Honda UK have announced that their Montesa trials bike brand will be distributed in the UK by Pidcocks, a Honda dealer based in Nottinghamshire. Alastair Walker looks at the reasons behind the move.
Montesa are one of those brands, like Harley Davidson and Ducati where emotions, as well as commercial factors come into play. The old Montesa factory, once the flagship of the Spanish industry, reached a crisis point in the early 80s, when an economic downturn threatened its closure. But Honda saw an opportunity, not only to acquire an historic brand, but to bypass the import tariffs which were being mooted by various European governments at the time. So Honda bought into the business taking 85% of Montesa.
The recession of 2008 onwards hasn’t been kind to motorcycling in Spain, or Montesa however. A political fix last year saw Honda shift production of the 4RT Montesa bike to its Atessa plant in Italy, where the frames were already being made in any case, which meant some 180 Catalan workers lost their jobs. But the Montesa plant, now part design centre, part distribution hub for Honda, continues, despite sales of the trials bikes themselves being miniscule in global terms. The cost of competing with Toni Bou in the World Trials Championship would also appear to be high, certainly it is far more than Honda earns from selling Montesa machines in Europe. It would seem that Honda still needs a foothold in Catalunya for political reasons, even if the manufacturing maths doesn’t quite add up.
MONTESA IN THE UK
Honda’s press release announcing the Pidcock distributor deal says that they are `bringing Honda back into the trials world.’ But in fact, they have never been away. In the UK, Jim Sandiford started bringing in Montesa machines back in the 60s and his daughter Caroline still runs the business. Honda UK however have decided to drop a distributor with decades of experience, invaluable club and sport contacts, and start again with Pidcocks. Caroline Sandiford was unable to comment for insidebikes, as they are still Montesa spares suppliers, but seasoned trials riders are baffled by Honda’s marketing strategy.
Trials rider Heath Brindley, who has been trials riding for 40 years, told insidebikes that; `Nobody in the world of trials thinks Sandifords should have lost that UK franchise, it makes no sense. Riders can’t understand why a long-established, off-road specialist dealer hasn’t been appointed, rather than a road bike dealer. Trials is an insular world, where everyone seems to know everyone and it’s got nothing to do with road bikes. But Montesa-Honda have lost their way in my opinion, weekend riders can’t afford new four strokes and modern two-stroke machines are clean, quiet and do all you need in terms of competition. You can fix it on a hillside too, unlike most four strokes.”
WEAK DEMAND FOR FOUR STROKES
Despite the FIM demanding manufacturers switch to four stroke power for environmental reasons, few trials riders seem taken and Gas Gas recently announced that their four stroke machine would be put on hold until `2011, or until the economic situation improves.’
In the UK, and across much of the world, trials remains essentially a grass roots sport, where a rider with ability can get decent results with a used bike, a trailer and pay low entry fees to compete. Herein lies the root of the problem for all trials bike manufacturers; the sport itself doesn’t seem interested in glamming itself up with expensive four stroke competition bikes.
“I don’t want trials to go like MX, where you need to spend big money to get results,” says Heath Brindley from www.r2wtrials.co.uk, “my feeling is that the manufacturers will stop making four strokes soon, cheaper two-strokes will be the only viable trials machines anyone can make. Montesa will probably close down and simply be a local distribution centre, when it suits Honda. For the moment Honda likes the idea of being world champions in the sport with the Montesa brand name. That’s a good thing, and if they make two stroke Cotas they might sell many more or them.”
For now, Montesa remains a four stroke brand. The Honda Montesa range starts at £6295 with the basic 4RT model, rising to £6995 for the Toni Bou replica. Chris Pidcock says he is keen to meet existing Montesa customers and bring the world of trials riding to a wider motorcycling audience. You can find out more at www.pidcock.com