We met Steve Troupe through the shop years ago. He's always up for a ride, supporting events, and showing up with the coolest bikes. Steve's a great guy to chat with and we’ve always appreciated his friendly nature and wealth of motorcycle knowledge.
If you happen to follow Steve on Instagram (@stroupefly) you know he's an avid trials rider now and in his younger years. This winter while scrolling through his feed looking at all his old trials riding photos, we thought it’d be great to ask Steve to do a guest post on the blog and tell us a bit about what it was like growing up riding motorcycles, getting into trials riding and competing for more than a decade.
TM: Where/when were you first introduced to motorcycles?
Steve: When I was 12 our dad called us outside, opened the garage and sitting there was a 1965 Honda S65. My brother Tim was 11 and my brother Chris was 9. That was our introduction to motorcycles. The Honda became mine, and soon after Tim and Chris had their own bikes as well, a CL70, a Keystone mini-bike and then an SL70.
I kept that Honda 65 until I turned 16 when I bought a 1971 Honda CL350. I wanted the CL because I still wanted to ride offroad and it had the high pipes and 19” front wheel. But obviously I wanted to ride on the road too. I got my motorcycle license the day I turned 16, and my car license the next day. You could do that back then!
Steve on his '71 Honda CL350
The Troupe Brothers on their bikes: Left to right - Steve on his '71 Honda CL350, Tim on his '71 Honda CL70 and Chris on his Keystone minibike.
From the time I got the Honda 65 I bought every motorcycle magazine that appeared on the stands. In the early 70s there was a lot of coverage about trials. It was supposed to become the 'next big thing' because it used inexpensive, quiet motorcycles and didn't require a lot of land to hold events. Spain was the dominant manufacturer of bikes: Montesa, Bultaco and Ossa, and Japan was eyeing the market. Honda, Suzuki, Yamaha and Kawasaki had all contracted the top world riders and were coming out with their own bikes. Even Hodaka had a kit to turn an Ace 100 into a trials machine.
Around that time I saw a test comparing the Montesa Cota 123 and Montesa Cota 247. The bikes looked so good and so red (my favourite colour), and were so light and seemed to be able to take their riders anywhere. I wanted one so badly!
To celebrate my 21st birthday I bought a used 1977 Montesa Cota 247 UKR (Ulf Karlson Replica - Ulf was the 1976 World Champion). Back then it could be licensed for the road, so I used it around town as well as riding the trails I rode as a kid.
Steve on his 1977 Montesa Cota 247 UKR
Growing up our practice site was 1 km away from our house, and it has been the same since I rode the Honda 65. I still ride there today. It’s on the north side of the railroad line between Bronte Creek and Oakville Creek. Back then it was possible to ride from one creek to the other. The terrain included the creek valleys, several woodlots, a few steep-sided gullies, lots of water, mud, rocks, logs - and a nice trail to get back and forth.
Before we were 16 we would push our bikes there every day after school and ride until dark. On the weekends we would be out after breakfast and home for dinner. Maybe. In its heyday there were around 50 kids who would come and go. And after we turned 16 it was the site of many, many bush parties. When we got trials bikes we were right back out there every day and every weekend, when there wasn’t a trial to ride.
TM: So how did you get into Trials riding?
Steve: In early 1979 I was riding in the woods along the hydro lines from Oakville to my job in the Physics lab at Ontario Research Foundation in Clarkson's Sheridan Park Research Centre. As I came into a clearing I saw a 1975 Ossa 250 MAR (Mick Andrews Replica), coming towards me. Steve Mumford and I struck up a conversation and he mentioned that the following Sunday the Steel City Riders were holding the first trial of the season in Waterdown. Neither Steve nor I had ridden in a competition before, and we challenged each other.
I showed up at the event and was happy to see Steve. It was held at site on the side of the escarpment on top of the hill going west along Hwy 5 from Brant/Cedar Springs, a site sadly taken over by construction since. The trial was a real eye-opener. Back then there was no novice class, so I had to enter as a Junior. I thought I was a pretty good rider but realized I hadn't practised turning as much as was required! Sure I could go over a log, but could I make a full steering-lock tight left turn over muddy rocks and then go over the log while barely out of that turn? Nope. Not without putting my feet down anyway.
If I'd fived every section, the highest score possible that day would have been 200. I scored 141. BUT - I still wasn't at the bottom of the standings - I think I finished 37th out of 55 juniors that day. I don't remember where Steve ended up but he probably beat me by a bit. Anyway that was the start for me. I enjoyed the whole experience and couldn't wait for the next event.
At first my brothers would come along to watch and take pictures. Finally they wanted to ride. Tim got a '77 Suzuki Beamish 250, and Chris got a '74 Bultaco 250 Sherpa T, and we rode every trial in Ontario for the next dozen or so years.
My experiences in 1979 taught me that without meaning to be it was a very cliquey group. While everyone was friendly and helpful, there were systemic things that made it unwelcoming to newcomers. The sections were just a little too hard for a beginner: some would ride one trial and never come back. The events were poorly advertised and the locations were hard to find. Buying a used trials bike was completely a matter of luck or knowing the right person. Trials didn't even appear at the motorcycle show.
In 1980 Steve Mumford, Andy King, Martin Sowden and I, and later Neil Carter and John Dring, formed a new club: The Amateur Trials Association. Our mission was to promote Trials and grow the sport. To do that we instituted a Novice class with sections tailored for beginners. We published an annual schedule with dates, locations and maps to each site. We started a club newsletter for our community - the Nadgery News - of which I was the editor. I was given Trials columns in Canadian Biker and Plonker's Press (later called Trials Competition USA), an American periodical. We got a booth at the Motorcycle shows and have been there from then on.
The Troupe Brothers: Tim, Steve and Chris.
The ATA grew to well over 150 members. The schedule of events included up to 18 trials from Spring to Fall, with a couple of two-day events. With the ATAQ we instituted an annual Ontario vs Quebec challenge trial in Edelweiss Quebec.
But running a club, organizing events, editing the newsletter, writing columns, trying to ride and holding down a regular day job while raising a young family is difficult. It’s hard to please everyone all the time, or even most of it. Within 10 years I burnt myself out and I left the ATA in other, more capable hands. I’m happy to say the ATA still exists today - 41 years later.
So while I’ve always had at least one trials bike, it’s only been recently that I’ve enjoyed it again.
TM: In your opinion, what are some of the toughest obstacles you personally will come up against in a trials course?
Steve: Downhill off-camber turns are tricky, left or right hand. It’s scary to be riding horizontally across the side of a hill and point the wheel downhill to begin a 180 degree turn - it feels very much as if you are going to high-side and tumble head over heels with your bike following closely behind. Uphill off-cambers are a little easier, just don’t stall mid-turn.
June 1984 - Bernie Schreiber, Section 4 - Watkins Glen, NY
Muddy sections are always difficult because its never simply blasting through it, there will always be some sort of turn or a climb out or a log or rocks to go over. Turning in mud is hard because the front wheel will push out. If you put your weight a little more forward to give the front some traction, that takes some weight off the rear wheel and it will spin instead of hooking up, either of these things will put your foot down. Sometimes its best to just sit, paddle through to keep moving and take a 3 rather than end up with a 5; those two points can make the difference between winning your class or losing it.
The biggest obstacle though is ones own confidence. Its really easy to think, “I can’t do that!” when looking at a section. The first time you try something is the most difficult. Practice, and pushing oneself in practice, is key. Of course don’t be stupid and don’t do that when riding alone. I enjoy sections with wheelie turns, and logs. Big Canadian Shield-type rocks afford much more traction than you’d expect. Surprisingly waterfalls are almost always best ridden right up the
stream; the water washes away the moss and slimy bits, so that’s where the traction is.
October 1983 - Neil Carter on his 1982 Fanatic 240
Steve on his ‘77 Montesa Cota 247 riding across a telephone pole.
In my life I’ve had many trials bikes, in order they are:
‘77 Montesa Cota 247 UKR, ‘74 Honda TL125, ‘75 Honda TL250, ‘74 Suzuki Beamish RL250, ‘75 Suzuki Beamish RL325, ‘74 Bultaco 250, ‘73 Bultaco 250, ‘81 Fantic 200, ‘82 Bultaco 340, ‘76 Yamaha TY80, ‘82 Italjet 250T, ‘83 Italjet 350T, ‘83 Montesa 349, ‘84 JCM 323, ‘85 JCM 303
And since 2013...
‘77 Yamaha TY175, ‘74 Yamaha TY250, ‘75 Yamaha TY250, ‘83 Yamaha TY250 Mono, ‘86 Honda TLR200, ‘79 Yamaha TY175, ‘75 Suzuki RL250, ‘72 Ossa 250 MAR, ‘74 Honda TL125
Of course this doesn’t include the many Fantic, Italjet and JCM motorcycles I imported and sold during the 80s when I had a company called Zero-5 Trials. These are just the ones I owned and competed on, or lent to friends. I rode my very best on an Italjet 250, winning the Intermediate class at the Sudbury round of the 1982 Canadian Championship. I was ATA ‘rider of the year’ that season. The Italjet 350 was just as good, it took me to #4 Canadian Expert in 1984, but I felt more comfortable on the 250.
My brother Chris was Ontario Junior Champion on his Bultaco 340, and then Intermediate Champion the next year on an Italjet 250. Tim was Junior Champion that same year on his Italjet 250. Would I like another Italjet? Sure! I brought 37 of them in to Ontario back then, but I only know where two are now.
TM: Do you see yourself ever competing again or are you just in it for fun these days?
Steve: Since 2013 I have intended to compete and have bought (and sold) many Trials bikes in preparation. I rode a vintage trial in 2014 and was terrible. For some reason it just didn’t ‘grab’ me the way it used to. I sold that bike, but kept buying more thinking I would try again. Sadly I never seemed to enjoy any. Maybe it was the bikes, maybe it was me, I don’t know. I sure wasted a lot of money fixing those bikes up only to sell them at a loss though!
But somehow these latest two: the 72 Ossa 250 MAR and the 74 Honda TL125, have me inspired and excited to ride. Both bikes are sweet. The Ossa’s motor is perfect from idle through the rev range and the bike is easy to handle. The Honda, while no powerhouse, is the best steering, most easily balanced bike I’ve ever been on. I had one in the past but only used it as a backup or a loaner to friends when we would go out trail riding. But now - wow! It is super capable despite being only 9hp! I’ve been having the best time out in the woods just putting along, and I’m surprised that at my age I can do some of the things I used to do.
I plan on riding at least some of the SOVT - Southwest Ontario Classic Trials Group events this season - depending on COVID of course. But I’m in it for fun too. Dirt riding is an excellent addition to tearing around on my vintage Italian road bikes. Moreover because these trials bikes are vintage, they have seats! Which makes it easier to lend to someone to go out for a trail ride. And in my opinion trials bikes are the best to teach someone how to ride: they balance well, they have low seat height (so everyone can plant both feet on the ground), they’re geared very low (making it easy to coordinate the throttle and clutch without stalling), and they steer easily. The perfect bike for the job, really.
TM: Below are a few cool shots we grabbed from Steve's Instagram account and some descriptions from Steve. Also if you're interested in learning more about trials or getting into trials riding and don't know where to start - Steve recommends coming out to a competition to check it out. The ATA's website is a great resource for competitions in Ontario. He also managed to dig up the brochures the ATA handed out at events back in the 80s which we posted at the end of the bog.
Jan 7, 1981
This photo was taken in front of my house when I’d returned from Vermont after purchasing this beautiful Fantic 200, Oakville was replacing the storm drainpipes along my road and there had been heavy snowfall in late December and early January. I thought it would be fun to ride over and along these pipes. I managed the ascent OK - once you know how it’s not usually too hard to get over anything, really. The ride along the pipes was jerky, but certainly doable. This photo captures me in the middle of that. I had a problem on the descent: as I shifted my weight rearward, pulled up on the bars and gave it some gas, the rear wheel spun on the pipe and rather than propelling me forward, I slowly rolled off, resulting in a pretty good face plant. There’s a picture of me standing on the front wheel. Of course I should have been wearing a helmet but in those days it wasn’t required. The helmet rule came into effect the next season for competitions. Even after, my brothers never wore helmets when practicing, though I did, for obvious reasons.
Dec 20, 1982
From the left: Neil Carter, Steve Abel, my bike, Dave Block and Tim Troupe. We were heading out to the trails for a practice session on the newly arrived Italjet 250s. Steve and Dave are on 1982 models (all green with black motors), while Tim and I are on 1983 models (white bodywork, otherwise the same). I know I said we used to push our bikes to the trails, but by this time we would ride the 1 km slowly along the sidewalks. Naughty. Note that my mom is in the door watching us leave.
May 23, 1982
My brother Tim on his Italjet 250 at the spring two-day Trial near Garson, part of Sudbury. A place we called ‘the Hydro Lines’. This was a steep drop to the mud, then a turn along its base and back up. Not easy: my 2nd event ever was the very first time I rode there. I was on my Montesa 247 and I broke two ribs crashing down that drop.
Jun 13, 1982
My brother Chris loved his Bultacos - his first trials bike was a 250 Sherpa T. He liked it so much he bought two of them! When the white-framed blue Sherpa 340 was introduced, he drove down to Pennsylvania because he couldn’t wait for them to come to Canada. He rode that bike like no other, winning event after event in the Junior class, and ending up both ATA champ and Ontario champ on that bike. Probably his highlight was winning the Junior class at the inaugural ATA/ATAQ Ontario-Quebec challenge. He was clearly the class of that day. This photo is one of the slippery stream sections at the Sudbury two-day Hydro lines trial.
June 19, 1983
Steve Day on a Yamaha TY175 at the Calgary round of the Canadian Championships. This was held at Bragg Creek. The day before I got lost in the woods while practicing. I was on my own and had no idea where the camp was or how to get back. It was getting dark and I started riding frantically along the ‘cut line’, figuring when I got to the top of a hill I’d be able to see the campsite. But when I got there I could only see the cut line extending to infinity. Eventually I saw a road, made my way down to it and found camp. I finished 4th Intermediate in the next day’s trial. To date that is the last time I’ve made a road trip from Ontario to Alberta.
October 16, 1983
In the truck: Tim’s Italjet 250, Dave’s Italjet 250, my Italjet 250 and Don Gambacort’s Italjet 250. On the trailer: Michel Larouche’s SWM 320, Serge Lapine’s SWM 320 and Bill Sparks’ SWM 320. We were headed to the Waterdown round of that year’s Canadian Championship. Michel and Serge had arrived from Alma/Lac St. Jean Quebec, and Bill had arrived from Vancouver, and all 3 were staying with me. I had an old beater GMC truck that I used for Trials transportation, an so this was the result. Bill ended up winning the #1 plate and the Championship that year.
Left // October 1, 1983
Our practice area had a lovely steep gully with a creek running through it. Chris made several sections from this gully; we’d go more or less straight down the steepest part, stop at the bottom, do a 180 degree turn in the creek and then power back up. We would ride this when the clay was dry, when it was wet, and even in the snow. This particular time I was out alone, practicing on my Italjet 250, and I wanted to make a wheelie turn at the top to position myself to ride back down. Halfway through the turn my left hand slipped off the end of the handlebar and that made my right hand abruptly twist the throttle and, well, you can see the result. If you look at the clay you can see my bike’s path. Thought I’d best take a picture.
Right // Sept 1, 1986
The Elgin County Riders held a round of the Canadian Championship in London Ontario, and it poured rain the entire day, from start to finish. They had put up several 2x4s as planks to ford streams that had swollen to insane levels. By the 3rd loop the water was up to the planks, which had been ridden over by 70 or so riders at least twice! Trevor Howarth (‘78 Cdn #1 plate holder and then-current #2 Expert), was just ahead of me on the loop and hit the planks first. They promptly broke, dumping him and his bike into the stream. That’s Trevor in the yellow shirt saving him from drowning, and Steve Fracy - then Cdn Champion, lifting the back wheel while Tom Golden helps Trevor. Note the section tape wrapped around Trevor’s Yamaha’s rear wheel. I took the photo.