I have a Honda TLR250 trials bike. I know it as a 1985 model. But I’ve also seen it referred to as a 1982 unit. I really don’t know which date is correct. You see, Honda’s trials history seems to be both well documented yet quite vague. Sure, if you want to know what the works bikes were from year to year, the enthusiasts will tell you Rob Shepherd rode a TL300 in ’77, while Eddy Lejeune competed on an RTL360 in ’82, and they’ll point to the detail modifications made month by month. Oh, and they’ll tell you Sammy Miller was the main driver on development, starting back in 1974. Plenty of history there. But is there any detail on the humble TLR200/250 production bikes? No. Your guess is as good as ours.
I know some of this bike’s history, though. It’s been mine since 1999 when I bought it from my Kiwi Rider (magazine) colleague Dene Humphrey (I – JB – lived in NZ from 1995 to 2003). Dene had had it for some years, used it as an extreme bush trail weapon, where he would go riding with KR editor John Nicholson and another mate, all three on TLR250s, going places no enduro bike could. The bikes had the odd mod to suit that use that you might not see on your average trials bike, like hand guards, extended bash plates and Dene had improvised a raised seat. It also must have taken a few heavy blows along the way, for this one has a mighty dent in the tank and the rear guard was held together by a riveted alloy plate.
This TLR also has an interesting non-standard exhaust with a chamfered edge to the tail pipe. The chamfer that I thought was a special design-lick, I learned 20 years later, was actually a hasty repair where the bike fell off a trailer and was dragged down the road a ways before Dene realized what had happened. A hard life then.
Back in ’99 I’d spotted the TLR collecting dust in the Dene’s then West Auckland garage and bought it on the spot as it had brought back memories of seeing the first TLR200s ridden in UK trials back in the day. Back in my late teens I rode trials, finishing on a Fantic 200 but I always loved the style of those TLRs – which looked vaguely like replicas of Lejeune’s world championship winning works RTLs. At the time I was too skint to buy one. Here in 1999, for $1000, was my chance to at last have such a beast. But not the common or garden TLR200, the more rare TLR250 which comes with the added caché of a motor that is said to have been ‘developed by HRC’. Somehow I suspect there’s a very tenuous link there and so – I’m sure like the marketing men back in the day – I’ll not dig any deeper and just accept that glorifying statement on face value.
Initially this poor TLR250 did not fare that well with me. All my plans of riding it in the New Zealand woods never eventuated. Firstly, I didn’t have any trials riding buddies and secondly I was so pushed for time between road racing and magazine editing that the TLR was simply a future project. It got sporadic rides around the garden in Auckland but never went past the driveway. Then in 2003 I accepted what was intended as a temporary post in the UK, and never returned. The TLR languished in various Auckland garages until in 2017, having finally scored enough credits with KR publisher Vege, and having coerced KR-men Ben and Todd into the donkey work of sorting and packing, the TLR was at last placed in a crate, then a container and shipped to me in the UK.
Despite the bike being a bit of a scrapper and already mine for many years, the UK customs and excises unit still managed to find a way to charge duties, so it was another £400 before the bike and I were at last reunited.
Since 2017 – boy, do I move slow – the plan has been to recommission the TLR and ride it regularly in local trials. Of course that hasn’t quite happened. Although the TLR immediately started when I put petrol in the tank and gave it a kick, since then the recommissioning has proceeded at a gentile pace.
I’ve not sought to restore the bike, but instead am just working around it sorting its issues, so hopefully – one day – it’ll ride tip-top, while still looking very age authentic, it is after all 35 (and some) years old.
So the jobs have, at snail’s pace, been ticked off. I replaced the brake shoes. Dene’s bush bars have been put into storage and a neat set of black anodized Renthals installed, along with proper trials grips. New spark plug. Oil change. New air filter. New chain and sprockets. New tyres.
At this point I rather optimistically entered a trial. Surprisingly the bike rode really well. In fact, but for a goof, where I went the wrong way in one section (a ‘5’), I would have been on for a class win. That said, the bike came away from the trial less than match fit. The brakes barely worked. The forks clearly had no oil left in them (they clunked everywhere), while the shocks started with oil but blew their perished seals almost immediately, spewing 35-year-old oil all over the swingarm. And that old exhaust was blowing a little where a fractured weld was giving up.
Plans were to fix all of those and get straight back out. But as usual life has got in the way. A big house-extension build for one. That was 12 months done. And since then between pressure of work and an injury (knee) and now Covid-19 the project has stalled.
But not entirely. The split rear guard has been replaced by a better, but still original example. The old shocks have been retired to the box that a new set of ‘Ozo’ shocks came in – of course the shine of the new shocks looks kind of conspicuous against the general decrepitude of the rest of the poor bike. And in my ‘stores’ I now have a new set of fork seals, new wheel bearings and a set of steering head bearings (having found the existing ones to be just about crumbling). And I have a new-old exhaust. It’s almost original but features a neat modified and polished muffler that looks – to me at least – kind of trick. Well, it’s individual at least.
So the plan now is – once the last remaining chores around the house are sorted (involves a lot of painting) – to fit the new bearings, the new exhaust. There’s a small matter of dealing with a leak from the fuel tank (it’ll need a fancy lining) and then – virus allowing – I’d like to have a go at the Kent Centre twinshock championship, intermediate grade. If all goes well I’ll go for experts level next year (gulp) – it seems within reach. And in 2021 I’d like to ride the Manx Two Day Classic.
And at some point, I’d like to rest the Honda – I’d love a Fantic 240 as a ‘spare’ – so that I might just do a ‘sensitive’ restoration on it. Get the frame and swingarm blasted and repainted. Check the motor over, maybe a new camchain etc, then repaint that, too. Then clean up the bodywork with new authentic style mudguards and a repaint of tank and seat. But all to original spec, with no cut-and-shut to the frame as you see keen classic trials riders do. So the TLR will look original and sharp, but not concours as I don’t want to be afraid to ride it.
And through all of this I’d like to ride trials fairly regularly. Throughout my life I’ve been racing, in road races, enduro, even rally. Truth is I couldn’t afford any of it and mostly my lack of funds has meant I could never do any to the degree needed to improve my game. Trials, costing just £20 an entry, and probably less than £5 on fuel, negligible tyre wear etc – hey I don’t even need a van – is something I can afford. And these twinshock trials – not calling for the high wire acts that modern trials call for – really feed into practicing machine control for all the other riding I do. And it’s great fun, very sociable and in these caring times relatively environmentally friendly and sustainable.
Yeah, the TLR is with me for life. It’s a tangible link back to my wonderful days in NZ, and to my friends there. And together, the TLR and I, we should have a fun future of quiet enjoyment.