I’m fairly mercenary when it comes to my bikes. They have to function properly and earn their keep, if they don’t they’re up the road. With neither the time nor the money to indulge in a bike collection, for me it’s all about the riding. And the best way to enjoy a classic bike is to enter it in competition. In competitive events the rider experiences the distilled essence of the bike. There’s little time for mechanical sympathy or worrying about whether you’re going to scratch it, you’ve just got to extract as much as you can out of the bike and it’s in these circumstances that you can really get under a bike’s skin and appreciate exactly what the designers were hoping to achieve.There’s no better way to enjoy a classic .
Of all the competition bikes I’ve had the pleasure to own and ride, perhaps the most unlikely one was my Laverda Chott. Or to give it the correct nomenclature, the Chott 2TR . I’d longed for a Chott ever since they were introduced in the UK back in the seventies. The trouble is they were very expensive and they were panned by some journalists who didn’t understand what they were, which didn’t help sales. Too expensive for a trail bike they said, and too slow and heavy for an enduro. They were right on both counts but they had failed to understand what the Chott was all about. The clue is in the ‘R’ of 2TR. It stands for regolarita or regularity trial, for the Chott was built not for trail riding or enduros, it was built for long distance trials which are very popular in Italy. The 2T stands for due tempi – two stroke.
Having competed in such events for a number of years it occurred to me a Chott might be just the job. I contacted a well-known member of the Laverda community with a reputation for knowing all about Chotts and told him what I intended to do. His first words were , “What do you want to do that for , a Chott won’t get you to the end of the road, let alone complete a long distance trial”. I had to concede the Chott had a reputation for unreliability but I’ve come across these rumours about bikes before and they’re often based on hearsay or the uneducated testimony of ham-fisted owners. They are rarely, if ever, based on first hand experience. I decided to make my own mind up.
The Chotts specification on paper suggested it would be perfect for long distance trials. Twin Bosch ignition modules, twin plug head, fully enclosed chain [why, oh why haven’t more manufacturers taken up this idea for off road bikes?], decent suspension coupled with low weight . It’s also an air-cooled, piston-ported two stroke of 250cc capacity which in my opinion is the perfect configuration for this type of bike. The Chott also has as standard, a very nicely fabricated chromoly frame with an adjustable headstock . A gimmick? Possibly, but having competed on one I’m not so sure. I had mine set on the steepest setting which gave it nimble, trials type steering. It was a joy on the tighter sections and still relatively stable on the road. For longer, faster events a sporting rider could benefit from one of the other two settings offering a more relaxed head angle.
So, ignoring the received wisdom I went out and bought a Chott, or to be more precise, I bought two. The thing is, Chott spares are thin on the ground and it helps to have some backup. I built up one very good bike out of the two incorporating the larger 11 litre tank from the earlier of the two bikes and within a couple of weekends were good to go.
Not only did the Chott make it to the end of the road, it also went considerably further, in fact I worked out I had covered over 3000 competition miles on it during my tenure. I won medals on it in the Land’s End , Edinburgh and Exeter trials, I ran it in the famous Spanish ‘Ruta de cinco mil curvas’ [Route of 5000 curves], a 300 mile regularity trial in the Picos de Europa. I entered it in the Great Northern trial up in the lakes, the Ilkely trial in Yorkshire.and anything else which took my fancy. I even came seventh in one event which was open to modern bikes. The Chott and I became as one, melded in perfect harmony. I loved it. It’s unfeasibly large exhaust seemed to endow the Chott with levels of torque out of all proportion to its capacity. I could hook it into fifth on the switchback lanes of Devon and Cornwall and ride for miles without changing gear, grunting up significant inclines without complaint. That kind of easy-to-live with engine flexibility conserves valuable rider energy on a long trial and I’m convinced that was the key factor in my successful run on the bike. It would always start first or second kick and,for a piston ported two stroke , it’s economy was good . I could eke 115 miles out of tank, useful on a 360 mile event like the Land’s End. Some of these events are 20 hours long and competitors ride through the night tackling a variety of special tests and observed sections in pitch black. I augmented the Chott’s 12v lights with a modern battery powered laser beam of type used by mountain bikers for nocturnal riding. It turned night into day and the battery fitted neatly into the Chott’s tank mounted Brema enduro tool bag. I became so comfortable on the bike I relished the start of every trial. Even the most technical sections held no fear. The Chott’s benign power delivery coupled with impressive levels of rear end grip meant I could tackle anything I was likely to encounter on a Motor Cycllng Club trial with absolute confidence.
Did it ever let me down? Actually yes it did, on two occasions but I’ve since forgiven it. The first was a self inflicted breakdown which occurred when I’d stopped on the way to the start of the Exeter trial. The Exeter is notoriously brutal event which takes place in early January. I was riding in a blizzard on the A5 [ yep, I was actually riding the Chott to the start, how hardcore is that? ] when the Chott developed a misfire and I pulled over to check the plug. I unscrewed the HT cap to check the connection, bear in mind this was in the pitch dark and I was using a head torch to peer under the tank. All the while I was being sprayed by slush and snow thrown up by the wheels of juggernauts running dangerously close to my perilous poosition in a narrow layby. In my haste to fix the problem and get the hell out of there I fumbled and dropped the HT cap down a storm drain and it was game over, a DNS. There was another problem on another event which I can’t bring to mind , ignition related I seem to recall but as far as I remember that was it. For a brief four year period the Chott and I formed an immensely pleasurable partnership. I’m not 100% sure but I think I’m the only rider ever to have won anything in a national UK event on a Laverda Chott – not exactly Guinness Book of Records stuff but it gives me a warm glow of satisfaction. Eventually the lack of spares availability forced me to give up competing on it and, as I said at the beginning of the blog, my bikes have to earn their keep and so the Chott had to go. Of all the desirable bikes I’ve let go over the years, the Chott is probably the one I should have kept.