YRJO VESTERINEN

We dedicate this Trials Guru special section in homage to three times consecutive World Trials Champion, Yrjo Vesterinen from Finland.

Words: Sean Lawless – Yrjo Vesterinen – John Hulme – Trials Guru
Photographs: Copyright as per captions

With his three world titles, Yrjo Vesterinen was the trials superstar of the 1970s who went on to establish the Apico brand that helped change the way the off-road industry did business. We have been very fortunate to negotiate two articles written by professional journaists with the direct input of Yrjo Vesterinen himself. These were as a result of interviews with Vesty. We hope that you do enjoy them as much as we have displaying them for you. Both articles and the accompanying images are covered by copyright.

Articles on Yrjo Vesterinen:

Article 1 – 

We commence with the article by journalist, Sean Lawless.

Vesty 1981 - Parc Ferme - CJB

1981 Scottish Six Days – Vesty has a word with French journalist, Michel Dawans – Photo: Colin Bullock/CJB Photographic

Finland’s Finest :

Words by Sean Lawless – Photos & Accreditation: see end of articles.

Three framed Federation Internationale de Motocyclisme world championship certificates side by side on a wall isn’t a common sight. In May 2015, I was fortunate to see Dave Thorpe’s hanging in his Devon home and in October 2015 I saw Yrjo Vesterinen’s trio of FIM accolades. Seeing both was a privilege.

Of course, Dave Thorpe’s three world titles make him a British motocross hero but Yrjo’s, well, his trials world championships – won a decade earlier – made him the bogeyman, at least it did to me. Not fair and no longer true but when you’re a TY80-mounted eight-year-old, watching the sub-zero Finn with ice water in his veins beating Martin Lampkin and Malcolm Rathmell it’s easy to be biased!

If you don’t follow trials the chances are you’ll still have heard of Yrjo but you’ll know him as ‘Vesty’ who, along with his wife Diane, founded the Apico empire. Vesty sold the business in 2014 and now spends a large part of his time restoring historical trials machines to concours condition – but we’ll come back to that later.

With his 63rd birthday coming up in December 2015, Vesty has spent almost half a century involved in trials so it’s little wonder that the sport has been a massive influence.

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Ba House, Scottish Six Days Trial 1981, 340 Bultaco mounted, Vesterinen came home in second place on 85 marks – Photo: Colin Bullock/CJB Photographic

Vesty: “I suppose trials led very much to my present life. I found my wife through trials, most of my friends, where I live now. Everything was shaped by trials in one way or another.”

Vesty won his first world title in 1976 but it would have come a year earlier if the rules had been the same as they are now and instead it was Martin Lampkin who claimed the inaugural world title, up to then it was classed as a European championship.

I finished second to Martin. I think I lost by one or two points but I had more gross points than Martin or Malcolm, but in those days the rules were different and not all the rounds counted for the championship. We probably dropped around four rounds or something and that was my downfall.

I’d won more rounds than Martin or Malcolm but I had a couple of fourth places that basically sealed my fate. If I’d been third instead of fourth once I would have won the championship but in the early part of the year I didn’t quite realise I could win the championship – that came after the Canadian round in the summer where I won and I realised I could win but it was a bit too late.

Then I went from Canada and the next round was in America and I came second there and the next round from memory was Finland or Sweden – I know I won Finland and I think I came second in Sweden. Then I won in Switzerland and I won in Germany and the last round was in the Czech Republic and Mick Andrews won that.”

For the next three year’s Vesty strung together a hat-trick of world titles but he’s quick to point out that it wasn’t a Toni Bou-style demolition of the opposition.

I didn’t dominate. I managed to win the championship but nobody dominated in those days. It wasn’t like nowadays – I suppose the proper domination started with Jordi Tarres, then it continued with Dougie Lampkin and now with Toni Bou. Now it looks like when someone is winning a championship they have no genuine opposition but in those days when I was riding the competition was very, very intense.

You have to bare in mind that also in those days we had to cover lots of different types of terrain – there was mud and tree roots and streams, dry going, very grippy going, all sorts of different things – whereas nowadays it looks like most of the rounds the sections are somewhat like the indoor sections have been taken outdoors with massive steps and riding on the back wheel everywhere.

It obviously requires a lot of skill but they don’t have rounds like, say, the Hurst Cup in Belfast that was a mud bath. I’d love to see how a lot of today’s riders would handle that sort of going.

Thanks to his natural talent, dedication and a determination to improve, Vesty’s rise to the top was a rapid one. Amazingly, he only started on two wheels a decade before that first world championship season.

I started riding a moped when I was about 13-and-a-half or thereabouts and then I rode my first competition that summer. It was a series of moped trials near Helsinki. It was a very minority sport – in fairness I don’t think many people had heard of motorcycle trials, it was a sport very much on the fringes.

In 1969 I rode a junior class but in Finland it was for one year only. You’d get the motorcycle driving licence at 16 so I got my licence in December 1968 although I rode my first trial before I had a driving licence because there were a number of events that were not on the road. Once I had my licence I started competing and I rode every event that I possibly could. I entered every event in Finland and some in Sweden.

In 1970 when I had done my apprenticeship in the schoolboys I moved to the main class in Finland.

The same year Vesty entered the Belgian round of the European championship and his talent was noticed immediately.

I remember being very proud when I got a mention in Motorcycle News or Motorcycling – I don’t remember which – because I was the only one who got up a section by a stream. Sammy Miller fived it, Laurence Telling fived it, all the top riders fived it and I had a one.

I was pretty much in the points straight away – obviously not winning – but I felt that with a fair bit of training and travelling intensively to various parts of Europe to learn to ride their types of trials I thought I would have a chance to improve myself.

You have to bear in mind that European championship rounds weren’t that hard in those days. I have no idea what sort of scores we had but my impression was they certainly weren’t dangerous and the entry was quite big. There were a lot of riders who probably weren’t that good at all but yet they were able to compete and ride.

Initially starting out on a home-built 100cc Yamaha, he swiftly progressed to a 250cc Bultaco before seeing out 1970 on a Montesa. Vesty stuck with the Mont through 1971 before he met a man who would help shape his career – and also help shape the course of trials.

Team Bultaco Classic June 2013 - Alvie

Bultaco Classic Trials Team reunite at the Highland Classic 2 Day Trial in 2013. From Left: Oriol Puig Bulto; Juan Olivier, brother in law of Oriol Bulto; Yrjo Vesterinen; Juame Puig; Ignacio Bulto; Charles Coutard; Manuel Soler and Javier Cuccerella – Photo courtesy: Fiona Watson

In 1971 in Finland, I first met Oriol Bulto who came to compete with his nephew Ignacio Bulto and he must have noticed me because after the trial he asked me if I’d like to try Malcolm Rathmell’s bike.

I remember Malcolm wasn’t amused – from his facial expression I could see Oriol shouldn’t have asked me to ride and try his bike without asking him first if it was okay – but I tried it and the truth was I didn’t particularly like it.

I thought my Montesa was better but when Oriol asked me what I thought I came up with a little white lie and said it was a really fantastic bike and later that year Oriol contacted me and asked if I wanted to ride Bultaco in 1972 as a supported works rider.

From 1972 on I stayed with Bultaco all the way to the end of 1979 when the factory didn’t renew my contract. Their excuse was they were in financial trouble.

As a supported rider Vesty was able to dedicate himself to the sport although he continued to work part-time for the Helsinki Electricity Board where his mother was a Director. And he certainly wasn’t living the life of a factory superstar.

The first contract wasn’t a handsome contract. It was enough to pay for the travel, it was enough to pocket a little bit of money but that in itself wouldn’t have led to any sort of lavish lifestyle at all but that didn’t interest me, I just wanted to ride.

If I’d had to pay myself I don’t know how long I’d have been able to continue. I certainly wouldn’t have gone to places like Spain or France – that would have been too expensive – but the factory contract enabled me to do that.

Vesty finished second in 1979 behind flamboyant American Bernie Schreiber, was third in 1980 behind Swede Ulf Karlson and Schreiber and third again in 1981 as Frenchman Gilles Burgat beat Karlson to the title.

Along with 11 Finnish national titles Vesty also won the Scottish Six Days Trial in 1980 on a Montesa and the 1982 British championship riding for Comerfords Bultaco but, suffering from an ongoing injury, he decided his time at the top was over.

The last world round would have been 1983. I didn’t do the whole season then, I just did a few rounds. I was suffering from a very bad back in those days and it was gradually getting worse and worse so after a weekend’s riding I was in agony for sometimes a week or even two weeks and it was pretty pointless to continue.

Also it was not possible to get a contract to support myself on a financial level that would actually make any sense.

For a man whose life had revolved around trials it was a very pragmatic decision but he was determined to remain in the off-road world.

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Vesty with daughter Hanna at Highland Classic in 2014 – Photo: Luis Munoz Aycuens-Riba, Madrid

Diane and I started Apico in the beginning of ’84. It was only clothing at first. It might have looked like a successful operation but in fairness it didn’t pay off just doing clothing on its own. The market wasn’t big enough and in particular the motocross market was a lot tougher to try to get into than trials.

Trials I think we were successful straight away but motocross didn’t go that well. It was dominated by various factories that made their own clothing whereas I decided early on that I didn’t want to get involved in owning a factory or having someone to work for me to make the clothes. We wanted to just own the brand and do the marketing but in hindsight we were probably about 10 years too early with that. Now it would be a lot easier because everyone’s doing what I was trying to do then.

At the time I found it difficult to compete against the factories that were making the clothing and selling the clothing through the importer network so price-wise we couldn’t be competitive.

The cool head and iron will to win that had served him so well in his riding days also came into play in the competitive world of business and he made a decision that would establish Apico as the major industry player that it still is today.

Eventually I realised that the off-road accessories market is a lot bigger than just clothing and little by little we started moving into hard parts and various consumables. I thought it would be important to offer a one-stop base for our dealers so they didn’t have to order from 10 different places on a daily basis.

I met up with Vesty at his Lancashire home just after he’d returned from a vintage trial in France – a rare long-distance road trip for a man who’s done his time behind the wheel.

I could have possibly borrowed a bike in France but last time I did I really struggled with that bike and the way it had been set up and I almost felt it would be bordering on being dangerous to ride someone else’s bike.

Still a keen competitor and – like all former champions – keenly competitive, I can’t help but think his desire to do as well as possible was a major factor in his decision to take his own bike in a van rather than simply fly in and ride whatever was provided.

Typically I try to ride not as often as I possibly could but if there’s somewhere half-decent not having to travel too far then I will try to compete. I don’t think I’d like to ride just purely for the fun of it. I do like competing and I do like the idea of trying to keep your head together and not to come up with a lot of excuses.

Over the weekend I was riding against Charles Coutard and Eric Lejeune was in the same team with us – incidentally, Eric is a pretty handy rider, I’d never really seen him ride – and Charles and I had quite a nice little dice between us.

I do accept it’s extremely difficult to be competitive and the truth is the last time when I rode okay was probably about 35 years ago and that will never come back. That’s impossible. Even if I practised a lot more than I do nowadays even half of that won’t come back. That’s just life. That’s how it is.

HC2DT 2013 DY Photo

Vesty walks a section at the 2013 Highland Classic Two Day trial near Aviemore – Photo: Donald Young, Stonehaven

Where Vesty calls home :

I met Diane in the summer of 1981 and that’s when I started travelling a lot back and forth to here. In 1982 I applied for the ACU licence and that’s when I was living at Diane’s parents’ house and then in 1983 I got my resident’s permit and we bought a house together.

I’d been living abroad on and off – in ’75 and ’76 I was living in Germany and after that I was living back in Finland. Towards the end of 1980 I moved to Andorra and I was a resident there until I moved to the UK.

Home is here. We do have a house in Finland and I go to Finland on a regular basis so I have one foot here and one foot over there but I do spend a lot more time here.

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Proud man with a famous motorcycle – EAA60D, Sammy Miller’s 1966 Sherpa T, is now owned and been restored to its former glory by Yrjo Vesterinen – Photo copyright: Neil Sturgeon, Darlington

Vesty’s private museum :

Vesty keeps his trials collection in what he describes as a ‘barn’ but in truth it’s closer to a pristine showroom with a workshop – as spotless as you’ll find at a factory race team HQ – at the back.

It’s in this workshop where he restores his extensive collection and the attention to detail is amazing. Date stamps on parts along with painstaking research allow him to keep everything as original as possible and the end results are incredible with concours-standard machines complete with authentic period decals.

In fairness I did quite a lot of my mechanic-ing, not all the time but quite a lot, so some of the details were known to me anyway. I have to admit there was some confusion over some finer details but then I studied a lot of old newspaper cuttings and photos to make sure everything was okay. There were some details I actually stumbled across like the carburettor markings and rim stamps – I didn’t know the meaning of them until I started restoring bikes.

I’ve been speaking to various people who are in the know – one of them who has helped me a great deal is John Moffat from Scotland who is very, very knowledgeable.

I do enjoy looking into the details. For instance one of the things that is quite confusing is quite often the bikes’ logbooks were recycled – my ’76 world championship winning bike was first registered in 1974 with the registration number AR1 but I kept the documents all the way to 1976.

You have to see his collection to believe it but here’s an abbreviated list of the bikes he has on display:

1976 world title-winning Bultaco

1977 world title-winning Bultaco

1978 world title-winning Bultaco

Bernie Schreiber’s 1979 world title-winning Bultaco

1980 SSDT - IL

1980 SSDT winning Montesa 349 factory machine – Photo copyright – Iain Lawrie, Kinlochleven

1980 SSDT-winning Montesa

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Vesterinen British Championship action captured by Colin Bullock/CJB Photographic (Copyright)

1982 British title-winning Comerfords Bultaco

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1982 British Championship winning Comerfords Bultaco from Vesterinen’s private collection seen here at Telford Show in 2014 – Photo: Neil Sturgeon, Darlington

EAA60D – 1966/67/68 Sammy Miller’s works Bultaco

EAA60D - Entrance hall

EAA60D – Ex Sammy Miller Bultaco M27 prototype – Photo: Yrjo Vesterinen Private Archive

1974 Model 133 prototype Bultaco

1978 works bike used in the first part of the season

1979 works bike

Bernie Schreiber’s 1979 US bike

348 Sherpa HML - Vesty photo

Martin Lampkin’s factory 348 Bultaco Sherpa under restoration by Yrjo Vesterinen – Photo: Yrjo Vesterinen Private Archive

There’s also a very rare 1977 348cc long-stroke Bultaco as ridden by Martin Lampkin.

I tried that bike but it didn’t suit my riding style – I couldn’t handle the brutal power and didn’t think it revved out nicely either.

Vesty has a couple of motocross bikes on display as well Rob Herring’s Silkolene and Castrol Hondas. Herring, who won the 250cc British title and several GPs on the Castrol Honda, was supported by Apico and Vesty was a big admirer.

I was a great fan of Rob’s. I very much thought that Rob would be good for Apico as a sponsored rider which he was – he was a superhero at the time and brought a new style of riding to the UK. I very much thought he would and could be a world champion so I thought it would be worth trying to sponsor him which we did for a number of years.

After retiring from trials Vesty, who was recognised as an FIM ‘Trial Legend’ in 2011, even tried his hand at motocross with varying degrees of success.

At the Shepperton club in Surrey I received an award for the ‘most improved junior rider’ which I thought was pretty funny but I kept crashing a lot and my motocross career was not a spectacular one.

I didn’t spot his Shepperton award but among all the imposing trophies and trials memorabilia in his collection there’s a modestly-sized plaque on the wall that Vesty regards with particular affection.

The Bultaco factory invited me to Barcelona just before Christmas in ’76 when I won the first world championship and they presented me with this. The factory got a certificate similar to this because they won the manufacturer’s championship and this is a copy of the certificate which they had made in silver.

To my knowledge there’s only one other like this which Martin Lampkin was given in ’75 but after that they stopped doing it.

Signed by Bultaco founder Paco Bulto, it is inscribed simply:

‘To Yrjo Vesterinen whose skill and determination gave us this title. With the gratitude of our company.’

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Former World Trials Champion, Yrjo Vesterinen on his 272cc Bultaco Sherpa ‘X’Lite’ which he has developed more recently. seen here at the 2014 Highland Classic 2 Day Trial near Aviemore, Scotland – Photo: John Hulme/Trial Magazine UK

Vesty’s take on the state of play :

As a man whose career has been tied up with trials for so long Vesty has, unsurprisingly, strong feelings on the state of the modern sport.

My personal opinion is that I think a long, long time ago the FIM should have stepped in and stopped trials turning into what today has become what I call a bit of an extreme sport. When I was riding it wasn’t an extreme sport and it was important to ride easy trials, medium trials and hard trials and learn to ride all the different types of terrain.

I genuinely think it’s a mistake to have allowed trials to turn into an extreme sport because as a consequence we now have a sport that’s highly divided – with that I mean that the older boys like myself still wobbling along, what we do has very little to do with the world championship level of riding.

Their level of skills, their type of trials riding – it causes confusion. If I was to go to a pub and somebody asked what I do as a hobby, if I was to say I ride trials – and if they knew what trials is – they would say ‘really, you ride all those big obstacles?’. No, no, no. I don’t do that and if you then start explaining what you do it’s going to be a long story and cause more confusion.

I think today we probably have to accept we have two different sports and they’re both called trials but maybe one or the other should be called something else.

By becoming so far removed from the grassroots of the sport, Vesty feels it could actually discourage people from taking up trials.

Of course trials as it is now affects it at a grassroots level. If you look at the schoolboy scene, typically the schoolboy riders come from families where the father or someone in the family used to ride trials and they know that it’s not that dangerous or that extreme.

I don’t see that many people coming from outside the typical trials circle because if a parent was to go and see the world championship they would say ‘no, no, our little Johnny is not going to ride that’ because it looks too dangerous and too extreme.

Sean Lawless hs

Former trials rider, now motor-sport journalist, Sean Lawless of Lawless Media UK

Sean Lawless: 46 years old Lawless rode his first trial in March 1978 at Back Cowm Quarry on a TY80 Yamaha. His father Bill Lawless started Trials & Motocross News (TMX) in May 1977 which is how Sean became involved in trials. Sean rode pretty much every weekend until the age of 17 when he “discovered public houses and the ladies that frequent them!” He has been a journalist specialising in off-road sport for 27 years and was editor of Dirt Bike Rider for 12 years. He now works as a freelance journalist and edits the Motocross Diary for TMX.

We are indeed indebted to Sean Lawless for allowing Trials Guru to feature his article of Yrjo Vesterinen.

 

 

Article 2 – First published in Classic Trial Magazine – Issue 2

MAN AND MACHINES – VESTY

Words: Yrjo Vesterinen with John Hulme

 

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Yrjo Vesterinen walks the famous Pipeline section at the Scottish Six Days Trial in 1977 – Photo copyright: Jimmy Young, Armadale, Scotland

LIVING LEGEND:

During a trials career that would include three World titles from 1976 – 1978, a Scottish Six Days Trial victory in 1980 and the British Trials Championship in 1982, Finland’s Yrjo Vesterinen gained an unrivaled reputation for attention to detail leaving nothing to chance in the quest for his victories.

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Yrjo Vesterinen with his private collection of factory Bultacos and 1980 SSDT Montesa 349 – Photo copyright: John Hulme/Trials Media/Classic Trial

Now with his riding career over many years ago and having built up a successful worldwide reputation in business with his Apico brand, he has turned the same attention to detail he used when competing to return his championship winning machines to their former glory. They are the three World Championship winning Bultacos, the Montesa from the SSDT and the British Championship winning Bultaco. These five machines have a special place in the heart of the man himself as he was the first rider to win three world titles consecutively, the first foreign rider to win the SSDT and the only ever foreign rider to win the British Trials championship when he competed using a licence sanctioned by the ACU in Great Britain.

 

Always welcomed with a warm smile and handshake the subject turns very quickly to the restoration projects whenever you meet Yrjo. The passion he has put into these projects is genuinely from the heart and each machine component, no matter how big or small, has an interesting story to accompany it. The workshop is the same with many old, new and restored parts on the various shelves. Memorabilia is easy to hand and once again it is always followed by such a wealth of information.  The pain staking work, for example in polishing the engine cases where he wants to save a certain paint mark from the world championship events or the Scottish Six Days trial, is unrivaled and the end product much appreciated for all to see. Parts are sourced worldwide and when required, if it needs him to visit where the parts are to check their authenticity, a trip will soon follow. The idea to restore the machines goes back to 1980 when he was reunited with the 1976 World Championship winning Bultaco.  He had sold most of the machines at the championship year end but soon realised that one day he would sadly miss them and they were soon all back with their rightful owner. The first restoration would be pretty easy to carry out and the 1976 Championship winning machine was back to its former glory quite quickly. The next bike in line was the 1977 machine. The main stumbling block with this, and the one which initially caused a small headache, was finding a suitable paint which would adhere to the crankcases and on this machine they were originally painted satin black. This put the whole restoration project on hold for the best part of twenty years. Family and business commitments took priority and the plan was to tackle this machine when time would allow and that moment came two and a half years ago! Whilst restoring the 1977 Championship machine he realized that restoring is great fun and very satisfying when you see the finished article, especially when you fire the machine up for the first time! Vesty’s passion towards Bultacos was alive again and he started buying back more of his old factory bikes. An important piece in the jigsaw was completed when the 1982 British Championship winning machine was reunited with ‘Vesty’ one and half years ago.

YRJO VESTERINEN

Yrjo Vesterinen was born in Kokkola, Finland on 07.12.1952. His elder brother Jussi raced motorcycles taking part in motocross, enduro, road racing, ice racing and sidecars. He became Finnish Champion several times as a sidecar passenger in road racing and scored world championship points with Kenneth Calenius. Jussi was a great role model and inspiration to Yrjo who at the tender age of 14 competed in his first trial on a moped and he soon won the whole series. He thought that riding trials rather than going with any of the speed disciplines would suit him better. At the age of 15 he won the moped series again and at 16 became Finnish junior champion on a 250 Bultaco.  Later that year he came second in the Scandinavian championship in Norway which caused a sensation as outside Finland no one had even heard of him. Much to the disappointment of his parents (they hoped he would go to University) Yrjo decided to take up an offer from Bultaco to ride trials professionally. In 1972 Yrjo achieved another breakthrough by winning the Swedish round of the European Championship. In 1973 Yrjo did his military service in the Finnish Navy but was given enough time to ride the most important events. Following on from wins in 1970, 71, 72 and 73 Yrjo won the Finnish Championship again in 1974. Having moved to Germany to be closer to his rivals in 1975, his first world round victory came in Canada, followed by second in the USA. Then with victories in Finland, Germany and Switzerland he narrowly missed winning the Championship by one mark to Martin Lampkin. He also won his sixth Finnish Championship and first Scandinavian Championship. 1976 brought home his first World Championship title followed by two more titles in 1977 and 1978; in 1979 he was beaten to second place by the young American, Bernie Schreiber. In 1980 he moved to Montesa as his much favoured Bultaco marque was in financial trouble. He gained a victory at the Scottish Six Days Trial, a first for himself, Montesa and also the first foreign rider to win and he also again won both Finnish and Scandinavian Championships. 1981 saw Yrjo return to Bultaco through Comerfords, the British Importer, finishing third in the World Championship and again winning the Scandinavian Championship. In 1982 Comerfords asked him to compete in the British Championship which he duly won. In 1983 Yrjo married Diane Hadfield who he had met at a trial in England in 1981; he had previously met Diane’s parents as her father was Gordon Hadfield an Orthopaedic Surgeon and one time President of the FIM Medical committee. Two children followed, Mika in 1984 and Hanna in 1985.  Both are currently successfully pursuing scientific careers, Mika in Particle Physics and Hanna in Medical Research. Mika also rode trials successfully, winning the European Junior Championship and coming third in the Junior World Championship.

The Results:

World Champion – 1976; 1977 and 1978; Second 1975 & 1979; Third 1980 & 1981.

Scandinavian Championship: First, 19-75; 76; 77; 78; 79; 80 & 81.

Second 19-69; 70; 71; 72; 73 & 74.

British Champion: 1982.

Finnish Champion: Junior 1969; Adult 19-70; 71; 72; 73; 74; 75; 76; 77; 78; 79 & 1980. As Vesty did not compete in Finland after 1980, he therefore still to date remains unbeaten. 

Scottish Six Days: Winner 1980; Second 1979 and 1981.

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Bultaco publicity poster commemorating Vesty’s first World Title win in 1976 – Image: Bultaco Motorcycles

Vesty – the winning years

WORLD CHAMPION 1976

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Vesty with his 1976 Bultaco Sherpa model 159 – with which he won his first of three world titles – Photo copyright: John Hulme/Trials Media/Classic Trial

BULTACO – Model: 159

After the 1975 season had finished I decided to concentrate on two areas that could be easily improved with just some hard work. The Finnish Federation had appointed a brilliant new trainer called Hannu Alho. He helped me to improve my fitness and muscle strength. Fitness was an area that was identified as being quite easily improved. This meant adopting a slightly different approach to daily life and through a relatively strict training routine better stamina could be achieved. I remember a comment by Mr ‘Paco’ Bulto when he saw me for the first time after the winter break which I had spent running, skiing and in the gym:  “What has happened to you”?  I think what he meant was that I looked much fitter now. I explained what I had been doing. He paused for a while and then said: “I would recommend you to play piano for a while as I do not wish you to become too stiff on the machine”! The other point that I thought was worth pursuing was to try to make my machine lighter. When the new 159 model came out I really liked them. However I also noticed that it had become heavier than the 133 model prototypes that we rode previously. I was convinced that by making it lighter it would make it easier to handle. I managed to convince my team boss, Oriol Puig Bulto, to have a special machine built and lightened by Walther Luft of Austria. Walther was famous for his ultra-light Puch machine that he had built for himself. He took the job on and started working on my machine in Vienna. The outcome was it weighed about 10 kg less than the standard works machine did at the time. This was a beautiful testament to Walter’s engineering skills. He had lightened pretty much every part and fabricated numerous parts from lighter materials. Initially I thought that this machine was a winner. However, the more I tested it the more obvious it became that the weight distribution of this otherwise very special machine was not right. I struggled to keep the front wheel on the ground on steeper sections. I had to lean more forward to compensate which meant that I would lose the grip on the rear wheel.

Standard

With great frustration I had to revert back to the more standard machine. Oriol was not best pleased as this project had cost a small fortune. My results were badly affected by this machine that I could not ride very well. The ultimate outcome was that the standard machine was proven to be a winner and ultimately everybody was smiling again! The most important modification to my machine after the lightweight episode related to cylinder porting. In particular the inlet port was made narrower as well as slightly higher which made it run like a dream. All the other makes of machines felt like tractors compared with mine. It revved out like nothing else ever before. I liked that cylinder so much that when I changed my machine I kept the cylinder. That cylinder was eventually fitted to my 77 World Championship winning machine, first winning the 76 title and then the 77 Championship as well!   

My best ride in 76 must have been winning in Finland. To win at home is always very sweet and feels very satisfying. After the victory in Tammisaari on the south coast of Finland I pretty much knew that I could take the title. My physical fitness had by that time also got to a level that I was feeling very confident with myself. When I won the title in Switzerland with one round to go I was already planning my 77 assault on the title. There was a small celebration there of course and a nice meal with my good friend Tuomo Valisalo with whom I was travelling with and my team boss Oriol. A bigger party was to follow at home in Finland!  

1976 World Championship Results: 1: Yrjo Vesterinen (Bultaco-FIN) 93; 2: Malcolm Rathmell (Montesa-GBR) 87; 3: Martin Lampkin (Bultaco-GBR) 85; 4: Mick Andrews (Yamaha-GBR) 69; 5: Ulf Karlson (Montesa-SWE) 67.

WORLD CHAMPION 1977 

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The 1977 Bultaco Sherpa model 191 – Photo copyright: John Hulme/Trials Media/Classic Trial

BULTACO – Model: 159 and 191

During the winter closed season I spent long hours in the gym but riding wise most of my time was spent preparing for the Special Trial in Sweden which I had won for the first time in 1976. This trial was a kind of Scandinavian version of the famous Scott Trial on the Yorkshire moors. It was a time and observation event in the snow and ice using studded tyres with more than half the entry consisting of top Nordic enduro riders. Learning to ride flat out in snow ruts was perfect exercise for improving balance and learning to hang on. It was much harder on the arms than riding with normal tyres as the studs made the steering a lot heavier. The preparation paid off and I won the trial again using pretty much a standard bike, apart from an Alpina model exhaust which gave the machine a fair bit more grunt and the extra power needed to conquer the icy conditions. In February I also made a week long trip to Barcelona to visit the factory with the main focus being to have a crash course in riding in the sunny and dry conditions as opposed to the ice and snow up north. I loaned a machine from the factory and when I returned it after the week it was very second hand such was the intensity of the practicing. I paid the travel costs from my own pocket as the idea was entirely mine but in hindsight the trip to Spain was a good move with regards to getting a top result in the forthcoming Spanish world round in March. The Championship started brilliantly for Malcolm Rathmell who won the three opening rounds in Northern Ireland, England and Belgium. My start was not quite so promising with fourth, sixth and third positions.

Vesty Laggan Locks 1977

Vesty in 1977 on ‘Laggan Locks’ in the Scottish Six Days with the 348 Bultaco Sherpa – Photo copyright: Iain Lawrie, Kinlochleven

I had been testing as well using the new 348cc long stroke engine as opposed to the trusted 326cc set up I was more familiar with. Whilst the 348 had loads of torque it did not rev out very cleanly.

Blow Up

I continued to use this engine until just days before the Spanish world round when out of the blue it literally blew up. I was training behind Spanish rider Javier Cucurella’s house on the hills overlooking Barcelona. The inlet port which had been fabricated out of some type of Araldite resin had disintegrated. I decided to fit my machine with the same prototype cylinder that had won me the 1976 Championship. I liked the cylinder so much that I had carried it with me just in case I needed it. The trial was very hard and lasted nearly nine hours. I knew I was fit enough for the job and the machine ran like a dream thanks to my old trusted cylinder. Perhaps much to the surprise of some critics I had a comfortable victory. Malcolm on the other hand had struggled all day finishing a lowly seventh. The game was back on! By summer I had clawed back Malcolm’s lead. I had a brand new machine with a registration plate to reflect my liking of the 325: AS-325. This in my mind was the most beautiful Bultaco ever with a slim line fibreglass fuel tank and a new, slightly modified frame. This was the new 191 model! Whilst this ran very smoothly it felt a little underpowered.

1977 2

Vesty was sponsored directly by RG boots of Bergamo, Italy and so the company were able to use his endorsement on the product

After I got beaten by Rob Sheppard in Finland in very slippery conditions I realized that there must be some underlying problem somewhere with the engine. It just didn’t have all the torque that I was used to. I wanted to use my previous year’s cylinder again but the heads were not compatible. My brother Jussi found the fault and it was the cylinder head. The compression ratio was lower than 9 to 1 which it was supposed to have been.  It was only a slight mistake at the factory but it had already cost me dearly in front of my home crowd. Once we knew what the problem was it was immediately corrected. The following week I won the Scandinavian Championship and the following week in Czechoslovakia. The Championship was more or less again in the bag. The last round was in Switzerland where Martin Lampkin was the only rider who could possibly rob me of the title. The surprise winner of the day was Swede Ulf Karlsson who reversed the tables and robbed ‘Big Mart’ of his second place in the Championship. After a difficult start to the year and a truly miserable summer after my father had quite suddenly died and on top of that my girlfriend of seven years had dumped me, the Championship was eventually now mine!       

1977 World Championship Results: 1: Yrjo Vesterinen (Bultaco-FIN) 107; 2: Ulf Karlson (Montesa-SWE) 101; 3: Malcolm Rathmell (Montesa-GBR) 100; 4: Martin Lampkin (Bultaco-GBR) 98; 5: Rob Shepherd (Honda-GBR) 68.

WORLD CHAMPION 1978

1 1978

1978 Bultaco model 199 prototype – Photo copyright: John Hulme/Trials Media/Classic Trial

BULTACO – Model: 199 Factory Prototype

At the factory some development work on the works machines was done on a daily basis. This had resulted in a much modified new machine for the 1978 season. There was a brand new frame ready at the factory well before the season started and the engine had been raised in the frame and the tubes under the engine had been replaced with an aluminium plate. A new swinging arm had been fabricated to accommodate the slightly longer air shocks that Ignacio Bulto had been secretly working on. My machine had been fitted again with an older 159 model air filter box which I preferred to the then standard black plastic unit which was much smaller in internal volume and made the engine run a little ‘boggy’. The filter box in my machine had the air intake at the top front rather than the standard hole at the top. This was purely for practical reasons to stop so much dirt getting inside the unit. The engine was a copy of my 1977 Championship winning machine with identical cylinder porting which made the machine run like a dream! Before the season’s opening I did a test session at Manuel Soler’s family’s summer house to evaluate the new machine with the main focus on the secret air shocks. Ignacio Bulto was there to direct this testing session with other technicians to see how the new shocks fared against the then standard Betor units. It was immediately clear that the air shocks offered more grip than the Betor set up. With the new shocks the back end felt very soft and ‘rubbery’ with the back wheel glued to the ground. I must have been riding up and down the same section for at least two hours, little by little increasing the air pressure in the new shocks until the initial over-softness was sorted. I knew that this was a new and very valuable secret weapon that might very well decide the outcome of the Championship!  My main focus to open the season with was to try to win the Special Trial in Sweden again.  Everything went according to plan and I scored my hat trick in winning this physically very hard event for the third time in a row. Countless hours spent in the gym during the off season had given me even more self confidence when it came to stamina and fitness. This was something that I was going to need later in the season even more.

Iceman

The season’s opener for the World Championship was as usual in Northern Ireland. I felt quietly confident about my chances, although I knew that I was somewhat rusty in riding proper sections as opposed to ice and snow up north. The trial proved to be very hard as well as muddy and slippery. Big ‘Mart’ Lampkin was taking full advantage offered by his new air shock set up and had been leading right from the word go. I was somewhere around third to fifth throughout the first three laps. On the final and fourth lap I made my move and took the lead and held it till the finish. Was it the air shocks, better stamina, improved confidence in myself and the new machine that gave me the edge? What was now clear was that a season long battle for the Championship had just started between Lampkin and I who had finished second just behind me. A week later it was the second round in Wales. During the night there had been a hard frost and it was still bitterly cold in the morning. The mood in the pits was somewhat negative and a lot of riders were complaining about the sections being icy. I felt even more confident now than the week before in Ireland. I was wearing my raccoon fur hat before the start of the trial just to rub it in and make sure that everyone knew that I was feeling very much at home here. Was it going to be easy for me? Well it was never easy to win on this level but it was certainly easier than I had anticipated. It was now two victories in a row and the new Bultacos were dominating. There was quite a lot of speculation amongst other riders and the press about the air shocks which were still covered by gaitors to conceal their finer details.

Air Pressure

Next week was Belgium and everything had started well for me and I was in the lead. Unfortunately one of the air shocks started to leak quite far from the start area. No one had considered what would happen if the shock let its pressure out. You can ride a machine with a damaged traditional shock but not with the air shocks as the back end would collapse. I had to rush back to the finish racing on the back streets and quickly replace the leaking shock. After that I was already running very late and then came another setback, a rear wheel puncture.  After some inevitable rushing that followed I finished third by ten points behind the winner. Under normal circumstances that would not have been too bad but the winner was Martin Lampkin who also made it three in a row for Bultaco and the air shocks. Next it was off to France where it was dry, grippy and sunny in the south. Bernie Schreiber was in super form and had a comfortable victory, the first of many that were to follow over the years. Martin finished second and I came third. Martin was closing the gap on me again as Bultaco took its fourth victory in a row! Interestingly Bernie was using the standard Betor rear shocks. He claimed that the air shocks didn’t suit his riding style and stopped him doing his now already famous ‘bunny hops’ over obstacles. I was also beginning to feel that the air shocks were perhaps best suited to muddy and slippery riding conditions. Spain was next and again Bernie was in super form and took his second victory in a row. Martin came second again and I finished a disappointing sixth. In theory I should have finished a little higher in third place but a rear wheel puncture on a relatively easy section near the end caused an unnecessary five plus some time penalties followed as a result as well. Bultaco scored its fifth victory in a row with Germany next. No excuses here at all just a bad day and resulted in a victory for Martin and Bultaco. The trip to the States was next in the schedule and the trial in Pennsylvania was really nice and ‘traditional’ as Bernie won again, his third of the season. I was second and Martin finished fourth which helped me a little bit in the Championship. Italy that followed was another low point for me. I was growing more and more frustrated with the air shocks on dry and grippy going. Bernie won again and Martin was second. The following week was Austria and I knew the venue and I had won there before which helped me mentally. It was clear to me that if I was to stop Martin from taking the Championship I had to win, no excuses only victory would do!  The week was hell as the pressure that I had put myself under was immense. I did win in the end but it was not an easy victory. Bernie came second and luckily for me Martin had had a bad day coming home sixth. My championship campaign was alive again and Bultaco had scored their ninth victory in a row winning every event so far.

Confidence

Vesty: – Psychologically I knew that I had the upper hand on Martin from this point on as we were now going to Sweden and Finland. I felt confident and came home second in Sweden just after ‘Uffe’ Karlsson’s Montesa had broken Bultaco’s straight run of victories. Martin had another bad day and finished seventh with Bernie third. I did exactly what I needed to do by winning at home in Finland. Martin was fourth and his chances of taking the title had taken another massive blow as Bultaco scored their tenth victory! Incidentally I had decided to use standard Betor rear shocks again which worked a treat. The air shocks from that day on were reserved for muddy going only!  The season’s finale was, as in many previous years, at Ricany near Prague in Czechoslovakia.  I had won there the year before and felt quietly confident that the Championship would be mine. After all if Martin won, even a fourth place would be good enough for me to take the title. What I had not bargained for was that fate would step in the game. On Sunday morning when the ballot for the start numbers took place I drew number one out of an entry of about one hundred riders. It was going to be a proper nightmare and quite possibly a disaster!  Most of the early sections were slippery streams that had not been ridden through at all. Martin had a comfortable mid-entry start time, just what I would have needed. What would I do? There was one thing that I knew that would be on my side and possibly get me out of trouble. I was very fit and I knew that I was not going to be the first one to get tired in a trial that would be long and demanding! Riders behind me came to the first sections and wondered where Vesty was, surely he has not ridden through already? No I was sat on a tree stump in the woods hiding near the first group with a view over the first section. At first no one wanted to ride and make it easier for the rest. After about twenty minutes the first rider cracked and after half an hour about twenty to thirty riders had gone through. Martin had just turned up when I surfaced. He looked at me and realized what I had done.  I had just taken an important step towards saving my Championship and all I needed to do now was to finish fourth or higher. Time was not on my side but my fitness was. I rode pretty much flat out all through the trial to catch up on the time spent sat on that lonely tree stump with nothing else to do than see my trusted Omega slowly ticking away. Martin did what he needed to do by winning. It was not going to be quite enough for him to take the title though as I came home in third just behind Bernie. It was a brilliant day for the entire team. This was another victory for Bultaco the eleventh of the season. It was also One – Two – Three on the day for this now very famous marque. After a fiercely fought season the third title was now mine. Bultaco took all top three positions in the Championship as well and it was time to celebrate! In the evening I could see that Oriol Bulto, our ever patient and wise team manager, was clearly very satisfied with the season’s results as he was smiling broadly. In hindsight it may have been practically impossible to win on any other bike than Bultaco. Tough luck for the others!     

1978 World Championship Results: 1: Yrjo Vesterinen (Bultaco-FIN) 128; 2: Martin Lampkin (Bultaco-GBR) 126; 3: Bernie Schreiber (Bultaco-USA) 116; 4: Ulf Karlson (Montesa-SWE) 104; 5: Rob Shepherd (Honda-GBR) 63.

Vesty

On his way to third place in the Scottish Six Days in 1979 on the Bultaco Sherpa 199A, the section is ‘Pipeline’ – Photo copyright: Jimmy Young, Armadale

SCOTTISH SIX DAYS TRIAL WINNER 1980

1 1980

The 1980 Scottish Six Days Trial winning Montesa 349 factory machine – Photo: John Hulme/Trials Media/Classic Trial

MONTESA – Model: Works Cota 349

Vesty: – When I made the decision to move from my first love Bultaco to the rival Montesa concern for the 1980 season my contract also included the Scottish Six Days Trial, which was an event I had not won and one that had never been won by a foreign rider. Montesa went all out for glory in 1980 having seen the domination by Bultaco in the previous years and who were now suffering financial problems. They decided to build special machines as opposed to modified production ones for the works riders and fabricated a small batch of handmade Cota 349 frames to try and slim down the rather wide machine, which featured a lower top tube and flat sided plates on the foot rest mounting areas, as opposed to round tubes. They also had new machine yokes made to further slim down the machine in all areas. They then fitted modified components from production machines to suit the new frame and yokes which presented its own problems.

3 1980

Promotional decal celebrating the Montesa win at the 1980 SSDT – Credit: Montesa Motorcycles – Detail image: John Hulme/Trials Media/Classic Trial

The engine was very standard which at the time was quite surprising. My machine had very little engine brake which was a particular problem to me as I was so used to the then outstanding Bultaco motor. Hence I did experiment with five different flywheel weights until I decided on one quite a lot lighter than the standard set-up.   Montesa supplied many different sets of fork yokes to test as I tried to make it feel like the Bultaco which were all machined from solid billet and offered the slimmer front end which put the fork stanchions closer together, but this also offered different fork angles which in turn affected the wheelbase. Because of the slimmer frame and yokes simple components such as the mudguard fork stays had to be modified and the exhaust system had to be repositioned so it did not catch the frame in certain areas. I was gradually getting used to my new machine and I spent many hours practicing but the engine still did not feel quite right. In the end I tried to accept that the Montesa motor was quite different to the Bultaco I was so used to. If I remember correctly I debuted the machine in Aywaille, Belgium at the St Martins trial in very icy conditions where Eddie Lejeune won by a single mark from myself but I beat my team mate, Sweden’s Ulf Karlson. We then travelled to the north of England to take in some practice with Nigel Birkett. I modified the footrest length by one inch as the machine felt too narrow and again spent many hours practicing and learning to get the best out of my Montesa. In one session I had a smallish crash on the icy surface, nothing major but I managed to knock my knee cap on something hard. It hurt a lot and I decided to return to Sandiford’s immediately. It was beginning to look like I wouldn’t be able to ride at all at the opening world round in Belfast in a less than a week’s time. Mike Woods, the sales director at Sandiford’s, had some contacts in the football world and he managed to arrange some physio treatment on my then very painful knee. After two sessions I felt a little better and I came home literally limping in third place in the opening world round in Northern Ireland before slumping to sixth at the English world round held in Devon, before taking another third place in Belgium. Before the Spanish World championship round the motor would not run properly and was vibrating quite badly before it literally ‘blew up’. The engine required rebuilding, which was carried out at the local Montesa dealers, Isern, (as the factory were on strike at the time) and they confirmed the engine could never have run correctly as the main bearing location points in the crank cases had been machined out of line! With the rebuilt engine I was much happier with how the machine ran and took another third place. My focus now was on winning my first Scottish Six Days Trial.

Time to Focus

Vesty: – For this event I was based near Sandiford’s and the machine was in the capable hands of Bill Brandwood. Bill was the same as Reg May was with Bultacos, a first class mechanic and it was a pleasure to work with him with nothing too much trouble and all ears when I wanted to suggest changes. He prepared the Montesa for the event just going right through the machine replacing components that were worn out and checking everything else was okay. The Montesa was slightly heavier than the Bultaco, but the build quality was much better as they wanted the machines to last longer. When I arrived at the event the French tyre company Michelin had a transporter full of the new prototype sticky tyres for the supported riders to use.  They were so special that when you had finished with one you had to return it for a new one. The hot tip for the SSDT win was 1979 World champion American Bernie Schreiber on the Bultaco.  I really wanted the win also as the Six Days was still the only important victory that was missing from my list of achievements. I was very determined and also very well prepared for the week ahead. After the opening day, held in warm sunny weather which suited Schreiber, he was the early leader after he won a protest for dislodging a marker and Martin Lampkin, first time out on the SWM, also needed a rerun at Pipeline after running over a spectator’s leg. With all this action going on I was just off the top three and happy taking a nice clean up Pipeline with the Montesa holding the line well in second gear. The Montesa with its long wheelbase and the new Michelin tyres was proving so good in this natural type of terrain where the sections were pretty straight compared to the world championship sections. At Laggan locks I once again used second gear to attempt the hazard.  I had wanted to use third gear but with no run in to the section and after a brief talk with Bultaco rider, Dave Thorpe, we both decided second gear was the safest bet. With Schreiber still leading on Tuesday evening I decided it was now or never to make my move for the lead. Wednesday was a very tough day and I was happy to move into second behind Schreiber, who still held the lead, but the scores were now 43 to 44 marks lost. Thursday was once again a tough day with the mileage at 104 miles and with a tight time schedule I pushed on all day as Rob Shepherd moved into a slender lead as Schreiber slumped to seventh. Saturday was the time for the kill and I made the best performance to take the first win for a foreign rider, I was over the moon. The Montesa had run like a dream and I had ridden very much my own event. I only won one World championship event on the Montesa in Germany before moving back to Bultaco in 1981. Ulf Karlson, after winning the world championship, was always going to be number one in the team and when Schreiber moved to the Italian Italjet this opened the door for me to return to Bultaco. I did have the luxury of staying with Montesa or return to Bultaco through Comerfords, who had agreed to underwrite the deal. I had had a good time with Montesa and I am still grateful for having such a perfect bike to ride at the Six Days, but my heart was always going to be with Bultaco. Now with the financial side of things in good order, the return to Bultaco felt like returning home after a round the world trip!

1980 Scottish Six Days Results: 1: Yrjo Vesterinen (Montesa-FIN) 69; 2: Malcolm Rathmell (Montesa-GBR) 84; 3: Rob Shepherd (Honda-GBR) 108; 4: Mick Andrews (Majesty-GBR) 111; 5: Jamie Subria (Fantic-ESP) 114.

BRITISH CHAMPIONSHIP WINNER 1982

1 1982

The 1982 British Trials Championship winning Comerfords Bultaco Sherpa 199B – Photo copyright: John Hulme/Trials Media/Classic Trial

 

BULTACO – Model: 199B 340cc 6-Speed

Vesty: – The move back to Bultaco in 1981 was full of challenges trying to make the machine a true winning one again. During 1980 when the factory was closed no development work was done. As far back as 1979 I knew there was a problem with the back suspension of the machine and this area needed urgent attention. In my opinion the strongest point of Bultaco was their engines. I had received my first 6-speed gear box for testing in the autumn of 1979. As I still had that machine we immediately started testing using that for new rear suspension set-ups. The hardest thing for me in 1981 was that Bultaco only had one official rider and the responsibilities rested largely on me. Fortunately for Bultaco as well as for me, Oriol Bulto had also returned to Bultaco. Without his guidance and his wealth of experience we would have been in real trouble. The problem for me was that as I was on my own and I had no one else’s opinions to rely on. Sometimes you cannot be sure if the problem is you or the machine! As testing new things is largely a process of elimination it also makes it very time consuming. You try a new idea and see if it works but at the same time trying to understand why it works or why it does not. Initial positive feedback does not always mean that you are going in the right direction as most improvements are compromises. This was very much the case with our suspension testing. We were making progress but we could not really understand the root causes of some of the forces involved. Bultaco were in a hurry to introduce a new model as soon as possible.

The Sherpa 199B

In the summer the ‘199B’ was launched. The area of most concern, which was the rear suspension, was largely unchanged as our testing was still on going. The machine had a new engine with a 6-speed box that had proven to be very reliable and the capacity went up to 340cc. I had been quite happy with the 326cc engine all along, Bultaco, however, thought that the bigger engine was an improvement. Strangely enough the 340 produced a silky smooth power curve and despite the bigger piston it ran very quietly. Sometimes I did miss the more fiery power of the 326. There were a number of changes relating to the frame and the cosmetics that were implemented on the new model. It posted new front fork internals and the swinging arm was new as was the air-filter box. It has been suggested that the new colour scheme of blue and white was done to pay homage to my native Finland ( Finnish flag is blue and white ) and may have been the reason. However, if it was Bultaco never said so. Whatever the case I did love the new colours! Were all these new parts and changes genuine improvements?

Yrjo Vesterinen'81 cameron Hill

1981 – SSDT on the rainswept ‘Cameron Hill’ watched by South Liverpool’s Les Crowder. Vesty is on the Comerfords Bultaco 199B – Photo: Iain Lawrie, Kinlochleven

Did I manage to test all these new things before the production started? No, I didn’t, as there simply was not enough time for all this. After all I had been hired to get results and not just to do testing. Unfortunately testing and competing at the same time is a very difficult situation to handle. I think I did my best trying to achieve both. The best result came in my native Finland where I won the World Round in August. History tells that that was my last victory ever on the highest level. It was also the last one for Bultaco. In hindsight whilst the 81 season was not entirely what both Bultaco and I had been hoping for, it was nevertheless a reasonable season after all. I had finished third in the World Championship, second in Scotland and won the Scandinavian Championship.  I had not competed in Finland, other than the World Round, for tax reasons. Incidentally that meant that I had retired from the Finnish Championship unbeaten having taken eleven consecutive titles between 1970 and 1981.

Yrjo Vesterinen'81 Lagnaha

Scottish Six Days action on ‘Lagnaha’ in 1981 on the model 199B Bultaco – Photo copyright: Iain Lawrie, Kinlochleven

All Change

As I was not planning to compete in Finland anymore that then led to a new idea. I was already spending more and more time in England with my girlfriend Diane Hadfield who I had met at the Kick Start Trial in June 1981. Would I be able to get an ACU license to take part in the 1982 British Championship? I also needed to try to pay back Comerfords on the investment that they had made in supporting my efforts. Would Bultaco and Comerfords like the idea? The answer was a resounding yes.  I officially took residence in West Byfleet, Surrey, where Diane was living with her parents. I then applied for an ACU license. After some public controversy I was granted my license. Quite honestly I thought that some of the comments made by my fellow competitors were interesting to say the least. Were they that scared of me? Or were they trying to scare me off? Intimidation has always worked with me and meant it made me even more determined to show Britain what I could do. Very importantly during the off season we had made some genuine progress improving the bike. I knew that my new bike that now carried a UK registration for the first time was ready for taking Britain on and so was I.

2 1982

Detail of Vrjo Vesterinen’s 1982 Comerford Bultaco 199B with which he won the British Trials Championship using an ACU licence – Photo copyright: John Hulme/Trials Media/Classic Trial

My friend Colin Boniface who I met through Comerfords where he worked became instrumental in making the plans for the season ahead. He knew all the trials as he had ridden them previously. It became clear that getting the right start number for each trial was extremely important. Colin gave me the advice and Diane made sure that the entries were posted exactly at the right time. For a foreigner the system was very strange indeed. Or perhaps it would be better to say that there was no system specified by the ACU. The clubs decided themselves on the entries. Ballot or no ballot, the entry received first gives you the first start number; entry received first gives you the last start number. Without prior knowledge of the type of going per each trial I would have stood no chance of winning. Without the right start number it would have become mission impossible. With the help of Colin and Diane everything went according to plan throughout the season.

vesty profile

Vesty, happy doing what he likes best, working and developing trials machines – Photo: John Hulme/Trials Media/Classic Trial

British Champion

I already knew by this time that trying to win the World Championship was no longer a realistic goal for me. Whilst I was asked to do my best in the World Championship my main challenge was now to win the British Championship. I relished the idea of riding some of the most famous trials and sections in the world. I had learnt to like wet and muddy conditions and the ‘Big Bulto’ was well suited for the British type of going. I knew that the task ahead was difficult, but at the same time realistic. I found it easier to focus on a single realistic goal!

Yrjo Vesterinen'83 Lagnaha

1983, Vesty’s last SSDT on the Comerfords Bultaco 199B, seen here on Lagnaha and watched by the late Ralph Venables and John Dickinson of TMX – Photo: Iain Lawrie, Kinlochleven

The opening round was the Colmore which was on Steve Saunders’ home ground.  Whilst I thought that I was riding quite okay I was told that Steve, fresh from the schoolboy ranks, was really pushing me and that he might even be leading! I was thinking that this is going to be embarrassing if I get beaten straight away literally by a schoolboy.  Interestingly enough only two years ago I found out that Steve was on a 250cc which in my eyes was inconceivable to ride those sections so well. Somehow in the end I won, but only by a small margin. The opening shots had been fired. The Cotswold cup was next and another win, the Kickham followed with another first. Then it was the Cleveland and yet another first. It just could not have been going better for me. The encouragement from Diane, Colin, Bultaco, Comerfords and even many of the British spectators was overwhelming. Another victory followed at Hillsborough in August. Two second places were recorded at the Allan Jefferies and the Travers. The low point was the Dave Rowland in July where I finished fifth. The Championship was in the bag at the President’s, where some time penalties dropped me to fourth on the day.

Vesty Laggan locks - 1983

On ‘Laggan Locks’ in 1983, six years after he rode the 348 Bultaco, Vesty is on the 340cc 199b Comerfords Bultaco, photographed by the same photographer, copyright: Iain Lawrie, Kinlochleven

Winning the British Championship was one of the highlights of my career and I am still very proud of that achievement. During the year we did testing as much as time would allow and in October the breakthrough came with the understanding of the forces controlling the rear suspension. That paved the way for radical and new ideas to take the machine to the next level. Reg May and I worked hard on a new prototype that I hoped would be the basis of the next new Bultaco.

1983 - SSDT - Vesty - CB pic

1983, Vesty’s final SSDT with the Reg May developed and prepared Bultaco 199B with special exhaust pipe, alloy air-box and long swinging arm with pivot moved further inboard – Photo copyright: Colin Bullock/CJB Photographic

Sadly that was never going to happen as Bultaco finally folded in 1983 leaving me without a job but with fond memories and no regrets. Diane and I got married and we settled in Woking. A new chapter in my life had just begun.

Vesty - JOM - Telford

Part of Vesty’s private Bultaco collection on display at the Telford Off-Road show, with John Moffat and Yrjo Vesterinen – Photo copyright: Trials Guru/David Moffat

Trials Guru is indebted to John Hulme of Classic Trial magazine for the reproduction of his article on Yrjo Vesterinen for this special tribute page.

Please be aware that all the articles and images above are covered by the laws of copyright. No reproduction whatsoever is permitted, unless by the express permission of the copyright holders below.

Accreditation:

© – ‘Finland’s Finest’ – Article Text: Sean Lawless/Lawless Media UK – 2016.

© – ‘Man and Machines – Vesty’ – Article Text: John Hulme/Classic Trial Magazine UK – 2016.

© – Images: Iain Lawrie, Kinlochleven

© – Images: Colin Bullock/CJB Photographic

© – Images: John Hulme/Trials Media/Classic Trial & Trial Magazine UK

© – Images: Neil Sturgeon

© – Image: Luis Munoz Aycuens-Riba

© – Image: Donald Young

© – Image: Fiona Watson

© – Image: Trials Guru/David Moffat

© – Images: Yrjo Vesterinen Archive

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Vesty 1980 - Muirshearlich

Yrjo Vesterinen (349 Montesa) in the 1980 Scottish Six Days on Trotters’ Burn – © – Iain Lawrie, Kinlochleven.

The 1980 Scottish Six Days – Yrjo Vesterinen’s win:

“The 1979 season had finished on a low for two reasons. Firstly I had lost my World Title to Bernie Schreiber. He was a very worthy winner and deserved his title, but nevertheless losing to Bernie did hurt.

Secondly Bultaco informed me that they would not be able to renew my contract with them. The stated reason for that was that the company was in serious financial trouble.

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Vesty at Achlain in the 1980 Scottish Six Days – Photo copyright: Toon van de Vliet

They did however keep Bernie on their books. To make matters worse I lost about half of the 1979 earnings as the factory had stopped paying all their works riders.

As soon as it became clear that my days as a Bultaco factory rider were over, I started negotiations with Montesa. A contract was finalized quite quickly and it was clear that Montesa were determined to win the World Championship in 1980. I was to team up with Ulf Karlsson of Sweden together with Malcolm Rathmell.

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The final machine inspection at Fort William in 1980 – Yrjo Vesterinen with his winning Montesa 349 – Photo copyright: Toon van de Vliet

Montesa prepared new frames for the team. They were lighter and much slimmer than the standard production ones. Even the forks and yokes were narrower. The bikes felt a touch longer and heavier at the front compared with the Bultaco. These engines had more flywheel weight compared with what I had been used to.

In hindsight, I know that in effect Montesa had designed a perfect bike for Scotland. It was less so, perhaps at least from my perspective, for the World Championship.

When Scotland approached, Jim Sandiford stepped in and offered to get his mechanic, Bill Brandwood to do the final preparations on my bike before the Six Days. That was very welcome as I had a busy schedule ahead before Scotland.

As I already stated, I thought straight away that the new Montesa would suit the style of sections that we would see during the Six Days. What I didn’t know that on arrival to Fort William I would find out that Michelin had sent their truck over there with a small number of experimental tyres.

Manuel Soler and I had been testing these tyres already the year before, but Michelin hadn’t released any until then. They thought that I knew that they were coming, but I didn’t as the communication never reached me.

The simple question was if I was prepared to use them I would be the first rider ever to do that in a serious competition. I knew how well they had performed during the last tests at Clermont Ferrand in France and therefore it was an easy decision.

These tyres proved to be a very powerful psychological weapon as well. The new Michelin tyres must have been one of the main topics during the week.

I was lucky that the week proved to be a tough one. Many of the sections were harder than usual. That suited me as I was likely to make an odd mistake and the harder sections gave me a chance to pull marks back. If the trial was won on one mark lost my chances would have been nil.

The week went smoothly and my Montesa performed faultlessly. It was the pre-trial preparation that made all the difference. I also knew that I was physically fit for the week. Armed with the perfect bike, prepared by the ace mechanic ‘Little Bill’ as he is known by his mates and new super good tyres gave me extra confidence. The only real question marks were if my riding number was okay for my early start on the Tuesday and if my mind was strong enough to last the week.

Come Saturday afternoon I had accomplished one of my most important dreams in my life. In 1974 after my first ride in Scotland, at the awards presentation ceremony, I saw Mick Andrews holding the winner’s trophy. At that time I knew that in order to be recognized properly you needed to do just that. Six years would pass before I was ready to do that.

I salute all the multiple winners as I know how hard it is to win just once”Yrjo Vesterinen.

TOON VAN DE VLIET – Vesterinen Photos:

We are grateful and honoured to feature some images taken of Yrjo Vesterinen by the renown Dutch photojournalist, Toon van de Vliet.

Toon Book

Toon van de Vliet’s book – Trial

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1980 – Scottish Six Days Trial – Yrjo Vesterinen on the factory 349 Montesa tackling the ‘Town Hall Brae’ section in the centre of Fort William on his way to the win – Photo copyright: Toon van de Vliet

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1978 on the factory Bultaco Sherpa 325 (199) – Photo copyright: Toon van de Vliet

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1978 Factory Bultaco of Yrjo Vesterinen – Details to follow – Photo copyright: Toon van de Vliet

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Vesty on the factory 199A Bultaco in 1980. Note the abbreviation of the rear subframe at the fender. The machine is fitted with lights for the world championships – Photo copyright: Toon van de Vliet

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Concentrating as usual at Bilstain, Limbourg, Belgium – Photo copyright: Toon van de Vliet

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On the Comerford supported Bultaco, much of the development work undertaken at this stage by Reg May note the large volume alloy air box and revised exhaust routing and swinging arm pivot – Photo copyright: Toon van de Vliet

Many thanks to Toon Van De Vliet for the use of his wonderful images of Yrjo Vesterinen

The Walther Luft prepared Bultaco of Yrjo Vesterinen from 1976:

These photos appeared on the internet, taken from a magazine of the time, so apologies if these are your photographs, if anyone knows their correct origin or copyholder, please contact Trials Guru via the ‘contact‘ page, so that we may give credit accordingly.

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Walther Luft Bultaco preparation for Yrjo Vesterinen – Detail of the lightened cylinder and head of the 325cc Bultaco motor

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Walther Luft prepared Bultaco for Yrjo Vesterinen – Detail of the lower frame area and motor mount duly lightened

Yrjo Vesterinen on the Luft special Bultaco: “These photographs have been taken from a Spanish book as far as I can see. This bike received some publicity at the time. It was an expensive project that ended in a failure.

The bike was from memory around 11 kg lighter than standard. Initially it felt really good, but the handling was compromised on steeper sections. The front of the bike was too light compared with the back.

I just could not ride it and the bike was left at the Bultaco factory. Next time when I saw it most of the special parts had been taken by other riders and there was just a skeleton left! I did initially take a few nice parts for my own bike before the others helped themselves for the rest.

After that I never saw it again. I felt extremely sorry for Walter Luft, a good friend of mine who had done a very big, as well as expensive job to build this bike and just could not ride it.

It needed more testing, but the time didn’t allow that as I was right in the middle of the first half of the 1976 World Championship season”.

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2016 – A smiling Yrjo Vesterinen tries Wrexham’s Jim Hough’s Ariel for size during a practice session – Photo: Chris Gascoigne

Some photos of Vesty’s 125cc Bultaco Sherpa that he has been developing:

125 Bultaco NS - Vesty

125 Bultaco OS - Vesty

125 Bultaco Tank - Vesty

125 Bultaco - Motor close up - Vesty

125 Bultaco - Rear Wheel - Vesty

This 125cc Bultaco Sherpa is developed using some of the ideas taken from Vesty’s last development 199B Sherpa of 1983/84, plus some new ideas on the exhaust and geometry and of course engine preparation and tuning.

Early Yrjo Vesterinen photographs:
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Yrjo Vesterinen on a Vasama 50 in 1967 – Photo: Y. Vesterinen Private Archive

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Yrjo Vesterinen (Tunturi 50cc) – 1967 – Photo: Y. Vesterinen Private Archive

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More to follow on Yrjo Vesterinen on Trials Guru, keep checking back for updates. It is possible to leave suitable comments on this tribute page to Yrjo Vesterinen, please note that while these may be subject to moderation/approval, we will aim to preserve the original content if at all possible.

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