Junior Kick-Start'. I didn't know that they had 'School-Boy' trials. Not that it made much difference. Except.....
It did. Answered a LOT of the excuses, did trials! I discovered for instance that you didn't at the time NEED a crash helmet for trials riding. Also, you didn't have to pay your entire years event insurance up front. But more importantly, trials bikes weren't thrashed like scramblers! And basically, it was a sport I had SOME chance of affording. Best of all though, I had a chance to try it. Vale Onslow had helped set up a 'Trials Park' in Birmingham. They rented Yamaha TY's by the hour, and let you use your own bike if you had one.
So, I changed my ambition a little. Schoolboy scrambles was probably unfeasible. Trials however was not. And it made a lot of sense.
Any way, I was 15 years old, and giving the local newsagents 5p of my dinner money each morning, to pay for my copy of T&MX every Friday morning. Straight to the small ads in the back, I would scour through them all during registration. It was supposed to be reading time, and I guess the reason I got away with it was I was probably one of the few with anything that looked printed in front of me on the desk!
This one morning, however, I struck lucky. I found an add for my 'Cota. It was in my budget. It was local. All I needed to do was get to it before any-one else. Because THAT had become the last avoidance tactic of the family. After all excuses had been answered, they would delay, forestall, and otherwise dally, usually going over the same old debates over whether I could afford the bike, or if I had any-where to ride it etc, until maybe, I would be allowed, Sunday tea time, to telephone and enquire about an advert. By which time, you could guarantee that the bike was already sold.
So, this Friday, I was determined. I snuck out of school at break-time, and telephoned from the call box on the corner. No answer. I tried again at lunch time. Still no answer. So I called my uncle, Rod, and gave him the telephone number, and instruction to keep calling until some-one answered, and to collect me from school at half three so we could go over and look at it!
Dazed, he called once, and got no answer; but half three he turned up outside School on his Suzuki SP370, plastered in mud to collect me, and take me back to my Grans. I spent the entire evening on the telephone, getting no answer, until eventually I did! It was about quarter to six, and I said that I'd be there to look at the bike before seven.
More stalling tactics; but after I had donned my jacket and helmet, pulled Rod's Suzuki out of the shed, and started it up, he followed; asking lots of daft questions I answered, by saying something like, "Rather than standing here debating it; lets go see the thing, it may be no good any way"
So, we rode 15 miles to Leamington; where we stopped at Rod's mate, Grahams. Because he wanted his opinion, "'Cos he's the 'expert' on off roaders"
Hmmmm. Lots of coffee and chat followed, but eventually, the three of us got to see the bike. It was almost dark, and we looked at the bike under a sodium street-lamp, before Graham put-putted it round the pocket handkerchief back garden, bounced the suspension & pronounced it 'Not Bad'.
We collected it the following day. We'd been told by Duncan that the seat had been cut down by John Townsend, but other than that, she was supposed to be pretty stock.
It's taken me seventeen years to find out about that 'cut down' seat. We just assumed that the cover had been taken off and foam removed, and the seat base possibly shortened a bit. It wasn't. The whole seat unit, made of fibre-glass had been cut, dropping the seat by probably two inches. And I still suspect that some attempt had been made to modify the clutch actuation. And an e-mail from Mr Townsends son a year or so ago, revealed that he had actually shortened the swing arm by an inch or so; which had perplexed me when I came to fit a new chain and brake cable, that had been obviously a bit long! But not having anything but pictures to compare it to, the mod hadn't been that apparent!
Otherwise she seemed in pretty good fettle. She still had 90% of her finish; The tank unit was not unduly blemished and had all its badges and decals, while both mudguards were original and unbroken. The only obvious non-stock item was the round WES aluminium silencer. But best of all, she had nice red adjustable Mazocchi rear shock absorbers. Serious kit in the early eighties! It wasn't to last, though.
As a fifteen year old, there were three places I could ride her. There was the Ackers centre in Small Heath Birmingham. An outdoor pursuit centre where the 'Star Rider' training school, that pioneered the CBT was based, along with a small Trials Park founded with the backing of Vale Onslow, who's shop was about a mile down the road. It was actually on Armoury Road, behind the old BSA works, which was sadly empty, dilapidated and lacking a roof to save on paying rates, at the time. The next possible venue was the woods behind my grandparents house. Conveniently, they were putting in the M40 motorway, and compulsory purchase orders had left the route dotted with abandoned farms, of which, this was one. It’s a very prestigious hotel now. And lastly, I had organised competitions.
Or at least that was the principle. I could get lessons at the Ackers, then practice round the woods, and put it into practice in competition.
Trouble was, as a fifteen year old, I was wholly dependent on my family for ferrying me around, and my Saturday job, mowing lawns, to pay my entry's and stuff. Things did not go to plan. I did a couple of lessons at the Ackers, and got some practice in around the woods, but during post practice clean down, the list of things I would have to fix started to grow. Having bought the bike in March, I didn't actually get to compete on her 'till June, because of the practicalities of getting the bike fettled and finding some-one to ferry me.
You know, these days we take credit cards and mail order spares so much for granted. But way back then, I wasn't old enough to have a credit card, and even if I had, or if I could convince some-one with one to use it for me, few motorcycle shops would accept mail order. You had to go into the shop, which would often only be open normal office hours, and could probably be fifty miles away.
Any way, things finally came together in June '86 and I did my first trial, which was something of a baptism of fire. We set out early. Me, my uncle Rod, and my granddad, George, in a 1980 Talbot Avenger Estate, with a one bike trailer on the back. We drove 25 miles to Edge Hill on the edge of the Cotswolds, for me to wallow around, fall off, and generally disgrace myself on the Montesa. Testing more the patience of the Observers than my riding skill, to end up classified as a 'Retirement', because the observers had all had enough and trundled off down the pub before I completed my 'Laps'.
George had spent most of the event sat on the tail gate of the Avenger talking with some of the 'Old boys' and muttering derisive comments about 'stink wheels' while Rod ran round the course, yelling at me to "Put some effort into it!" or "Get your arse out ' the saddle!"
They both admitted afterwards, that I'd actually not done too bad, that it was a lot tougher than it looked, and "you'll do better next time".
The paddock lore they had picked up wasn't too helpful either. Rod had ascertained that my Montesa was to big and too old, and I really ought to think about a new Fantic Mono, some 'proper' Trials Slick tyres, and some decent riding kit, like the other 'Kids'.
What George had ascertained was slightly more useful; Ignore the 'Schoolboy brigade'. Most of them are spoiled little brats, living out their dads dreams. Get some decent boots (I was wearing slip on builder's boots). And the ability for the brakes to actually lock the wheels can be useful!
So, the first outing was not that auspicious. And to be honest, I had made things a bit tougher than needs be; 'Juniors' ride 125's, which are a bit lighter and nimbler, and their course is a bit shorter. Because I was on a 250, though, and a 'big lad' and not far off sixteen, honest! I was riding the Novice adult course!
But, after the first event, enthusiasm for helping me do more started to wane a little. More pootling about in the woods followed, and we got some new brake shoes, though it seems the problem was more one of adjustment. And I did a couple more sessions up at the Ackers.
Another competitive outing was planned in November '86. It didn't happen.
There were numerous reasons, but chief among them was the discovery that the front down tubes of the frame were snapped.
My mother was moaning that I had 'O' levels coming up and had no time for 'messing about with motorbikes'. And Rod, had been made redundant, and was struggling to set up his own business as a sand blaster - my fault, but that's another story.
So, for the next seven months she sat languishing in the garage, in various apple crates. The frame was eventually welded up by a chap in Leamington called Brian Ashe, who made grass track bikes, and who had worked at Meriden.
Bringing her home, I used Rod's newly acquired sand blasting kit to take the frame back to white metal, then brush painted it with red 'Smoothrite', which she still wears & regularly gets new coats of.
And that was as far as it got.
(That red 'smoothright by the way; a fraction 'brighter than the original red she was painted in Esplugues, is simply by co-incidence the same shade of red as the buttons and logo's on the site! And I have to confess, a convenience. Normally I don't recommend the stuff for anything but painting garden gates. For a hard used trial bike, though, its good stuff. It covers anything, and is a bit 'plastic', so doesn't chip.)
Spring & Early summer 1987, saw me sit my 'O' levels. Bikes were a mute subject, and it had to wait until the summer break, before I could start to put her back together. Trouble was, Rod was still struggling to set up his blasting business, and working 7-days a week, so he couldn't run me about like he'd used to, and I was trying to earn the money to buy a car, so I could run myself about, working the holiday with him.
Autumn '87, and she was back in one piece, but no-one was able to run me around to take me trialing, and I was still saving for a car. Oh, and I'd managed to acquire a Yamaha DT50 moped for £5, that I was working on as a 'get-about', while I saved for the car, and got my driving licence.
Montesa was relegated to the few sessions of practice I could get in the woods, and that was how life toddled on into '88, when I had the DT50 on the road, and had passed my driving test, but still couldn't afford to run a car, as a struggling 'A' level student.
Things did not improve. I finally got a car in the autumn of '88. A 1957 Morris Minor Pickup truck, that I thought would be ideal for loading the bike on the back of. Except all it proved to do was absorb what limited funds I had, until a punctured cross-ply tyre saw me wrap it around a tree.
Meanwhile, the Montesa had been shifted from the home of one set of Grandparents to the other, who had a farm, where she suffered mercilessly, being hammered about the orchard, flat track style, leaving her in a fairly forlorn condition, and certainly not equipped for competition
University came next. And a six year old Citroen LNA, Samba kind of thing was bought for me by my Dad. It was sort of like a proper car, only shorter! Amazingly though ,I did manage to squeeze the old Cota in the back.
Seats down, wheels off, and the boot lid held with a bungee, and the suspension flattened! In fact, anything much heavier than a duvet in the boot saw the suspension bottoming. So not much good for getting her to events then. Ridiculous car.
Was supposed to have a 2CV engine; you know, 650cc boxer twin, like a BMW motorbike motor. I say 'supposed' - It was a stupid car, so I did stupid things to it, in the end! I fitted a 1440cc over head cam engine from a Renault in it, with a rather large twin-choke down draft 'pumper' carburettor!
Blip the throttle and you could see a haze of petrol vapour appear over the top of the ram stack! Reliable, economical, 'Sensible' student transport, it most CERTAINLY was not!
And before thus 'hot rodding' it, the dang thing, it proved an even more expensive money pit than the Morris Minor, and ANOTHER blown head-gasket, saw it, effectively scrap, and parked up at the farm pending a miracle! Which was when I had the silly idea of sticking the Renault engine in it; during the college recess, whilst working in an industrial placement!
However, bereft of transport, in May 1990, I had, begged, grovelled and crawled to get some-one to undersign an HP agreement for me, and bought a 125cc road bike, purely to get me around, but which precluded any attempt at trailing; not just because I couldn't get the 'Cota to the events on the back of the bike; but that HP deal took all my spare money!
That bike, DID however lead to a few other daft ideas. Actually, quite a LOT of daft ideas!
And not just in my mind! Poor old girl got TWOC three times! Which, in the end left me uninsurable! So I used the insurance money and bought a Metro, which was far more sensible...
Or SHOULD have been far more sensible! I did silly things to it! Are you noticing a pattern here?
Actually, it wasn't THAT silly; I basically followed tried and trusted tuning practice on the ubiquitous Austin A-Series engine. The Metro had its own saloon car racing series at the time, the 'Metro Challenge', which was supposed to have superseded the old Mini-Miglia series, as a reasonably low cost entry class for the sport.
The regs were designed to allow some freedom to mod stuff, but not let people go overboard or end up building cheque book racers. I followed the specs of the challenge cars quite closely, building something that was to all extents and purposes a challenge racer, less the roll cage! It went RATHER well!
And, exactly to plan; painted and dressed out deliberately to look show room stock; right down to the tartan travel rig on the parcel shelf, it LOOKED like the car your blue rinse Auntie drove! Boy Racers, all presumed I was a 'college-boy' in 'Mummies' car, and never suspected, that ACTUALLY........ He He! Underneath the shiny WI friendly exterior, lurked a full on saloon race car! The Cota had, meanwhile, been banished from either grandparents, to the cellar at my mothers.
It had been hoped that that Metro, would prove a LITTLE more useful than the Citroen, and I might be able to use it to get me to events. And I think that the very first thing I did to her was fit a tow bar, for that very purpose. However; didn't quite go to plan. Or at least; the original plan!
You see that little Kwaka had given me a taste for road racing! OH DEAR! How many times have we heard that sad tale! But, numerous other daft ideas also intervened; one of them being to quit university and open a shop selling motorbike accessories!
Well, seemed like a good idea to a twenty three year old at the time! I thought, it would let me make a living doing what I loved most, AND sponsor myself to go road racing in the summer, and trialing in the winter! Oh, the naivety of youth! I barely managed to hang on to my metro! And the cota found itself in bits in a loft again!
I managed a few jobs on the old girl, like fitting a new clutch and having the wheels straightened, but it took until 1995 before I could look at her properly again. My first 'proper' job, as a quality engineer, had come and gone. I'd relocated to Doncaster for it, because it looked promising. Right in the peaks with LOADS of local clubs I could have been trialing three times a week. No. I was working fourteen or sixteen hours a day, trying to sort out their quality system, and get them thier ISO9000 accreditation certificate to hang on the wall. They could have got a consultant in; but I was cheaper, and stoopider! And found myself redundant as soon as they had been appraised for their ticket!
I stayed on in Donny for a few months, and made the most of the ability to pop over the Pennines to Sandifords, and filled the boot of the Metro with spares, then came back to the farm.
Out of work, and with time on my hands, and all the work-shop facilities I could want, I set to in earnest to bring the Cota back to competition fettle. Which saw me, in a field in Derbyshire, in my second ever trial!
I DNF'd; AGAIN!
Summer of 1995. Not bad, only nine years late! And not a complete disaster. Tootled round a wood & stream, for a couple of hours. Bike went well, and I didn't get too many derisive comments; even got a few encouraging words. But the day ended without me completing my 'Laps'. So I went home content, if not happy.
Still out of work, I cleaned the bike up, and spent much time 'Practising' in the orchard, ready for my next attempt. This did not go well. Back to the Cotswolds again for a trial in a quarry. Determined to get round my 'Laps' this time, I managed three laps out of five, before finally succumbing to defeat on section five, a steep climb, from a dead start, that had me flip her onto my belly five times.
After deciding it was not possible to ride with foot-pegs bent back to the swing arm. I packed up, before walking back to the sections to spectate. Here I suffered my worst 'Trialing' injury. I slipped on some concrete in the car park and opened a six inch gash in my left arm, on a steel spike poking out of the rubble! Needless to say I came home to a hero's welcome, and "I told you biking was dangerous" to have to admit I did not injure myself whilst riding a motorbike!
Any way, that episode left the poor bike, again in a fairly sorry state, and we planned to spend some time, licking our wounds before trying again. Meanwhile I got a job. Hmmm. At least I had the money to do something with her. But then again……
The Job, turned out not to offer all it should have, and I spent three years waiting for my six month review and a pay rise. Meanwhile moving out of the farm and into my own place, left me seriously broke. A forth trial never happened, and the poor Montesa languished in the shed, again, with just occasional practice sessions round the orchard.
By the millennium, I was married and a father, and had been made redundant, got another job. Kids, a mortgage and all that sort of stuff, which kept me broke, and busy, until the wife finally told me to pull the damn thing out and go ride it.
So, in 2003, I finally did my 4th trial, which I was about to start when this pic was taken! It took a bit of work to tidy her up enough to ride, but not as much as I'd thought, and the club I'd found was quite local to where I now live in Nuneaton. The Earl Shilton Trials Club. With their own ground, they put on about ten events a year and offer members the chance to use the course pretty much whenever they want to, to practice, and have proved to be a very friendly bunch.
Guess what? Yep, I never completed my 'Laps'!
This time the ignition died on me, but only shortly before I would have any way. BUT, I did at least 'Clear' one section. Oh boy did that feel good!
NOW; 2003 was a BIT of an eventful year. When I created this biography; it ended almost at the beginning, and just about here, it said "So, with a bit of luck, more may follow. With a lot of luck, I might even complete a trial! Now that has got to be a 'Life Goal'."
Well, the note that followed, wasn't promising. Only a three week gap this time; but the ignition problem that had dogged my re-re-debut! had turned out to be blown primary seals. Took a bit of ingenuity to fix that one, as they'd blown stripping the retaining cap threads in the casings!
I completed the rest of the season with ESTC, and three quarters of the season with a new start-up club, the Peak Classic Trials Club, who ran events expressly for T-Shock & 'Brit-Bike', which is a new name for pre-65's, but not so arbitrary, letting later Bantams & Tiger cubs compete against Greeves and Fanny Barnets and the like!.
It was a GREAT season. I even did the ESTC 'two-day', and not only did I finish a trial; I actually started getting some respectable class placing! Better still; with PCTC, I even WON!
YES! That's right! I took a class victory!
Worst score of the day; but I don't care! I came 1st in my class!
Yeah! Alright, I'll admit it. I was the only one in my class!
Actually, that's not quite fair. I was the only one to finish in my class; there had been half a dozen starters; course had been laid out the day before, on a warm sunny day, after a week without rain. But then that night; heavens opened and the stream bed that was the main feature of the course, was awash with water, and the hard packed banks suddenly a slippery morass of mud! Added to which, it was swelteringly hot, and humid. Over half the entrants, packed up at lunch time, and only the hardy or fool-hardy (like me) stuck it out. It was a killer!
And, that about rounds it up!
I smashed the rear hub in the last but one event, and managed to get a new wheel built around the last one on Sandifords spares shelf.
But, there the story halts!.
I said it was an eventful year.
Well, I was made redundant again, and I thought that my wife was suffering depression, and possibly on the verge of a nervous breakdown; so, I never bothered looking for a job, and instead, became a stay-home-husband, looking after my kids.
And, having sorted out the 'problems', I suffered the nervous breakdown, instead of the, NOW, EX-wife!
But; the old girl has been faithful, and always been there when I have been ready; Nine years between the first and second trials, eight, until the first full season. Who knows; they have a class for "Over 40's"; be eligible for that in about four years