First American Test: 2016 Vertigo Combat Camo Works Observed Trials Motorcycle
One of the perks of my job is being one of the first to ride many new models. However, it is special to get to be the first to test ride a brand new brand, as is the case with the 2016 Vertigo Combat Camo Works observed trials motorcycle. In fact, I was the second person in America to ride the new Vertigo in the dirt (after Bill Merritt from US importer Lewisport USA Racing).
Having been riding trials bikes since the 1970s, the first thing I can tell you is that the Vertigo Combat Camo Works has the most powerful motor ever to be placed in a trials frame. Vertigo, a Barcelona company, claims that the fuel-injected two-stroke motor in the Combat Camo Works — one of a three-bike professional Combat line (the other two are the Combat Ice Hell and titanium-festooned Combat RR) — puts out 31 horsepower at 9200 rpm. Both of those numbers are unheard of in the trials world.
Thanks to the use of fuel injection, the engine has a wide variety of tuning options. There are four power maps in the computer (a maximum of 24 can be loaded), and I used the softest setting. Sensors tell the ECU the gear position, crankshaft position, and other vitals, which allows the computer to do such novel things as regulate the electric water pump, along with essential adjustments that include different power delivery in different cogs in the six-speed gearbox.
The Vertigo Combat frame is also noteworthy, as it is the first trellis design in trials. The main frame is chromoly, with aluminum side panels at the swingarm pivot. The swingarm, predictably, is aluminum. Claimed dry weight is 145.5 pounds. The center of gravity is kept low thanks to the three-quart fuel tank being under the seat.
Starting the Vertigo Combat Camo is unique. Unlike the Ossa and Montesa Honda fuel-injected trials bike that use the kickstarter motion to power the fuel pump for starting, Vertigo has a small lithium iron phosphate battery. Push a button and wait for the whir of the pump, then kick within 20 seconds. Unlike the Montesa Honda thumper, which is usually a one-kick affair, the Vertigo sometimes takes a few prods to get the high-compression two-stroke to fire up.
Once fired up, the 300cc motor has a nice sound, thanks to the EFI’s steady delivery of the air/gas/oil mixture. Throttle response is rapid, and with 31 horsepower on tap, it is essential that you ride the Vertigo Combat Camo with a sensitive right hand. I don’t know what 31 horses will do in a section and, unless it’s an insane sand hillclimb, I don’t want to find out!
The sensation of the Vertigo Combat Camo’s motor is unlike anything in trials. Power is extremely strong off-idle — if you stall this bike, you have made a serious error (starting it on the fly in a section will be tricky) — and the powerplant is more than willing to rev. Given that, for most riders — and I’m an Intermediate — you’re rarely going to do more than just crack the throttle.
A fascinating combination of gobs of torque, amazing traction-finding tractability, and a relatively light flywheel, means that you will have to recalibrate your brain from whatever bike you’re used to. Again, slightly opening the throttle will likely get you over any obstacle you will encounter. Revving the Vertigo Combat Camo is neither necessary nor desired.
Modern trials bikes are typically ridden in first gear in most sections. In the case of the Vertigo Combat Camo, second gear will find quite a bit of use. With a bit less mechanical advantage, it smooths out the Vertigo’s ample power and gives you a wide range of possible speeds in a section, without shifting. Plenty of torque is still there off idle, yet you can get good momentum going should you need it on a long uphill.
Vertigo got the chassis absolutely perfect. The Combat Camo’s turning manners are exemplary, and the traction afforded by the rear Michelin X-Light tubeless radial is impressive. Although Vertigo mixed and matched for the fully adjustable suspension — Tech aluminum forks and a Reiger shock — the result is excellent. As the bike was new, the suspension was taut, but nowhere near harsh or unforgiving.
With ergonomics that will be familiar to any rider of a modern trials bike, it’s simply a matter of adjusting to the power. I was able to do all of my standard obstacles without much time on the bike. Jumping up on a rock and stopping was especially easy, as the Combat Camo has prodigious amounts of engine braking.
Everything is intuitive, though it does help that throttle control is one of my strong points as a rider. As you do rev through the powerband, the Vertigo Combat motor is remarkably smooth and lacking vibration — an impressive feat, given the power produced.
The only shortcomings on the Vertigo Combat Camo are likely just temporary. The brakes were not impressive, but they may just need some time to bed in — again, this bike was brand new. I doubt they fitted the Combat Camo with anything other than excellent brakes. Also, the idle would sometimes dip precariously low, which was a bit disconcerting. Having said that, I never unexpectedly stalled the bike, so the EFI was doing its job of keeping the crank spinning.
Given the professional nature of the Vertigo Combat line, the Camo is definitely a bike aimed at top-flight riders. The amount of power on tap if far beyond the capabilities of anyone short of Expert class, although a trip around a homemade MX track revealed just how much fun that power will be on a high-speed loop. 12-time Trial World Champion Dougie Lampkin, who helped develop the Vertigo trials bikes, took a prototype Combat to a win at the 2015 Scottish Six Days Trial.
Vertigo will likely be introducing a more clubman-friendly Vandal model for 2017, but for those early adopters who want the latest, greatest, and most powerful machine, there will be no substitute for the 2016 Vertigo Combat Camo Works (and Ice Hell and RR).
Photography by Kelly Callan
Helmet: Airoh TRR
Pants and jersey: Fly Racing Evolution 2.0 Switchback
Gloves: Fly Racing Cool Pro II
Knee brace: Alpinestars Fluid Tech Carbon
Socks: Fly Racing Knee Brace Moto
Boots: Sidi Trial Zero
2016 Vertigo Combat Camo Works Specifications
Motor: Liquid-cooled 2-stroke single
Fuel delivery: EFI
Battery: LiFePo4 (lithium iron phosphate); 2.1 Ah
Max. power: 31 horsepower at 9200 rpm
Max. torque: 35 ft/lbs @ 4500 rpm
Max. speed: 71 mph
Transmission: 6-speeds; 4 trials, 2 loop
Clutch: Wet multidisc; 134 mm diameter diaphragm
Frame: Trellis design; chromoly steel and aluminum
Swingarm: Cast aluminum
Front: Fully adjustable Tech forks
Rear: Fully adjustable linkage-assisted Reiger shock
Front: Michelin Trial Light tubeless radial; 80/100 x 21
Rear: Michelin Trial X-Light Competition tube-type: 120/100 x 18
Airbox capacity: 1.2 quarts
Fuel tank capacity: 2.9 quarts
Claimed weight: 152 pounds
Importer: Lewisport USA Racing
2016 Vertigo Combat Camo Works MSRP: TBD