Yamaha DT100. Late 1970s. Back in my trail-riding days, a mate bought one of these for his wife. (And that's it in the photo on the left). I had a DT125, of the same year-model, at the time, and it was really like a smaller version of that. It was a proper trail-bike, but it's lack of power and smaller wheels limited it's of-road capabilities. A light-weight trail-bike for light-weight trail-riding.
Yamaha DT125. 1977. Ah, yes, I have a very soft spot for this one! This was the bike that really got me into riding more seriously. My first bike (as I've mentioned elsewhere) was a Suzuki A100, which I bought mainly to go trail-riding around a friend's farm. Being in no way a trail-bike, it wasn't long before I felt the need to up-grade to a proper trail-bike. So I started looking around.
There was a Yamaha dealer close to where I worked, and I spotted a second-hand Suzuki TS185 in the window. That interested me, so I went in to have a look. But then I saw a brand new Yamaha DT125 being offered for sale at a very substantial discount. And that Yamaha looked an attractive proposition! The Suzuki was a few years old and from an era when trail-bikes were pretty much road bikes with wider bars and knobby tyres. But the Yamaha was a proper "new-generation" trail-bike. So I ended up buying it.
I actually got duped a bit with this one. When I asked the salesman why it was being discounted, he said the shop was over-stocked and they were clearing out their current floor-stock. The reality was the new model, with up-graded engine and new frame with mono-shock rear-end, was waiting in the wings. But it didn't really matter. I was stretching the budget a bit to buy the superceded one anyway, so even if I'd known the true reason, I would still have bought it.
At the time of writing this it is almost 30 years since I rode it out of the showroom, but I can remember it clearly. I didn't get a test-ride before I bought it, so the first time I rode it was when I rode it home. And I was instantly impressed! The little Suzuki always felt small and flighty. This new Yamaha felt much bigger (it was actually the same bike as the 175, only with a smaller engine) and much more solid. What really impressed me was how stable it was! I'd always felt a bit nervous on the little Suzuki when I was riding on the road, but this bike was so stable and smooth and confidence-inspiring, I felt I could happily ride it anywhere! Performance seemed good (compared to a 100 remember!), and even the on-road handling was so much better than what I was used to! And being a new bike, everything (including brakes and all controls) worked so much better than on the old Suzi. A real pleasure to ride!
It got ridden around the friend's farm, but it also got ridden a lot more on the road too. I recall one round-trip I did quite a few times, of about 90km, that included a bit of highway, a narrow mountain pass, and about 25km of quite rough dirt road. I reckoned the Yamaha was an ideal thing for that! Well, the type of bike anyway. Of course the limited performance meant that it was really out of it's depth on the open road and highway, but for that "dual-purpose" ability to travel normal tarred-road and then be equally at home along rough dirt I still reckoned it was a good thing!
It often got trailered to various off-road riding destinations where it would head off into the bush with a variety of other trail-bikes. According to the specs, it claimed a very modest 8kw, so it was limited in it's performance; especially compared to bigger bikes. But even in the company of bigger more powerful bikes, it was never disgraced. Of course the bigger bikes were able to handle situations that required sheer grunt that the little Yamaha couldn't tackle, but it went most places the others did. In fact people were often impressed with just how capable it was! (Or maybe it was just the way I was able to ride it that impressed them?). Weighing-in at just 100kg it was light and nimble, so it was easy to handle in rough conditions. And the suspension was decent enough to handle most off-road tracks I threw at it. (You'll see some photos of it's adventures in the "Some Trail-Rides" item in the "Happenings" section).
So, a typical late-1970s trail-bike, and a lot more capable than it's modest engine-size would suggest; mainly because, as I mentioned earlier, it had the same frame, suspension, wheels, tyres etc, as the 175. So it's only limitation was power. And that was the only reason I later up-graded to the 175.
Yamaha DT175. 1975. When I bought the DT125, I passed the Suzuki A100 on to my wife. As she was going to use it exclusively off-road I modified it to be more suitable; including lowering the gearing, fitting wider bars, a high plastic mudguard and knobby tyres. But, as might be expected, she was soon complaining about it's lack of suitability as a trail-bike. So I bought her a 1975 Yamaha DT175. She got her licence on this. I still had the 125, so for quite a while my wife had a 175 while I had a 125!
But of course I rode it quite a lot. It was a good bike. A lot more power than my 125; and fun to ride! The suspension was much firmer though. The previous owner had fitted spacers in the front forks, but even with those removed it was still not as compliant as my DT125. Obviously Yamaha had made some significant improvements in suspension design in the intervening two years!
Specs I found put the power at 10kw, but it felt more (compared to the 8kw of the 125). When we were out trail-riding and I wanted to tackle something steep I'd swap with my wife and use the 175. And it was quite capable. Really steep hills that might leave the 125 gasping a bit were a lot more possible on the 175. A year or so later I bought my own 175.
Yamaha DT175. 1979. Leaving a job and receiving a proportion of long-service-leave money gave me some funds to buy a new bike. The DT175 was an obvious choice (already owning one for my wife), although I seriously considered a DT250. One particular salesman talked me out of it though; saying that the 175 was lighter, more nimble, and generally more suitable for trail-riding. It was probably good advice for me at the time. So I bought a brand new DT175.
This was the second model of the up-dated design I'd missed out on with the new 125; up-graded engine (the 175 now produced 12kw), and totally different frame with monoshock rear.
It was a good bike! Much better on the road than either the 125 or even the earlier 175. Performance was good and handling (for a trail-bike) was good. Cruising speed was still a bit limited, of course, but it would sit on 80kph comfortably. (I had it to 110kph and that was just about flat-out). One problem with on-road cruising was that when travelling at any reasonable speed (say, 80kph or so), it was revving fairly high, but the throttle was still at a very low opening. Consequently it was starved a little for lubrication, and the plug would over-heat. I cured this though, by adjusting the 2-stroke-engine-oil-pump to provide more oil per engine-rev; then to prevent fouling off-road, also adjusting it to deliver less oil per throttle opening. To ensure optimum protection I also ran it on fully synthetic oil.
Where the on-road power was most lacking was on steep hills. The lack of torque meant steep hills would need changing down, and then it was limited by gearing. On steep hills I'd be down a couple of gears and crawling up with the engine revving hard, while friends on things like a Honda XL250 would cruise up at twice the speed in a higher gear.
Off-road it was very capable and a good bike to ride. Of course, all trail-bikes are a compromise; they are good on-road, and good off-road, without being brilliant at either. But being brilliant usually means being demanding (see, for example, my comments on the Suzuki PE175). The DT was very capable off-road and easy to ride. Mud, creek-crossings, rocky tracks, steep hills; these were all capably attacked by the DT. And I got it up some wild hills that stopped even bigger bikes and their riders. (You'll see a couple more photos in the "Some Trail-Rides" item in the "Happenings" section).
I had the DT for 9 years. By the end of that time most of my mates had drifted out of trail-riding, and I was enjoying it less on-road, so eventually I sold it; using the money to buy some desired equipment for my business. Thus began a hiatus from motorbikes that was to last about 4 years.
Yamaha DT200. Mid 1980s. I very nearly bought one of these. Bigger and more powerful than the 175 (it boasted 22kw) and more sophisticated, with things like liquid-cooling and a disk front brake. It might have been bigger, but at a claimed 99kg it was about the same weight as the 175, so was just as nimble. Suspension seemed very compliant and capable too.
It went much better on the road than the 175, but could handle slow almost trials-type riding equally well. And road-tests of the time praised it's abilities. So as an all-round trail-bike, it was a good thing! I don't know exactly why I didn't buy it now; probably the after-trade dollars just came out a bit too high for what I had to spend. I remember it as a good bike though!
Yamaha DT250. Late 1970s. I had a couple of brief rides on these. Enough to confirm that the advice I was given when buying the DT175 (see above) was probably good for me at the time. It was bigger and more powerful than the 175 (20kw and 125kg from specs I found), and in reality was probably more capable; it was certainly better on-road than the 175. But perhaps not quite as easy to ride off-road as the 175. As a dual-purpose light-weight trailie, it would still be a good choice though.
Yamaha DT400. Early 1980s. A friend had one of these, having up-sized from a DT250. He was a very capable rider and able to make good use of the extra power. It boasted 8kw more than the 250, although had an extra 20kg to carry around. Road-tests put top-speed at 150kph and so it was quite capable on-road. I found it bigger and harder to manage than the 175 I rode. Kick-starting the big single was harder, and the weight and power were a bit harder to handle in tight off-road conditions. In summary, it was probably like the DT250 (see above), only more so!
Yamaha IT175. Mid 1980s. These were a specialised enduro machine. Similar sort of thing to the Suzuki PE175 (see comments on that). I only had a brief ride when I went riding once with an acquaintance who owned one. Very capable off-road, but more demanding, in the same sense the Suzuki was. I was impressed with it, none-the-less, for what it was. I remember being on my DT175 and coming off a trail onto some open road, with the IT right beside me. We both opened the throttles wide - and he left me for dead! Such was the extra performance of the enduro machine. But it was a competition bike of course, not a trail-bike.
Yamaha PW50. Early 1980s. I bought one of these for my daughter when she was about 6 years old. And of course I rode it a few times - even though I must have looked like one of those monkeys at the circus on the little bikes when I did! (Come to think of it, that's how it felt too!).
Single-cylinder (of course) and shaft-drive. The throttle could be adjusted to limit travel, thus allowing more power to be available as the young rider's ability developed. I thought that was a good idea.
It was a good little bike for the young rider. Easy to start and easy to ride, and quite capable for such a tiny bike. When full power was available it even went well, for a little 50cc machine. I used to take my daughter to a local trials-riding area, and ride along with her on my TY250. And the little Pee Wee was surprisingly capable off-road. I'm not saying it was in any way similar to the TY, but it did handle some reasonable hills surprisingly well.
My scariest memory of this bike was when we had some family friends around and gave their young kids a ride in what was a vacant area behind our house. One of the kids didn't get the concept of slowing to turn around and tried to do a 180-degree turn at full speed. He narrowly missed a gumtree and crashed straight on into a wire-mesh fence! It was a sickening sight, but luckily the mesh fence was loose enough to act like a catch-net, and neither bike nor rider suffered any damage.
My daughter was developing her abilities quite well, although was never really confident. Eventually she decided riding motorbikes wasn't her thing, and it was sold - to buy her a talking teddy-bear; a decision she claims to this day to regret!
Yamaha RD250. Early 1970s. These were a landmark motorcycle for Yamaha - and indeed the motorcycle industry as a whole! The high-performance 2-stroke twin. The numbers mightn't seem that extraordinary, even for back then, with 23kw and a weight of 140kg, but it was still a quick bike for the time. One thing that really stood out though, was the handling. A magazine test at the time said of the RD350, "In everything but all-out acceleration, the RD350 will out-perform just about anything on the market". A recent article on them said, "Nothing got through a tight set of corners quicker than a savvy RD pilot".
The RD250 I rode belonged to a friend and was a few years old when I rode it. I don't remember a lot about it, but I remember thinking it was a bike I could enjoy riding a lot if I got the chance to really get used to it. Performance and handling seemed impressive even if I didn't really get to know it enough to make use of it's abilities. (I was riding one of the DTs at the time). I've been a bit involved in the historic bike movement, and I'd like to have one in the shed as an historic bike now! I reckon it'd l be fun to own.
Yamaha RD250LC. 1980s. This was another one that was owned by a friend, and I had a few rides. These were - and still are - a highly respected bike. There is something very appealing about these - even now, 20 years after they were produced! Power was quoted at 28kw, but they had a few extra kg to pull around; courtesy of the liquid-cooling I suppose.
My strongest memory of this bike was of how easy it was to ride! I rode this when it was almost new, so I was still in my trail-bike period. But stepping off the DT175 and onto the RD250LC it only took a couple of km and I felt totally confident with it. Performance was good, and handling was, as I've indicated, great too. I could have happily owned one as a road addition to the DT stable. A 2nd-hand review in a magazine a few years ago described it as "Quick, reliable and strong". Add in my afore-mentioned impression of it being great to ride, and it still stands as a bike I admire.
Yamaha SR250. 1980. After selling the DT175, I went for about 4 years without a bike. But once bikes are in your blood, well you always come back! The question for me was what to? My trail-riding mates had all given up riding bush tracks for riding on the road, or not riding at all; so a trail-bike didn't seem to be the answer. I did get interested in the vintage bike scene (and later bought a BSA Bantam to restore), but as my wife said at the time, all I really wanted was a bike to ride, "Some sort of road-bike, something you can even just ride around town" She was right; the type of bike was less important than actually having a bike!
It's strange how you often reach these profound decisions at a time when the amount of money to spend on them is very limited. So another requirement was that it had to be cheap. After checking adds in the local paper, I spotted a 1980 SR250. It was registered, and cheap. So I went to have a look. It had been sitting in the shed for a while and needed a new battery, but hooking up jumper-leads had it started easily. It sounded good, looked quite good for a bike that was over 10 years old, and so I bought it.
The SR250 was Yamaha's version of the soft-chopper style produced by most manufacturers (the Suzuki GN250 perhaps being the most successful and popular of these). It was a single-cylinder bike based very heavily on the XT250, but with road wheels and tyres, and electric start. Power was a very modest 15kw. Mine came fitted with a non-standard handle-bar mounted fairing; which I strongly suspect made it less aerodynamic, but I liked the look of it.
I did a couple of minor mechanical things to it, just to bring it up to scratch; such as a new battery, of course, and replacing the rear suspension units. I also changed the handlebars. It had non-standard pull-back bars, which, being somewhat long-of-arm, I certainly didn't need. I did some cosmetic things too, like fitting a grab-rail (which had gone missing sometime in it's history), and replacing the non-standard smallish tail-light with a (larger) standard one. I had the seat re-upholstered and re-covered. I also had the front mudguard re-chromed. Later I found a pair of panniers at a garage-sale and had some brackets made up to mount them, and put those on. This, to some people's eyes, didn't compliment it's appearance, but I actually liked them; made it look like a miniature Harley! A replacement muffler (after the original rusted through) made it even sound like a miniature Harley. There were a few other repairs done as they came up, but it was generally very reliable.
I liked this bike! It started easily with the button (first bike I'd owned to have electric-start) and idled with a very even "doob, doob, doob". I'd enjoyed doing the little up-grades / maintenance type things too. But oddly, I didn't really enjoy riding it! Can you like a bike but not enjoy riding it? Well, that's how it was with this.
I never felt comfortable on it. I'd always had a dodgy back, and this bike didn't seem to help it. The suspension seemed quite harsh; strange perhaps considering it's trail-bike origins. The performance was pretty marginal also. I liked the 4-stroke single's characteristic low-down torque, but it's overall performance was pretty limited. Road tests had put the top speed at 130kph, but I was battling to get it above 100kph! It would cruise okay at between 80kph and 90kph, but that was pretty slow for the freeway. It was also dramatically effected by wind. A head-wind would slow it down even more, and a side-wind would blow it around to a quite unsettling degree. I suppose the fairing and panniers didn't help here, but it was surprising how bad it was. Even a light breeze would give the effect of being buffeted in a wind-storm out on the highway!
I kept this bike for over 6 years, but didn't actually do a lot of riding on it. I reached another "profound decision" that I really needed a bigger bike, and so it was sold after buying a suitably bigger, more powerful replacement. (And you can read about that in the "Worst Bike" item in the "Happenings" section).
Interestingly, this model was re-introduced, with different styling but a motor that looked suspiciously similar to the original, in the late 1990s.
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Yamaha FZ1. 2003. I've always liked these. It's a good concept - taking the mechanicals from the R1 and putting them in a frame and suspension package designed for more every-day type use. And in the process, re-tuning the engine for greater usability. I suppose you'd call the styling "minimalist", in terms of bodywork, but I reckon they look good. (I especially like it in blue).
I'd tested the current (2007-plated) model and was very impressed with it - apart from the R1 seat (hard!) and too-firm suspension. However the previous version (pretty much unchanged from 2001 to 2005) had a comfortable seat and much more compliant suspension. So it was interesting to have a ride on this earlier version. (In fact I was considering buying one!).
It was very similar in a lot of ways to the current (2007 / 2008) version. Similar feel and similar handling, similar performance characteristics etc. But the big difference was in the comfort! The first thing was the seat, which is very comfortable. Next thing was the ride, which again, was very comfortable. I didn't ride it over really rough roads, but it felt good on the bumps I could find to ride it over. The suspension is fully adjustable front and back, and from what I could see, the settings were about mid-way. So it could be adjusted even softer again.
The handling felt very much like the current model. It handles well, as you'd expect, but there's something about it. A kind of "unsure just how hard we're going" sensation that had me feeling my way in certain corners at middling speeds. It was as if the bike was saying, "Are we getting serious? Do I tip in now? Or are we just poddling around?" On the new one I partly put it down to the 190-section rear tyre, but this one has the more usual 180-section. I think it just needs to be ridden more confidently and aggressively than I was doing. And I'm sure it's something that would disappear once you got to know the bike.
What impressed me most about the current model was the engine. Yes, it's got loads of power, but what really impressed me was how tractable it was. This earlier model ran carbs, rather than fuel-injection as does the current one. But it was just as impressive. The engine is brilliant! The new one was just a bit smoother at low revs, but this was still very good indeed. You could ride it at 2,000rpm - 3,000rpm without a problem at all. It would even pull away from 2,000rpm in top without problem, just a slight harshness as it gathered speed. That's very impressive for a bike that's red-lined at about 11,500rpm! It does prefer to be revving a bit; although it's hard to tell. The giveaway for me was the mirrors. Traveling along at 80kph or so, there was a bit of blurring. So I changed down a gear, and the mirrors improved. I changed down again, and they were totally clear. The engine felt very smooth regardless; it was only the slight blurring of the mirrors that indicated there was a touch more vibration at the lower revs. By the way, top gear (of 6) was geared at an indicated 24kph per 1,000rpm; just a little lower than I would've expected, but still capable of relaxed cruising. Speaking of speedo and tacho, there's quite a lot of numbers on both, and I did find the numbers a bit small. I could read it okay, but not as easily as some.
With 108kw at 10,000rpm, this is a powerful bike! At low revs it's a real pussy-cat, kind and gentle; but once you get the revs up around the 7,000rpm mark it really flies! Twist the throttle and hang on! No doubt with this in mind, as he watched this old bloke climb aboard the salesman gave me a cautionary, "Take it easy"; but the reality is you'd have to be really trying to get into trouble. The power only becomes "dangerous" when you're revving it hard and twisting the throttle with some enthusiasm. In other words, it's not going to bite you unless you really open it's mouth!
So it's smooth, flexible and docile, when you want it to be, and it's a "jump-at-the-horizon" power-house when you want it to be! It's definitely a sports-bike in character, but it's comfortable and can be quite refined.
Rob Smith, of Motorcycle Trader magazine, wrote that he wanted to award it "Bike Of The Year" when it was first released, and you can see why; it really is a great bike!
Criticisms? Well, it clunked into gear from neutral (just this bike perhaps?), although the changes were smooth after that. The screen is only small (apparently a taller one is / was available) so it's not great at keeping the wind off. Despite being naked, there was a fair bit of heat around my legs at town speed. (It was a hot day, but I didn't expect this from a naked). The mirrors are a bit of a stretch, and also look a bit funny - stuck way out front and jutting up high.
So there it is; if you want a sports-bike that will handle the real-world, and every-day riding, this is just that sort of bike. I could quite happily live with this bike! It's a pity that Yamaha went more "hard-and-sporty" with the 2006 model, because this really is "An R1 for old blokes!" (Actually it's an R1 for the real world!).
Yamaha FJR1300. 2001. Yamaha’s big sports-tourer has been a very successful model ever since its introduction in 2001. It’s big, powerful and comfortable. It also comes pretty well-equipped, with standard panniers and electric screen etc. A friend of mine owns one of these and I’ve ridden along with it many times. I had a short ride when I took it in for a rego-check. This included a short run on an expressway, a suburban road, and the usual around-town side-streets etc.
The first thing is that it is very comfortable. I’ve sat on these a few times and always found the ergonomics to be just about perfect. The riding-position is fairly up-right but with a gentle lean forward to the well-positioned bars.
The shaft-drive is a bit snatchy when taking off, but otherwise doesn’t intrude on the bike’s smoothness. And it is smooth; smooth and refined. Typical of this is the gear-change, which is super-smooth. Actually, it felt better than the new one.
It was interesting to compare this to the new model. The bike changed shape in about 2006. It gained slightly different styling, a few up-grades and about 30kg. I found it very heavy around town; especially on roundabouts and sharp turns. In contrast, this bike felt remarkably light; and much easier to ride around town than the new one. It’s easy and accurate to steer at town speeds and out on the highway.
The bike runs fairly high gearing and, with the excellent wind-protection of the fairing and screen, makes for relaxed cruising.
You might think the engine would be closely related to the XJR1300, but it’s not; it’s a totally different unit. It’s a more recent design, it’s slightly bigger (1298cc compared to 1251cc), and produces about 30kW more power. I didn’t try out the performance but it does go well. It also pulls easily from low revs, a characteristic I like.
The bike is a quality product. When the mechanic was checking it over for rego he was admiring the quality of construction. “They’re well-made aren’t they!” he remarked.
The owner reports that the only down-side is heat. The fairing traps a lot of engine-heat, especially around town and on hot summer days. I didn't feel this because it was the middle of winter when I rode it. (In this respect the newer model is said to be better, having improvements to the fairing design).
So an excellent all-round bike as well as an excellent tourer. And I reckon probably better – or at least lighter and easier to ride around town – than the new one!