ROBERT’S TWO-WHEELED MOTORING LIFE
Robert sent me an email saying that he had been riding since 1974 and was, “Tempted to type a few of my own experiences of bikes ridden.” Well, he didn’t to offer twice! That sounded great, so he kindly wrote a story about the bikes he’d owned in that time. There’s a wide diversity of machinery in this lot! My first ride on a bike was on the back of a mate’s Yamaha XS650. I have been hooked ever since. No such thing as a LAMS bike in those days, you could buy what ever you wanted, and in retrospect not a good thing, but the advice is to start on something manageable, and so biking adventure started. 1974 Honda CB450 twin cam. This parallel twin is noted for its torsion bar valve springs. It had a very pronounced power-band which also corresponded with vibrations setting in. As this was my first bike I remember it for the workout it gave my left hand to operate the clutch. I soon developed ‘bikers wrists’ - that is a reasonably strong hand-shake. But it struggled to keep up with my mate’s bikes so something a bit bigger was called for. 1974 Yamaha TX650A. A twin cylinder single OHC, with average handling. It always got good fuel economy, and had good mid midrange power. I put a lot of kilometres on this bike. This was my introduction to a powerful bike, not many cars could keep up with these nor their contemporaries like the Honda 750 or Kawasaki 900. Bikes outclassed cars in those days as most cars had poor brakes, single carb, OHV pushrod affairs, while bikes were OHC or twin OHC with multiple carburettors, and could ‘stop on a dime’. Beaten by a car - the one notable exception to cars keeping up with bikes that I recall was out on the Hay Plains of NSW. We were motoring along at about 140kph, and saw a car catching us up. Well!…. We could not shake it and it eventually overtook us; it was a large Mercedes sedan and when we hit our top speeds of about 170kph, it just kept going and disappeared over the horizon. 1975 Ducati 750 sport (not the desmo). A totally engaging ride, super stable handling at the expense of not being able to change directions as quickly as a Japanese 4. On long sweeping high speed corners not much could get close to one of these. The motor was powerful and smooth with a ton of grunt (gear driven SOHC). It was because of the engine and handling that you forgave it for everything else, like the lack of a side stand! The electrics were abysmal, the switches would literally wear out internally and you’d be forced to file the plastic internals back into shape. Oh yes and it was kick-start only, and it could be a bitch if you did not have the right technique. For example: bike on the stand, you on the RHS with your right foot on the kick start, gently push engine to the compression, ignition on, leap on the starter with all your weight, right leg slips off the kick starter, engine backfires propelling the kick starter back up and into the calf muscle!! Limp back to bed, no riding today. It was difficult to tune but when it was running well there was nothing better, it could pull away from a Honda 4 with ease and give a Kawasaki 900 a run for its money. One more thing, what a sound it made, a deep pounding boom that let everyone know you had opened the throttle. 1975 Yamaha RD350. A brief foray into a two stroke. My first ride was something like this: open throttle …. nothing …it just made a bit more noise … revs rising, hit the power band and it launches the front wheel in the air, change into second, nope that did not bring the wheel down, change to third and finally back on planet earth …. Wow! Looking back at this bike I realise that it takes a bit of effort to ride well because if you forgot that you were below the power band you were going nowhere. The handling and braking were its strong points, light and agile and stable. But ultimately not my cup of tea. 1976 Ducati 450 desmo single. I bought this as a project bike but something was horribly wrong with it as it just ran out of steam as if it hit a rev limiter, also the exhaust header would glow orange under hard riding. A mate crashed this before I could fix it. Marriage and kids - rather than give up riding, my focus changed. Rather than have two cars, my wife would drive the only car and I would commute on a bike, it was a formula that I kept ever since. So what to buy? Money had to be carefully managed now. 1979 Yamaha SR500 single. I kept this bike for the next 5 years or so, it was reliable, cheap and easy to maintain, yet interesting enough to want to ride it. This was also kick start only, but far easier to fire up than the Ducati. Good for a top speed of about 150kph, but that was not its strength, it got exceptional fuel economy and it never broke down. 1984 BMW R65. Focusing on a need for a reliable long term bike I thought this might be the ticket. But compared to Japanese bikes it had its share of problems. In the first week the diff seal let go, it was fixed under warranty and that was the total number of faults from the rear end. You could sum up the power of this bike as having enough for most situations, it handled well unless you were over 130 and into a long corner and then the weave would begin, very disconcerting. It took me years to figure out why it would do this, but the main cause was the tyres, specifically rear tyres with a central rain grove; get a tyre without a central groove and the weave almost disappeared. To this day on every bike since, when it comes to rear tyres I never use central grooved rear tyres. Other things that went wrong - the ignition failed due to a coil failure (apparently the potting starts to crack internally pulling on the wires and causing an open circuit as the crack grows). I did manage to go on a long tour with this bike from Brisbane to Melbourne and it was an utter delight, purring along for hours in comfort. The last failure was the rocker arms needle bearings, they had worn through the retainer allowing the needles to escape. Luckily they all fell into the sump and didn't get past the mesh filter. A sump removal, and surprisingly easy change of bearings, had me back on the road. I kept this bike for 12 years, a record I am unlikely to repeat, and would have to say it was the most practical bike I have owned. Middle age crisis and its time for a proper sports bike, because, well, just because. Enter the: 1996 Kawasaki ZX-7R. Ye-Gods is this thing fast! My first 4 cylinder bike. Unmatched handling; no mater what you threw at this, the ZX-7R just absorbed it all, it was solid as a rock and just felt so good. My only problem with reliability was that it hated cold morning rides (cold as in near zero); the carbs would ice up and you would slow and slow until the ice cleared, as you sped up again the wind chill would start all over again and the icing would return. This was an acknowledged fault and fixed by Kawasaki with a ‘cold weather mod’ (routing of radiator fluid around the carbs), after the mod it was an all weather motorcycle. As much fun as this bike was, it was the wrong bike and supremely uncomfortable for my now ageing body, and so the logical thing to do is get a cruiser, right? 1997 Kawasaki 1400cc Vulcan Classic. I loved this bike; sure it was big and bulky, but that engine made every ride fun. Although it was only a 4 speed gearbox I never missed having more gears. Third gear was for overtaking if you really need a bit more, but otherwise it was just leave it in top and use the throttle. Unfortunately it had some serious design defects of which the most unforgivable was the slipper clutch that would wear out every year, what a pain! You had to schedule a lost weekend for that clutch every year. The first Clutch change was carried out under warranty and by that time the internet was in full swing and I learned of a potential problem, it had a nylon oil pump gear that was prone to failure. I asked the mechanic to take a look and oh dear! I dodged a bullet there. This bike also suffered from cold air even in the rain if it was cold enough; that got a bit dangerous however as having a misfiring engine on a sports bike is one thing but a 300 Kg whale is something altogether nastier. Long trips did show problems with the ergonomics as you cant relieve the pressure on your back, and that with getting older and far too many reliability problems forced me to reconsider my choice. The next bike had to be as practical as my BMW, but a bit more powerful; it can’t be a sports bike or a cruiser, it must be economical, reliable and easy to maintain. 2003 Suzuki SV650. If I had to sum-up this choice of bike it would be, ‘I got it right’. The right amount of power and torque. It’s light, it’s economical and it stops well and handles very nicely once you are able to put the rear shock on its softest setting (seat is a little hard perhaps). Basically it can do everything from commuting to touring. And …. not a thing has gone wrong, not a single thing (I don't count batteries or flat tyres). I don't think I have a bad word to say about it. I still have this bike at 11 years and counting, but because of the poor resale will either hand it down to my sons or sell privately. Time marches on, situations change, and dammit, 10 years is a long time and so a new bike is due, and what to get? There are a lot of bikes I could like, but (begin rant) because I will be two up for the majority of my riding, those stupid little, (no I can’t call them pillion seats), foam patches on the rear fender exclude so many nice bikes (end rant). I mean seriously, why do they do that?
Which brings me to The Old Bloke website, because I had independently come to the same conclusion as you; that a Yamaha XJR1300 is the way to go. So money down, bike purchased, and time will tell.
Thanks Robert. I said at the start that there was a wide diversity of machinery in this lot, and wow, what an incredibly fascinating range of bikes you have owned! Thanks for telling us about them. I hope you enjoy your new Yamaha.
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