Tuesday, 24 May 2016


I did not expect very much from the 1980 RS100. It was already worn out. Requiring ten to twelve kicks to start up, the Yam yowled noisily from the rust burnished silencer, covering the local area in a pea soup type blue fog. Flogged mercilessly in first gear it slowly bounced up the road. the gearbox creaking up into second and eventually third. There was no point changing any further up the box as the engine lacked the power to hold such a tall gear.

Bought from my neighbour for £20 I could expect little more That did not stop me thrashing it as hard as I could for the next three months. Top speed was down to 40mph and fuel economy a mere 55mpg. The little two stroke single engine was covered in crud that no amount of Solvol could clean up Similarly, where the frame or cycle parts were not rusted through it was only because of a protective layer of grease, grime and mud. Cleaning the bike, I soon realised, was a complete waste of energy.

The first problem was a link in the chain snapping, the chain whacking the engine case. The only good thing about this was that the back wheel moved so freely that it was no great task to push the bugger four miles home. The chain was full of tight spots, so stretched that I had to take another four links out in addition to the one that snapped. Soaked in Linklyfe on the once immaculate kitchen stove, after being freed up with a combination of oil, pliers and hammer, it went back on and lasted for the next ten weeks.

A week or so later, the front mudguard fell off, jamming up the wheel, throwing the machine down the road and myself on to the tarmac. Dented and battered, no serious damage to the Yam. It looked such a wreck to start with that a few more dents just added to the character. An old alloy guard and bracket were attached to the front fork, the gleaming alloy looking completely out of place.

Something must have been twisted in that accident, the bike developing a tendency to veer off to the left if I loosened off the death grip on the handlebars. I looked the machine aver, kicked the tyres, but could find nothing I could hit with a hammer. This handling trait, along with the tiny drum brakes, compensated for the lack of speed — the machine was so weird to ride that I never became bored.

Persuading my girlfriend on to the bike was not a brilliant move What little performance was available solo disappeared, the bike down to 30mph max. Her weight on the back had the rear guard rubbing on the tyre until I gave it a few kicks to aid its relocation. The front forks wobbled most of the way home. As she was wearing a short skirt and stockings the local yobs went into a frenzy of cat calls. Dropping down to second gear, bouncing the piston on its worn bearings, I got my own back by covering the area in that light blue smog.

The engine sounded more like a ratty four stroke, the various pinging, clicking and knocking noises evidence of imminent} demise I don't know how many miles I did in those three months, the speedo along with the lights, indicators and battery were all long since shot. I do know I rode the bike every day and even in its terrible state found it great fun!

The end was gradual and dignified. Not for it some horrendous seizure leading to crunching of metal and battering of rider. The engine became more reluctant to start, the speed. if that's the correct word, diminished. In the end she would only fire up after being pushed up and down the road for half an hour; top speed a paltry 15mph! Everyone was amazed that it had lasted for so long. I dismembered the bike in the garage but there was little I could salvage.

Impressed by the machine's toughness, the next hack to come my way was another Yamaha, a £75 XS400. It was complete, tatty but not running Removal of the engine was straightforward, as long as you were willing to use a lump hammer to remove seized engine bolts. The alloy in these engines is terrible, bolts tended to strip their threads rather than undo, something to do with alloy and steel corroding together, I think.

The cylinder head was cracked, one of the valves was bent and another was missing half its head — as the pistons still moved it must have gone straight out of the exhaust port. I couldn’t find any bits in local breakers. A local engineering company welded the head so well I could not see where the work had been done. Two new valves from the local Yamaha dealer and an afternoon grinding them in completed the rebuild.

The XS was eventually persuaded into life Someone had fitted electronic ignition but I didn't know which way the wires were supposed to connect up — trial and error solved that one. The XS engine rattled much as I expected. The chassis finish was slightly less ruined by rust than the RS but its disc brakes were seized up solid. They never did work in a satisfactory manner, but then I wasn’t going to spend twenty quid on a new pair of pads.

On the road it was capable of 80mph but the chassis twitched so violently that I rarely did it. It was safe up to 65mph. so that became my maximum cruising speed. The gearbox was awful, only second through to fourth could be relied on, other gears slipping out in a manner completely lacking in predictability.

This one had a working speedo, although the tacho only worked spasmodically and then erratically. I kept the machine for five months and did nearly 6000 miles. Problems were mostly down to rust. One silencer actually fell off when l was riding along. The petrol tank felt paper thin in places and seeped fuel which rotted the seat. One of the OE shocks broke its spring, a most perplexing sensation that ended with me rushing into the side of a car.

The driver was quite understanding, he delivered a massive right-hand punch to my face and went on his own way. I lay in the gutter for a while running my tongue over the broken teeth. No-one came to my assistance, so I pulled up the bike and myself, doing a reasonable impression of a pogo stick riding to the local hospital. I only lost two teeth.

I used a friend’s welding equipment to make up a two into one exhaust which was silenced by a car type silencer. The XS engine developed a few massive flat spots but this did not worry me, it seemed to make riding all the more exciting. The bike was a bit of a death trap in the wet, the cheapo Taiwanese tyres sliding all over the road when ever the engine decided to spurt out some power. And, the disc brakes refused to work in the merest hint of rain.

Its demise came not through any mechanical failure, but due to the usual blind Noddy in a Volvo. It was a classic manoeuvre, your worst dream come true. The car indicated left, I swung out past him and then he turned violently and rapidly to the right. I must have missed the crush zone as the Yam's steering head snapped off and the car was only scratched. I went over the bars, over the car, landing on my head -— which was probably why I was able to walk away from the accident. The petrol tank had split open and the crankcase had a crack running through it. The poor XS looked a total wreck, seeping fuel and oil, resting on its flattened exhaust with the headstock and forks a yard or two away. The insurance company handed over £250 three months later.

By then I had bought an old Honda CB450 twin for £200. This 1967 machine looked better than the other two hacks, more faded than corroded, but had a loose swinging arm and no silencers. The engine still ran, after a fashion, and it was quite fun to have the bike bellowing away, flames shooting out of the down pipes. After fitting some megaphones it was not much quieter, I found a reluctance to rev between 2000 and 5000 revs, but this could be overcome by reaching down to the carb mounted choke and putting it half on.

The bike was sometimes most reluctant to start. Twenty or even thirty kicks were required to obtain internal combustion. I put a new battery in at great expense but it didn't help. Vibes were fierce at lower revs, the battery only lasted four months.

The chassis and brakes were adequate even for the ton plus speeds the 43hp bike was still capable of. A slight weave at 90mph never became nasty. The Honda was good on consumables and returned 65mpg, which was better than most small bikes I've owned. The mileometer read 79800 miles when I bought the machine, by the time it read 85000 miles power had disappeared and the gearbox was almost impossible to use. I had the feeling that its useful working life was coming to an end, although the surprisingly hefty frame and cycle parts showed few signs of the dreaded red rash. The TLS drum casing started to crack up, evidenced by a juddering front end. I had it welded up by the same firm who did the XS's head, but I was always suspicious thereafter that it might fail.

When the bike starting pouring out blue smoke from the engine breather and exhaust l was not very surprised. The complex DOHC cylinder head is a heavy lump of high tech (the valves being restrained by torsion bars instead of springs, the rockers sat on eccentric shafts for altering clearances...) which was completely wrecked. Lumps were missing out of the camshafts, the valves had gorged their way into the seats, the camchain had chain-sawed through large chunks of the cylinder.

The alloy cylinder has steel bores which fell out when the cylinder was removed. The pistons were heavily scarred and the rings bashed to bits. The small ends (part of the con-rods) were gouged, the pistons had two or three millimetre of vertical movement The crankshaft was supported by four massive bearings that looked like they might last out the millennium.

There was no way I could afford new bits and no way I could find used spares. I did the only thing left, bought a crashed CB500T to fit its engine in the CB450's chassis. It went in alright after elongating a couple of the engine mounting bracket holes. The CB500T engine had done 35000 miles and was not in the best of health, vibrating in a frenzied manner below 6000 revs and not being willing to push the bike to more than 85mph in fifth gear, although the gearbox itself was wonderfully precise after the rotten four speeder in the 450.

The fuel tap fell off in the first week, splattering the engine with petrol. After that it went from bad to worse. It developed a huge oil leak through the cylinder head gasket. At every stop for petrol (around 45mpg) I had to top up the oil. The engine also took to stalling in traffic and refusing to start. As the clutch dragged and it was impossible to find neutral it was very easy to lose the motor. The points fell apart when l was doing 75mph down the motorway. The sudden cessation of motive power almost had me run over by the plod vehicle that was a few feet behind.

The cops looked the machine over. They found it hard to believe that anything Japanese and so old could still be on the road. They then booked me for a long list of offences, insisting I pay a huge amount of money to be trailered off the motorway. The older cop added, that if I'd been riding an old British bike in a similar state they would probably have let me off with a warning.

After fixing the points, there was no end of trouble. Bits kept falling off, including the whole rear light assembly and numberplate The CB450 chassis gave every indication of being gravely insulted at having to cart the 500 motor around! The bitsa only lasted 2200 miles when, the front brake cracked up. I was: doing 50mph at the time and not surprisingly fell off. Having front wheel collapse is not the ideal way to start the day. It tore off the sleeve of one jacket, mingled my jeans with my blood and gave me a large enough bash on the helmet to have me seeing stars. The bike had done‘ a series of somersaults which ended up tearing off one side of the engine and bending just about everything that could be bent.

I never did see the remnants of the crash again, l just walked away from the wreck after picking the number-plate out of the ditch. I suspect they ended up in a metal crusher. I still have the CB450 engine bits littered around the house and have fond memories of that bike, it must have been very good when new.

I'm still hacking, though, I went back to the safety of a two, stroke...an old MZ250, you know the one with huge guards, an integral headlamp/tank and leading link forks. It's well weird but kind of fun.

Chris Riley

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