Mannerly Metralla Bultaco’s Isle of Man winning 250cc Metralla...on the street.
his was not what I expected. As I rolled up to a stop sign my urge to blip the throttle at a stand still was unfounded as the little Bul’ fell into a gently loping idle. A small amount of throttle and an easy clutch release got the Bul’ rolling again, not the clutch-slipping, throttle-pinning I was expecting a high-performance 60’s two-stroke to require. I puttered down the road with ease but was beginning to wonder how this docile little Metralla got the reputation of being one of the meanest 250cc street bikes of motorcycling’s Golden Era. The fierce looking Metralla reminded me of a tamed circus tiger. De-clawed with no teeth, the look of fear but not much to back it up. Was this the infamous Bultaco Metralla? As the stretch of asphalt ahead opened up into a slightly bending left hander, I selected third gear and pulled back the throttle. As the revs built, a silky smooth wall of power propelled the feather light Metralla around the bend with deceiving speed and agility. It turns out this tiger had teeth, claws too! This Metralla was every bit the motorcycle that went one-two in the Isle of Man 250 Production Class TT in 1967, it’s just a little more demure than I had thought. The next thought that popped in my head was how those “tamed” circus tigers every once in a while go and tear someone’s arm off. Its best not to underestimate a 600 pound tiger, the same could be said for 250cc Bultaco Metralla. Words - Gabriel Trench Photos - Seth Trench
a l l a r t e M y l r e n Man In a lot of ways the Bultaco MK2 Metralla is a no frills, love it or hate it kind of machine. You'll either fall in love with this funky little Spanish bike or use it as evidence of why the manufacturer is no longer in existence. In case it’s not obvious, we love this quirky pint-sized Bultaco and would give up just about any bike in our garage to take possession of one. As most uniquely designed European motorcycles, pictures just don’t do the Metralla justice. In photos you cannot fully appreciate the wonderfully rounded gas tank and the way the gentle curve across the top line of the tank plays a sharp contrast to the ruler straight bottom. The seat, another piece of the eye candy puzzle, works wonderfully within context of the bike. Not just your standard bench, the sculpted seat is wider at the front and has a strip of black suede down the center to help keep fast throttling riders from sliding back on the slick leather. The Metralla is full of complimentary parts like the fenders, slender exhaust, bulbous headlight shell, polished alloy headlight stays; each time you look you see something different. By themselves the separate pieces may look unimpressive or even odd, but in place on the Metralla they create a stunningly attractive machine. Though we have fallen in love with the Metralla over the years the fact is that beauty is in the eye of the beholder and unfortunately the Metralla did not get an overwhelming welcome in America in the late 1960's. It may seem hard to believe that Bultaco Metralla’s like the one you see here spent many months and sometimes years collecting dust on show-
room floors here in America. They just didn’t sell so great. Like most things in life, the unloved and undesirable things become sought after and collectible treasures as decades pass by. The Bultaco Metralla is no different and has become one of the rarest and most pursued two-stroke street bikes to be birthed out of the 60’s. Basket case Metrallas commonly exchange hands for four times the original asking price of $699. Show quality restorations regularly go past the $10K mark. It took some time, but Bultaco's Metralla is finally getting the respect it deserves.
The owner of this Metralla actually purchased it for a strange use among today’s vintage motorcycle collectors: He wanted to ride it. “All of my friends were riding Harley’s. “I’ve been a Bultaco guy for the past forty years riding my Pursangs. No reason to be any different when it comes to riding on the street,“ says owner Rick Sanada. A few internet searches brought him to the virtual doorstep of renowned restorer Robert Book (www.zoomnet.net/~rwbook/) who had just recently completed the restoration of the MK2 Metralla. After a several conversations regarding Rick’s purchase of the Metralla, Robert asked him what his intentions were for the concourse quality motorcycle. Was he going to show it, store it as an investment, put it in his living room? “I’m going to ride it,” Rick said to Robert’s bewilderment. “I didn’t here from him for a while after that,” Rick says with a smile. But, eventually Robert agreed to give up the red and silver Bul about a year and a half later from the initial phone call (and after
having just brought the Metralla back from the 2006 Ohio Vintage Concourse where it was entered and “unofficially” tied for second place!) A month later, a giant transporter arrived in front of Rick’s house and moments later a tiny little Bultaco Metralla was wheeled onto his driveway. “I couldn’t believe how small it was,” Rick recalls.
After years of anticipation I couldn't wait to hop aboard the Metralla. I've studied pictures, read articles, scanned race results and imagined what the 250cc Bultaco was like on the street, but nothing prepared me for what I was about to experience. After all of the hype I was expecting a ferociously wild motorcycle that would require the utmost focus and concentration to ride properly. One of those bikes that was so demanding that if you dropped your guard for a moment it would make you pay for it by either stalling or by ripping down the street in an uncontrollable two-stroke blur. Boy was I wrong. The Metralla was just about the opposite of all of my pre-conceived notions, the bad ones at least. This Bultaco is the farthest thing from wild; in fact it's perfectly tamed and is fully at the command of the rider. Don't mistake proper manners for a boring motorcycle though, you would be horribly mistaken. For a 27-horsepower, 250cc street bike capable of breaking the ton (that’s 100mph by the way) the little Bul’ packs its potential into a very tight package. At 225 pounds (dry) the Metralla is small and light in every good sense, but has enough mass to insure that the rider won’t be mistaken for a Pepsi can by a Hummer-driving soccer mom. A six-foot rider can easily sit
“The roundy little two-stroke motor is remarkable, especially when considering that it is about as complicated as a box of Lincoln astride the Bul’ with feet firmly planted on Logs” the ground, leaving the rider wondering just how cramped the riding position will be. However, the slightly rear-set pegs provide that extra bit of room making the riding position down right comfortable combined with the slightly elevated bars. There is also plenty of room to move around on the seat (or give a ride to a passenger) and find your best position. All in all, it’s a sporty, but comfortable upright seating position which did not seem to put any unnecessary pressure on “acheable” body parts whatsoever. The controls are easily accessible even though the chromed steal Bultaco levers do seem to stick out away from the bars more than most levers. Aside for the clutch lever, the left handle bar also carries a horn button, kill switch, and headlight adjustments, while the right side features a small lever which operates a cable to adjust the choke. The handlebar mounted choke adjustment is nice touch and you will appreciate it even more if you have ever had to reach down and try to find a choke lever by brail as you are trying to warm up your machine.
With a left side kick starter as the only means of lighting the motor it seems easier to start the Metralla while on its center stand, compared to standing next to it using your right foot. Owner Rick Sanada fired up the Bul which readily idled high with the slight adjustment of the handle bar mounted carburetor choke. After a minute or two the choke was turned off and the idle lowered to farm equipment like speed, something unexpected for a motorcycle of this caliber and performance. As any good motorcycle, the motor is really what gives the Metralla personality. The roundy little two-stroke motor is remarkable, especially when considering that it is about as complicated as a box of Lincoln Logs. It's just your run of the mill piston-port two-cycle motor. No reed valves, finger ports, or power jets are needed to make this motor come alive in a respectable manner. A 30mm Amal Monobloc carb feeds the single which draws the fuel mixture down transfer ports to lubricate the crank and then up into a
single-spark head and out the exhaust port. That's about as complicated as it gets, but the results are street bike heaven! Clutch action was very light on the Metralla and gave the rider no hint of hand fatigue during our ride. The shifting was okay, but perhaps brings up the only negative thing I could say about the rideability of the Metralla. Gear shifts on a Metralla need to be made in big, positive motions. This is not because of a faulty gear box or poorly built transmission, but due to a unique sliding actuator which transfers the gear change movements to the tranny. Instead of using the zero-play rods and aircraft style linkages common to most rear-sets, Bultaco utilized this unique sliding configuration which amazingly uses only two parts. The sliding shift controls seem to function adequately as long as the rider doesn’t get shy about their shifting. I hit a false neutral a few times, again most likely
a l l a r t e M y l r e Mann due to the fact that I was not shifting with enough gusto. I would assume that after a short period of time most riders would naturally adjust their riding to make up for this making it simply a characteristic of the bike and not necessarily a downfall. As mentioned earlier, not a whole lot of throttle is needed for the Bul’ to get going from a stand still. The gear shift is on the right side, like many European motorcycles, and has a one up, four down shift pattern (commonly referred to as “GP style shifting"). My last ride on a European motorcycle like this left my brain in a knot and I seemed to never know which foot to use and which direction to shift. Thankfully, this Bultaco has such a friendly motor that it left me with plenty of mental capacity to think out my shifting as I became more comfortable with the shift pattern. Our Metralla had a taller than stock counter sprocket which meant that you were out of first rather quickly. Once on the go it became clear that the Bultaco was one of the smoothest European 250’s I have ever ridden and this is a two-stroke! Bultaco hit the nail on the head in the fly wheel department, since the motor revved quickly yet carried enough inertia as to never give the feeling of sputtering out as you rolled off of the throttle. Instead of performing the awkward maneuver of braking while gently blipping the throttle like many high-performance 250’s, the Metralla allowed the rider to forget about the throttle all together while on the clutch and take advantage of the more than effective front brake (which we’ll come back to).
With no tachometer available it’s hard to say exactly when the motor starts to pull, but let’s say around four grand or so it begins to boogey. That is not saying the motor isn’t useable below those higher RPM’s like many other performance twostrokes, because it is, the motor simply becomes even more effective in the upper mid-range. It should also be said that the power does not come on in an intrusive, better get pointed in the right direction kind of way, but a smooth and mannerly twostroke manner. Once on song the Metralla pulls with beautiful predictability most likely a combination of spot on carburetion, mild porting, and a slender exhaust that helps create a revable motor without the peaky, knife-edged power band commonly associated with a hopped-up 60’s stroker. Rick mentioned how his Metralla is like “a race horse looking for a race”. The bike is eager to go, there’s a restlessness about her. You can feel it. She just wants to go, FAST!! You can feel it as you go through the gears. Just as a purring Tiger can lull you into thinking it’s a docile, over-size kitty cat, one roar quickly reminds you it can go from playful to predator in a blink of an eye. And so it is with the potent, little Metralla says Rick. You put the coals to her and when she’s “on the pipe”, she goes from mannerly to monster in a New York second! “It’s quite startling” says Rick, “the ferocity of this bike as she airs
1 her front wheel in the first three gears, accompanied by her menacing exhaust note only to return to her gentle, burbling idle at the next stop light”! Since our test was performed in a residential area it wasn’t possible to test the limits of the motor or chassis, but we can certainly give our stamp of approval to the overall handling characteristics of the Metralla. Agile, precise, and predictable are words that come to mind. In other words, it went where you wanted it to go, and not where it wanted to go. The light weight nature and low center of gravity made the Bul’ easy to maneuver in slow and medium speed turns and adjustments in direction, we can only imagine the high-speed potential of this machine. The chassis is very standard, a steal tube frame with Bultaco made forks and Betor suspension in the rear. Even though the Metralla frames have a reputation of being made of poor quality tubing, they also have a reputation of extremely good handling. As spindly as the front forks are they seemed to have the job in hand. Throughout our ride, the forks and rear shocks never once entered my train of thought, and we all know if you don’t notice something than it’s probably doing it’s job well. Perhaps some heavy front braking would reveal some fork flex, but we didn’t find any issues in regular street use. Braking was another place of compliment. The rear brake was typically mushy, but effective in slow speed braking. The front stopper however was fantastic in all cases and was not “grabby” at slow speeds. The large cooling scoop not only looks amazing, but should also help this little twin-leader cope from a little over use and heat up on those spirited canyon rides. Overall, our experience riding Bultaco’s iconic Metralla was nothing like what we expected, but we thoroughly enjoyed every second of it. Docile around town and friendly on the street, this Bul’ also has the potential to carve any canyon with such precision that a Honda CB77 or Suzuki X-6 rider would wonder if that singing red blur was indeed a motorcycle that just passed by. Perhaps, Ducati’s 250 Diana or Mach 1 would have the capability of hanging with a Metralla on a sporty ride, but once into town the Metralla would probably leave a Ducati rider frustrated as the Bultaco would gently idle away from a stop sign with the ease of a Vespa scooter. Since Rick's purchase of his Bultaco Metralla he has kept his end of the bargain and actually rides the concourse
1 - Derivations of Bultaco’s “Round Barrel” 250cc two-stroke single were used in their road racers, enduros, trials bikes, and mxers. 2 - Spanish made 30mm Amal Monobloc. 3 - Owner Rick Sanada stands with his Metralla, he’s a really cool guy by the way. 4 Unique sliding shift actuator. 5 - Left side view shows the fully enclosed chain. 6 - The left side handle bar switches: Horn, kill button, and headlight adjuster. 7 - The prettiest production front brake ever built? Sculpted air scoop actually works in cooling down the little twin-leader. 8 - Alloy “Monza” gas cap, yet another race inspired piece. condition Bultaco regularly. He has even ridden the Bul’ enough to find a few faults that he has remedied to make it more userfriendly on the road. The foot peg shafts have been turned down on a lathe just a “touch” to allow the rubber foot peg covers to slip over the foot peg shaft smoother, otherwise they stretch and crack right down the middle he says. The headlight bulb has been switched to a brighter halogen bulb since the stock light provided hardly more illumination than a pocket flashlight. The rear taillight also became an issue after some use since would burn out regularly due to vibration. Rick later found out that this was a common Metralla problem. The fix? Rubber bushings between the taillight and fender. Since Rick never has seen the need to take the Metralla to it’s claimed 103 mph top speed he re-geared it, lowering it’s top speed but making it a bit quicker
off the line by installing a taller counter sprocket. We enjoyed the gearing and think Rick has helped make the Bultaco a very effective bike around town. Another problem Rick came across was keeping the motor clean since it would cough up un-burnt premix out of the exhaust manifold after a long ride. The cause was tracked down to the exhaust manifold. After a few rides the threaded collar holding the header pipe to the barrel would back out and allow unburn pre-mix to drip down the front of the motor. To fix this Rick attached a spring extended from a motor mount on the frame to a small hole drilled in the manifold collar. The spring pulls the collar in the tightening direction. “Now when it vibrates, it gets even tighter,” says Rick of his simple, yet effective mod. Other than the Bul’ not readily firing up in front of a parking lot of Harley riders once, Rick doesn’t have anything bad
to say about his Metralla. He does warn that he doesn’t recommend owning one if your shy, as this bike draws crowds and lots of “thumbs up” gestures where ever he goes! Needless to say I was not so keen to park the Bultaco Metralla back in Rick's garage and return to my Metralla-less garage. I have had the opportunity to ride many motorcycles over the years and my brief ride on this Bultaco Metralla stands out as one of the most surprising and enjoyable. It seems the Metralla is like the James Bond of motorcycles: Civilized, respectful, and proper, but underneath all of that guise is a thrilling daredevil waiting for the chance to show off its’ talents. Use whatever poorly crafted analogy you would like, circus tiger, James Bond...It's no difference. Just whatever you do, never underestimate the mannerly Bultaco Metralla.