Laverda Chott. More than the sum of its parts.

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 .

Lands end

Lining up for a restart on the notorious Blue Hills mine section on The Land’s End trial, one of the most spectacular motor sports venues in the UK. The course is an old miners track climbing up the face of the cliff and from certain vantage points you can see the Atlantic rollers crashing onto the rocks a couple of hundred feet below. It’s a daunting prospect when you see it for the first time but like lots of these things, it’s a lot easier than it looks.

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.

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360 miles of pace notes transcribed onto 30′ of paper. This is a Touratech route book holder, a sort of horse-drawn satnav. The route book holder is backlit with a green diffused glow, essential to avoid eye strain during the night stages, The route notes are provided by the organiser about ten days prior to the trial and these are then transcribed onto the paper roll in a crude form of shorthand. These notes are the key to a rider’s success. Do them properly and you can look forward to easy stress free navigation. Do them hastily and you can find yourself wandering aimlessly around Exmoor in the middle of the night. Exmoor is a very lonely place at three in the morning.

Race face. It’s broad daylight so I’d estimate I’d have been riding for about 18 hours straight by this stage. The sections on LDTs aren’t as challenging as on single stage trials but even a relatively innocuous climb up a steep bank like this can have you on your backside if you’re not fully alert. It’s at this stage in a trial medals get thrown away due to momentary lacks of concentration. hence the stern look.

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.

Neat and tidy Bosch twin plug electrics, the Chott was an expensive , high quality bike which used top quality ancillaries.

On the bench prior to a trial, note the enclosed chainguard. The hubs on the 2TR were alloy, earlier Chotts used magnesium.

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.

Chott exeter fingle woods

Fingle Woods observed section on a very cold and frosty Exeter trial in 2009. The first sixty miles of the trial featured lots and lots of black ice and I was very relieved to make it to the first checkpoint at midnight. A dab on one of the later stages threw away the gold medal but given the circumstances I was happy to go home with a silver.

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.

Edinburgh results

Left. The Chott’s finest hour, not long to go now and we’re on our way to a gold medal in the Edinburgh trail. Above. Here’s the proof! Not many gold medals were handed out on that year’s Edinburgh . I’m rider No 2 in the listings. The objective on the Motor Cycling Club trials is to keep a clean sheet on all three major trials during the year, the Exeter, the Land’s End and the Edinburgh. Do that and you win a very nice bronze statue of a fingerpost sign. Previous recipients have included Sir Malcolm Campbell…

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Above. In the Picos de Europa . 300 miles, 5000 curves followed by a metric tonne of Paella dished up by Spanish organisers MC Piston.

Exeter Chott

Smiley faces all round. As well using the bike in competitive events the Chott provided sterling service as a trail bike. I’ll be writing more about Laverda’s off road products on future blogs.

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To finish first, first you’ve got to finish.

I once drove all the way to Croatia to race at Rijeka, it was a 4,000 mile round trip dragging a caravan halfway across Europe. My recollections of the trip aren’t pleasant. With a caravan you become a motoring pariah; truck drivers  give no quarter and private motorists hate you. And when you see a van with a caravan hitched to the back it makes you look as if you belong to a certain Anglo-Irish sub-culture who might offer to tarmac your driveway at a bargain price.  So, after a very stressful journey which included a rather intense experience with some  stony- faced Slav border guards whilst entering the former eastern Bloc , we arrived at the circuit. The bike lasted half a lap.  A faulty ignition rotor gave up the ghost and it was game over. Pack up your stuff and drive home. To finish first, first you’ve got to finish.

Experiences like that can be character building. You either quit and find another hobby or you learn from it and try to make sure it doesn’t happen again. My chum Pip Higham , drag racer, Suzuki technical guru and ace bike builder drummed into me the importance of checking everything before a race and then checking again for potential ‘race losers’ or ‘show stoppers’ as he calls them. I like to think some of Pip’s pragmatically thorough approach to bike preparation has rubbed off on me over the years and I’m quite pernickety about preparing the Adventure Ride bikes before an outing. The consequences of mechanical breakdowns out on a remote trail can be just as distressing as a mechanical failure in Croatia, especially if you’ve got four customers in tow who have taken a day off work and paid good money to be with you.

In my experience the kind of thing which catches out the unwary trail rider is usually avoidable and with a bit of pre-planning the opportunities for disappointment can be minimised. Modern engines  rarely break down nowadays and even if they do develop problems it’s usually possible to limp home one way or another. Conversely if your drive chain snaps you ain’t going nowhere. It’s the simple stuff you need to prepare for.

Trail riding is a harsh environment for a motorcycle. Can you imagine what this sort of treatment does to chains , wheel bearings and suspension linkages? It’s ‘orrible.

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Here’s a list of some of the more common showstoppers and a few tips how to avoid them.

Chains.

You might get away with a dry chain on a road bike but out on the trail they tend to break more readily. It’s a brutal environment and any weak links , if you’ll pardon the pun, quickly manifest themselves. I stopped using expensive chain lube aerosols some time ago, whatever you put on will get washed off as soon as you’ve crossed two or three fords anyway. Nowadays I use a half inch paint brush and liberally paint the chain with whatever cheap oil I can find in the remainder bin at Halfords.  Remember on an O-ring chain the rollers themselves are sealed, it’s the rubber O-rings themselves you are trying to lubricate so they can slide easily against the side plates. Once the O-rings dry out the chain becomes stiff and creates unwanted friction and drag even if the rollers are running smoothly. I’ve also equipped my bikes with a Loobman chain oiler [www.loobman.co.uk]  These ingenious little  chain oilers are  cheap as chips [less than twenty quid] and have halved the chainwear on my customer bikes. It’s a manual system and every so often whilst out on the trail I give the Loobman a few pumps to deliver some fresh oil. Highly recommended.

Top Tip; if you’re using a split link chain a blob of silicone sealant pressed in an around the spring clip will prevent it flying off. Carry a spare link tie wrapped on the bike somewhere just in case, oh, and a cheap chain splitter.

Yeah, yeah, before you say anything this shot was taken immediately after a ride prior to cleaning.  Note the centre link filled in with silicone and also  the feed head on the Loobman oiler.

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Link tiewrapped to the ‘bars. Cheap insurance.

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Tyres.

Punctures can definitely spoil your day. I don’t mind changing a tube in the warmth of my garage listening to Radio 4 with a mug of tea and choccy digestive to hand , in fact in a perverse way I quite enjoy it. Any such enthusiasm disappears when I’m on a bleak hill top with an easterly wind blowing up my Jacksie and rain dribbling down my neck. No siree, you don’t want to be getting unnecessary punctures if you can avoid it.

Recently I’ve started using OKO tyre sealant and have had very good results, in fact I reckon it’s brilliant stuff. Get it from http://www.thefordcentre.com, they’re based in Brum, are nice people and really know their stuff. I use it in conjunction with 4mm heavy duty tubes and with that combo punctures should be a thing of the past.Bear in mind though if you clout a rock at speed the ensuing snakebite puncture can sometimes be too large for the OKO to work so my advice is always carry some patches , a spare tube tyre levers and a pump just in case.  A pump ? Yeah I know the modern way is to use a CO2 cannister but I’ve had problems with these and prefer the good ‘ol analogue method. You know it makes sense. Even if you aren’t experienced at changing a tube at least if someone else comes along who is you’ve got the right kit to deal with the problem.

Top Tip; a lot of punctures are cause by tyre creep which drags the tube and pulls the valve out. Mark the tyres with Tippex and keep an eye on it during a ride. In my experience fronts suffer from creep more than rears. Strange but true. Also think about your tyre pressures. 8psi in the rear and 12psi in the front might give you lots of grip but  will also increase the incidence of punctures. You’re not in a competition so sacrifice a bit of grip for reliablity. Run ’em at 15psi.

Tippex, simple but effective.

Ossa creep

Levers

A snapped clutch or brake lever can quickly bring proceedings to a halt. Carry a spare and tie wrap it to the handlebar safely. Now here’s a strange one, recently I’ve had a spate of the adjusters rattling loose and I put this down to the dry weather making the trails very harsh and creating extra vibration [mud is like a shock absorber]. When an adjuster falls out on the trail you are usually stuffed and it’s a long walk home

Top Tip; Put a blob of silicone sealant on the adjuster locknut, it’s a tip I picked up when endurance racing and it works a treat.

Not pretty but infinitely preferable to walking home

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Grips

I’ve once saw a nasty accident caused by a grip slipping off a handlebar. If’ you’ve got bark busters on this isn’t such a problem but even so a rotating grip can be distracting even if it isn’t a danger. Grips which are on tight in the workshop can suddenly slide off in the most unpredictable situations , especially in damp conditions. Again, harking back to my racing days the best solution is to lockwire them on. Failing that use some hairspray when fitting the grips, it dries and hold them in place, just like your barnet.

Lockwired grips are a useful safety aid and much kinder to the environment than  Harmony hairspray. They also have the added advantage of making you look as if you’ve just competed in an ISDT, especially if you’ve got the split link tied to your handlebars.

Lockwire

 

Whilst you’ve got the Tippex  out here’s another tip; Use it to write the number of your breakdown provider on the back of a side panel. Don’t rely on storing the number on your mobile, if the ‘phone gets wet or the screen breaks your done for.

Brakes

When you look at the performance of modern dirt bike brakes and the conditions they have to function under it’s a miracle they stay working as long as they do.  The problem is, if they start to drag or bind it’s sometimes difficult to detect , especially if you’re plugging through thick mud. the first thing you know about it is when smoke starts pouring off a caliper or you find you’ve got no brakes on a steep descent.

A lot of problems can be avoided if you detach each caliper when doing your pre ride check, whip the pads out and by judicious use of a tyre lever hold back the piston[s] leaving one free and gently press the brake lever.  Check each piston in turn and make sure it’s moving freely. Sometimes they get gummed up with accumulated trail crud and they can stick , it’s an easy fix in the workshop but not so simple out on the trail. If a pad is dragging slightly you’d be surprised how quickly this will boil the brake fluid leaving you without a brake. It’s a 5 minute pre ride check and perhaps a bit OTT but one day you’ll be glad you did it . I do it on all the customer bikes and have avoided potential problems on more than one occasion

That’s all for this now folks, due to various commitments I won’t be able to post for a week or two so until the next time, ride safe.

Gratuitous endurance racing shot.Oh happy days, just look at the concentration.  Then, half a lap later… The same rules of bike preparation are equally important on a trail bike.

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