Bikes and me
my bikes
1974 Benelli 250 2C
1973 Honda CB175 K6
1973 Honda CB350 Four
1978 Suzuki GS750E
1979 Suzuki SP370
1977 Kawasaki Z650B
1977 Kawasaki KZ750
1978 Yamaha XS650SE
1980 Yamaha TT250
1972 Honda CT90
2001 Yamaha FZS 600
2005 Yamaha FZS 1000
bikes and me
It's hard to say when or how I became aware of bikes, as far back as I can remember I've always been into them in a big way, I guess you could say bikes define me. I grew up in a small coastal town on the North Island of New Zealand, about as far as you can get from the industrial epicenters of bike manufacture in Europe and Japan but that didin't mean that there weren't plenty of bikes around. As anyone who has been to NZ will tell you, Kiwis are serious petrol heads.
When I reached my early teens and started to get into bikes in a big way the "Japanese invasion" was in full swing. Of course I could only watch from the sidelines, there would be no bikes for me until I was old enough to ride and had the wherewithall to pay. The wait until I could get my own bike was an endless drag but by way of solice I always read three bike mags; Cycle, Cycle World and Two Wheels. It was always a cool day when the latest edition appeared on the shelves of my local bookshop.
By the time I got a bike of my own the first wave of superbikes was giving way to the next generation of EPA compliant four stokes. Not that I could afford them, starting work as an apprentice on apprentice wages meant I had to settle for second hand.
But before I could buy my own bike I had to learn how to ride and my first ride is still fresh in my mind.The first time I rode, or rather tried to ride, a bike was on a Taka 100. This was a primitive  made-in-Taiwan two-stroke single with a rotary inlet valve and what we called a "rotary" gearbox. First and fourth gear (top gear) were only one click away from each other, in other words you could go from top to first directly. Controlling where I was going plus handling the clutch and gearshift was tricky, even without worrying about shagging the box in front of the bike's nervous owner. It wasn't a great success but I sure as hell was smitten.
My frst bike was  Benelli 250 2C. I had been looking for a CB175 Honda but the Benelli appeared and seemed to offer much more bang for the buck then the staid little Honda twin. It was to prove a decision I would regret and how! The bike had one real failing and that was the poor quality of the electrical system, it was always giving me a hard time, the headlight blew often and the warning lights were early victims of Italian electical competance. I was a regular customer of the local VW dealer as their bulbs fitted the Benelli perfectly. The other pain was the premix, get the oil-petrol mix out by just a bit and the plugs were doomed. Still the handling and brakes were superb and at the time I didn't realise just how good they were.
It was only when I got a taste of Japanese frame design did I really appreciate the Benelli's prowess through the corners. It had Marzzocchi forks and a twin leading shoe front brake with wonderful feel and stopping power and it was a great way to learn about braking. However the handling just couldn't compensate for the poor reliability and the premix chore eveytime I had to fill up.   It was a good looking bike, and showed, to my eyes at least, Italian styling flair at its best. The tank, sidecovers and exhausts worked together so well. Quite an advance over the frumpy efforts of the Japanese (Kawasaki excepted).  I wrote the bike off after about 18 months of ownership, great handling couldn't make up for a boozed up 18 year-old! I lost my license for 3 months which was hard to handle, no transport meant no life!

As soon as I could ride again I reverted to my pre-Benelli plan and bought a CB175.  It was all you would expect of a little Honda twin and never let me down in any way, but it was never a long term bike. When the finances permitted my first Honda four found a place in the garage. It was a metallic green CB350 four, a lovely bike. Everything about it spelled care and attention to detail, mind you by the time it got into my hands age was starting to take its toll on the finish, particularly on the lacquer  on the engine cases. The aluminium was starting to corrode under the protective film.
There was no getting away from the weight of the bike and the impact it had on the already paltry power available but this was offset by the way the engine just spun so easily and smoothly. Quite extraordinary really, I've never had another bike that was so smooth, even much more modern bikes with counter-balancers. The bike had nice details all over it, there was the tool tray under the seat so that you didin't drop the spanners (second rate quality it's true) in the dirt. The clutch cable mount cast into the clutch cover, the plastic sheild on the disc brake and of course the paint, one of the nicest greens I've ever seen, really deep, always changing in the sunlight.
I traded in the little four and bought a Suzuki GS750E. I was going to get a Honda CB750 F1 but the Suzuki was  such a good deal and offered, once again, much more bang for the buck when compared to the Honda and there was no denying the attraction of having the lastest bike around. Sitting on the bike for the first time the tank looked huge, stretching out in front of me, only ending at the instrument binnacle. And the instruments were a big deal at the time with a gear indicator and cool red backlighting, much commented on by roadtesters of the time but pretty tacky now if you think about it.

The bike gave me a scare when I overcooked a corner and ran off the road, then continued along a shallow ditch, squeezed between a gum tree and a barbed-wire fence and then back on to the road without missing a beat. Another time I was riding out of the shed and one of the case-guards caught on the back bumper of a Mini we had and pulled it into an "l" shape as if it were made of cardboard. As a bike I couldn't fault the GS, it was smooth, more than powerfull enough for me and never gave me any trouble except for a weep that developed from the left side of the head-block joint. The finish was good, on the engine particularly but the overall quality was not up to Honda standards. It wasn't a startling looking bike and its origins in the Kawasaki Z1 were pretty obvious. If the design brief was to style the bike to be as inoffensive as possible then they succeded.

After maybe a year I decided to try off-roading a bit so I sold the GS and bought an SP370. It was a strange looker, the rear mudguard was wide and flat and parallel to the ground and the tank had forward sloping ridged panels, it was not a bike that pushed the boundries of off-road bike styling!. The engine was another competent Japanese four-stroke single with a nice spread of mid-range grunt. Starting was a doddle, a task was made easier by the little window in the right-hand end of the cam cover through which a bolt on the cam indicated the piston position.
The bike never gave me any trouble and I only got rid of it when I decided go back to four cylinders. From Suzuki I moved on to Kawasaki and bought a second hand 1977 Z650, my first Kawasaki four. Once again the build quality of this marque was not up to Honda's but the bike had a tight, integrated feel to it. It was not the giant slayer that it's builder's claimed, it could not, in all honesty, see-off a good 750, either in pick-up or top speed. As a bike, though, Kawasaki got it right. The baby zed went well, had a good spread of peak-free power and was real fun to ride. The later versions with mags and more sophisticated paint jobs were good lookers and I would definitely buy one today.
I've always thought that the parallel twin is the natural layout for a bike engine because of its compact dimensions and low bulk and after two inline fours I was tempted to try one for myself. So I signed the hire-purchase on a slightly used Kawasaki KZ750, the most recent take on the vertical twin at the time. The tank was nicely styled and the family bloodline was unmistakable but the looks promised more than the engine could deliver. I remember the engine felt totally bland with no discernable powerband, no character and seemingly disconnected from the throttle. You could call it a "piece of bike" (to paraphrase Jeremy Clarkson), it might become a classic one day but I doubt it. Any Japanese factory could have built the bike, well perhaps not Yamaha as they had tremendous success with their XS/TX 650 twin family. After a few months the Kawi was down the road as a really good deal came up on a Yamaha XS650.
I saw the Yammy in the local Yamaha dealer, it was black with gold pin-striping and had 11 kilometers on the clock. A guy had bought it, ridden it home and scared the crap out of himself on the way, taken it back the next day and sold it. This was the launch model of the "Special" version of the XS650, one of the first factory customs. Then I thought it was cool but it doesn't have the same affect on me these days, it looks a bit silly just like almost all of the "factory customs" of the day.
After a couple of small fry; a Yamaha TT250 and a Honda 90, I left New Zealand and biking to do my OE (Overseas Experience) as a lot of young Kiwis do. Bikes didn't become part of the scene again until I bought a 2001 Yamaha FZS600 Fazer. Without doubt this is the best bike I have ever had. It is one of those rare bikes that immediately feels just right as soon as you get your feet up. There was nothing about the bike that upset its overall balance and behaviour. The brakes ("blue Spots") had superb feel and real stopping power and the engine was smooth, flexible and had loads of creamy grunt, especially as you got closer to the redline. I was fooled by the Fazer because I decided to "upgrade" to its bigger brother the Fazer 1000. It's still my current ride and is a fine machine but doesn't feel anywhere near as "together" as its smaller sibling. It doesn't fit me or my riding style in the way the 600 did, live and learn I guess.
Peter William Young
August 2013
Accident location map
Lee's Prang We decided to take the road up to Lake Tutira, a small lake just off the highway connecting Napier with Wairoa and Gisborne. It's a pleasant enough place and I have fond memories of the summers I spent there as a kid. However, we weren't interested in the place itself, it was the 40 kilometer ride to get there that was the draw. The first 15 kilometers of the highway  follow the curve of  Hawke's Bay before veering left up into the foothills for the gentle climb up to the lake.
Once in the hills the road has plenty of curves and for the most part the surface is that grippy  bituman that you find all over New Zealand. The highlight of the road is a superb 4 kilometer section called the Devil's Elbow, this is a giant switchback that climbs from the valley floor up the side of an escapment to reach a plateux.  On this particular day we set out on a beautiful Hawke's Bay summer's morning with sunlight so harsh that nothing cast a shadow, almost like an overexposed black and white photograph. The sky was an endless light blue, incredibly high with no clouds to spoil it. And the wind was blowing, I can almost feel it now, hot and relentless, the kind that gets on your wick because it never stops and dries you out. When you ride it forces the engine heat onto your legs and makes you keep going to stop from getting toasted. Leaving town it was me on my Yamaha 650 twin, Barry on his Honda CB350 Four and Lee on his 75 Yamaha RD350, both with pillions. Heading north we passed the Norfolk pines that mark the beginning of the open road, on our left the straw brown hills that surround Napier and to our right the railway line to Gisborne and beyond that the Pacific. After about ten minutes we passed through Bay View and as the traffic had virtually disappeared we stepped it up a bit. At Tangoio  the road swings left in a long sweeper and begins slowly climbing up the Tangoio valley. By now we were separated from each other by a couple of hundred yards, I was in the middle following Barry and then Lee behind. I was constantly checking my rear view mirror and after a few minutes couldn't see Lee anymore. Obviously something was up so I caught up to Barry and we stopped, turned around and headed back down the valley. As we came round the now right-hand sweeper I saw something in the ditch.
It was Lee's pillion Scab standing at the back of the bike, holding his helmet and looking down at something. Getting closer I could see Lee crouched down checking out the rear wheel.  The bike was lying against the bank of a shallow ditch with a solid dent on the left side of the tank and the lefthand pipe and exhaust mangled. There was a line of rubber that ran from the road into the grass and then up to the beat up rear wheel and it was clear what had happened. At about 100-110 kph the rear wheel had blown out, Lee rode it out as best he could for a few seconds but then the bike went out of control into the ditch. If he had been one up he would probably have gotten away with nothing more than a schredded tyre but with 6ft tall Scab on the back the weight was too much. Neither of them were seriously hurt, Scab had a few bruises and Lee had a burn on his chest, somehow he had ended up under the header pipes.
The bike was repaired and looked just fine, though it took two attempts at repainting the tank to get it just right and I think it never really tracked true ever again, the frame must have been bent slightly. Lee had done really well in keeping the bike upright as long as he did, in fact getting into the ditch probably saved them from some real gravel rash or worse!
hugh anderson
graeme crosby
burt munro
ivan mauger
1963 50cc world champion
1963 125cc world champion
1964 50cc world champion
1965 125cc world champion
Winner of the:
1980 Suzuka 8 Hours with Wes Cooley
1980 Isle of Man TT
1982 Daytona 200
1982 Imola 200
Set the world speed record for the Flying One Mile Class S - A 1000cc @ 183.58 mph in 1967
Six time world speedway champion: