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The Way We Was
By Ed Hertfelder
Brought to you from the archives of Motorcycle Online & Trail Rider Magazine

In case you forgot already, I almost did. T3W means The Way We Was and it's old Ed's recounting of how things was in the dim depths of time. Let me take you back to the Triumph Era, a time when all trail riders rode Triumph motorcycles for two reasons: Bill Baird had been winning the National Enduro Championship on Triumphs since the late Ice Age, so they must be pretty damn good; and the Triumph dealers KNEW what was going to break months before you did and seemed to have everything in stock. Sort of a THREE PARTS BINS--NO WAITING.

Then, almost out of nowhere (Thundersley, England, is a suburb of Nowhere), came a trail bike called Greeves, designed so simply that it had less than fifty percent of a Triumph's parts and was advertised as THE STONE AXE. Those of us who were running Triumphs two or three times harder than they were designed for immediately realized that a motorcycle with the troublesome valves, springs, push rods, cam shafts, oil tanks and pumps left on the drawing board were running with a lot of things that COULDN'T break or wear, and WOULDN'T get burnt out unless there was a fire in designer Bert Greeves' trash barrel. And even riders who actually enjoyed tearing engines down were plagued by the easily-bent frames of the basically road-going Triumphs, which never took impacts with trees lightly. This trait was very noticeable on road sections after a water crossing where most Triumphs left two side by side wheel tracks on the road. Almost like a stone axe, and certainly rugged enough to survive anything the rider could, the Greeves steering head and front downtube was a solid CASTING, said to have been patterned from narrow gauge rail track.

But final finishing on this casting wasn't near as neat as on the rail track. Two or three swipes with a dull bastard file and a few taps with a smooth rock to knock off the sharp edges kept the 'stone axe' image intact. Greeves welding was in a class all its own; apparently inflicted by apprentices with a great deal of training in open pit peat mining. Cliff Ferris, the New Jersey distributor, always got greatly annoyed when enduro spectators would take a long, close up look at the Greeves he was riding then ask it he had made it himself. The mistake was an honest one, as the Greeves was a combination of crude and first rate. For instance, every one of it's connections were cinched up with aircraft-type fasteners; expensive things with a crushable plastic insert that probably might never work loose but, more important, if it DID come loose it would never rotate enough to let something important fall completely off.

Adding to the 'home made' look could be the fact that something like a fender brace might very well be bolted on alongside a few more holes drilled nearby, in the wrong place to line up with anything currently attached to the motorcycle. The front suspension on early Greeves was a leading-link type with a back yard/shadetree flavor all it's own. Compared with a telescopic fork it was a marvel of simplicity, and let's face it: cheapness. The total number of parts involved in suspension travel and damping were, basically, TWO! These were rubber donuts on each side of the front axle that twisted somehow to give an enormous travel, with built-in damping that weighed almost nothing. And the suspension travel was adjustable by the rider AT ANY TIME.

It seemed like magic, but just a slight tweak of the front brake and the front of the Greeves would RISE. Got a log coming down the trail at you? Just pull the front brake before impact and you had as much front suspension as a tall leopard. And you never had trouble with blowing fork seals and having your favorite boots lubricated, smelling like the Shell refinery, and a potential fire hazard. A minor problem, what with the leading link and all, the Greeves were a bit wide across the front axle, and a narrow passage between two large imbedded rocks might be accompanied by a major reduction in forward motion and a minor kink in the small diameter tubing up near the steering head.

Bill Schemel was noted for his expertise in reinforcing this area by welding short lengths of angle iron over the weakest section. Reports I've heard from residents of Mount Ephraim, New Jersey, informed me that they could tell when Schemel was operating his electric welder by the sudden reduction of their video pictures from full down to postage stamp size. I've also heard that Bill's voltage pull-down caused some local traffic signals to change from normal to "blinker " operation.

First-time owners of Greeves were well advised to have the Schemel modification performed BEFORE riding any events in rocky conditions, as having the rear loop of the front suspension more or less imbedded in the engine fins made for unusual steering problems.

The strange thing was that the angle iron welded to the back of the front forks complemented the Greeves design; which was said to fall somewhere between agricultural and military in nature. The term "cobby" was quite common in Greeves road test articles and I recall Frank Conley's writing, "The paint work never has been what one would call inspiring." Early advertising was in the form of race results from western desert events, where it was not unusual for the first TWENTY overall finishers to be Greeves-mounted. One thing was certain; they didn't sell the things on looks. Early model Greeves had a built-in shock absorbing feature at the bottom of the kick starter stroke: the top of your foot would impact on the bottom of the solid foot peg. Later models had their pegs set rearward and Greeves, brilliantly, hinged the right side peg to fold upward out of the way, retaining it with an iron ring that swung down over the peg in a foolproof retraction system. Sure.

If the engine didn't start at first kick, lifting your leg for the next stroke might very well lift the ring off the peg. A pants cuff would certainly do this. The next stroke would likely see the peg unfold as your foot came down and impale itself dead-on the big bone that sticks out of the inner side of the ankle.

There was much argument as to which type of kick accident caused the most pain. So next time you see a Greeves could you please try to start it and decide for yourself?

And let me know?

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