"What's that you say? It's supposed to be like that? Well, OK. But the tires are flat, too. Really? They're supposed to be that low? Well, the seat fell off, anyhow. Oh, wait, don't tell us..."
Bultaco's Sherco is made for trials. No, it has nothing to with Johnny Cochran and the multitude of injustices being perpetrated upon the millions of downtrodden so and so the world over; the kind of trials we're talking about involve riding a motorcycle that looks like a mad-science cross between a motocross bike and a mountain bike up and over incredibly steep, gnarly boulders, rocks, roots and such. This is all supposed to be done without putting your foot down, and that goes a long way towards explaining why the bike has no seat - you never sit down.
What the bike does have, however, is super sticky and soft tires that feel like a pack of chewing gum that's been sitting on the beach for a few hours - set at what seems like two pounds of air pressure - so that the tire mushrooms when it slams into a rock wall and provides more contact area to paw up the ledge. And as for the suspension with no semblance of rebound damping, the forks and rear shock are like that so that you can pre-jump on to or over an obstacle with relative ease.
Confused yet? Join the club.
Having never thrown a leg over anything like this Bultaco before, we never knew what to expect. The 250 cc two-stroke motor gets its displacement through a traditionally-sized 72.8 x 60 mm bore and stroke and is fed by a single 26 mm Del 'lorto carburetor. To get extra grunt and to avoid stalling a two-stroke motor that runs at comparatively low RPMs, a balanced magnetic Flywheel larger than most Waffle House pancakes is attached within the cases.
The motor has an incredible amount of torque for a two-stroke motor with such a small displacement. The five-speed gearbox was left in third gear for just about everything.
The taller fourth and fifth gears are good for getting from one section to the next on a road, but for getting down to the actual trials work there was no need for more than third gear. The Hydraulic clutch with six spring-loaded discs offered good feel and we were able to start from a complete stop without an inordinate amount of clutch slipping and proceed towards the obstacles presented to us. Clutch feel was good when slipping it to modulate traction on slick silt-covered rock walls in a vein attempt to reach the top after an approach shorter than the attention span of a two year-old kid after a couple espressos.
The motor is housed in a frame made of chrome molybendum alloy steel and the swingarm is manufactured from aluminum alloy. Attached to the rear of the swingarm are eccentric chain adjusters and a single floating 145 mm solid disc which is squeezed by a twin piston AJP caliper. The rear end moves through 170 mm of travel thanks to a progressive Olle' monoshock. The front brake is a single floating 185 mm unit which is squeezed by a double piston AJP caliper that hangs at the bottom of a Paioli telescopic fork with 170 mm of travel. The front wheel is a 21-incher while the rear hoop checks in at 18-inches in classic dirtbike style.
When you sit atop this Bultaco, things feel awkward. The handlebars are high and forward and, if you try to sit down, it's a long way before your butt hits anything. There's a lot of room beneath your bum for mobility. When you try to start the bike, searching for the choke lever on the carb has a very Sherlock Holmes-esque feel to it since it's tucked up under the left frame spar so tightly that, even with a naked hand, getting the choke lever to stay upright is a bit of a trick to learn. The kickstart is easy enough since the ample flywheel weight is already helping to get things lit and keep them spinning.
When you grab the clutch lever, you notice two things: the lever is a "shorty" type and fits nicely into the curvature of your fingers. Also, the pull on the lever is exceptionally easy, thanks to the hydraulic actuating mechanism. When you attempt to put the bike in gear for the first time, you think your buddy is playing some sort of high-schoolish joke on you and has removed the shift lever. Then you look down to find that the shift lever is there, only it's located about a foot in front of where you'd normally find it. The reason for this is that when you're perched atop a boulder, with nothing but a ten foot drop on either side of you, and a gust of wind blows you off balance, it would be a bad thing to lift a leg, looking for balance, and knocking the bike into another gear. Not to mention the fact that a good rider unconsciously finds himself wrapped around the machine in ways that would make most people look on with pornographic disgust, and this only aids in the creation of such illusions.
Once underway it becomes obvious that the first three gears of the five-speed gearbox are for hard-core trials work whereas the fourth and fifth gears are for transferring to other sections. Since most of our time is spent on streetbikes and the occasional dirtbike, the most common problem we had while riding this Sherco was not putting enough weight on the front wheel. Every time we tried to turn with the throttle open, even a little bit, the front end would get light and push. Remember those bars which are rotated so high and forward? We discovered, after a few impromptu soil samples, that the location allows the rider to get his waist over the triple clamps and their torso over the front wheel. Following this trials-correct riding style not only kept the front wheel on the ground when we needed it there, but also allowed for better control and body positioning as we approached obstacles. The Sherco has an extremely low center of gravity which makes it easy to balance, without moving, as you pause at the base of an obstacle and plan your approach up it.
The Bultaco is extremely light, very responsive and quick turning. The soft Michelin tires provided impressive grip and the suspension was extremely plush at the expense of frequent bottoming when leaping off of rocks. As for the motor, the low end grunt was simply amazing. The Sherco felt like it would climb anything, given enough grip.
As for us riding the bike? We are so not worthy of being in its presence. Trials Champions like Geoff Aaron and Ryan Young can do things on bikes like this that, should you ever be lucky enough to witness firsthand, boggle the mind.
While we only had limited time on the bike, our eyes have now been opened and shall never close on the world of trials machines or the riders that pilot them. Not only did we have disproportionally large amount of fun compared to the size of the area we rode in, we now understand why almost every top racer - dirt or street - has owned and played on a trials bike. This Sherco taught us throttle control, clutch control, body positioning and how to widen our smile at the sight of nothing more than a rock. We're simple people underneath it all, it seems, and this Sherco is simple all the way to the surface - in a good way. No frills and no accouterments that might detract from its ultimate performance.
If you get the opportunity to ride a trials bike, don't pass it up. We may have just found the ultimate play bike and a whole lot more.