Tag Archives: Other Motorcycle Reviews

Retrospective: 1960-1964 Tohatsu CA2 Runpet Sport 50cc

1962 Tohatsu Runpet Sport 50cc
1962 Tohatsu Runpet Sport 50cc. Owner: Cliff Shoening, Bremerton, Washington.

This little charmer was in the first wave of Japanese bikes to enter the U.S. market, thanks to Hap Jones, a motorcycle racer and businessman of considerable note. Hap had been selling British bikes in the 1950s, and then decided to get out of the retail business, focusing on his more profitable distribution side. And the Japanese manufacturers were just getting interested in American buying habits, with Honda opening up for business in 1959, Yamaha in 1960.

So Hap got on the phone to Japan in 1961 and had a chat with the Tohatsu suits, who were undoubtedly very happy at the thought of getting into the burgeoning U.S. market, especially with a well-known and highly respected gent like Hap Jones. They arranged for a couple of 50cc Runpet models and several 125s to be sent over, a deal was struck and Hap introduced them to the world with a full-page ad in the January 1962 issue of “Cycle” magazine…quite unusual for a start-up to spend that kind of money. Then he had the good fortune to have a rider on a Tohatsu 125 win the lightweight Sportsman road race at Daytona, which gave him great publicity. Within a few months he claimed to have 300 motorcycle dealers and a number of sporting-goods stores carrying the Tohatsu line.

What was this little Runpet Sport? And this Tohatsu Company? The word is a combination of Tokyo and “hatsudoki” (engine factory), the origins going back to 1922 and the Takata Motor Research Corp., which made its reputation by building a small motor for a highly successful rail-track car. The name was changed to Tohatsu in 1939, and the company became focused on producing military equipment, including small motors to run little generators. War came and went, the factory survived, and it began selling these little motors to other companies building motorized bicycles. “Heck, we can do that ourselves,” some executive said, and Tohatsu began selling kits for bicycle owners to mount themselves, with gas tank, exhaust system and bracketry.

1962 Tohatsu Runpet Sport 50cc
1962 Tohatsu Runpet Sport 50cc. Owner: Cliff Shoening, Bremerton, Washington.

Better yet, it would build a sturdy bicycle, with a telescopic fork. In 1953 the Puppy appeared, powered by a 58cc two-stroke. Not a very attractive vehicle, but mildly efficient. In the mid-’50s the Japanese were all desirous of personal transportation and some 80 companies were competing in the motorized two-wheeler market. By 1956 Tohatsu was the biggest of the lot, selling 70,000 motorbikes, twice the number that Honda was. But competition was getting fierce, and the serious outfits like Honda, Yamaha and Bridgestone were busy modernizing their products, while dozens of the small operations were shutting down. Unfortunately Tohatsu’s success was followed by some major financial mismanagement, with lots of borrowing going on to keep the company afloat. In 1960 the government, through something called the Rehabilitation Act, arranged for Tohatsu to be bought by the Fuji Electric Manufacturing Corporation, the presumption being that this larger concern might be able to get Tohatsu back on its financial feet.

Motorcycles were just a part of the Tohatsu Company, with marine hardware, from bilge pumps to outboard motors, being more important. However, the two-wheeler R&D boys had been hard at work with new models now at hand, including the 50cc Runpets, the Japanese advertising saying in translation, “…with the accent on having fun!”

1962 Tohatsu Runpet Sport 50cc
1962 Tohatsu Runpet Sport 50cc. Owner: Cliff Shoening, Bremerton, Washington.

The Runpet Sport was indeed a sporty creature, with a highly tuned 49cc piston-port engine, fed through a TK carburetor that, like the Amals of the day, had both a tickler and a choke. A single-disc clutch connected to a three-speed gearbox. The factory claimed it put out 6.8 horsepower at 10,800 rpm and was capable of speeds in excess of 60 mph. Quite astounding for a street-worthy little single! It should be noted that 50cc racing was quite popular back then, especially in Japan.

Unfortunately Tohatsu did not get into developing automatic oiling, and owners had to do things the un-fun way, mixing the oil with the gas. As well as kickstarting the tiny terror. Tohatsu had put an electric starter on its basic Runpet with a lower state of tune, intended for the commuter and housewife, but the Sport was to live up to its name.

Chassis was simple, with a large tubular steel backbone frame from which the engine hung, two bolts securing the head; two more were down at the back close to the swingarm pivot. A telescopic fork up front. Two pairs of arms went back from the main frame to hold the saddle and places for bolting the tops of the two shock absorbers.

1962 Tohatsu Runpet Sport 50cc
1962 Tohatsu Runpet Sport 50cc. Owner: Cliff Shoening, Bremerton, Washington.

The 17-inch wheels had drum brakes, and the distance between axles was 44.5 inches. A 100 mph speedometer (rather optimistic) sat in the headlight nacelle, and a very small windshield served to enhance the sport look. A short saddle and no passenger pegs indicated that this was a one-up ride. But you could get the groceries, as there was a small luggage rack and two tiny pannier bags, made from the hide of a Nauga. Total weight was 135 pounds.

There were several options as to presentation, and this one has the scramblerish high pipe and small skid plate. Shiny chrome fenders and nice paint on the tank and side panels enhanced the image. The company was also putting out new two-stroke models, designed with American riders in mind, like a 125 parallel twin with four gears and 15 horsepower.

All to no avail. Bankruptcy was declared in 1964 and the motorcycle side was shut down. We don’t know how many Runpet Sports were sold by the 300 dealers Hap Jones claimed were carrying the brand, but there don’t seem to be many in the used-bike lists.

1962 Tohatsu Runpet Sport 50cc
1962 Tohatsu Runpet Sport 50cc. Owner: Cliff Shoening, Bremerton, Washington.

Source: RiderMagazine.com

Retrospective: 1956-1962 Norton Dominator 99 600cc

1958 Norton Dominator 99. Owner: Cliff Schoening. Photos by Ralph Noble.
1958 Norton Dominator 99. Owner: Cliff Schoening. Photos by Ralph Noble.

This was the bike that got a lot of Americans excited about the Norton marque. Brit bikes were relatively rare in the U.S. in the early 1950s, with mainly Triumph and BSA battling it out. Yanks had long read about Norton’s racing successes, like when a 500 Manx came in second at Daytona in 1949, but were not much interested in the single-cylinder Internationals, civilianized versions of the racing Manx. What they wanted was an easy to start twin, with enough zip to run up to the semi-magical 100 mph mark. The 500cc Dominator 88 did not quite have the punch needed, but when it was bored and stroked to 600cc (actually 597cc), that stoked some serious interest.

Some people, both industry and consumers, were a little surprised that Norton had not gone to the popular 650 size, which Triumph had done in 1950 with the Thunderbird, and BSA a year later with the Golden Flash. Nortons began to be imported in 1949, and had six U.S. distributors. After the arrival of the 99 the distributors apparently got together and jointly bought the first full-page ad seen in the bike magazines–in the November ’66 “Cycle.” After a very complimentary road test in the September issue.

1958 Norton Dominator 99Norton was an old company, with James Lansdowne Norton founding the Norton Manufacturing Company at the age of 29, back in 1898, when it started manufacturing chains for the burgeoning bicycle market. But motorized bicycles were the coming thing, and JLN got right on it. His 690cc Peugeot-powered V-twin, a touring model, won the Isle of Man Tourist Trophy in 1907; success was clearly in the stars. Norton began building its own engines and prospered.

Late in 1945, after WWII, Norton went back to building civilian motorcycles, both a side valve and an OHV 500 single, along with a very few OHC 350 and 500 Internationals. Triumph was hitting the advertising pages big time, promoting its sleek T100 Tiger 500cc twin, and that was getting a lot of attention. So Norton did the logical thing and hired a designer named Bert Hopwood, who had worked at Triumph before the war when the T100 first came to light. He joined Norton in 1947, improved the singles, and then worked on developing a parallel twin. In November of 1948 the Dominator Model 7 showed up at the annual Earl’s Court motorcycle show, with a vertical twin engine mounted in a Norton frame with a telescopic fork and a plunger rear suspension. Unfortunately, at 440 pounds it was 75 pounds heavier than the Triumph. In 1949 Hopwood moved on to the BSA company, assigned to the task of making BSA’s 500 twin into a 650.

1958 Norton Dominator 99Norton went to work bringing the Dominator 7’s weight down, and the big innovation was the advent of the Featherbed frame, originally intended for the racing Manxes. Previous frames had been complicated and heavy, whereas the Featherbed was essentially two one-piece loops that was both lighter and stronger, using expensive Reynolds 531 manganese-molybdenum, mild-carbon steel tubing. Since everything passes through the steering head, the backbone tubes were welded to the bottom of the head, while the downtubes actually ran between the backbone tubes and then welded to the top of the head. All suitably braced.

Norton then went about making a roadster edition of the frame, using less expensive steel. Initially the saddle-supporting rear section was bolted on, but soon was welded, as that was a lighter approach. Norton also saw fit to give the frame its own name, plus a secondary description, which began with Wideline, and then Slimline (1960), referring to the width of the frame beneath the forward part of the saddle. The 99 used an oil-damped Roadholder fork and a swingarm rear end with a pair of Girling shock absorbers. When the 500 Domi 7 twin got the Featherbed, the bike received new numeration: Domi 88.

1958 Norton Dominator 99Move forward to 1955, and we find Mr. Hopwood being invited to rejoin the Norton Company. And soon the 497cc 88 had a larger sibling, the 597cc 99, the 100cc gained by using an even longer stroke…the 88 having a 66 x 72.6mm bore and stroke, the 99, 66 x 82mm.

Nothing exceptional about the dry-sump engine. The crankcase was split vertically, the cylinders were iron, the head aluminum alloy. The camshaft was up at the front of the engine with four light-alloy pushrods operating the four valves. A single Amal Monobloc fed the fuel to the combustion chamber, having a modest compression ratio of 7.6:1.

A single-row primary chain ran in an oil bath from the crank to clutch, which had little rubber shock absorbers. This was all done inside a sheet-metal primary case. And if the cork gasket was in good shape, the oil stayed inside. The four-speed transmission was made by Norton, and in best British tradition, the shift was on the right side, up for first.

1958 Norton Dominator 99The bike weighed some 410 pounds wet, and put out 31 horsepower. It had a comfortable seat, slightly Americanized handlebars and a 4.4-gallon tank–test write-ups said the 99 got more than 50 mpg. The headlight shell held a speedometer, ammeter and light switch. Initially a Lucas magneto sparked the plugs and a dynamo lit the seven-inch headlight, but in 1958 a crankshaft-driven alternator and distributor did both tasks. Petcock on, choke if cold, tickle the carb, fold out the starter and a healthy kick or two would get the engine going.

That “Cycle” road test reported a top speed of 114 mph–impressive. And a quarter-mile time of 14.61 seconds. Equally impressive.

The years went on. In 1961 the 99SS version appeared, with twin carbs. Last official year for the 99 and 99SS was 1962, replaced by the 650SS, now stroked to 89mm to get the additional 50cc.

Source: RiderMagazine.com

Retrospective: 1974-1977 Montesa Cota 247-T

1977 Montesa Cota 247-T
1977 Montesa Cota 247-T. Owner: Pete Gray, Atascadero, California.

The Spanish Civil War ended in 1939, and then the rest of Europe spun out of control. Spain sensibly decided to stay neutral in World War II. With a limited domestic market, business stagnated. But by 1944, with the end of that conflict in sight, Spaniards started thinking about the future. A couple of like-minded fellows, Pedro Permanyer and Francisco Bulto, met up and decided that providing their countrymen with basic transportation could be profitable. They built a factory in Barcelona and began producing Montesa motorcycles, little two-stroke singles under 125cc, and had great success. But the partners had their differences, and in 1958 Bulto went off on his own to found the Bultaco motorcycle company.

Permanyer persisted, built larger engines, and in 1965 showed the 247cc engine (21 horsepower at 7,000 rpm) in a Scorpion motocrosser. Several years later a mildly detuned version appeared in the Cota trials bike, and in 1968 the Cota won the Spanish Trials Championship. It should be noted that trials competitions were very popular in Europe, less so in the U.S.

1977 Montesa Cota 247-TIn the early 1970s the Japanese OEMs began modifying some of their competitive 250 dirt models into more civilized trail bikes, or as we might say today, dual-purpose. These had two-up seats, lights, a horn, whatever it took to make them street-legal. Permanyer took note. He had a great 250 engine, seen in motocross, roadracing, enduro and trials versions, so why not turn that trials bike into a trail version for the European street crowd; those countries weren’t quite as fearful of two-stroke emissions as were the Americans. The Cota 247-T (for Trail) was born.

Montesa had about 300 dealers in the U.S., who were doing well with some of the competition bikes. Apparently the importer thought this 247-T could be an added attraction. According to sketchy records the factory produced some 2,300 of them, with very few coming to this country. One reason being that it was expensive compared to the competition.

1977 Montesa Cota 247-TThe Owner’s Manual, in Spanish, English and French, begins well: “The MONTESA motorcycle which model is introduced here do (sic) not require an excessive care for maintenance, only a minimum attention is required to ensure a long and perfect serviceable time.” Truth, as the Cota is a delightfully basic machine.

The oversquare piston-port single cylinder has a bore of 72.5mm, stroke, 60mm, with a compression ratio of 10 to 1, generating some 19 horsepower at 6,500 rpm. Ignition is via a flywheel magneto/alternator and coil. The header pipe goes out the left side, high up, with a two-part muffler and spark arrestor. A respectable muffler, too, the two-stroke pop-pop being pleasantly muted.

The air cleaner is under the seat, with a Spanish-made 27mm Amal carburetor carrying fuel into the engine. A previous owner of this bike has replaced the Amal with a Mikuni. Should there be a need to remove the carb, the manual says, “Have in mind that you must shut the entrance of the admission pipe while the carburetor is out, in order to avoid the entrance of odd objects in the interior of the cylinder.”

1977 Montesa Cota 247-TPrimary drive is via spur gears, 22 teeth off the crankshaft, 64 teeth on the clutch, which uses “multiple steel discs in oil bath with constant tension springs….” That power goes through a five-speed transmission to a 10-tooth countershaft sprocket and a 40-toother on the back wheel. A very nifty chain-oiler has been built into the right arm of the swingarm, which holds a supply of oil that drips onto the chain just as it enters a tensioning device.

The engine/transmission unit sits in a tubular steel frame, with bolts holding it steady fore, aft and top. A single tube comes down from the reinforced steering head, spreading into a cradle at the front of the crankcase, with a sturdy skid plate built in. A small hole in the skid plate allows access to the drain plug. The rear section, holding the seat and upper shock absorber mounts, is built into the main frame, with a strong pivot point for the swingarm. The shocks on this model have no identification mark, but are probably of Telesco making. The telescoping fork is Montesa-made, with a 29.5-degree rake, 5.6 inches of trail.

A 21-inch wheel at the front wears a 2.75 tire, an 18-incher at the back has a 4.00 tire. Small 110mm single-leading-shoe full-width drum brakes are at both ends. When inspecting the wheels it is advisable “to slightly grease all the whirling points with SAE-40 oil.” A short 51.5 inches lie between the axles.

1977 Montesa Cota 247-TThe bike has an attractively slim look, having a narrow 2.14-gallon fiberglass gas tank with wings extending under the long saddle. Fenders are lightweight alloy. A small headlight, horn and taillight make it more or less roadworthy, except there is no battery. The speedometer is missing from the photo model. A modest toolkit fits into a cylindrical container beneath the seat. Dry weight, according to the manual, is 200 pounds…lightweight fun!

The last 247cc 247-T was built in 1977, the similarly branded 1978 version having a slightly smaller 237cc engine. That model was then dropped, but the 348-T version kept on for two more years.

Postscript: In 1980 a trials version, the Cota 348, won the World Trials Championship, but Montesa was running into serious financial difficulties. The next year Honda essentially bought the company in order to have better access to the European market, and Montesa Cota models are still being built–albeit with four-stroke engines.

Source: RiderMagazine.com

Retrospective: 1980-1984 Benelli 254

Benelli 254
1982 Benelli 254. Owner: John Goldman, San Francisco, California.

Here was a delicious little machine, a transversely mounted 231cc in-line four, putting out some impressive horsepower and weighing, fully fueled, a modest 269 pounds. With a top speed of more than 90 mph. However, in 1980 Benelli dealers also had 500 and 650 fours, along with an impressive six-cylinder 750, on the showroom floor…and Americans interested in Italian motorcycles did not care for these tiddlers. Anyone wanting a 250 could get one much cheaper from a Japanese dealer.

Cosmopolitan Motors was importing Benellis, and in 1980 the factory apparently told Cosmo that in order to get a few 750s they would have to take some 250s as well; Cosmo did so. Actually, when this 250 was conceived it was aimed strictly at the European market, as Italy and some other countries gave sub-250 bikes a good tax break and insurance costs were lower. The American market had never been seriously considered, but when 250 sales in Italy and elsewhere were not doing well, the company decided to foist a few off on the Yanks.

Benelli 254A little Benelli history: In 1911 the six Benelli brothers set up a garage in Pesaro, Italy, and specialized in fixing motorcycles—and soon started fabricating their own spare parts. In 1921 they built their first motorcycle, the 98cc Velo, and like any good Italian manufacturer took a big interest in racing. In 1937 they hired a young engineer named Lino Tonti in the racing department, and two years later he presented his 250 DOHC, in-line-four racebike, which was liquid-cooled and supercharged, ready for the 1940 season. Unfortunately Mussolini signed up with Hitler in June of 1940, and the rest is history.

War ended, Allied bombing had flattened the Benelli factory, but the boys—now older gents—got to work and had a pair of 250 and 500 single-cylinder street bikes for sale by 1947. When the GP races began again in 1949, they had a DOHC 250 single ready for the fray. In 1960 a new DOHC 250 four was at the track, winning a World Championship in 1969.

But the company was in financial trouble, due partially to racing expenses and the unexciting two-strokes they were selling to the public. Then a wealthy Argentinian businessman of Italian origin, Alejandro de Tomaso, showed up, acquiring 85 percent of the company in 1971 and then buying Moto Guzzi in 1973. Coincidentally, Lino Tonti was working for Guzzi at the time, and de Tomaso said he wanted some multi-cylinder bikes for the market. In 1974 the Benelli 500 and 650 fours appeared, which were closely patterned after some Japanese fours. But the next four-banger, the 250, was said to be very Italian, as nobody had made a road-going four that small. But it cost 30 percent more than Benelli’s 250 two-stroke twin.

Benelli 254The 231cc wet-sump engine was of the oversquare, short-stroke design, with a 44mm bore, 38mm stroke and a compression ratio of 10.5:1, happily revving to 10,500. All this was done using one overhead camshaft, two valves per cylinder and four 18mm Dell’Orto carburetors; 27 horsepower at the crankshaft. Ignition was done via battery and distributor, with the battery also powering the electric starter. Hardly necessary on such a small engine, but deemed essential in the modern market.

Primary drive was by a combination of chain and gears, a wet clutch putting power through a five-speed gearbox, with another chain going out to the rear wheel.

The open tubular frame was light, using the engine as a stressed member, and sportily rigid. A single downtube was bolted to the engine between the second and third cylinders. The front fork was a Benelli design, with the damping oil inside the cartridge, the oil in the fork legs for lubrication only. A pair of shock absorbers suspended the rear. The alloy wheels, both 18-inchers, had six twin-spokes, a 260mm disc brake on the front, drum at the back. Wheelbase was a modest 50 inches.

Benelli 254In 1977 similar models were sold by both Benelli and Moto Guzzi. With styling focusing on the sport rider, the Benelli was labeled the 250 Quattro; the Moto Guzzi 254 was aimed at the touring rider..

The styling fellow who did the Benelli bodywork had been charged with making the bike look modern, as well as appearing sleek. The end result was not very aesthetic; light thermoplastic panels, using straight rather then curved lines, covered the small gas tank and then angled down to where separate side panels would normally be. Moto Guzzi, on the other hand, had more traditional styling, with small panels making the gas tank look normal. Long panels traveled under the seat to a curved tail section, creating an attractively sporty look.

Benelli 254In an attempt to declutter the handlebar area on both bikes the speedo, tach and warning lights were positioned flat on top of the gas tank, requiring the rider to take his eyes off the road to see how fast he was going—not a good idea. Much better to have the instruments up by the headlight. For further decluttering, the reservoir for the front brake fluid was also tucked under the top of the tank.

Time went on, neither 250 selling well, and in 1980 the Mark II version came along. The Guzzi-labeled 250 was dropped, with the new Benelli 254 retaining the better-selling Guzzi styling and adding a little quarter fairing. The only picture we could find of the little Benelli sold in the U.S. was in the “1982 Motorcycle Buyer’s Guide” and it showed that slab-sided 250 Quattro model (the bike pictured in this article was imported to the U.S. from Europe). Cosmo dropped the model after 1982, while the factory went on producing the 254 version in Europe for another two years.

Benelli 254

Source: RiderMagazine.com

Updates For Ural’s 2019 Lineup

2019 Ural Gear-Up. Images courtesy Ural.
2019 Ural Gear-Up. Images courtesy Ural.

Although the 2019 Ural lineup appears almost identical to the previous models (as a matter of fact, one can say the same thing about all Urals manufactured in the last 30 years), the new model year brings a few big (in Ural terms) changes to the family of sidecar motorcycles. An all-new EFI system and a modernized top end make Ural’s 749cc “boxer” engine run cooler, smoother and work more efficiently.

The new system utilizes a single ECU located under the driver seat and two Keihin throttle bodies, one per cylinder. Electronic idle speed control provides for better startability and a more stable idle speed (both of which we noted on our LA-Barstow-Vegas adventure back in 2016).

A new self-priming, in-tank fuel pump is integrated with the fuel filter and pressure relief system. Overall fuel pressure has been increased for improved fuel atomization, and the fuel injector location is optimized for increased combustion efficiency.

2019 Ural Gear-Up. Images courtesy Ural.
2019 Ural Gear-Up. Images courtesy Ural.

The 2019 Ural engine also features redesigned cylinders, cylinders head, covers and pistons. The surface area of the cooling fins on the heads and cylinders is increased by 20 percent for better cooling. The geometry of both intake and exhaust ports of the cylinder head is optimized for improved flow of gasses, and the exhaust port is also shortened to reduce cylinder head temperature.

New pistons have a teflon-inlayed skirt and a hard anodized crown and top ring groove. The top compression ring face is inlayed with plasma-sprayed molybdenum, while oil pan capacity is increased by 25 percent without sacrificing ground clearance.

You’re still not likely to win any races on a Ural, but the updates for 2019 should make living with one a bit easier. The 2019 lineup consists of two basic models, the 2WD Gear-Up (starting at $16,999) and the 1WD cT (starting at $14,999).

Source: RiderMagazine.com