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Confessions of a Thumper Rider (Part 2)

As you'll recall from Part 1, I've somehow lost the plot and become a Thumper fanatic. Persevering in the face of reason with a modified SP370 in an attempt to prove to myself and the rest of the world that a four-stroke trailbike is indeed the path to Nirvana, I've face-planted good and hard into the realisation that the concept is good but the mechanism woefully lacking. Or put another way, the SP370 isn't the path to Thumper salvation.

Of course I always knew this. My problem had been lack of money to buy the TT500 I really wanted, and then the seduction of my common sense by a serious case of gotta-haveit after riding a shop demo SP. Still, it hurt to have been proven so wrong (though in hindsight it's clear that with enough RM parts an SP/DR370 can actually be made into a decent dirtbike).

Anyways, it was time to get me a 500 and experience the true joy of four-stroke dirtbiking.

Unfortunately the SP exercise had bled me dry and I sure wasn't going to be buying a new XT/TT, so I started hunting around for a cheap one. I couldn't believe how hard this was. For several months, no sign of one.
Finally, I picked up an XT500C that had been modified into a roadbike (and pretty poorly at that). Why I bought it is completely inexplicable
- just another case of gotta-haveit as after a few months my desperate need for a 500 Yamaha had transcended all reason.

Whatever, in no time at all this hideous contraption was in my garage where I whipped off the front end and replaced it with one off an RM370, braced the swinging arm, added some knobbies and set out on the path to Thumper Nirvana.

If only it were that easy.

My first ride showed me I was on a winner. Man, that thing was so good after the SP. Grunt everywhere, so fast through the gears, and it picked up the front just on the throttle alone. Yep, this was the way to go alright. Drag races showed it to be about as fast or slightly quicker than a PE250 and way faster than any DT250/400. So clearly, this was the Ultimate.

That thinking only lasted until my first enduro. The thing was really a pig. The RM forks proved soft while the stock shocks were harsh. It hunted in the front end at speed and didn't turn so much as plough. All that power was useless with the high gearing I was using - it stalled everywhere. And then it just would not start. There were a couple of races where I stalled so bad that I had to actually take a spell under a tree to recover the stregth to have another go at kicking the thing.

I was pretty rocked by all of this. I had ridden other 500s and they really felt much better than this one. What was wrong? My friends all laughed at me - not a one of them rode a 4-stroke and they reckoned there was something pretty loose in my top end. And they weren't referring to the engine.

The final straw came one day at a particularly vicious enduro. It was hot, dry and dusty, and the trail wound up and down the rockiest hills I have ever seen. Not especially steep, just tight and nadgery. I was struggling. I was hot. And I was getting pretty shirty about the whole experience. It was NOT fun. The big moment came as I tried to negotiate a tricky hill section. I could hear a whole bunch of 2-strokes behind me, closing in fast. I was over-riding trying to keep ahead and make it up that mother of a hill, but speed was washing away and eventually the inevitable happened - it stalled. I stuck out a leg to balance, but that was immediately taken away by the first rider behind me, an especially aggressive IT175 pilot. He just hit me hard, cannoned off my leg and kept on going. Me too, except I just kept on going down. I rolled clear as the XT toppled into the dust with a reverberating clunk. I think the impact registered on the seismograph at the forestry station nearby and was at least partially responsible for a state of alert they issued later that evening.

If I thought that was bad enough, the rest of the field then proceeded to add insult to injury. The XT lay fair and square across the trail, and there were few options at that point for going around me. So, they did what I guess any enduro rider worth his salt would do - they rode fair over the top of my silent mount. I could only stand helplessly by as bike after bike laid knobby tracks over every square inch of the XT.
What surprised me most was how many of them there were. I guess I must have been holding up half the field.

I straggled back into the pits, tired, dusty, cranky and with a pretty tatty looking XT. I was too stuffed to even glare at the people who made snide comments as I rode by. I retired hurt, tail between my legs.

OK, so this hadn't gone how I'd expected. By now, you'd think I'd have started to wake up to the delusion I was labouring under. But nope, I was the epitome of a committed Thumper Rider, even though it was now
1979 and the trails were filled with PEs of all sizes, ITs, KTMs, and a few other exotic beasts. ALL of them were miles better than a converted XT500 with mismatched suspension.

My mates were cruel - they wasted no opportunity in rubbing it in, and as we now didn't go trailriding as such, I had few chances to even the score. Most rides by then were simply unofficial races, and the days of lazy afternoons dragracing up the roads or chucking endless wheelies seemed to be over. I was looking pretty dumb, it has to be said.

So, I decided to retaliate. I mean what else could I do? And to have capitulated and bought a two-stroke would have been a serious loss of face.

Luckily for me, Yamaha had just released the 79 model TT. Now, in my mind, this was Retaliation with a capital R. How could it not be? The 79 TT500F just oozed cool with that superb orange and silver paint scheme, improved forks and box section swingarm and even a smidge more power.
The tests reckoned that this was indeed a better mousetrap, and even ADB was relatively lenient on it. I had to have one. Being a TT it wasn't strictly legal to register one, but in country Queensland this was not really an issue till much later. A non ADR compliant bike could still be 'registered' up til about 1982.

So in short order I wheeled a brand spankers TT500F out of the showroom (only after selling the XT for a monster loss of course). My very first mod was a reverse cone megaphone type muffler that I used to replace the stock monster. This was originally for something like an XL250, and was very trim and light. I calculated the correct length header and fit the muffler accordingly. A few holes in the airbox and the removal of the snorkels, a little carb jetting and we were good to go.

To this day I don't know if I fluked some harmony of inlet and exhaust, or if my TT was just a lucky one where all the tolerances just came together, but it was a very quick 500 Yamaha. In the all important drags it laid waste to the PE250s and was pretty much neck and neck with the IT400. On the firetrails I could get it up on the back wheel in any gear up to 4th and even 5th with a small bump to launch off. Kilometre long wheelies were a breeze, just hoist it up in 2nd and shift to top and you were just sitting there.

This bike was great. I rode a few Pony Expresses on it and it went along just fine, although still a heavy thing. But more importantly, I rode it everywhere. To work, around town, on the trails, up the beach on Fraser Island and Rainbow Beach, and even a couple of highway trips. But best of all, I now avoided enduros like the plague, so I was never really brought face to face with its shortcomings. Even though the TT was meant to help me restore my pride and prove to one and all that you could race a big 4-stroke, I think that my sub-conscious recognised the truth and helped me avoid the harsh knock of reality. My riding changed into something that better suited the bike itself, and that made all the difference.

Simply put, I loved it. I didn't even feel the need to fiddle with it.
Happiness was a sunny Saturday afternoon, my TT beneath me and any number of places to go. We lived smack bang in the middle of a trailriders paradise with miles of forestry land north, south and west, and beaches to the east. For 12 months I was like a pig in mud.

But at that time I was a fickle character. I had a few run-ins with the boys in blue due to the obvious illegality of it, and my penchant for riding everywhere on one wheel. By this time I was an absolute wheelie freak. Anywhere that was straightish and longer than 50 metres required that I ride it in a wheelie - highway, through town, up the trails, past the cars on a Saturday night after the movies.

For some now inexplicable reason I decided that it had to go and that I needed a more street legal version. The XT500G was just out and it looked to be a TT with full road gear. So I sold the TT to a mate and bought me an XT.

This was yet another example of the utter lack of judgement that has plagued me throughout my dirtbiking career. Exchange a perfectly good TT500 for another overweight pig of an XT? Made sense to me.

So that's what I did.

You can guess where this is headed, of course. The XT really WAS an overweight pig. It was far slower than the TT, had trials tyres, weighed a ton, had so many doodads on it that you were never really able to be certain what all of them did, and even had a battery to keep filled with water. My trailriding days quickly degenerated into a cruise to the milkbar. Most of my mates had left town, gotten into some other interest, or gone racing. I guess I cut a rather pathetic figure, riding alone to the cafe on my sparkling black and silver XT. Even girls tended to avoid my hopeful gaze.

Although I'd discovered road riding and now spent a lot more time ripping up the curves, my first love was (and still is) dirtbiking. I would haul the XT out every now and then and attempt to go for a ride with a few mates whenever the opportunity presented, but until you've tried it, you cannot imagine how unfun it is to tackle a tight slippery trail on a humid day on a stock XT500, even if it does have a box section swingarm.

I guess it's because I was spending so much time on the streetbikes, and because I was never hassled by the cops on the XT, that I came to think a stock trailbike was a good idea. And I suppose I hadn't noticed just how gentle my trailriding had become. In a perverse way, my riding had come full circle and now I was just going for a play in the bush, doing a few skids and wheelies before heading for the milkbar. But I was still very conscious that the XT was not a lot of fun.

Just the same, I had one of my few moments of greatness on the XT.
Although not flash in the bush, the XT was good around town and of course I'd become pretty comfortable doing wheelies on it. I was even in the habit of going for a quick ride just to wheelie it at every opportunity.

One afternoon after work, I was out playing around as usual when I came around a corner and a dog charged out of the backyard of a house. I knew he had designs on me - his frantic barking, slavering jaws and particularly evil eyes convinced me of that. I wasn't overly worried of course, I knew that a bit of throttle and he'd be far behind. But I wanted to enjoy the moment of escape far more than that, so I flicked the front up and was away, giving the dog The Look as I did. And just because I could, I held it up for the next two gears as well.

Cool huh?

What wasn't so cool were the flashing lights in the mirror. OK, caught good and proper, I stopped and waited for the copper to get out of the car and come over to me. He did so, with that slow and measured gait they all assume when they know they've got you dead to rights.

"OK son, what have we got here", he drawled.

I just looked at him, I think mostly because I didn't actually know what he meant. What have we got here? I dunno, a kid on a dirtbike I'd have guessed, but maybe that's not what he was angling at? Best to play dumb.

So he followed up with something a bit more to the point.

"Do you have any reason for operating your motorcycle on its rear wheel"? he asked with a certain relish.

I know it's dumb but I'd actually thought that just maybe he hadn't seen the 100m wheelstand. Clearly, he had. I hoped he'd enjoyed it, it was definitely a good one.

I looked him in the eye and said, "I was dragging off the dog".

For a second I could have sworn I saw a flash of confusion behind the impassive visage, but he covered it pretty quickly. Just the same, I knew I'd scored when he took a moment more to ask the obvious. "What dog?"

"The dog back there," I replied.

"What do you mean?" I know this is what I'd have asked if I were him, but it did show me that he was thrown.

"The dog at the corner, the one that ran out at me." I warmed to the story. "He tried to get my leg, but I decided to show him a thing or two about chasing bikes, so I wheelied away from him".

I like to think that I then lounged back and looked kind of expectantly at him, but I am not THAT cool. I looked at the ground instead. Coppers wear shiny boots.

He digested that, and then looked at his off-sider. Then he launched into Long Warning #2. Number 1 is usually of the "die young" type, whereas number 2 is the "I could throw the book at you" one. This was good, because right there I knew I was OK. Number 1 is always a bit hit and miss but number 2 is good.
You're gonna get let off (of course there is also the one you get when you know you are for it, but it's not a Long Warning, it's a Short Splutter).

And of course, I was. After all these years, I still haven't been fined or lost points for riding like a dill, even though I've been caught more than a few times. The only thing you can't beat is the radar... But I digress.

He let me off with a caution. So the story obviously worked!

I must say though that I have never forgotten that afternoon, and I like to imagine now that he got a chuckle out of it.

Still, that was as good as it got with the XT. The following week, I traded it in on an IT175G. The IT was a magic bike, and although it didn't cure me of Thumper addiction, it did at least set me back on the right path and I realised there and then that race bikes are 2-strokes and playbikes are 4-strokes. Or at least, that's how it was until the YZF400 came along. Now of course, everyone rides a 4-stroke and you are considered eccentric to ride a 2-stroke. I guess then it's only fitting that my modern race bike is a YZ125 2-stroke...

Some photos...

Now, THAT is a bike. What the Hell was I thinking?


The TT500F in all its glory. A top bike, I loved it.


The XT500 I traded the TT-F for. Why? Who knows. Kinda pretty though.


Where's that dog?

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