When Richard Jordan and his partner Jackie Drake took over the reins of the well established Sammy Miller Products Empire last year they wanted to put their own mark on the business. Bringing many fresh ideas to the company was a way of going forward and achieving this. One of these was to re-launch the successful HI-Boy frame kits made available in the seventies and eighties for various brands of machines. The first of these to be made available from them is the Honda frame and 150cc engine conversion which we have on test here in the very capable hands of trials legend “Magical Mick Andrews”.
Words: Mick Andrews and John Hulme
Pictures: John Hulme
Talking to Richard Jordan he explained that the idea of a new range of frame kits for the traditional enthusiast came from the annual Dirt Bike Show which they had attended late last year. He had on display three machines, two of these were Pre-65, a B.S.A C15 and Triumph Tiger Cub all fitted with the many after-market parts they could supply housed in the modified Miller frame. The other machine was a nice clean example of the production Honda TL 125cc which Sammy Miller had developed in the early seventies. It appeared that many riders still have these machines but asked what products they had available to make them more competitive. With a 125cc cylinder capacity and the weight factor involved (they had many extra brackets on the frame to make them road legal) they were simply under powered and over weight. This machine proved immensely popular with the clubman of the time even though the price is the same as a new proven Bultaco 250cc at £319. The riders had been used to the poor quality components on the Spanish machines but when the Honda appeared its quality of components was second to none. Simple things like extra seals on the wheel bearings to keep out the water and grime meant they lasted a lot longer than the Spanish equivalents. At the time the Japanese attack on the trials market was in full flow. They poached the top development riders of the time from Bultaco, Montesa and Ossa to develop new machines for Honda (Sammy Miller), Yamaha (Mick Andrews), Suzuki (Gordon Farley) and Kawasaki (Don Smith). At the time Miller himself had retired from top flight competition to head the Honda trials development team. He wanted to put together a team of riders to contest the National trials scene to form a presence for Honda as he developed the TL 250cc.
He took the TL 125cc and made it into a competitive machine simply by adding the HI-Boy frame and his expertise. The machines featured revised gearing, a different exhaust system and they were bored out to 150cc to give it the extra power. The new frame manufactured in Reynolds 531 tubing and featuring an alloy sump plate reduced the overall weight by 26lbs from the production machine. They were priced at a very competitive £490. Some quite impressive results were achieved with the little machines in the capable hands of Geoff Parken and Paul Dunkley. In the 1975 Scottish Six Days Trial Arthur Dovey actually won the up to 150cc cup on one of the bored out Honda’s! The package as a whole proved very popular as riders wanted something different than the two-stroke machines available. At the time the trials world was led to believe that Honda would eventually make a fully competitive four-stroke machine available to the buying public, the Miller conversion filled this gap as the riders waited. As with all things time moved on, no production, “Rob Shepherd” replica appeared and the little four-strokes all but disappeared, that is until Richard Jordan appeared on the scene in 2007.
With all the interest from the Dirt Bike Show in the products they could supply, Richard and Jackie came away with a host of positive ideas. They decided that with the current market interest in the twin-shock trials machines, especially clubman wanting a fun day out, it would possibly be a good idea to re-market the Honda TL but with the HI-Boy frame and all the associated accessories made available. Richard contacted Sammy Miller to see if the old frame jig was still available. After a while Sammy came back on the phone to report that all was well and he could supply the relevant parts of the original jig to reproduce the frame. They still required a base point to start the project and he went about trying to find original Miller HI-Boy Honda trials conversion. With nothing in the ‘for sale’ sections of the press he managed to locate an original bike and borrowed it to start the new project. He then found one of the people who worked on the frames, an ex-Rickman Engineering employee, who was more than happy to assist with the new one. With many advances in engineering taking place over the years since the first frame kits were first constructed it was decided to apply these to the new frame. Miller had modified the bottom fork yoke on his machines but it was decided to alter the steering head angle on the machines to sharpen up the steering and also gusset the areas in the old frame where it had cracked and been repaired over the years. For the new frame all the associated brackets would be CNC cut and machined. The main frame members are fabricated from T45 tubing, the must-have material whilst the other components are from the cheaper CDS material, it is strong and ideal for frame construction which helped to keep the overall price down. He also replaced the swinging arm bushes with nylon ones as they work better and are easier to replace than the Silentbloc bushes used before. After manufacture it is then coated with high quality chrome plating to give it a beautiful finish. If you are not happy with the power out-put from the standard 125cc a big bore 150cc (actually 144cc) kit is also available. The exhaust system has also come in for improvement over the standard version with a new silencer available. Now constructed from aluminium, weight is reduced whilst it also helps to increase performance. All the other components on the machine including the alloy replica fuel tank and of similar construction air filter box and chain guard are also available so the customer can build their machine to suit the pocket. The machine we had to test also featured many smaller components which no doubt will soon be available in the rapidly expanding after-market catalogue.
To test the machine we invited trials legend Mick Andrews along. Needing no introduction I would say he is more than qualified to give an honest appraisal. The event we chose for the test was the Nostalgia trial held at Holme farm in deepest Cumbria. This is a superb venue with a variety of hazards to tackle from rocks to mud. Richard arrived with the machine all shiny and looking like brand new, I was very impressed. Mick arrived but with the bad news that he was waiting for an operation on a damaged elbow from his years of abuse riding motorcycles. This leaves him with numbness in his hand after a while but as he had promised to test the machine he agreed to ride the clubman route as opposed to the expert one which would be slightly easier. The true professional he is the first job was to check the tyre pressures. A quick prod of the kick-start had the machine fired up and ready for action. Two laps of fifteen sections were on offer in what turned into very nice weather. Having ridden the machine briefly before, I asked Mick for his initial thoughts on the machine. He said: “For me this is an ideal way to get you into trials. The machine is not aggressive just very, very easy to ride. No power surge though the engine does have more go than I first thought it would have. Suspension is down to individual requirements but the way this machine is set up the only complaint I have is it seems a little stiff on the rear suspension. If you want to tune the suspension to suit individual needs the Sammy Miller Empire can supply different springs, etc. I find it so easy to ride, the engine is so flexible which makes for a good beginner bike though for the rider who wants the results I think a competent rider mounted on this would surprise many.” Riding as a guest, Mick would not qualify for any awards but it did give him the option to try the expert route on the dreaded section fifteen, the steep hill climb. The clubman route veered off before the steepest part of the climb and Mick initially tried this in bottom gear expecting the engine to run out of power but he was pleasantly surprised as he got to the top with the aid of a quick dab. Never one to be beaten he quickly shot down to the bottom of the section for another go but this time in second gear. It was a pleasure to watch the old master at work as he forced the little 150cc machine to the top of the climb! Yes a big cheer did go up. As Mick had originally explained this machine is ideal for the fun factor sometimes missing in modern trials. If you know where there is an old Honda TL 125cc purchase it and give Richard Jordan a ring and start enjoying your trialing.
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