Thursday, 22 June 2017

Slick Screams: Yamaha RD250LC

The road ahead straightened for half a mile, beyond that it ran for some six miles of bends and if I was ever going to pass the three slow moving cars ahead it would have to be now. A glance at the speedo showed just 40mph, it suited me and in another second I had snicked down from top to third, ready. A glance behind and another cursory check ahead, all clear. time now to go for it! I had no way of knowing but in just a few short seconds the Yam would be a write off and I would have been reduced to a bloodied and unconscious accident statistic. Life can be truly beautiful, it can more often be a real fucking bitch.

I'd bought the little 250 over two years previously, more out of necessity than by choice. It was 1984 and I was at the time struggling to eke out a living of sorts working up in Keswick. I desperately needed wheels to see my better half at weekends, 130 miles away. Fortunately, I'd met a guy some months earlier who ran a neat RD250LC. Money and bike changed hands.

My first ride on the bike brought back memories of a Suzuki GT380 I'd owned some ten years earlier. The smell of two stroke, the burble from the exhausts, but there the similarities ended. The Yam was lighter, slimmer, almost elegant in appearance and it handled. It also went like shit off a shovel which is something the ponderous triple never did. The W reg Yam had covered just 20000 miles in its three years on the road and had obviously been smothered in affection. It was clean and operated in that smooth, fluid way that only well maintained bikes do. I didn’t know it at the time, but this was the beginning of a love affair that would last for over two years and totally enamour me to the little stroker.

The plan was simple. Use the bike as essential transport during the week and for the trip down to the wife at the weekends. Spend as little as possible on the machine short of neglecting it, then trade up to something meatier once the bank manager stopped punching me each time I met him. I'd always hankered after a Harley. but that’s another tale.

The Yam’s character meant I could use it for mundane jobs as well as for having fun. it was also totally reliable and needed very little in the way of regular attention. Consumables seemed to last forever and spares. should I need them, were everywhere. At low revs it would lope along quite inoffensively and without fouling its plugs, but could easily frighten old ladies once into its powerband and given a modicum of stick. It was at the time the best of both worlds, and l congratulated myself on a slick purchase.

Every Friday morning I'd check tyres, chain, brakes, cables and top up with oil and petrol, then it was off on the ride I’d grown to love best - the scenic A5951 down through The Lakes to Kendal, then skirt off to Sedbergh and The Dales. It covers some of the most appealing scenery in the north of the country with some stunning views along a good proportion of the route. The Yam was at its searing best in this environment, short straights, every configuration of band imaginable and well surfaced roads combined to make it a scratchers dream. I loved it.

I had on one occasion to make a detour from my usual route to the Dales and pop down into Bowness on Windermere. It was then that I learnt of the Yam's unique ability for humbling much more powerful machines. It happened to be one of those ethereal biking trips when all sensations combine to give you that feeling of elan. The ride down from Keswick had been leisurely, it had been raining and the roads were slippery but nothing that the sure-footed Yam couldn't cope with.

Nearing Bowness, I felt my spirits lift as brilliant shafts of sunlight swathed the road, drying it quickly, and, as if in answer to a silent prayer, I saw another bike ahead. My curiosity threw aside the need for the diversion as, gently increasing speed, I narrowed the distance between us. At first I could not distinguish the bike but as I drew closer I noticed the fat back rubber, squared off exhaust and flying wheel motif: it was a BMW. More precisely, it was a K100. I didn't know it at the time, but I too was being inspected by its pilot.

Ha glanced back at me than accelerated off. Bowness was just two miles away. I gave chase. This particular area around Bowness is not renown for its fast straights or well surfaced roads. I also had no idea of the handling characteristics of the K100, but I was fully confident that given the conditions, the little Yam would not drop me in the shit. He had gained a 50 yard lead when Elsie hit her powerband in third. Then, with a snarling wail, the Yam hoisted her skirts, breathed in deep and began to sprint. The front and went very light as 35 horses spat the quarter litre stroker forward in a bursting crescendo of acceleration that gnawed away the distance between us until at last I caught him in the swervery.

Feet separated us as he struggled with the obvious weight and bulk of the pogoing German machine, then my chance came on the exit of a band as his speed dropped suddenly and I noticed his left foot dancing on the gear lever. Funny place to change gear, I thought, as we powered past. I smirked and continued to roll on the power up through the box. Ahead was a short straight that heralded the outskirts of Bowness. Done it! I slowed and glanced in the mirror — no sign of the big four, he must have...shit! With a growl the BMW shot past me on the outside as if I was in reverse.

The one quality that really delighted me was its surprising ability to either gently potter along with that peculiar two stroke whine from its exhaust or really get it on when in the powerband. It was a Jeckyl & Hyde of a bike that moved me both literally and emotionally. Its light weight and agile handling spelt FUN; its balance only ever slipped a little when it was loaded down with a pillion and luggage, of which more later.

Having mentioned its plodding abilities. it must be stated, though. that although I would often start out with little more than a gentle amble in mind, speed would gradually increase until the screaming beast had its own riotous way. Views would be ignored and the grin widen as the howl filled my helmet. All good stuff, even for myself at the supposedly mature age of 33.

Sometimes this became a little extreme... I was no longer in the Yorkshire Dales, I was ahead of a charging pack at the Crag! The works Yamaha snarling in fury as it clipped off divots of earth from the hedges as I power slid the beast to another certain Manx victory. Tunnel vision had transformed the TT course to a narrowing path lined with screaming fans who waved and bellowed their approval as l thundered through their midst. Faster. almost there, just this tight hairpin 100 yards ahead, jam on the brakes and snick down through the box to second gear then power out over the sheep... Oh my fucking christ no!

My mouth snagged in disbelief as reality hit me with a sledgehammer blow. Instinct took over as I squeezed hard on the front disc and stamped the rear drum in a desperate attempt to scrub off speed. The back wheel started to slide as the gap between myself and the straying animals dropped to zero. I felt the bike slew sideways, and in the time that it takes to strike a match, I had been deposited on my arse amid a whole sea of nettles.

I am particularly fond of lamb. Absolutely relish it, in fact. Had I managed to get my hands on those pathetically bleating animals that caused the spill I would have enacted a terrible and bloody revenge. l was, for the moment, in a whole world of shit and in no mood to move let alone club sheep to death, so I just lay there and waited for the road to stop spinning. Elsie lay just a few yards ahead of me, partly camoulflaged by a bush, surrounded by oddly shaped pieces of orange plastic (the indicators). A shepherd had also appeared and was peering down at me from behind a wall. "Them's nettles.” he said. Luckily, the damage to the bike was only cosmetic.

The start of a week's camping trip with the wife on the back was heralded by torrential rain, in which we were both soaked through. although the Yam just burbled along. Despite the weight limiting top speed to 80mph, we still managed a reasonable 50mph average over A roads. We had a great time up around Berwick, the bike needing no attention. Over too soon. an early morning start saw the usual downpour. A terrible trip down the A1 followed that left me totally exhausted. The bike performed every task that I asked her to do. and with some panache. She had wormed her way into my affections until at last I could find no fault, no excuse to get something bigger and flasher.

Until that horrible day that saw us parted for good. The road straightened for half a mile ahead... the revs rose dramatically in readiness for the surge of acceleration needed to propel me safely ahead of the column. I glanced behind — clear, I again checked ahead then slid the indicator switch across. Another glance behind, I fed in the throttle and pulled out to the offside to commence the pass, then gunned the throttle mercilessly as the first of the three cars slipped to my rear. The revs dropped back to the powerband as l changed into fourth, Elsie began her charge to the second car with a wail that accompanied her approach. Once more. I was totally enveloped in the two stroke adrenalin hit — the noise, the unleashed fury of acceleration that only another stroker fan could know and appreciate, pure unbridled pleasure; heaven. 

I had, however, failed to notice the driver of the second car start to turn directly into my path. In an instant I knew I was going to be meat. Mounting panic took over as l stabbed the horn button. I could do nothing, there was nowhere else to go. With horrified fascination I saw clearly that in another split second he would strike me side on, even though by that time we were nigh on looking at each other.

With a jolt the car struck at a glancing angle. with a wildly oscillating set of bars I was heading straight for a stone wall. I hadn't noticed the drainage furrow a foot in front of it. Something incredibly powerful shoved me hard in the small of the back. I could feel the forks compress to nothing as they bottomed out in the furrow, 300lbs of flailing Yamaha cartwheeled me into the wall as kinetic energy spent itself on my tender carcass. There was a very loud ringing in my head, my helmet and glasses had somehow come off. My nose didn't feel right and my lower spine was giving several kinds of holy hell.

I lay still for a while and gave thanks that the wife was safe at home and not on the pillion. I could hear the Yamaha whispering into my ear: Fucking got you at last, you simpering pillock, got you at last. Got you. The pain was intense and nothing felt right. My brain decided to duck out and take a nap. Blackness and peace.

About 30 minutes after hitting the wall I arrived at Lancaster Infirmary looking like a rag doll with fractured spine, a partially severed nose and the usual assortment of cuts, lacerations, contusions. etc. That little lot took two months to put right. It was a good day when l was finally released. The Yam was bent and battered, the forks twisted, the frame bent, the indicators and headlamp missing, the front rim dented, the seat ripped out of alignment with the frame... too many bills had built up for me to think about mending it and she went to a local dealer.

It broke my heart to see the way she went, trussed to the back of a trailer looking for all the world like some discarded wreck, which I guess was what she really was at the end... I wonder what a good used RG500 would be like in the Dales?

S Owens

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