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The T-Shock Years

The Origins of the T-Shock 'classic' class

'Trials' is the oldest form of motorcycle sport; but the veterans of the pioneering era, would have trouble recognising modern 'observed section' trails as the sport they took part in.

Both the bikes and the competitions have evolved a long way in the last century. In the early 1900's, the machines were still crude contraptions; a conventional 'Safety Cycle' strengthened a little perhaps, and fitted with an engine, usually a single cylinder De-Dion, or similar unit, driving the rear wheel directly by leather belt.

The challenge in those days was simply to prove that a machine could work! And trials were of reliability; held on the unmade country roads of the day, up hill and down dale, and it was a feat for a competitor to complete the course under the machines own power; frequently they would have to push their mounts up the steepest climbs where even pedalling couldn't help, or stop to fix snapped drive belts or broken engines

By the 1930's though the motorcycle was a viable, reliable, practical mode of transport, and for the 'common man' the only 'affordable' motorised transport they could choose.

And competition of all types flourished as the many competing manufacturers all looked for competition success to validate and promote their products.

Motorcycle 'Sport' evolved many new specie, such as grass track and speed way; hill-climbing and sprints; and of course 'road racing', which for many became the 'ultimate' sport in which to seek honours.

Trials increasingly became an 'off-road' sport, where it had previously been 'cross country', and by the nineteen fifties, the sport of 'scrambling', now called 'Moto-Cross' had been born.

There's much 'lore' as to the origins of scrambling and 'Enduro'; but basically, with more and more cross country routes being treated to good hard tarmac surfaces, the opportunities for 'long trial' cross country riding were becoming limited; and that steered the course of both Scrambling and Observed Section trials; basically, you could fit a course into a field or woods; and in the case of scrambling, tear around it at high speed; or in the case of trials, try and negotiate the difficult obstacles found for you to get around or over, or through!

And, in war ravaged Europe, interest in off road sport was burgeoning; not least because of the restrictions on high octane fuels needed for road racing; but also because the manufacturers had for six or seven years during the war been building rugged 'all terrain' motorcycles for the military; just like the soldiers who were de-mobbed, so too were a lot of these bikes; and besides, even if they weren't, that was all the manufacturers were tooled up to make for a fair while!

Trials evolved from long cross country reliability events, where riders were left to make their own way between check points; into the very short technical section events, scored by an observer we have today; and the machines, were typically the big British singles, stripped of excess weight; fitted with knobbly tyres and possibly modified a bit for clearance and manoeuvrability. But basically, production road machines, which clubmen often used to get to work on each day between events!

By the 1960's however, the 'continentals' were catching up; and in particular; the Spanish.

Montesa was founded in 1944 by Pedro Permanyer and Francisco Bulto, but by 1958, Bulto was some-what disgruntled by the way things were going at Montesa; he wanted to go road racing, which Permanyer was not inclined to. So he left, to set up on his own, forming the Bultaco marque, which ironically, was to become synonymous for it's competition trials machines; mainly due to them being ridden by the legendary Sammy Miller.

Miller, rose to prominence as the last adherent of the 'big banger'; the large capacity four stroke trials bikes, riding an Areal, with the registration GOV 32, when most others had started to see the benefits of the smaller lighter two strokes.

Most of these were still British, and most often based on BSA Bantam or Villiers two stroke engines, like the Greeves.

But, in the mid-1960's, Areal was absorbed into the BSA group; and they already had a well staffed competition department; so Mr Miller, went to Spain, and came back with one of Fransisco's flyers; developing it into one of the most formidable trials tools of its era.

From the mid 1960's until the mid 1980's, is the era of the Twin-Shock.

Which is a rather ambiguous description; applied in retrospect. Basically, when I started riding in the mid 1980's, the 'big-bangers' were twenty years out of date, and consequently had been given their own 'class' for classic machines. Contriving classes is always difficult; but for the big bangers, they decided to limit it to machines built before 1965.

In the Mid 1980's, another 'new breed' of competition trials bike emerged, this was the 'Mono-shock'. The distinction by rear suspension design is pretty tenuous; but it was probably the most distinguishing feature of the new breed; because with the rear suspension arrangement, there was little necessity for the frame to have high level seat rails or sub frame; and all of a sudden, seat heights started dropping to ridiculous levels, just above the foot pegs!

With disk brakes, high tech, water cooled and electronically controlled engines; aluminium spar frames and a whole host of technology, these machines gained complexity in direct proportion to their loosing weight and versatility; as you can see, looking at the 2003 Cota 315 shown here!

The old 'Big-Bangers' were bikes that you could just about ride to work, between competitive Sunday outings; The Twin-shocks; not QUITE so versatile, but swap the sprockets and they COULD get you about; but the Mono's? Not really. Dedicated 'Competition' equipment, for 'leisure use only'!

So, as the "Mono's", evolved, so it was seen that there was a need to offer a class for the obsolete old bikes that came before them, but weren't old enough to be eligible for 'Pre-65' events.

Now, I should mention, that there was something of a contention running at the time the "twin-Shock" class was conceived; you see, originally the Pre-65 class had been envisaged as a low cost way to offer competitive 'sport' for riders of old obsolete bikes; that were presumably pretty cheap.

Unfortunately; they were becoming increasingly expensive; and the sport was being torn between people who looked at it as low cost sport; and people that looked on it as 'practical concourse'.

That is to say; some believed that the bikes should comply strictly to the letter of the regulations and be to a design or standard that was in existence before 1965; others considered that the rules ought to be open to a little discretion and interpretation in order to allow bikes to be kept competitive and functional without huge expense.

Arguments ensued over people using contemporary Indian built 'Enfields, and turning them into Pre-65 "replicas", others building BSA C15 'Replicas' from pattern parts; or even to some-one using an ABS plastic petrol tank intended for a 1980's Yamaha on an old Triumph Cub, to save the valuable original from damage!

Consequently; whilst these debates raged; some far sighted folk decided that to avoid similar arguments over exact age and specification; the regulations for the 'new' classic class would be kept simple.

The bikes in question, tended to be single cylinder, air cooled two strokes, with steel frames, telescopic forks and twin shock rear suspension, But, there was quite a bit of variation, like this Honda TL250, with a four stroke engine.

But, the main feature that gave the "Mono's" the advantages they did, was the rear suspension design; SO that was decided to be the qualifying criteria; bikes built before 1965 would be eligible; bikes built after the mid 80's would be eligible; home built specials would be eligible; PROVIDED they were inhibited by the use of the conventional twin shock rear suspension.

And it's worked pretty well; though we are beginning to see some 'precious' tendencies towards the machines as they become increasingly viewed as 'classics'; which I suppose is only inevitable; I mean, my bike, one of the youngest twin shocks is now older than a lot of Pre-65 Machines were when I started riding her; and I guess that there are probably a lot of 'older' mono's about now, approaching twenty years old, that are as uncompetitive against the latest machines as the T-Shocks were against them!

Maybe in the next few years we'll see another 'classic' category conceived for them, like this 1985 Cota 335.

However; bikes of the T-Shock era ARE particularly suited to clubman sport. As far as I'm concerned, they are the 'essence' of motorcycle distilled to it's simplest and most refined form.

Bikes like the Montesa Cota's & Bultaco Sherpa's were about as simple, and rugged, as you can get; yet extracted just as much functionality out of them as was possible.

And, they were 'standard' production machines. The bikes of the fifties and sixties were adapted road bikes; each one modified differently as their owners saw fit. Restoring or working on one could be a night-mare; these things worked out of the crate, and can be restored to a known standard, with available and standard parts; of which they don't have that many!

<-Left; is my own, 1981 registered Montesa Cota 248 Trials Bike, I bought to compete on in 1986, twenty one years ago! -> Right; is a brochure shot of the 248 from 1980; Mine probably looked like that…. Once!

But, all the ‘big bore’, 250 & 350 Cota’s are based around the same design; and there isn’t a HUGE difference between these machines or any of the T-Shock bikes of the Era, be they ‘small bore’ Cota’s, Bultaco’s Ossas, TY Yamaha’s, Suzuki Beemish’s or even, the frantic Fantics! Etc.

They tend to be air cooled, single cylinder, piston ported two strokes, with magneto ignition. They have no water pumps or power valves, or electronic ignition modules; no complicated suspension linkages, or hydraulic brakes; just simple bowden cable operated drums, and a pair of coil-over damper shock absorbers acting directly on a hinged swing arm. There's very little on them to go wrong, and what there is, is easy to get at and sort out. They are a VERY practical 'classic'.

The ‘original’ Cota was the 247, introduced in 1968; in 1976, they enlarged the engine to 325cc, to make the 348, as the vogue was towards ever larger capacities.

<- Left, shows a 1972 Cota 247,
-> Right, shows a 1976 Cota 348.

And that was subsequently developed into the 349, a full 350, released in 1979.

The 248 was introduced in 1980, to replace the 247, and was basically a sleeved down 349; in fact the parts books indicate that about the only parts that aren't shared are the barrel, crank, piston, con rod and carburettor!

The 248 & 349, probably represent the zenith of T-Shock development; the later machines from Montesa, at least, before they offered a mono, were described as 'club-mens' machines, lacking the development of their rivals to keep their competitive edge.

Although their main Rival was Bultaco, and with Spanish industry in a state of termoil at the time, neither they nor OSSA were not fairing any better!

1981, saw Montesa the only surviving Spanish manufacturer; both Ossa and Bultaco having ceased manufacture entirely, while they struggled to keep production going, during talks with Honda over a partnership to make mopeds under licence, which ultimately saved the marque from similar extinction.

This left the way open for Italian firm Fantic to go for gold in competition, and Yamaha to dominate the marketplace with it's successful range of TY machines.

Yamaha, were actually one of the primary exponents of the 'Mono-shock' rear suspension system, but having demonstrated it on the works trials bikes in the mid seventies, and been building mono-shock equipped road and motorcross bikes since around 1979, remarkably they didn't release a 'customer' mono-shock trial bike until around 1983.

It was actually on very battered Yamaha TY's that I was introduced to the sport, at Vale Onslow's project at the Ackers Yard, in Small Heath, Birmingham, on waste ground behind the old BSA factory!

And that's probably more than enough to give you an idea of where the 'T-Shock' lives in the lineage of motorcycle evolution; and give you some idea as to why I have a particular regard for these machines!

They are the bikes of MY era, or at least my formative years; but that besides, they are just brilliantly simple and fantastically competent little machines, that make just SO much sense.

And, have never really received the recognition I think they deserve by virtue of mostly being neither British nor Japanese!

 

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