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
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
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
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
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!