These days, I race vintage MX on a small bore 2-stroke - an RM125M. I've also got a 1980 YZ250 under restoration. And I race some modern grasstrack on an 05 YZ125. Before that were a few more bikes like an RM400N and a Husky CR500. All 2-strokes. I like the little zingers especially - light, fast, manoeuverable, and cheap to run. Yep, I like my 2-strokes.
But it wasn't always that way.
Like many I started out on a small bore two-stroke - a GT80MX way back in 1975. But I was never much into motocross, rather I preferred trail and play riding. So for a few years my choice of bikes reflected that. A TS100 was followed by a DT250A and a few other such things including a DT250D, that porky monoshock thing that at the time I actually thought was a street legal MXer. One sunny day though came an event that was to change my life - a bit anyway.
Yamaha had released the TT500C, something I thought then (and now) to be one of the best looking dirtbikes ever. I drooled and lusted over its white and red tank, its svelte lines, and that lovely big downpipe (no idea why but I love the look of downpipes). Unforunately at the time I was too poor to be able to afford one, still paying off whatever traillie I had then. A mate could though and so it was on this particular day that he let me ride the thing.
Well - what can I say? I was hooked. It had this lovely big comfy seat, it had a wonderful waffling exhaust note, and it had torque to die for. Twist the throttle and you were rewarded with a long surge of power the like of which I'd never experienced. Hardly surprising given that DT250s are not exactly fireballs.
I had to have one.
But just like my success with Julie, the chick at the local disco I kept making eyes at, it wasn't to be. So, for a couple of years I kept dreaming until sometime in 1978 Suzuki dropped the SP370 onto the market. Our local Suzuki dealer was a sort-of mate and waxed lyrical about it. I took the demo bike out for an extended fang and thought he was right. Not as fast as the TT500, but not bad either. Ugly as, but maybe I could learn to live with that.
So I bought one.
And right there I was introduced to a sad way of life that afflicted quite a few people at that time. Now, ADB was my bible, and they were pretty savage in their criticisms of 'thumpers'. You'll probably remember how they never could quite 'get' the idea of owning a pile of crap like a Jap dual purpose four-stroker. Even worse in their view was the way people spent a fortune trying to get one to go fast and handle good.
But they just didn't understand.
Buying a four-stroke back then was really a fairly eccentric thing to do, at least it was for those who were serious about racing dirtbikes. Sure there were people who could do OK on one, I remember a few TT500s winning various enduros, and the Yank mags were full of articles about hopping up your XL350/TT500/SP370. But by and large, they weren't great dirtbikes.
Luckily, I wasn't a serious dirtbike racer, nor was I actually any good. Our riding was mostly confined to trailriding, riding around the streets, wheelies, drag racing and hanging out at the milkbar. And in that world, buying a thumper cos it looked and sounded great was as good a reason as any.
What made it difficult though was that as time passed, our riding got a little more serious. And that big old SP370 was really a dog when this happened. My mates bought PE250s and IT400s and the old DTs disappeared. Trailrides became fairly hectic affairs, hammering through the scrub as fast as possible and hoping like hell that the timber trucks weren't on duty that day. I found out pretty quickly that the SP wasn't really in the race.
So, I decided to 'hot er up'. Not buy a decent bike, you'll note. Nope, I was a thumper rider, and I was gonna prove that the SP could be competitive. So, with that in mind I scoured the mags, saved my dollars, and began spending up big. In very short order, the SP gained a set of Boge shocks, an Open Road plastic tank, Peter Allen exhaust, 36mm carby, modded airbox, Megacycle cam and S+W valve springs, Protec HiComp piston and so on. All the lights came off and she became a stripped down trail weapon. I was pretty impressed!
Trailriding improved. Sort of. The thing was faster, but not by that much. Now I was neck and neck with the PE250s in a drag, but the IT left me for dead. So did other mates TT500s. And even a ratty old DT360 that some flanny wearing wanker was riding with us one day. But it did feel a bit lighter, and it did seem to handle better.
About now though, we discovered enduros. Not your serious ACU approved ones, more your black event type Pony Expresses and so on. A couple of these and it came home in no uncertain terms that the SP was OK on the way to work, but in the dust, heat and nasty horrible rockery of some of these enduros it was lacking. I started to crash as I over ride the thing trying to do what guys on IT175s seemed to be doing easy.
I remember one particular crash very well. The day was damp, it'd rained overnight and there were still a few light showers. So the place was wet. But I was actually going OK and was somewhere in the top half of the field. I caught a guy on a 2-stroke, can't rememebr what now, and we had a bit of a tussle through some tight single trail. He just had that edge in the corners but I had a bit more poke on the straights. Finally, we got onto an open trail and I knew I had him. I gave her the berries and dived past just as we came to a large puddle across the trail. I thought it'd look cool and really rub it in when I wheelied through it in front of him. Well, it would have, if that's how it went.
No, what really happened was that I got on the back wheel just fine but the seat was wet and slippery and immediately I slid off the back. In itself that's no probs, but sadly at the same time the wrench of my weight ripped my left hand off the, you guessed it, wet and slippery grip. So here I am, on the back wheel, hanging off the back and with all my weight now hauling on the throttle. The SP simply accelerated, careened out of control sharply to the right, into some long grass and fair into a small sapling. SP and rider promptly separated with the SP cartwheeling unceremoniously to a halt against another small sapling. Me, I was flat on my face in a patch of black sticky mud. As I got to my feet, my now victorious competitor idled by, gave me a pitying glance, and with a shake of his head disappeared up the road. I think I finished last that day.
And that became the way of it. I got beat in the drags, I crashed my brains out in enduros, I couldn't keep up on trail rides, and the bike was a pain because the poorly jetted carby caused it to stumble and fart most of the time. And of course, the local constabulary took great delight in hounding me. I was lucky though, cos even getting caught one day after pulling a decent mono and having no working lights, no mirrors, knobby tyres and an overly loud exhaust only resulted in a lecture and having to push it home. But the writing was on the wall.
Of course, I knew what the problem was. It didn't take too much thinking to conclude I'd been had. The SP was a piece of crap. What I really needed was a 500 Yamaha.
To be continued...
Here's the SP in all its glory. The shot with the big tank is it in its final form with all the go-fast handle good mods.