Another spotless flight of steps led to 3rd and final floor of Suzuki motorcycle history. I wasn’t sure what to expect from this place, Suzuki Plaza. Everyone has their own idea of what Suzuki is, what they do and what that means to them. I wondered if the old boy who worked the front desk with limited English but a welcoming smile even knew that there were groups of like-minded folks gathered within oldskoolsuzuki.info still trying to better what Suzuki had intended (in our own special ways).
I had high hopes, of course that I would see all my favourites here. I wanted to see the clean, original version of stuff I have stashed around the workshop in various motorcycle shaped lumps. And here they were –
I’m partial to a red and black slabby, I’ve had a couple although my current preference is blue, white and turboed.
Talking of which … how clean?!
There were some great .info displays and I got to dust off my anorak and top up my pub quiz knowledge.
It tickled me to see this lovely little RG. My first taste of something a little ‘sharper’ at 18 years old. I somehow over-baked a tight right and ended up in the long grass – could have been worse.
Now, I am being picky here about what I’m sharing. There was some other stuff up there from the ‘utility’ market – funny little motorised carts which had done great business for Suzuki. There was also some stuff about the introduction of water cooled engines in motorbikes but you’ll have to read about that elsewhere – it’s not for me.
I lapped the room. I had been here for 2 hours so grabbed a can from the vending machine and sat. Sat and looked. And looked. For me there were some obvious omissions but I was going to walk the room one more time.
Being a good student, I already had some of the history of Hamamatsu down to an ‘elevator pitch’ but let’s see what I missed. The bikes were not going anywhere but I was still teasing myself with thoughts of what the top floor had in store for me. First I had to make my way through the manufacturing exhibition.
As you’d hope, there was some interactive stuff. Pulling levers to rotate a car door on a fully automated robot production line was a good one -great sounds. I knew from a little inside tip that there was another machine which would deliver me a Suzuki egg! (It had a car in it … booooo) You were walked through the casting process and got to see some models too.
I’ve got a bit of a thing about casting since making my own ally ashtray in Big Pete’s GoP many moons back …
There was some stuff around the factory itself and the sheer scale of the site can be seen from the aerial photos taken through the years. (come on! get to the bikes already!)
I moved up to the next floor and came pretty much face to face with The Man Who Started It All. Not the most recognisable face, sure but here he was. The man who had used his engineering skills and business acumen to redirect Suzuki from a failing loom making business, to an upstart car manufacturer closed down by the war as ‘non essential manufacturing’ , reinvented AGAIN as a motorcyle and small utility manufacturer, and onto the business that continues to thrive today. It was pretty emotional. Plus, I hadn’t really spoken to anyone all day and this guy was willing to listen a while.
And finally – here they spread in front of me, I CAN SEE THE BIKES! Be cool. Breathe.
I’m still on early history trip now and am duly reminded that from day 1 the business purpose was to serve its customers. Right now there was a gap in the market for cheap and easy to maintain transport that everyone could use. Suzuki’s engineers calculated that 36cc gave sufficient output having been combined with a pedal drive and the Power Free E2 was born in the early 50s.
Development continued at pace in Hamamatsu. It was 1954 and the team were set up at the prestigious Mount Fuji hill climb – it was show time. Their win there in the 90cc class put them firmly on the manufacturer’s map. They were contenders.
As well as speed and power trials, Suzuki also wanted to demonstrate the reliability and tenacity of their new machines. A pair of brothers spent 2 years riding this ‘Diamond Free’ 58cc model 47000km between Bangkok and Paris. The road network was barely developed at that point and you can only imagine the challenges along the way, but the machine survives to this day, on show here in Hamamatsu.
By the early 60s. Suzuki were ready to take on the world renowned challenge, the ultimate test of rider and machine – the Isle of Man TT Race. The team ran machines from 1960 but it wasn’t until Mitsuo Itoh took the ride in the 50cc class on the RM63 that Suzuki got to lift their first TT trophy.
Keep posted as I head further into the 60s, 70s and dip a toe into what Suzuki had in store for the 80s
Had I set my expectation too high? What if I was disappointed? Travelling solo brings out split personalities – the one voice in my head saying ‘You have 1 day in Japan .. do you really want to spend most of it on a train?’ The rational voice replying … ‘Let’s go!’ And so … I’m here now. In Hamamatsu.
Walking past the factory, I gripped the metal fence bars and stared at the unassuming swathe of factory buildings. There was no hint here as to the impact this site has had on my 2 wheel world. No piles of rejected EFE heads, slabby top fairings waiting for paint or katana front fairing braces- ah well. I paused to gaze for a few minutes, waving my nose in the air and trying to soak up ‘something’. I imagined Hanma Shin in his workshop in there somewhere hack sawing H*ndas into bite size chunks and chuckled to myself, remembering the stickers I had packed in my bag that morning. Following the arrows, I tracked through the underpass which crossed the road and up to the steps of Suzuki Plaza.
I knew from my research that Suzuki Plaza was a small museum and exhibition centre near the factory and I’d gone online the night before from my hotel and booked a ticket. The accuracy of the train timetable had me land on the steps of Suzuki Plaza 5 minutes before my slot. Perfect. And there was noone else about. Even better, with not a soul around – I had the place to myself.
I was in. The foyer wasn’t all that. There, I said it. It’s that feeling I get when I’m reminded that as well as EFEs and GSXRs and GSs, that Suzuki also make the Swift and the Jimny. It took a collection of rare race machines to bring balance to the situation.
I checked in and took the opportunity to get a snap on the Katana displayed in Prime Position. Well, you would – wouldn’t you?
The rest of the exhibits and the museum were to be found via the stairs. Pop out for a quick ciggie because. Pinch myself. Giggle some more. Take a selfie. OK, back in. Let’s see what this is all about!
Suzuki Fever hit in my teenage years. It was the mid 90s, GSXRs ruled the streets and the mighty EFE was still winning at the tracks. Gary Rothwell was my hero and Streefighters Magazine fuelled my fever. Who knew over 20 years later, my passion would lead me to Hamamatsu, the home of Suzuki Motorcycles.
The path through life has many cross roads. Back in 1995, it was going to be either a GS550 or a GPZ550 uni trak. I’d spent my first full year on the road on a forgiving and relatively new Kwak but I now had a full bike licence in my wallet and I wanted more power. The GPZ was rougher in the flesh than the photos suggested so it was the Suzuki that was to become my daily ride and the first of many Suzukis.
20 or so years later, I had sampled most of Suzuki’s big capacity engine offerings from the 80s and 90s. I even had a few of them in the shed. That turn at the cross roads had developed into an almost obsessive passion for the machines built across the other side of this globe in a town called Hamamatsu. When a work trip to Japan left me with 1 free day, there was only one thing on my mind – how do I get to Hamamatsu?
I was staying in Yokohama Bay. The sun broke over the harbour and into my hotel room. Today was the day. Japanese trains are rightly known for both their speed and timeliness. I just had to work out which ones to get. The underground from Minatomirai took me to Shin-Yokohama and then to Tokyo Central station where I could grab the Shinkansen. It wasn’t the super fast train which suited me fine and gave me the chance to take in the paddy fields streaming past the window and a view of Mount Fuji as we sped along the coastline.
I tracked the time, watching the stops go by until finally the scrolling message in the cabin said ‘Hamamatsu’.
Heart pounding, I grabbed my bag and stepped off the train. In the distance I could see the Suzuki S drawing me in.
I tripped down the steps like a kid at school kicking out time and followed the sign as it got bigger and bigger through the grid-work town until I could see it. The factory was right there.
Looking through pics new and old, I wonder what just
happened; a full year’s gone by..
It’s been a wild one and one of few reasons I got out to the
other side and am typing this now, is the very website you’re now visiting; all
that it stands for and the people I’ve come to know through it.
Excuse me if I sound like a broken record, but I feel I
should make this very clear, because it would be all too easy to take it all
for granted and make it feel like it was normal and expected. It’s not..
No-one ever MUST open their doors for you and take you in as
if you were family. It really is something special and the people that do it
for me, must be told how much I appreciate what they do for me.
I’m typing this from Pitbox 22 at the legendary Spa Francorchamps Circuit. KATANAMANGLER is 8 boxes up from me, managing one of the entries in the Classic Endurance Races (A Rooster bike, no less, which you certainly hear about in not too long of a time), it’s as good a time as any to start on a write-up of the 2019 TT trip I’ve just come back from.
My TT-runs of 2018 and 2019 couldn’t have been more different, starting with the fact that this year my fellow compadre Jelly was once more there in shotgun position, whereas last year I did all the travelling on my own. Destination was again the Kearsley-residence, only now moved tot he new house, married and basically, pretty damn sorted out, unlike yours truly.
EFE finished in it’s new Dayglo-guise, Jelly’s Kat just about there after we grafted a new oilcooler on to keep the temperature half decent (for whatever reason, the engine in it tends to run hot) and the van stuffed to the roof with whatever we thought we might need along the way, we set course to Cheshire. My van would again stay there, with us taking the bikes to Liverpool on the road. A 20 mile run REALLY is better than the 600-something we used to do.
I just can’t be arsed
to do the touring bit anymore; done it, sat at the side of the road, got
recovered multiple times and ended every trip with squared tires; F- that, I’ll
stick it all-in a van and take the lightweight approach, thankyouverymuch.
Unloaded on the Thursday afternoon, it was as good a time as
any to put the EF on the internet in full colour instead of the sepia Instagram
filter and I did get quite the response to it, which was kinda the point 😊A
night of Boats, Desperado beers and much speaking nonsense was had. The Friday we
had pretty much all day to ourselves; our hosts had to go to work/school, so we
just went and had the most touristic day one can have in the vincinity of
Everyone I know that lives there or close calls it a shithole,
but I actually thinks it’s kinda cool. We ended up in Hipster-central (as we
do) and went for craft beers and neon-lit Minigolf until it was time to get the
train back home. There, I was greeted with an actual sign with my name on it,
on my room, and my own keys tot he house and the garage. It’s a bit of a strange
feeling, but as I wrote before; it really is a home away from home. It feels
Quick Dominos that evening, loaded up the bikes and down to
Liverpool again to line up for the ferry. Heaving with people as you would expect,
I ended up being the very last person to go on the boat; how typical. Bumpy
ride over the Irish sea, we disembarked the other end to an Island that was in
hit-or-miss weather. It had been glorious the weeks before TT, and as one would
guess, it had started to rain from the first day of practiceweek.
Many sessions already cut short, loads were getting worried
to not get the bikes set up properly and be able to get the tracktime that you
need to get your head ‘round the place. Even the guys that are right up there
at the front need to get time on the bike to get themselves dialed in, let
alone the newcomers who basically will never have seen the place on racespeed.
Riding around on the open road to learn and understand where
the course is going, is totally different from doing it at the speeds they’ll
do under raceconditions. Bends become corners, bumps will become jumps and every
manholecover will turn into a potential danger; imangine knowing where every
single one of those is, all 37 miles around. Does your head in..
Jelly and myself just made our way to our usual digs at John
and Jo’s house in Peel. Fed and bedded, it turned into Saturday in notime. We
sleep in a shed, christened “Chateau Streetfighters” many moons ago when Wingnut
was still coming over with us. The name stuck, even though he’s not been for a
few years. Bugger that; you should come over next year mate.
Saturday would have been the first raceday (I think) but that got rained off. Roads were closed with everybody waiting in the hedges and behind walls, but when one part of the track cleared up, it went to shit somewhere else. That was about to become a running gag, if you will, for the remainder of the TT-fortnight. Many times roadclosures with people stuck across the island, only to have nothing actually happen. It’s sad but there’s absolutely nothing anyone can do about it.
For TT, the racing WILL NOT go on when it’s wet, for good
reason. The speeds are that high and the course is so varying in condition, it
would be asking for trouble. It’s scary as it is and they rightly don’t make it
With Jelly working as a marshall at Appledene for the event,
I was left to my own devices and do what I do best really; no plan, just go as I
like, where I like. It takes over 500 marshalls to man the course and John, our
host, runs Appledene. It’s a slighty unknown bit of the course, only one corner
up from Greeba Caslte. Hardly any spectators there, because when you’re there,
there’s no way out.
However, it really is PROPER fast and as spectacular as it
can be during TT, but due to it not being know as much, John usually struggles to
get the right number of marshalls to man the sector. Jelly stepped up and did
his bit, and that’s how a TT-practice or race is run.
No marshalls = NO
racing. It’s a thing thats apparently pretty hard for some to understand, as
every year there will be reports of spectators not listening to what they are
told; not be on the road, etc, only to be picked up by the police and more often
than not, be escorted to the Jurby Hotel (prison) for the rest of the TT
I’m not joking; during the TT, the IOM police don’t take the
piss. They will sling you in prison, impound your bike, give you a HUGE fine
and when you’re sent away after getting out, you’ll usually be banned from the
Island for more than a few years. There just is no room for people that don’t
want to play by their rules and you can’t fault them for it.
My days were spent chasing the weather, getting to spots I
hadn’t spectated from before and waiting, lots and lots of waiting. Ramsey
sprint on the Sunday, I went there, understanding full well that it wouldn’t go
on if it was wet, but when I got there, it wasn’t even that bad. The Island has
its own climate, with the possibility of snow at one end, and bath-in-the-sun
temperatures only 10 miles the other way, so when I set off from gloomy Peel, I
was hardly expecting the Sprint to be taking place.
Coming up the entryroad where they tell you where to park, I
simply said “I’m racing” and they let me straight through. Saves you walking
all the way up and down the field and who honestly wants to do that? Parking up
next to the gazillion Bhp Hayabusa of Woody, Kev’s mum went well out of her way
to feed me and make sure I had proper tea 😊
In two ways of actually entering the Sprint myself, I opted
out because it still is another 45 quid out of pocket, only for it to start
rainig again not minutes after.
That Sunday was a practiceday as well, which was a first in
the history of TT. It shows how badly the time was needed for the racers and
the teams to get the bikes out, with the first races on the Monday. Actually,
if anyone gets the schedule out and traces how it all went, it might be a bit
different from what I’m typing now, but we’ll just call that Journalistic
Liberty. What it really means is; I kinda forgot what went on when and realistically,
it doesn’t really matter, does it?
What does matter is that this TT was everything different
from 2018, from a general perspective; last year every single roadclosure,
practice session and race went on time, this year, not a single one did. The
weather was terrible and everyone got the short end of the stick as far as
Mother Nature was concerned. This ended up with Thursday raceday being the fullest
day anyone had ever experienced.
Weatherforecast looked good and with roads to close from
10ish, 5 races and 2 or 3 practicesessions to get through during the day, all
you can do is take your hat off to all the people that make racing possible,
like the marshalls, like the organisers, like the IOM Scouts and all those
Some eventorganisers in motorsport can learn a thing or 2
from these people; everthing goes on without a hitch and that in itself is one
of the reasons for me coming back. You’d think that after a time or three, you’d
get oblivious to it all, how incredible it is and how big. Luckily, I’ve been
void of that and eversince 2007, my first time, it hasn’t lost any of its
Hell, if anything; it’s gotten worse. Though OSS I met loads
of people that now are my friends and the TT is going the same way. Being in
the position that I’m in; having friends live there where we can basically turn
up in the middle of the night, any time in the year, for a place to sleep and
eat; I’m very lucky.
Senior Day (the Friday of the big race) would consist of
just that, because with the bad weather forecasted
to roll in during midday, they got everything else out of the way during the
recordbreaking Thursday that preluded it. Jelly and myself went up to the Grandstand
area to have a final mooch and with Peter Hickman as far ahead in the race as
he was, we chose to drop down to the ferry, so we could get a half decent spot on
the boat. When we came down and got the check-in out of the way, I turned my
radio back on and Hicky’s lead had all but gone!
I’m a Suzuki-man, through and though, but for roadracing,
all the brandsnobbery makes all but none of a difference. Every single person
lining up on that startline gets utmost respect from me, be you the winner or
very dead last; I couldn’t care less and I’ll root for you no end, even if you
are on a H@nda.
Hicky was on the new and untested 2019 BMW and everyone was
worried it might not make it the full duration of the race. We worried right.
First we heard was Peter going though the Sulby Speedtrap at 159mph; that’s
walkingpace. He managed to nurse it round the full 6 laps, but Dean Harrison
had past him by then, getting his first big win.
A cheer went though the crowd and that was that; TT2019
done. We were then herded onto the boat and on out way to Liverpool once more. Being
only Friday and our train across booked on the Sunday, we had a bit more time
to play with. With Kev going to Santa Pod to pick up his dad’s frame, freshly
tarted up after someone made a RIGHT mess of it, we opted to just tag along.
The weather was horrid; you wouldn’t have wanted to be out
on the road in that rain; you could hardly call it summer or spring, even for
British standards. We were meeting Ash and Matt who had just done up both bikes
on the dyno, with Matt’s really making silly horsepower, on pumpfuel, I might
add. Weather clearing a little bit, I was pestered to sign on and pushover that
I am, I did. RWUB, foreigners on holiday, bikes in the back of a van, so if it
was to blow up, we’d still get home; fuck it, go for it.
Only ever entered one dragrace years ago in Drachten and that
was a bit shit. My EFE is hardly setup to rag off the line; not streched, not lowered,
not that powerful, etc. Also the fact that my clutch has a mind of its own when
you launch it; non of these things help. Anyway, 8mm spanner in my leathers to
bleed it after the finishline, on we went.
Paired up at the startline next to Anna on the Slingshot, I
think, I ended the day with 4 runs under my belt with a best of 11.5 with a .55
reactiontime and a 1.955 60ft. Good enough for me. Yes, it’s loads of fun but
making your bike faster costs loads of money (which, as you know, I don’t have)
and the waiting kills it for me. I’ll just keep doing trackdays, one red flag
at a time..
Bike loaded up once more, we pointed the van in the general
direction of Sarah and Viz’s house. Late night chilli, talking gibberish; a perfect
ending to a perfect night. I love it there. Actually, I just love being across,
even though the friends that live there, more often than not don’t really understand
it. I know it will be different if you live somewhere, for me it’s just the
being away from home, grass greener on the other side sort of thing.
Heading home the sundaymorning, another TT-holiday had gone
by in what felt like no time at all. One of the big differences compared to
2018 was the fact that I actually experienced the whole thing consiously,
instead of having been pretty much oblivious to what was going on with me and
around me, like last year, epic as it was.
We were out of stroopwafels; best get the train home and
load up for the next one.
See you at Cadwell
Thanks to all who made us welcome, got us fed and made us tea; it’s much appreciated.
There’s a certain sense of achievement when you get to test the bike you built in your shed with your own hands, to the absolute limit and finding it’s performing faultlessly. I always said that going to the IOM and using your bike there would be a test of your own technicall prowess, but the fast bits you do there last maybe a few minutes. In the time in Scotland, I had done hours at great speed and nothing fell off, broke or blew itself up; well happy, I was.
When we came to Perth, that’s where the fun ended and we came back down to reality. Some motorwaymiles, a stop for fuel and having waved Deeds goodbye, Katanamangler and I went onwards, following the M90 back home. En route, I clocked a few signs for Knockhill Raceway, and thought it’d be a good idea to see if anything was on when we got home. Parked the bikes up, said hello to everyone at home and opened my laptop; Knockhill Bikefest Rewind festival; “Enjoy the sights and sounds of all the iconic bikes on show at the Rewind festival with 3 special track sessions for classic bikes.” Well shit, we missed that..
Sitting there thinking about what I was going to do next and where to travel, I carried on trawling the internet for ideas and on of my digital stops was the Cadwell Park website. Since I was to be there for fridaynight, I thought it’d be good to know what was on the days before the Classic Trackdays event. What I found was another trackday on that friday, and it was cheap too. It was open to all bikes, but the 105Db limit was in place, so I thought it’d be rude not to get this day in as well. I would be sharing the track with modern machinery, but with groups seprating the Valentino Rossi’s from the Lloyd Christmas’, I guessed I should be fine. That was another blank day in the diary filled. 3 days thrashing Cadwell as a last hurrah to my 3 weeks away from it al; best go out with a bang, I thought.
To keep things simple (and cheap), I spent the next day at the Manglers, going into the city by bus. Got rained on that monday, which had been the first proper rain in all my time away from home. I’ve been very lucky in that respect, the good weather seemed to follow me around. I spent the day actually coding the ccs for OSS in a Starbucks, I got very in touch with my inner hipster. Wandered around a bit more and saw the weather turn from shit to glorious. It’s nice when that happens, but when you left the house wearing kevlar pants, a hoody and a windbreaker jacket to keep the weather at bay, you get warm..
I had gotten in touch with Viz if it’d be ok to crash their place for a day or 2 and catch up with them after my time away. As you’d expect after reading about the way this trip has gone up to now, I was told to “turn up whenever you like, stay as long as you like and do whatever, and when nobody’s in, there-and-there is the key” Another 2 days filled, so that was the plan sorted.
I set off southwards through the Scottish Borders, making a point of staying away from the motorway. The place was nearly as amazing as the Highlands where we had just been, with one very distinct difference; speedcameras. During the 4 days in the north, we hadn’t come across a single one, let alone a policecar, yet in the Borders, they were friggin’ everywhere. Now, in my van, I’m hardly fast, the thing won’t go much over 70 on a good day. However, I could see me not going back here on the bike, because there wasn’t really a point, knowing the Highlands were only a good 2 hours drive where you could have all the fun in the world, and actually getting away with it. Also noteworthy; the amount of Scottish flags on one side of the border, and English on the other. I guess it’s a local thing..
Driving downward to Peterborough, I was going to swing by Wescooley19, of SF Services fame, to drop off a frame I owned, but that had been sitting in Katanamangler’s shed for over 2 years. I had no use/room for it and he wanted to have it; it beats scrapping. I was met with the biggest cup of tea in my life and he took me to the best chipshop in the region. Being served another huge Fish & Chips, I didn’t get to finish it, sorry Si. It really was proper good though. Back in the workshop the most we spoke about was me going to the Bikeshed , the bikes that were there and the whole scene around it, all the while not mentioning skinny jeans. You see, there are some people that actually make their wages building these things. I don’t like the brownseat brigade and their blatant overuse of the Caferacer-handle, but if it keeps my friends in business, there has to be some good in it, right?
Backing into the drive at Viz and Minx for the second time in I’d been in the UK, I wasn’t wecomed. No, I got a cup of tea, was told to put my beer in the fridge and given 20 quid for food; I wasn’t just made welcome, it felt like I lived there. My hosts would be gone for the night and I was left to look after the cats, make myself comfortable and most of all, “don’t burn the place down” I can tell you it’s a pretty strange feeling to be in someones house for mere hours and feeling exactly in place, even the cats acknowledged me. Looking for order-in food, I ended up with worlds most expensive pizza, again. Nice food but 20 quid for pizza, damn..
The wednesday, Viz suggested to take me to FBM Turbosystems, the go-to guy in the UK to have a turbo stuck on your bike of choice and get your boostfix. Topping up the oil in the EF and having charged the battery after me leaving the ignition on (…), we were set to go for the 30 mile run to Oakham. When we arrived, I found myself in the OSS equivalent of a candystore; there was unobtanium EVERYWHERE. Dave made us coffee and let me wander through the shop without worry and answered every question I asked. Also very cool was the fact that whatever came through the speakers, was exactly what I play on the radio in everyday life. I have a pretty obscure taste in music, so I thought that was nice. Also very nice was seeing the near-finished funnybike Dave has been building for a while. The engineering going on in this machine is next-level and very impressive, I can’t wait to see it used in anger.
If you know some of us through Facebook, you might know about the tree Havoc goes to, to take pictures of his bikes. PaulM and Kid Kearsley had both found it before, but apparently both had forgotten where it actually was. I wanted to go there with the van and take a few pics as sort of a suprise to Havoc, but that meant finding it in some way. What followed was a long night of scrolling through pics on Facebook and narrowing the search down on Google Maps. Discussing back and forth with both the Kid and Paul, and later with Minx, Viz, Jelly and Katanamangler, we managed to find it.
It was now thursday and all I had to do that day was turn up at Cadwell for the 3 days on track that would start the day after. The tree was very much out of the way, but I had all day anyway, so I just went. Finding it in real life was still a bit difficult, because from the direction I was coming, it was hidden behind all the other trees. Still, with the modern satnav and a few pics to go by, I managed to find it and made it into a proper landmark.
With that done, I pointed the van in the general direction of Louth and got underway. When I eventually turned up, the paddock was completely empty. I was early; that’s new.. Setting up my awning in a force 8 gale was someting of a mission, but I ended up getting it sussed and in a good 2 hours, my little cloth pitbox was all set. I got the EFE out of the van as well and shot down the A153 to Louth to get something to eat. Having been in the saddle of the bike for days, at speeds we shouldn’t really mention, I went straight into attackmode. Now, I don’t know if anyone local is reading this, but that bit of road is good fun, I tell you. I eventuall managed to find a random kebabshop and got myself fed. For whatever reason, I was bloody tired, even having only done the best part of a 100 miles today. It was to be the first night on my own, after 18 days of being amongst friends. It was to be the first test to see if all this time away had actually fixed me.
The next morning I hobbled out of the van and got the Banana out of the awning. I was met by more than a few raised eyebrows from my fellow visitors, as the bike was the oldest there, by quite a margin. Guys using brand new superbikes and 600’s, and me, with my 28 year old, rattling yellow weathervane affectionatly know as The Banana.
Some call Cadwell Park the mini-Nurburgring and for good reason. There’s tight sections between trees, fast sweeping and completely blind bends, and The Mountain, where you can get both wheels of the floor, if you have a bit more talent than me. The first day was organised by No Limit Trackdays and was as you’d expect your average trackday to go; some red flags, some good sessions, it was over before I knew It. I managed to get 7 sessions in, which is pretty good going and upped my speed quite a bit, ready for the next 2 days when I would be met with likeminded people of equal skill.
Early evening, I was joined by YoshiJohnny and 370 Steve, who both would be out on track the day after as well and soon we had our own little OSS-territory. In the following hours the paddock went from a modern racemeeting, to a more nostalgic feel and one where I feel a lot more connected to. The atmosphere changed from competitive to a lot more relaxed and I was even nice to people on Hondas. I met with a lot of friends that I hadn’t seen for a long time, most near a year ago at Spa, and met with Robert, one of the organisers, to find out if I really would be out both days.
The next 2 days then went on to consist of miles and miles on a racetrack, getting higher wheelies over the mountain every lap and turning into Coppice faster everytime than the time before, it was everything I had hoped it’d be. I got faster as the weekend went on and from having others dissapear in the distance to getting to keep up and actually outrun them in later sessions. It’s not a race, they always say at the briefing during trackdays, but that’s only really for the guy that doesn’t win.
Saturdaynight we managed to fend off some horrible weather, missing us by as little as a mile, but we didn’t manage to get the bbq going due to the wind. After trying for what seemed like forever, YoshiJohnny suggested to throw in the bbq-towel and get food in the Cadwell Clubhouse. We then got up to speed with whatever was going on at home in both of our lives and that had me firmly back on the ground after days of keeping myself busy with all sort of random things, be it bikes, visiting a tree, all sorts, as long as I had something to do.
As the sunday got underway, we were met by more visiting friends; Minx and Viz turned up for their long awaited ride, GSXRSam, GSHub, MeanBean49 (thanks for the chassis advice) and many more, I’m sorry if I’ve forgotten anyone, it’s not intentional. As we worked out way through the day, time to start packing up came and the far away thought of it all ending and having to go home slowly turned into a reality. I had 450 miles to go and wouldn’t be leaving until after 5pm, so I had to cancel the dinner I was supposed to have at Zedhead’s place. It would just mean getting home at even sillier o’ clock and it was bad enough as it was.
Having said goodbye to YoshiJohnny and 370Steve, I made my way back down to Dover and I was thinking about how I was going to get all that I had just experienced, into a frontpage article of our website and I basically came up blank. I had thought about starting to write it while still on the trip but hadn’t done so, because I didn’t want to start looking back while I was still fully immersed in the experience. Now that that moment had passed, I needed to figure something out to actually get it into writing and share with you how special all this had actually been.
All of what I had done over the last weeks, has been possible because of people I met through OldskoolSuzuki.info. I’ve said it many times when explaining to others outside of my bikingworld what OSS actually is and means and more often than not, I call it a place away from the internet, on the internet. It’s hard to understand when you’re only used to the daily Facebook-, Twitter- and Intagram-feeds, all powered by advertising and algorhythms, having a computer decide what you see and who you interact with, that there actually are places different from that. No advertising and no behind the scenes cleverness keeping track of all you do. It’s almost oldschool in itself, and we’re very proud and also very protective of that (rtfr)
I can’t begin to explain to you what these 3 weeks have meant for me and how it managed to get my thoughts directed away from something very heavy and bad, if only for a short time. Every minute enjoyed is a minute no-one can take away from you. When I got home, reality set in and I found myself in the same place as before I left. I had hoped to get better, but I didn’t. It is what it is, the 24 days on the road will not soon be forgotten. When I opened the door and walked into the kitchen, a picture of me was hanging up on the wall..
A BIG thank you to all that have welcomed me in their homes, got me fed, made me tea, offered me a place to sleep and listened to my life’s stories; you have no idea how much it means to me. Thank you Mark, Sarah & Viz, Paul, 2 Step & Yenko, Tom & Suzanne, Kev & Jess + Jack and extended family, Dave and the missus, John & Jo, Kwool, Jon, Darren, Ash, Gary, Katanamangler & Leigh and the girls, Andrew, Deeds, Simon, Dave, YoshiJohnny, Brian, Steve, Rob and Darrin, Rob Bean, Nolan, Chris, Grumpy Gary and Jelle & Pep for the picture.
The next day Kid and Miss Kid turned up and I turned into their surrogate child. They were supposed to have a little time together from home, yet they completely went out of their collective way to make me feel well and let me be part of their little holiday. It was great; I didn’t have to think about where to go, what to drink and eat, and what time tea was, because it was all decided for me. One thing that I did need to do is lead the way pretty much everywhere, because appartenlty I’m the best informed foreigner when the Manx roads are considered. We were on what we called “Island Time”and took everything as and when, no rush; Traa dy liooar.
Miss Kid hadn’t been out on the bike much before TT and with me clearing the track and the Kid keeping an eye on the other end, we gave her a crashcourse in real-world roadriding and she went from tippy-toeing the first day to having me to speed up through the Cronck-y-Voddy section within a week. We also got her to sign on for the Ramsey Sprint and she ended up getting third in class and fastest woman of the day. We’ll leave the bit where she was the sole lady entered out, it makes for a better story..
The weather, the racing and the atmosphere on the Island were all very good, but I did have a funny feeling during the entire time I was there; something wasn’t right. It was as if everybody on the road had left his/her sense of self preservation at home, because there were some (actually quite a lot) UTTER dickheads out, and as mentioned before; the Mountain was shut more often than it was open. The three of us got on the Mountain to have it ticked off and when I came down at the Creg and stopped for the others to get there, there was zero traffic behind me, nothing.
I parked up and waited, checked my phone and waited some more. Worried now.. Strolled up to the policeofficer there and asked if there had been an accident; “Yes mate” My heart sank. “Do you know what bike it was?” “It was a Suzuki sportsbike, mate”, said the copper. Ok, that didn’t make it much better, as both were on Suzuki sportsbikes. “Right, were they red or blue?” “No mate, yellow”, he said. That was a bit of a relief; any accident on the TT course is bad, and you’ll feel bad about it, but it’s better when you know it’s not one of your friends.
After a few more minutes I got a message from the Kid; he was stopped at Brandywell and turned the other way. A guy on a Thou had come in too hot very close in front of him and Brandywell is a slight left, and then a tight left which you can’t really see, so if you don’t know, you’ll get yourself into trouble, as this man obviously did. He was fine in the end; few busted bones, busted ego and his bike ready for the scrapper.
Miss Kid was stopped at the Bungalow, and this meant they would come off the side of Snaefell on completely different places. We agreed to meet in the paddock and get something to eat. Knowing your way around in a busy place like this can help you get away from the endless queues, loud people and antisocial seagulls; cue The Bowling Green. Only the locals know about it, so it’s a bit like a tranquil hideout for us “from Across”. Good coffee, tea and food; if you’re ever over, make a point of going there.
The rest of the week was spent watching some sensational practicesessions, sad moments with Dan (and Adam) coming off and Steve’s accident that followed it, but yet more recordbreaking racing that followed in the days after. It’s the way the TT works, and I can’t really explain it. Outside of racing, the Wheelies and myself sat in the sun, went go-karting (I won), ate icecream, visited a few proper landmarks and talked, a lot. With me having my head not really straight, my company made sure I was able to vent all that I wanted to get off my chest, without me feeling like I was just there, ruining the vibe.
Having suggested a little meeting on our forum, I found myself in Peel the last night I was on the IOM, meeting up with a bunch of fellow OSS’ers for some good food and taking shit, and by chance, a 3rd EFE turned up; total photomoment. Gave the guy riding it a bunch of stickers and suggested he’d sign up. Not sure if he did, I’d need to check. Stories were shared and bikes were categorically picked apart, right up until the food was served; then everyone went quiet.
A good, but for myself a bit premature end to the TT; I never missed Senior Raceday in the time that I’ve been coming, so it when I was packing my gear the next day, it all felt a bit unfinished. Still, the prospect of going up North and getting to see new things, was a very good one, so I just got on with the job. Said goodbye to Jo and shot of down Poortown Road for the last time. The roads round Peel are “our” roads. There’s few that are faster there than those that visit John and Jo over TT down Poortown Road, the A1 out of St John’s and the Peel Coast Road and it’s all the more funny that I pass people on a bike that most don’t really know what it is, and with a foreign plate. It freaks them out.
Met up with my fellow sailors and home we went. Packed the van back up, went to Davecara to pick up some bits, blag some pizza and tea and after a few hours, I was on my merry way to Scotland. When driving passed the turnoff to Dumfries, I had a few happy memories from sitting in the Roundhouse all those years ago. Those that know, know. I ended up at the Manglers residence a bit late, but Leigh still managed to get me fed and watered before shooting off to bed herself. Midnight chili is the best chili, even when you’re sober.
The next day we got the bikes out, loaded up and got going up from Edinburgh to Crieff to meet up with Kraptanaman who would lead the way up from there. Since we overshot the road into his shop, we just stood on the side of the road like a few lost tourists until our guide for the day turned up. Just the 60 or so miles, half of which was motorway, from Manglers to there, had already made a big impression on me; Scotland is just verything different from what I’m used to. Round mine, everything is flat and dead-straight, bends don’t really exist, we just have 90 degree corners for the most part. The Scottish motorway had been more of a laugh than my usual sunday blast has been for years.
From Crieff we went toward the Green Welly stop, on the edge of Glencoe. We filled up and I was asked if I was ready for it. I didn’t really knew what that meant, so I basically just said “Yes”. For this holiday, I had turned into a Yes-man; I ate stuff that I’d never eaten before, went to places I never went to and I was pretty much up for anything. Good thing nobody asked me to go bungeejumping..
Pulling out of the petrolstation, we were off and a few miles down the road we were on a steady climb out of a very long (and pretty shit) left hand bend; I did this road 3 or 4 times in the next few days, and I couldn’t get it right, for whatever reason. After climbing to the top, you find yourself in the Glencoe Pass and it’s downright breathtaking. Problem was, our average speed was hardly fit to happily be taking in the scenery, so I just got my head down trying to keep up with the 2 locals showing me the way. This trip was supposed to be about the riding and the Scottish roads, so I’d just leave the touristy bit for some time later.
Up from Glencoe, through Fort Bill and up to the A87 next to Loch Cluanie is where Kraptanaman left us to turn back home himself. We said our thankyous and goodbyes and Katanamangler and myself carried on further up the road heading for Skye only to turn right a few miles before it, to make the climb to our first stop for the night at The Wee Campsite in Lochcarron. Tent put up and midgiespray sprayed, we strolled into town. Well, I say town, It’s basically a lakeside road with bunch of B&B’s next to it, with a pub, a cafe and a tiny grocerystore, that was really it.
We ended up on the outside terrace of the cafe being served the best fish and chips I’ve ever eaten, and even my fellow traveller was impressed, so it really must’ve been good. after food we went for a wander down the road and naturally we ended up in the pub, who’d ‘ve thought? I went for my go-to drink for this trip; Shandy. I can’t drink for shit; if you’re out on the piss with me, I’m a cheap guy to have around. For your 3 pints, I might do 1. The Kid got me introduced to it and it completely sorted the issue, because all of a sudden, I could actually keep up, and not have to worry about a massive hangover the next day. Favorite new thing, really.
The next day we left packing up a bit later to get ourself up and over the Applecross Road. It had been mentioned by Deeds, who we were supposed to meet later that day, as a must-do while you’re there. He hadn’t really mentioned why to Katanamangler; insanely fast road, mindblowing views, sheer impressiveness, it could’ve been any. When we scaled the mountain and got to the top, one thing was very clear, it wasn’t because it was a insanely fast road. The roadsuface to the top was below average, at best and with all the cyclists making their way to the summit, we’d hardly get out of 2nd gear.
But, when we did finally make it to the top and took in the place the way you’re supposed to, fuck me, it’s impressive. I have no idea how high up we were and how far our view reached, but I just stood there for a few minutes. I’m a sucker for stuff like this, but for whatever reason, the trip being about what it was and my mind in the place where it was, it all landed a bit harder than normal, so to speak.
We made our way back down, stopping at virtually every bend to take yet more pictures because every 50 yards or so, the place looked totally different. Back at the tent, packed up and off to Kyle of Lochalsh for breakfast. This too was amazing, 3 out of 3 meals in Scotland and they were all superb. The next 3 days, this continued, I’m happy to report. After breakfast, we nipped over the Skyebridge for me to be able to say I’d been on the Isle of Skye, and turned back at the roundabout on the other side. The day would consist of riding back to the Green Welly Stop where we would be meeting up with Deeds, or Captain Progress, as I would get to know him.
Doing about 170 miles in a day after you’ve done 300+ the day before, messes with your rhythm a bit and we made a point of stopping more often than we normally would, because otherwise we would end up at our destination 4 hours early. This day would prove to be a bit more about taking in the sights I hadn’t had time for the day before racing the other way, so I was suprised by loads of things that I totally missed earlier; complete castles and Lochs hadn’t reached my occipital lobe at all so even though I had ridden down this road only yesterday, it was as if I’d never been there.
Back where we properly started the day before, we made out way to our cabin for the night, to be greeted by the most aggressive midgies I’d ever experienced. After Deeds had turned up and we had had dinner (proper Scottish, haggis and all) we got back to the cabin but the little creatures were in such numbers that sitting outside was no option. We went inside, got the map out and started planning out next day, all the while enjoying my next shandy.
It was decided that we’d go through Glencoe again, but this time all the way up to Inverness, cross the bridge to Ullapool and come back round to Inverness the other way, after which we’d find a place for the night a bit further east; no midgies. Within minutes I found myself doing speeds up from even the first day with Kraptanaman. Remember, I’m on a utterly unfit bike for touring, loaded up with gear for a weeks worth of living out of a bag, and no real clue of where I’m going. I need to keep up. This is where the “Cpt Progress” moniker Deeds has, comes from; making progress. I think we averaged an easy 85mph to Inverness and the next bit to Ullapool was even more mad. All on closed private roads officer.
On the run upto Ullapool, we came across about 12 dutch H%nda Goldwings doing 30mph; I think we were doing 130 coming up to the back of them, so when we overtook them, it could’ve suprised them a little bit. A day of fast roadriding when you’re in the zone, it doesn’t really matter how many miles you do, because you get so shut off of anything from the outside and it will be just you and the bit of road you can see, everything after of before is irrelevant. We managed to clock up 308 miles that day, and the EFE and Katana didn’t skip a beat. They did use a bit of oil though, but we’ll forgive ’em for that.
We found a place to stay in Kinloss, another cabin. In hindsight, if we would’ve taken a cabin for the first night as well, we’d have been a lot lighter packed, but that’s something for next time. Fire was made and shandies were drunk (by myself) and we found the place perfect to do an OSS do there, so that might be a good one for the future. While discussing the day to come, Deeds mentioned something about a road going from very fast, to slow, complicated and technical in seconds. I didn’t really process this as I continued to play with my phone and be generaly distracted by whatever thoughts were running through my head at the time.
The following morning I was last to wake up and be moderately productive. This was my final day out in Scotland, so I really wasn’t in a hurry to get going. Starting early meant ending early and I basically didn’t want it to end. Deeds and Katanamangler were ready to go when I was still brushing my teeth; must be the puberty-thing I have yet to shake. When I was finally ready to go, I’d wasted (or won, depending how you look at it) another hour. I hadn’t made a plan yet what to do when we came back to where we started, so I just dragged it out as long as I possibly could.
From Kinloss, we turned off through Forres and straight into the Cairngorms National Park and through the Glenshee pass. Fucking Skilifts! Pardon me for my ignorance, but I really didn’t know Scotland had skislopes, I thought that was a thing just for the Alps. This bit was also the part of road Deeds had been talking about; I realised this after having overtaken Katanamangler at 145 miles an hour down a straight, to be greeted by what only can be called a public Supermoto track not half a mile further down the road. (A83 Old Millitary Road, go there, it’s awesome) I was screaming inside my helmet, looking at Deeds dissapearing in the distance and myself and Katanamangler scratching pegs and knees to get round a few of the bends, on our old bronto-bikes and having the best time doing so.
This may well turn into the most personal post you’ll ever find on OSS, up to now and likely for a long time after. Those that know me, know I can get a bit intense. Here’s some options; you’re intrigued and will carry on reading, you’re not bothered and are only here for the pics or you’ll feel awkward and click through to the next article. It’s all good, I’ll continue regardless.
You see, a while ago when I was thinking about this piece, it was going to be about my annual pilgrimage to the TT and I wondered how I was going to put it into words, without repeating myself and getting stuck in age-old cliches. Then life happened and the trip turned into something totally different.There’s more to life than just playing around with outdated Suzuki motorbikes and getting them to work in the modern world. Over the years I’ve found myself meeting others OSS members through our shared interest in the dinos of choice, yet over time, usually within minutes of meeting someone you’ve spoken to on the forum before, you’ll be discussing work, relationships, the place you live and just life in general.
It’s funny how that works; you’ll travel a good 400+ miles (or much more for some) to meet people in a field/mountain/pub to discuss bikes, and when that’s out of the way, you really get to know the person sitting opposite of you, on a totally different level. For me personally, through OSS, this has created more than a few true friendships, even if these people live more than a 1000mls away , in different countries and speak a different language.
When you want to go to the TT, you best book quick. So quick even, that you really want to book for next year, BEFORE that years TT has actually even started. Our booking had been done as such and we’d have a casual 2 weeks away from the usual hectics of life, to have a fresh start into summer. It’s been a annual thing for me for years and I actually was planning for this to be my last one, to do something else next year.
Due to a cock-up of monumental size of my own, I ended up having to go by myself. That posed a bit of a problem, because I’m hardly my best on my own, to put it mildly. I feed of energy of others; by myself, I just end up doing the headless chicken. A change of plan was in order, but since my head wasn’t right, this proved to be a bit of an issue.
At best a week before I was to actually travel to the UK, a plan was hatched and I booked the ferry from Dunkirk to Dover. That was it; I HAD to go. The TT to most people remotely into bikes is bucketlist-material, but to me, it’s quite “normal”, so yes, the thought of not going at all had crossed my mind. Two and a half weeks, by myself on an island turned up to 11 wasn’t something I thought I was ready for. Cue OSS-made friendships.
We would be traveling to the UK with the van, bikes and gear in the back, all the way to Liverpool, saving us from endless boring motorwaymiles, squaring tyres and the usual breakdowns. We were going to leave the van on the drive of at Miss Kid’s house, leaving us a good half hour away from the Royal Albert Dock from which the Steampacket sails. We’d meet the Kid and Miss Kid on the Island a few days later and it was all supposed to be a perfect little holiday.
Part of this plan stayed firmly into place; I would still leave the van on the drive and would still meet the Wheely-fam on the island. I would be a few days early in the UK, so I needed a stop-over along the way. I didn’t want to just take up time of others and just basically “sit there”, because that was my MO at the time (and still, but that’s another story) Also, with them [Wheelie fam] leaving the Island earlier than what I was supposed to, I just went and changed my sailing to be the same as theirs, leaving me with yet more time to kill in mainland UK.
Because I would be one or two days early, I contacted Viz with the question if I could surf their couch and I was greeted with a very welcoming answer; “turn up whenever you like, stay as long as you like and do whatever”.
First stopover sorted and having decided to stay a night at the Kid’s as well, it was suggested that I’d bring my 1127L motor with blown gearbox that had been sitting in my shed for many years; “Yeah, we’ll just fix that while you’re here” Cool, that’s what the van’s for.
With having about a week to spare after TT, I contacted Katanamangler, to see if he had any ideas; “Yeah, I’ll just take a few days off work and we’ll do that run of Scotland we’ve been discussing since 2008”. Ok, so that meant a good bit of the days coming back had been filled as well, not a bad outlook really.
My return to mainland Europe was to be the tuesday, 2 1/2 weeks after coming across but while trawling the forum, which I hadn’t really visited in a while due to the personal stuff that was going on, I noticed the annual Cadwell weekend of our friends at Classic Bike Trackdays was on. The choice to take another 2 days off work, stretching the holiday a bit and possibly getting a trackday in while I was over, sounded like something to good not to do.
So, in days I went from not going away at all, to 3 weeks away, visiting good friends and many, MANY miles on the bike, in the van and possibly even on the most lairy racetrack I know (possibly, because it was looking to be fully booked, but I basically just chanced it; “turn up, it’ll be fine”)
With the van stuffed with gear for these 3 weeks, including 2 bikes, wheels with wets for the Banana, 2 engines; one of my own and one that Quist sold to Duckndive, 2 tents and loads more, I set off in the dead of night. I turned up in Dunkirk 2 and a half hours early, but the good people of DFDS just waved me through onto a earlier boat. They didn’t even charging me more, even if I had booked the sailing as a “large car” instead of a van. I’m Dutch and thus, tight; we can’t help it.
A quick text after coming off the boat in Dover to Gpz1100_Convert and tea was sorted for the early morning. I hadn’t seen him in a while and he probably didn’t know all of what was going on in my life at that time, but I ended up breaking down in his kitchen. Sorry about that…
We sat in the back garden, drinking tea, listening to Rammstein and having a truly eyeopening conversation, something that was to be a bit of a theme for the 3 weeks that I was about to head in to. After saying my goodbyes and thanking him for the tea, I rolled onto the M20 to get myself to Minx and Viz’ place. I had noticed on the good old Internet that ” The Bikeshed” was on in London, and I thought about visiting. I’m by no means a fan of the current caferacer-fad that is moving it’s way through our bikebuilding world and this is probably the nicest way I could put that into words.
I knew there would be a few nice bikes that I wanted to see and since I was close, I chose to go anyway, just to have it ticked off and not be left wondering if I had missed anything. The run into London and especially the multistory carpark with a LWB, leftwheel drive van is something that I won’t quickly forget.Was it worth it? Fuck no, but at least I knew. The Racefit Kat and Sticky’s bike were cool though..
After spending the grand total of 20 minutes inside the Tobacco Dock, ogling at perfectly trimmed beards and brown seats, I found myself back in the van with a good few miles to go, straight into rushhour traffic in central London with a van with a foreign plate and the steeringwheel on the wrong side; try it, it’s fun. It was supposed to take 2 hours, I think it turned into 4.
Backing into the drive at Fair Winds, I found Viz and PaulM working away on the famed turbo ET. I hadn’t seen it in its latest guise, so that was a cool suprise. Having had Viz fix it, Paul suggested I’d do a little testrun. Oh, ok..
Before, I had only ridden Kid Kearsley’s Turbo during a few paradelaps at Donington last year, this would be my first time out on a proper road, using the FBM demo that was converting the entire OSS world into strapping a blowdryer on the front of their motors, chasing boost, power and BOV fluttering. I now can fully understand why and I too want a turbo. I have wanted to turbo my EFE for a while, but now I was properly sure of it.
Paul’s ET rides as you’d expect the average well-sorted oiler would, grunty from lowdown, but this time with a bit extra. “The hand of God pushing you along”, that’s exactly what it felt like. I’m not sure who mentioned it like that, either Viz, Paul or Havoc (who I visited the next day on the way to the Kid), but it really explains what it feels like. Aside from that, the bike felt suprisingly light compared to my EFE, while they’re pretty much built from the same bits with the same general idea behind it. More headscratching for me..
Minx was away from home, visiting our Mekka (which you’ll read about in a separate piece later) so Viz and myself had the most expensive pizza ever for dinner, talked a bunch about life and had a fine evening all round. I was shown the grounds, introduced to the cats and was told; “This is your house now, do as you please.” It’s pretty special if you think about it. After a good night’s sleep; tea, toast and more general chit-chat, I again packed my toothbrush and set off westwards.
Stoping over at Havoc’s along the way, it took me about 6 hours to do a 4 hour drive; all the time in the world. After getting the strangest looks from pub-goers driving into the street where the Kid lives; I don’t think these people see many red-turned-pink foreign vans drive down this little road, I walked straight into the workshop, finding the Kid and Davecara with Dave’s freshly built EFE spitting oil from “somewhere”. With Dave joining us on the IOM in a few days and his little shakedown not going to plan, it was all hands on deck to get it sorted.
What this meant was; me pointing stuff out, Kid asking Dave why he did that and Dave apologising for his wrongdoing. The trouble ended up getting sussed; I should be a workshopmamager. After this, we pulled my 1127 out of the van and got stuck right in. I saved this engine after binning the original, pristine bike (twice) and selling the rolling chassis back to Jon Tober, who I bought it of a few years prior. “It’s a bit fast” he told me when I bought it, freshly recovered from writing off my 750K. I managed to catch up with Jon over at the IOM a few days later. Two fellow countyman traveling 500 miles to a place in the middle of the Irish sea to meet up; a bit extreme maybe.
I had it dynoed a few weeks after and it ended up making 160bhp at the wheel. We rung up the original owner to find out what was done to it and he told us he had just chucked a load of money at his tuner in the early 90’s, but never asked what he had done to it. With me now in the Kid’s workshop, I was hoping to find headwork, hip cams, forged pistons and maybe even fancy conrods. We found nothing, not even the thought-to-be blownup gearbox..
We swapped 2 gears and the selectorforks for a few fresh ones and bolted the cases back together. I was a bit miffed not having found anything remotely interesting on the inside but it was quickly estabished that this engine would be the perfect candidate to use as a turbomotor. This way I wouldn’t have to take the trusty powerscreen that currently powers the EFE to bits and risking to end up with yet another longterm project and no roadbike. That was it, off to bed.
The next morning we moved to Miss Kid’s house where my van would stay while I was over for the TT. We unloaded all I needed, stuck the van in a corner and went for breakfast at the local bikeshop-come-cafe. I had beans for the first time. Yes, really. The day was further filled with sitting in the sun and basically watching the world go by; it was a good day. That evening I was to catch the Manannan to Douglas from Liverpool, so the Kid showed me the way. I had done it before a few years ago on my own and in my memory, it was a 5, maybe 10 minute ride. It was a good half hour, at least. I must’ve been somewhere else with my thoughts.
Having been dropped off at the docks and informed about Liverpoolian biketheft, I waved the Kid goodbye, knowing we’d meet up again in 2 days, yet in a totally different world. The crossing was uneventfull and I just sat and watched people getting (rightly) excited about going to the TT. I’ve been too often, so I’m sort of used to it now.
After the short and very fast run out of Douglas, over the TT course and Poortown Road into Peel, I landed home with John and Jo, who I also met though OSS. You see, John is GSXR884’s brother. I ended up there in 2010 and have been going back ever since. A story for another day maybe.
We in the First World, go on holiday to get away from home, have a change of pace and a change of scenery. Either for fun or to get away from the stress that is real life and wind down a bit. I too had this plan; get away from it all and set your sights on something else. Within 30 minutes of being there, I found I had failed; I was home.. I’ve been coming so long, know my way around so well; I could just as easily live there as I do at home.
In the house, I know where to find food, tea, I actually know the wificode from the top of my head and I helped build the shed I was sleeping in. I had left home to try and leave it all for a minute, yet somehow I ended up in a place where I was very much at home, where I had been before, and not just by myself.
That proved to be a bit odd because instead of being distracted by all that was around me; the Isle of Man is an impressive place in itself, let alone during the TT, I was confronted with many places I had shared with that someone before, and all the thoughts and memories that came with it.
The first day I was my own entertainment, so I just got on with it and tried to get “a lap” in. I failed, because the Mountain was shut, as usual. If you ever go to the TT, be sure you don’t get the red mist and throw yourself of the side of Snaefell. That’d mean the road will get shut again, and I again will have to turn around and come back later. The TT festival is slowly getting more notorious because of the visitors instead of the exciting and dangerous racing.
With me being from The Continent, I live a bit of a different life than most of our members, as about 90% of you, are from the UK. In the UK there’s a racetrack, an abandoned airfield or a drag strip usually not more than an hour away from wherever you are, at legal speeds even.
For us, it’s quite the opposite; from my house, the closest proper racetrack is 2 and half hours away. The fact that the track in question is the legendary Spa Francorchamps circuit does quite make up for it though. Zolder is closer, but that’s not really to my liking and Assen is another hour further the other way.
Yup, Spa is my home track, so to speak and every year since 2012 I’ve been making the trek to the Biker’s Classics held there yearly the first weekend of July. It’s a festival of everything Not New on 2 wheels; super-rare superbikes of days gone by, proper GP stuff from the 60’s and 70’s, etc.
Most of these bikes are not static, not by a long way. Championship races are held, track sessions for those that want to use his/her outdated bike for what it was actually meant and there’s the obligatory parade laps which usually end up in a few ex-World champions redoing some of their old battles, just for the hell of it.
Since we’ve been coming, we’ve also been shouting; “We need to have a go” Last year, I did and this year, we were out in force. As members of OSS, our little Dutch based“race team” (with lack of a better word) called #Team Banana; 3 bikes on track, 3 bikes as support vehicles, easily the biggest plot in the paddock and full catering and management; we clearly don’t do things by half.
Anyway, this is all beside the point; the 2017 Classics will mostly and sadly be remembered for appalling weather, which has quite the effect on the whole gathering. I myself have been out on track in pretty much every session available as most chose to keep their irreplaceable bikes in their respective pit boxes and tents, as to not write them off, which is very understandable. My bike was cheap (and not very fast) and I had full-wet tyres with me, as did Leblowski, so we were safe, doing many sessions with 5 or 6 bikes on track, instead of 50.
For the public and our supporting crew, it was quite different. It was cold, wet and miserable and that doesn’t make for a good day’s watching rare bikes, either static or racing which was sad as there is so much to be seen, it boggles the mind.
Next to our own little paddock with 2 Slingshots and 2 Slabbies, there were so many bikes from our school of thought, built solely for this yearly event; if there was nothing else to be seen, we’d all still have a field day. GSXR750RK with a bigbore 1100 motor with superbike running gear? Naturally. An as-new 1100ET? Sure thing. GSX1000S Katana on track? Totally normal. This bike was also blagged from the owner for the event, with the rider having pretty much his first ride on the bike and on a racetrack; very brave. These are just a few bikes run by like minded gentlemen doing the track sessions; no racing, just fast as you like down the racetrack. No ego’s, nothing to be won, just roundy-roundy riding for fun.
Then, in the proper pit lane and it’s adjoining paddocks is where the real bikes are. If you don’t know about the CSBK championship, I suggest you get yourself informed because the bikes used are awe inspiring, as is the riding. Some Dutch guys even do quite a good job on a bunch of Slabbies. Then there’s the French/Belgian Pro-classic series of which the grid is downright comical; from weedy early 90’s 600’s though to Y2K and later litre bikes, it all makes for interesting racing, the level is pretty high.
And then the Show piece of the event; the 4 hour Classic Endurance race. Some of you that were attending the earlier gathering at Donington may have had a feel of what this all is about, but at Spa, it all goes up a notch. For starters; the flag drops at 8pm and they ride into the night finishing at midnight. Thus, in the dark, on a blinding fast racetrack with utterly awful lights on most bikes. How some of these guys keep up the speeds that they do, I will never know. It doesn’t help that I’m night blind, so I best not ever enter myself.
The grid for this race is getting bigger and better every year. Some teams have budgets so high, it’s not really an amateur effort any more, with new bikes being built every year; Bakker/Harris/Moto Martin, it’s normal (almost), as are 170+ Bhp air-cooled motors.
Like Donington, at Spa, Suzuki themselves also entered, showing the factory interest for this type of motor sport, again with the blue Katana we’ve all seen been built at the NEC, this time the riders would be Pete Boast and non other than Guy Martin, with another (privately entered but twinned) Katana entered for good measure, finishing a respectable 7th and 22nd respectively. Our very own Sweatshop Phase One, of Mark Foggy fame ended up 3rd on the podium only seconds behind the Team Taurus GSX1100 and 1 lap behind a bike of a brand we shall not speak of. All of this after nearly 4 hours racing in the dark and wet out of a field of 47 starters; not half bad.
As a spectator, to witness this all, is a bit special. It’s not an everyday thing seeing and hearing these bikes of old tear through the night and the whole paddock itself is so open, you get the feeling you’re doing something naughty going your way around, only to be welcomed to have a look around everything and from very up close, just as long as you don’t get in the way. In this day of barriers and tight security, it is truly a breath of fresh air.
In the end, for me, it was another very good meeting; I was very reluctant at first to enter again next year due to the cost and the fact that communicating with the organisers is a nightmare; it all goes away the first time you plunge down from La Source into Raidillon with the throttle WFO for 75% of the time, all the way round. It’s quite something and I can’t wait to go again. The rain may have slowed the whole show down a bit, but if that didn’t bother you, there was so much to see, do and learn, there’s few thing like it.
I urge everyone with a remote interest in these bikes and racing (which, if you made it this far, should be the case) to make the pilgrimage to this event and see it all for yourself. I cannot make any promises about the weather, but I will promise that there will be plenty things to see/hear/smell to make it worth the trip from wherever you are. And, if that doesn’t convince you; we have stroopwafels.
What comes to my mind when someone mentions a motorcycle road trip around Europe? A large capacity sports tourer with hard luggage and a gel seat? Perhaps it’s an adventure bike with unlimited luggage capacity and the finest Gortex multilayer touring gear?
This story is about a motorcycle road trip that is the antithesis of what you might normally associate with motorcycle touring. In contrast to the norm, this story is about toughing it out, without compromise, on a two wheeled, air-cooled weapon of choice. This story is about an almost Zen like minimalism all wrapped up in a “fuck you” sense of style. The bike and the rider are motorcycle touring nonetheless, because nobody told them they shouldn’t or couldn’t, and if they had, I don’t think they would have been heard over the sound of one Suzuki’s finest engines being piped through a titanium Racefit growler.
It all starts with a bike you would not normally associate with any kind of long range two wheeled odyssey. A 1230cc EFE powered Suzuki ET special with a unique, tweaked and braced bare steel frame. It has no room for panniers. It has rear set foot pegs, a high level sub-frame and a single seat unit that comprises of little more than a thin layer of high -density seat foam.
The choice of equipment for the camping tour is both careful and clever. When you can’t carry very much you must choose carefully.
The choice of clothing consists of one pair of lace up boots, a set of one piece leathers from the 1970’s and a Simpson helmet. Not everyone’s choice of riding gear for such a long trip but now you might be beginning to understand what made this trip so interesting to me.
Welcome to the strange ways of frame building guru and OSS stalwart Alan (Strangewayz) Caven. Alan called this trip Air-cooled, steel framed Anarchy! I think the trip sums up the uncompromising, meticulous, unique, creative and thoroughly considered approach that Mr Stragewayz brings to most things that he does.
I had followed Alan’s trip over the summer through social media updates and I loved every instalment. There was very little narrative in his updates, mostly just pictures and one-liners but despite that the whole idea really appealed to me so I asked Alan if I could stitch it all together and get some background behind his motives for the trip. Here’s what he told me:
I went through a phase of not finishing any of my own builds due to always working on other people’s stuff, along the way I got tagged by a few people as falling into the category of enjoying building a bike more than actually riding it.
Nothing could be further from the truth; I don’t actually see the point in building something if it isn’t going to get some proper use. It’s the ultimate test of workmanship, seeing if the design, choice of components and execution were good enough.
Some people live for the dragstrip, track days or weekend ride outs… For me it’s all about a road trip, which has to be overseas and on something home built because that combination makes things edgier, takes you out of daily life home country comfort zones, tests both the bike and yourself physically and mentally (I broke both my elbows, right wrist and left ankle in a crash years ago so have a few war wounds to deal with).
I nailed my colours to the mast years ago – Air-cooled – Steel framed – Muscle bikes! Un-faired and loud is the way to roll.
Those of us that know Alan know that his unique take on Suzuki’s GSX 1100 ET was built as tribute to his late wife, who he tragically lost to cancer back in 2010. Alan lost his last remaining link to his wife when, not long ago, he also lost their dog Ozzy. Alan explained that the bike and the trip were an important part of his climb out a pretty dark place.
Whilst I built the 711 out of 7-Nov Rip Mrs Strangewayz with the intent to hit European streets with it, the real catalyst for this actual trip was when I also lost Ozzy – my Dobermann. The last link with my wife,as he’d been ours. He got me through some tough times he was always there for me. In that moment life was pretty shit, my whole world had gone and life didn’t actually make much sense – what was the point of it all if that was what was served up? I knew needed something positive to concentrate on.
The Provisional MotoGP calendar for 2016 came out with Austria GP & Czech Republic on consecutive weekends; that was it! I knew that by planning to travel minimal and mostly camp it would occupy my mind with how to actually do that. The easy route would be to leave mid-week and roll from Germany straight into Austria…. but that was too easy !!
Heard about Tavullia (Rossi’s home town) seemed a cool place, the man had a bar and pizza place so hey rock up over the alps and drop down into Italy before heading back up to Austria.
I just need an excuse to go and then join the dots up, I used (road) racing but as you can see the journey is more important than the destination, as is what you choose to do the trip on (bike).
The Icing on the cake was that the dates would work to end up back in the Isle of Man for the Classic TT Races. Game on!
I knew this was going to be a busy year because I was also going to the NW200 Road Races mid-May and the TT Races start of June.
Whilst I had some serious reasons for planning the trip, the trip itself was an adventure with a lot of spontaneous stuff going on.
This was how the actual route ended up :
Sat Day 1 Northampton to Bastogne in Belgium
Sun Day 2 Bastogne to Lake Constance (Germany)
Mon Day 3 Lake Constance to Riva Del Garda (Lake Garda – Italy)
Tue Day 4 Riva Del Garda to Tavullia (Rimini near San Marino)
Wed Day 5 Tavullia to Spielburg (Redbull Ring – Austria)
Thur – Fri – Sat – Sun all Moto GP
Mon Day 10 Spielburg to Linz (Austria – OSS Greg Sochor)
Tue Day 11 Linz to Brno (Czech Repb) Chance of a pit pass J
Wed Day 12 Brno to Prague (Czech Repb) no pit pass lol..
Thur Day 13 Prague to Brno (loose keys….)
Fri – Sat – Sun all Moto GP
Mon Day 17 Brno to Nuremburg (Germany)
Tue Day 18 Nuremburg to Etalle (Belgium)
Wed Day 19 Etalle to Northampton (England !)
Thur Day 20 Northampton to Isle of Man
Fri – Sat – Sun – Mon all Classic TT Races
Tue Day 25 Isle of Man to Northampton
Wed Back to work….
After speaking to Alan I realised the best way to recount this tale was in the way that I had first experienced it on social media, so I have chosen my favourite updates he made during the trip below and embedded any words as he used at the time.
Early start this morning 4am ish… Neighbours love the sound of a Racefit exhaust clearing it’s throat..
160 miles later it was ferry time, off & the down the road a bit now. Just had a broken English sign language ‘you look like the Stig’ moment…….
Long time since I did a 400 miler, good to be back t it.First night stop over, clues on the bar.
Lol worst camping pitch I ever had, lucky I got a 3/4 Thermarest + Jungle Juice & a Balaclava to survive the midges by Lake Constance as I put tent up in the dark last night. Strangewayz 1 – Midges 0
Think I’m in a different world… The locals are going to love the sound of the 711 clearing it’s throat Racefit style…
Rocking late 70’s Dainese one piece, genuine retro race gearI scored off Italian eBay last year. Just these & a pair of shorts, non armoured so not as bulky as modern stuff. Looks cool as on the 711
Kriega Hydro 3, wouldn’t be without it. I buy a 1tr bottle of water each day & throw it in. Leaves space for other easy grab gear & so light it’s feels like wearing nothing. Has bladder pocket + 1 other zipped side pocket & the elastic string on the back. The mouth piece is easy to use whilst riding.
Wasn’t sure but having worn them fucking brilliant, these are the ‘Adventure’ ones, they also do Cruiser or Sport. Have computer designed pads so yeah like posh cycling shorts.
Right I’ve put the riding gear to bed, I got me a table booked at Rossi’s Bar & Pizzeria tonight
Built in a shed to noise up Europe haha. Back mid 80’s when I was on LC’s & RG500 always went to Silverstone & rode over to the Dutch TT at Assen on the Gamma when 18 or 19. Back then always wanted to take some weeks off work to follow the GP circus, everything was more raw & less polished then Schwantz, Lawson, Rainey… Didn’t get to do it, routine life took over, roll the years on & yeah a bad roll of the dice but hey building the 711 was about looking forward & whilst Mrs S (rip) can’t do this shite no reason I can’t & with a big smile on my face
If I set that up in England it would be so fake !! Love the different cultures
Random prep !
Side of the road rain gear & visor change, car travel this isn’t haha… Strangewayz keeping it real !
US Urban battle Goretex, gaiters & Red Wing boots – oh yeah & no quick shifter lol
Wrong sport but if your into VW’s this is the famous She’ll garage (now Eri) outside Velden which is ‘The’ place to hangout at the annual Worthersee show. I will be back out this was in my Mk1 Golf in a few years when it’s done. My stupid idea was to get here then find somewhere to wild camp. At silly am it was hard trying to find anywhere as built up with resorts & posh hotels. In the end pushed 100km onto the Red Bull Ring running low on fuel (all shut), IPhone battery (Google maps) & energy. But I did it & I love my bike, 711 was awesome, better than me !!
Definitely regard it as a badge of honour when, so far I am the only motorcycle on the campsite for a bike race ! Especially when I had to move my tent this morning being considered in the way of the the blue awning the couple are putting up who just arrived this morning in their van from up the road (Austria). Hey who knows maybe they will share their beer with me later hahahah….
Road trip shite Austria MotoGP Not really on the piss, that’s when riding solo parked up for a few days is hardest. English speakers thin on the ground but I’m in a good place. Side of a mountain, village part of the track, cool shit, locals love the visitors, bit Euro beat/pop 24/7 sausage feast – why the fuck do you want to dance on a table with your mate – that’s for girls to show off haha… but didn’t do this to feel like I was down the local. General admission ticket (grass) but shite, Isle of Man has spoiled me, but found a good spot with the boys leaving rubber. Dovi & the Maniac at each other all day, Vin what a boy! Cru at times top Honda. MotoGP app excellent with live sector times & a track graphic showing rider positions. Good times, memories lots, ride your bike & go do shit.
It’s all about Suzuki, rockin’ Rizzla T today
T shirt drying, would make a good paint job…
Haha love beer time lapse memories, this is the main ‘bar/club’ in the village – late last night they were playing a Euro Beat track “Mr Brown, Mr Brown, will make you smile”. Pissed myself, would sure put a smile on my face .. hello luv
Ahh tent life, big grin, chilling out, road tripping again in the morning, good times rolling.
Ready to roll, still got the Tavullia cardboard sign to strap somewhere 🙂 Heading north to Czech Repb for their MotoGP race. Stopping off today to see Oldschool Suzuki Greg Sochor in Linz some 200km away. Prague on Weds then back to Brno Thurs ready for the racing. Austria MotoGP was awesome event 215,000 people over the 3 days. Great racing, atmosphere & the sun came out to play.
Fuck yes, tent up at Brno circuit, beer going down hatch.very pretty bar maid, could get to like this haha !!
Hanging around feeling lucky…
Czech MotoGP pit pass gig didn’t fall into place, hung around for 2 hours & can you believe as I was riding out along the back lanes the wagon rolled past in a group of 3 ! Turned round asap but by the time I caught them up the guys were already through the barrier. Had a cool time hanging out & wasn’t meant to be. On way to Prague & seriously the main motorway from Brno up is the worst piece of shit road I’ve been on. Bone shaker of a road with a nasty split/crack between lanes 1 & 2. Pulled over for a coffee to check out other routes ! Still smiling though 🙂
85km away form Prague river campsite, needed chocolate so hey park under 3 cameras. Girl too right was seriously sexy….
The Girls are Pretty & the Roads are Shitty. Czech roads are the worst piece of crap I’ve been on, might be different in ya cars guys but on a bike you get hammered, Garmin satnav plastic mount just broke because of it, will be on the hunt for cable ties & duct tape 🙂
Ffs we have lost key, Hotwire plan… seriously no photo setup, but still smiling !
Look it’s all about priorities, sweat talking the bar maid to get…… the Suzuki pics from her calendar haha go Vin !!!
Hmm describe Al in a pic ! Yeah beers going down well…….
Seriously impressed the Dunlop Q3 is keeping it’s profile, had to do some serious straight line miles in 30 deg air temps with all the gear on the back & it hasn’t got a shite flat section yet. Too many UK cars showing up around Brno, keep it on 2 wheels guys !!!
After yesterday’s Hotwire after loosing keys on trip 5km away to local atm…. got 3 days parked up as track is walking distance. Re checked my spares kit & lucky boy I did pack a few goodies, should be able to do something ok to last the 1500km trip home 🙂
Having a shite time as you can see whoo hooo
Err so it’s not 8am & sat by the side of the road drinking beer with a dude from Panama also called Alan lol either that or it’s all a weird dream. I only stopped for an espresso because the girl was pretty but the machine wasn’t warmed up……….
Brno MotoGP !
Suzuki out spotting, MotoGP Fp3
Cup say “100% energie” hope it works 🙂
Agh the moment the sugar rush hit whoo hooo caking my way through Germany….
Pffff not impressed my Oberon mirror has fallen apart on me again ffs. I like the gear but for what it cost I don’t expect to have to hold it up on my knuckles whilst waiting for a foreign motorway services to pull over & take if off. Fail 🙁
Hmmm choices choices ok both !!
Chasing the sat nav down, got a good number on it that gets me on the ferry. Fuel stops only, cake later !
Still riding !! Stoked about my next stop if the guys are there…..
That’s as good as it got, the guys had closed down a while back – just a trailer outside a Kawasaki shop. Waltz still makes stuff under the name of Walzwerks but too much of a wild goose chase to hunt him out…
Time to roll again
Tent world, waiting for the morning, want to go out & ride
Sitting at the Creg taking in all the wonderful sounds from the different classes out practicing. Fantastic views in the background which is why I didn’t bother taking a picture of the pub !! Awesome to see 250cc two strokes back racing on the island with their own class.
Ready to roll again, off to watch the Superbike Race & then will be on the ferry home…..
Hard life, Raybans on, Superbikes almost ready to go, c’mon Suzuki !!!!
Still going strong – Aircooled forever !
Any day I ride the 711 is a good day just some are sadder than others.
So if you’re reading this and you still don’t understand and or admire the sheer insane and inspirational brilliance of this road trip then you are probably on the wrong website. Alan, OSS salutes you sir. Here’s to building them, riding them , and smugly enjoying what you have carved out using your hands, your ingenuity and your imagination and here’s to never letting anyone tell you that you can’t.
This is Alan’s story, so it’s only right that he should get the last word.
What an awesome bike! Still riding it every day to work, need to pull it off road soon as brake discs, pads, rear sprocket almost shot – had to put some winter tyres on (Michelin Pilot Road 4’s) as the Dunlop q3’s which I had on for the trip & did everything I wanted but won’t grip below 5 degrees.