Today in Motorcycle History

History of Alta Trials Motorcycles

The ALTA STORY and background

Keith Taylor was the original owner of Alta. He was a decent trials and scrambles rider and had competed in the Welsh 3 day enduro event. He was a heating and ventilation engineer but found it unexciting and opened a motorbike shop in Swansea in the mid 1960’s.

Alta was envisaged at the motorcycle shop he had started in Swansea. The shop was very successful selling scooter add on’s such as spotlights and crash bars which were very popular with the Mods in the late 60’s. There were also motorbike sales and spares.

I helped out in the shop every weekend and some evenings. On Sundays we were competing in trials and scrambles. All of us were members of the Swansea Motorcycle Club which was a club of mainly competition riders. During that time Keith at the shop had made contact with several motorcycle manufacturers including Suzuki. We had seen the Suzuki prepared KT120 and Hill Billy 80cc enduro bikes and Keith bought the 80cc bike from them when it finished competing at the end of that season. Keith sent plans of a proposed bike to Suzuki that he could build trial bikes using the TC120 /KT120 engine which had the 3 High/Low gear box.

The design was a collaborative exercise with Keith, Alan Killen, John Davies and myself. We all went to work at the factory either in a full or part time basis. I went on to qualify as an accountant and missed the later year as I was in the Midlands. Keith sold the shop and stock to another motorcycle business and started a factory unit at the John Player estate in Clydach Swansea. Others who worked there was “Humph” and a young lad Fred. The bikes were sold unassembled to avoid purchase tax but this ended in 1973 when VAT was introduced. Alta then was wound up as the price advantage was lost.

There was a range of bikes sold being the 120cc trials bike and some schoolboy scramblers. The frames were initially built by a frame builder but this was brought in house. Alan Killen was an experienced fibre glass worker and built the seat and tank. Previously built by Butler Mouldings as Keith knew Chris Butler, the owner, well. Both he and John were very good motorcycle men. John Davies is now living in Warwick, Queensland Australia, and still rides. I think he has an Alta and several KT120’s. We keep in touch. Martin Lampkin was a works rider and won the under 200cc class in the Welsh National Trial. The bikes were very competitive in trials due to their light weight and maneuverability. There were two designs of the frames the later one had front down tubes which had no structural benefit, but customers liked the look. My Alta has a B100P engine and a Frame No 190 which suggests the total number built. There could be more. This was gifted to me when Keith was terminal.

Technical Specifcations:-

  • Engine: Suzuki TC120, six gears 3 low/high
    Bore: 52mm Stroke 56mm
    Compression ratio: 11:1
    12 bhp at 7500
    Frame: Duplex with large bore top tube holding 1.3 pints of oil for the posilube system. Large diameter swing arm with silentbloc pivot bushes. Timken Taper roller head bearings.
    Wheels & forks: Steel rims 5” light alloy hubs front 2.75x21 Rear wheel 4.00x18”. Alloy rear sprocket and cush rubber hub
    Dunlop Trials Universal Tyres. REH Middleweight forks with alloy sliders. Alloy mudguards.
    Tank: Glass Fibre 1.25 gallons with 1 pint reserve.
    Contoured seat for road comfort and practical in a section.
    General: Nylon cables.
    Ground Clearance: 13". Seat Height: 28". Weight: 142lbs.

    Sales price in 1970 £220

This was about £100 cheaper than the current trials bikes. It was the only two stroke trials bike at the time which did not require mixing oil and petrol at the pump.

After Alta, Keith became a pipe work engineer designing for large projects such as brewery and the petro chemical Industries. He worked on contracts abroad and ended up in Sines Portugal. He used to spend weekends on the Algarve liked it and decided to live in Lagos, Nigeria, and bought land and built apartments and villas in the area. He was very successful.

Keith died in New Zealand in April 2003 aged 62. He and his wife had bought a house there to be near their daughter and to ride in trials. In a long stay out there in 2001/2 he made friends with local (veteran) trial riders and had ordered a Scarpa trials bike prior to being diagnosed with liver cancer. Keith was a go-getting, fun-loving character, lots of opinions, most of them right. For example:- On the day of the Aberfan disaster he packed up all the useful rescue kit he had in the house and spent well over 24 hours on site digging and helping where he could.

In 1999/2000 when the building slump was on he built himself a 45ft catamaran with the intention of sailing from Lagos to the Aegean. He was a qualified sailor and once sailed from Southampton to Lagos on his motor cruiser with the assistance of a skipper. He also sailed another cruiser (skipperless) from the Thames across the channel( v hairy) and through the French canals to Sete and return. We joined them for two weeks (drinking) through Burgundy, we drank a lot of Macon Village! It was extremely funny. Keith was very generous. I was friend of Keith & Joyce from about 1964 to when he died. We spent holidays with them on the Algarve and in France. I have several photos of the Alta.

Barry Fox
17 Nov 2015


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