Saturday, 23 December 2017

Moped Revival: 60 at 16


In 1972 the government consigned wild young sixteen year olds to mopeds. Doubtless full of visions of hoodlums riding Raleigh Runabouts and NSU Quicklys they must have been shocked to find a country full of slick 50cc motorbikes with a set of pedals thrown on to comply with the letter of the law. It took four years for the government to react, limiting mopeds to a ridiculous 30mph. Most of the Continental manufacturers retreated to their home markets leaving the big four to produce costly but high style peds that no longer needed those silly pedals. Between 1972 and 1976 all manner of weird and wonderful devices were thrown onto the market, some of them could make it to sixty in standard form, many could be tuned and screamed along at their redline until the engine exploded. Some of them were almost beautiful, many were just plain silly, but Fantic's chopper takes all the medals for pure outrageousness.

Until '72 the fastest moped available was the three speed, dual seat version of the NSU Quickly. This device was one step up from a Raleigh Runabout, but when used hard became both dangerous and unreliable. The two stroke engine made enough power to push the moped up to 45mph flat out but continuous high speed abuse of the engine led to piston seizure, which meant interesting problems for anyone who wanted to rebore the cylinder because it had a chrome finish. The frequent strip downs also meant that the cylinder studs secured in the aluminium crankcases stripped their threads, making it impossible to obtain a good seal between head and cylinder. The other problem was the three-speed twist grip gearchange which wore to make selection of all three gears difficult. The NSU had entirely inadequate brakes and steering geometry that sent the bike shooting off to the other side of the road if one was one imprudent enough to actually try accelerating around corners. Not recommended unless really desperate, expect to pay between £25 and £50 for one of these early sixties machines.

The Japs were actually beaten to the sports moped market by Puch. Their bright yellow and Chrome VS50 was slightly slower than the NSU at 43mph, but accelerated a little faster. Although the VS retained the three speed twist grip gearchange mechanism, it was a lot more precise than the NSU. Handling and braking were also a great improvement, although the drum front brake could fade after repeated high speed stops. The Puch two stroke engine was basically reliable but needs.a rebuild every 15000 miles. Spares may be a problem. There was also a John Player Replica that looked very pretty but didn't go any faster. The VS50 engine doesn't like the attentions of files, increased port size or compression ratio leading to rapid engine failure. Stock bikes are quite pleasant to ride, and cheap to run with fuel at around 120mpg. Prices go from £50 to £150 for bikes built between '72 and '76.

It didn't take Yamaha all that long to take the moped market by storm in '72 when they introduced their FS1E, which was the first moped to look more or less like a motorcycle although, like the Puch and NSU, it did retain a pressed steel frame more at home on commuter bikes. The Yam did have a proper gearbox lever operated by foot instead of hand and the utterly conventional two stroke engine knocked out a reasonable 5hp, enough to propel 155lbs of bike to 50mph. The drum front brake could make life interesting at such speeds, while the under-damped rear shocks and flimsy front forks could be caught out by bumpy roads and rapid changes of direction, but the low mass and fairly rigid frame stopped the bike from behaving in too terminal a manner. Compared with the usual moped chassis the FS1E was way ahead. The engine was good for up to 20000 miles, although really abused motors could be wrecked in half that distance. When thrashed the Yam was likely to ruin most of the bearings connecting piston to crankshaft, and could also write off the gearbox quite easily. The engine is simple to strip down and spares are cheap and in plentiful supply, either from breakers or dealers concentrating on old Jap bikes. Almost all FS1E engines will be tuned by now, and the Yam engine doesn't last too well when subjected to 60mph cruising. A bit of metal off the head and some port filing don't cause too many problems and get top speed up to 55mph, but anything more reduces engine life and wrecks the good economy (110mpg) of the stock bike. The FS1E became the fad of the next few years, even the marketing might and four stroke technology of Honda couldn't shove them out of the marketplace . There are loads of FS1Es for sale, a lot of them discarded by owners who blew the engine and moved on to something bigger. Prices go from £25 for a non runner to £250 for a low mileage or restored example. The FS1E represents the best buy in used derestricted mopeds. With a little mechanical effort it's possible to buy, restore, ride for a year and then sell at a useful profit. 

'72 was also the year when Garelli shipped in their hot moped. The Record was both faster than the Yam and handled. better (thanks to a proper tubular frame, stiff suspension and good geometry). It was also less civilised with a peaky motor, and the need to mix oil and petrol. The two stroke engine developed 6.5hp, shifting 170lbs to 55mph, although fuel was down to a mere 90mpg. The Garelli had a slick six speed box and a light clutch that made all the gearchanges needed to keep the motor on the boil just about tolerable. Easy to flick through town and stable when cruised flat out, the only problems stem from the short engine life and rarity of spare parts. Some of the other Italian mopeds look better, but the Garelli represents the best compromise from the Italians. Very rare these days, expect to pay between £25 and £150 depending on condition.

For 1973, Fantic shocked the world with the fastest standard moped - in chopper format. Although it looked very silly, 7hp, six gears and a few prayers were enough to get the speedo past the 60mph mark. The motor was as peaky as the Himalayas, although the chassis and suspension was typical Italian stuff, keeping everything under control, even if the laid back geometry meant the bike should have got nasty at high speeds. Fortunately, the same motor was installed in a conventional chassis, that was poorly styled by Italian standards, with a lurid bright orange paint job - the T1 could burn off any other 50cc bike on the road. I know one odd character who has actually kept one since he bought it in 1974, and it's still running with over 30 grand on the clock. The engines are usually in trouble by ten grand, with bore wear and small ends the major problems, although those who really count the cost will be suitably appalled by fuel consumption of only 70mpg. Cost goes from £25 to £200. If you have to own the fastest, this is the one to go for.

Gilera introduced their mopeds in trail and road forms in '73. The road version was called the RS, and must make it as the most beautiful of all these mopeds, with a sculptured tank and tubular frame making it look more like a proper motorcycle than any of its rivals. The Gilera had a 6hp two stroke motor that actually developed a little power at low revs, although it still needed to be screwed to the redline to obtain its 55mph top speed. Fuel was 95mpg and reliability almost as good as the FS1E. The RS is a great bike to ride, but spare parts are rare. Pay from £50 to £250 depending on how worn out the bike has become. 

Honda followed Yamaha onto the moped scene in '73 with the SS50. This device was related to their four stroke 50cc motorcycle that first made an appearance in the mid sixties as a commuter. Mildly tuned at 4hp, the 1 Honda lacked both the style and the performance of the Yamaha. Although the SS could only reach 40mph,fuel economy wasn't much better at 120mpg. The single overhead cam engine was quite reliable, and could even make it to 30 grand without too much trouble. Exhaust valves could be burnt out, camshafts wrecked and camchains snapped if regular maintenance and oil changes were neglected. Handling was no better nor worse than the Yamaha and the brakes were better, aided by the lower speeds possible. The original sixties version could hit 50mph, modifying the exhaust and junking the air filter helped regain some of this lost speed, and didn't harm the engine. Changes to porting and camshafts helped the engine up to 55mph, any further mods doing nasty things to fuel economy and engine longevity. Honda are famous for building engines that withstand massive amounts of abuse and neglect, this is the only reason for buying a SS50. Prices go from £20 to £200.

A whole bunch of names crept ashore between '74 and '75, trying various themes in an attempt to catch the attention of a fickle buying public. The Gitane Veloce was a slick cafe racer weighing just 135lbs, its two stroke motor pushing it to 50mph, while returning 110mpg. The Veloce even had a half fairing and monoshock rear suspension . The tendency of the motor to self destruct after a few thousand miles didn't endear it to the public and its rarity will make spares a great headache. If you can find one, between £20 and £80. Malaguti also tried the cafe racer format, but didn't get very far because of awful styling and a 6.5hp motor that was as peaky as the Fantic and unreliable as the NSU.Suspension was HARD, brakes minimal and frame a trifle flimsy. Try £25-50 if you're really desperate for wheels. Even rarer was the Testi, with 6hp, 50mph and 110mpg it was the usual flash and fast device. Try £25 to £100. The Batavus 4S, Casal ST50 and KTM GP50 were all rather more sensible, but hardly much faster than the FS1E, so best ignored unless someone insists you take it away. Also worth a mention are the AJW Greyhound - 6hp , 55mph and 125mpg, and the Derbi GT4 - 4.5 hp, 45mph and 120mpg, both looked very flash, had twitchy handling due to stiff suspension and are so rare you could spend your life wandering around breakers yards. Avoid unless very cheap.

Last on the scene, in 1975, the Suzuki A50 looked so dull it would have gained instant obscurity status if the 4.5hp engine hadn't been tunable to increase top speed from 45mph to 60mph, without harming reliability. The stock bike only returned 95mpg, and tuning would soon ruin even that figure, the really hot engines returning only 55 mpg. The A50 needs some cosmetic treatment but can be a very good buy. Between £50 and £250.

It's fairly obvious that only the brave or desperate should mess with the Italian mopeds. The Gilera for class, the Fantic for speed and the Garelli as a kind of compromise between the two. Some of the other European imports have performance superior to the Japs , but reliability and spares make these dubious buys. The Yam is by far the most popular of the mopeds, but can get temperamental and unreliable when heavily tuned. The Suzuki is hard on the eyes, but more reliable than the Yam. At least, with any of these mopeds, being burnt off by pushbikes will be a thing of the past.

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