When the original Bonneville Bobber launched back in 2017, we were smitten. True, it had some quirks — not enough front brake and a limited fuel range being the most noticeable — but overall we loved what Triumph had created: a factory bobber that delivered in both looks and performance.
Then the following year we got the Bobber Black, with dual front brake discs mounted to its fat front tire — quirk number one, check. In the meantime, Triumph released its first Triumph Factory Custom (TFC) model, the Thruxton TFC, and we swooned. Then earlier this year we got a look at the new Rocket 3 TFC and we salivated.
Now Triumph has announced its third TFC model, and guess what? It’s the Bobber.
The 2020 Triumph Bobber TFC will sport more power across the powerband, with 39% lower engine inertia resulting in a 500 rpm-higher rev limit. It’s also a claimed 11 pounds lighter (although that number is subject to change as the bike is homologated for the U.S. market).
As with all TFC models, the Bobber TFC is dripping with high-end components, including fully-adjustable Öhlins suspension front and rear, Arrow exhaust, dual front brake discs with Brembo M50 monobloc calipers and MCS radial master cylinder, an additional Sport riding mode (joining the standard Road and Rain) and an LED headlight with distinctive light pattern.
It gets unique clip-ons rather than a traditional one-piece handlebar, carbon fiber bodywork, a billet top and bottom yoke with numbered plaque, a real leather seat and special TFC badging throughout.
Only 750 Bobber TFCs will be built and sold worldwide, and like all TFC models it comes with paperwork signed by Triumph CEO Nick Bloor, a personalized custom build book, a Bobber TFC bike cover, a TFC document wallet and a leather TFC branded backpack.
More details will follow the Bobber TFC’s homologation in January 2020. U.S. pricing is also TBD.
The 1950s and ’60s were the era of the UBM — Universal British Motorcycle — a parallel OHV twin sitting upright in the frame, in the 500cc to 750cc range. The original UBM was the Triumph 5T Speed Twin of 1938, soon to be copied by half a dozen of the major British motorcycle companies. Matchless, which built its first motorcycle at the Plumstead works in southeast London around 1901, came up with its own version in 1948, the 498cc G9, with a 66 x 72.8mm bore and stroke. And a fully sprung frame, with a swingarm rear suspension.
It should be noted that in the 1930s Matchless bought the AJS marque and the company became Associated Motor Cycles, Ltd., or AMC, the major difference between the two brands being the lettering on the gas tank.
The G9 engine differed from other UBMs in that it had a third bearing on the crankshaft, between the two connecting rods, to give added strength. The engine’s dry sump lubrication system used the camshaft to run two oil pumps, one on each side of the crank, aiding in efficient lubrication; apparently these engines could go 75,000 miles before any major work was needed. Quite remarkable for a UBM of the era, when top-end jobs were often done at 20,000 miles, bottom-end at 40,000.
The two cylinders were separate, as were the heads, and while this seemed to work well with the 500, as the engine grew larger the lack of rigidity appeared to enhance vibration. During the 1950s most factories increased the size of the engine, with 650cc being considered the maximum reasonable size for a UBM, due to those vibratory concerns. In 1955 Matchless elected to bore out the engine to 72mm for an increase to 593cc — called a 600, designated as a G11. This was followed by the G11CS, or Competition Sprung, a street-legal scrambler with easily removable lights, and the G11CSR, a more roadworthy version, often called the Coffee Shop Racer. The CS models came with higher compression ratios and other performance enhancements…and often more problems. The frame used a single downtube to meet up with the full cradle holding the engine.
In 1958 Matchless offered 17 different models, including the first G12 650. The very important American market had been demanding that 650, the dealers needing it to compete with the Triumph and BSA 650s. Small problem: the engine could not be bored out any more. Solution: increase the stroke to 79.3mm, or 646cc. That was the G12, with the basic road-going model having valanced fenders and a reliable 7.5:1 compression ratio, and two sportier CS models with an 8.5:1 compression ratio and light alloy fenders.
The restroked engine required a new crankshaft, made of “nodular” iron, which flexed enough to reduce vibrations. It was also designed to incorporate a Lucas alternator, though still with six-volt electrics. A new frame with twin downtubes now welded to the full cradle was developed, which did help in reducing the vibration inherent in a 650 vertical twin using a 360-degree crankshaft, although the single-tube frame was also used. The motorcycle seen here, which was built from bits and pieces, has a 1961 G12 engine in a 1959 single downtube frame. An AMC Teledraulic fork is up front, a pair of Girling shock absorbers at the back.
Gas tanks varied in size according to the model and year, but this ’61 G12CS carried only two gallons, all you would need in a race, and was said to weigh 425 pounds with a full tank. And with 5.3 pints of oil in the reservoir.
Other changes occurred over the G12’s years, including 12-volt electrics, sending out decent visibility from the seven-inch headlight. The basic G12 had 18-inch wheels, while this CS was running 19-inchers. Distance between the axles was a little more than 55 inches. Brakes were single-leading-shoe drums, an eight-incher on the front, seven on the back.
One interesting bit of history is that the Matchless marque was originally sold in the U.S. by Californian Frank Cooper, who became the AMC importer around 1946. He did quite well selling singles to win desert races, though the twins were not as popular.
In 1953, AMC acquired financially troubled Norton, although Norton production and sales remained quite separate, the U.S. importer being Joe Berliner, or J.B. Then, in 1960, AMC bought the Indian Sales Corp., which had been selling rebadged Royal Enfields — this was to get the Indian dealers, such as they were, to sell Matchboxes rather than Royal Oilfields. And AMC summarily fired Cooper, after 14 years of good work.
However, AMC filed for bankruptcy in 1962 (Cooper must have laughed), resulting in Matchless being merged more closely with Norton, and Berliner having to deal with Matchless as well. In early 1963, J.B. Matchless Corp. put a full-page ad in Cycle magazine promoting the G12CS and G12CSR…along with the 750cc G15 Matchless, which looked surprisingly like the Norton Atlas model that had appeared in 1962. In 1963 that old 1952 Matchless/Norton arrangement, keeping them separate, changed drastically as bill collectors were pounding on both doors, and Norton production moved from its old Birmingham factory 100 miles southeast to Plumstead.
Not surprisingly, interest in the G12 waned considerably. The last Matchless ad I could find in a U.S. moto-mag was in Cycle’s July 1966 issue, featuring the Atlas-based G15, and mentioning one G12CSR and two G80 singles. At the time British bureaucrats, knowing nothing about motorcycles, thought they could save the industry by merging Matchless, AJS and Norton into the company of an affluent entrepreneur and racecar driver, Dennis Poore. Poore was already looking after the Villiers engineering firm, which made most of the British two-stroke motorcycle engines. The Matchless and AJS names dropped from sight, and the new company was called Norton-Villiers.
When the sharp-looking W800 Cafe was announced for the U.S. market for 2019, reactions were predictably mixed. Yes, the cafe racer look was cool…but there was a vocal chorus of Boomers who yearned for the classic look and feel of Kawasaki’s latest “W” iteration, but could you please lose the drop-down handlebar and give us something with a “sensible” riding position? Perhaps the standard W800 the rest of the world gets?
Someone at Kawasaki must have been listening (even if it was just to sales figures), as for 2020 Team Green has announced the W800 is coming to America, with its bench seat, chrome fenders and — thank goodness! — standard handlebar.
The 733cc air-cooled vertical twin with its distinctive exterior cam shaft-drive is unchanged except for the polished aluminum finish, as opposed to the blacked-out look on the W800 Cafe. Other parts are also less modernized, like the classic large, round turn signals with orange lens covers, silver spoked tube-type wheels (though now a 19-inch up front rather than the Cafe’s 18), aforementioned chrome fenders, chrome tank badging and polished finish on the gaitered fork tubes.
Other modern conveniences carry over: standard 2-channel ABS, an assist-and-slipper clutch and a bright LED headlight. Notably, the standard W800 gets a centerstand, which was missing on the Cafe.
Best of all, the W800 is priced a bit more competitively than its Cafe sibling, at $9,199. The 2020 Kawasaki W800 comes in Candy Cardinal Red and exact availability is TBD.
This was a little cutie, and inexpensive, too. Just $430 ($3,200 today) would get you this minimalist high-piped single in 1967. Not that the bike was set up for quarter-mile times, but a real lightweight rider with a strong wind at his back might break 20 seconds. What do you expect from a 120?
Kawasaki was the last of the Japanese Big Four to get into the American market, when an American-owned subsidiary appeared in Chicago in 1963 offering a few two-stroke singles. Early ads promoted its connection with the Kawasaki Aircraft Co. Ltd., which was shut down following WWII but started building planes again in 1954. The big K soon saw the error of its ways and set up a Kawasaki-owned operation in Los Angeles in 1965, sensibly giving the Americans involved a good deal of say in what should be built for the U.S. market.
Two-stroke singles were the rage, cheap and simple, the essential engine having just three moving parts. In the home market Kawasaki knew that winning on Sunday meant selling on Monday, so it worked hard to score points in the racing world of Japan, using rotary valves instead of the old-fashioned piston-port design and applying the same sophistication to its street bikes.
In 1964 Kawasaki showed the C2SS (Street Scrambler) to the home market, an attractive little single intended for the pavement, with a stylish upswept exhaust pipe. It also offered the “trail kit,” an optional bundle of pieces that would turn this into a proper trail bike…of sorts. The kit had an adapter for raising the front fender, a luggage rack and a second rear sprocket mounted next to the stock one. The stock sprocket had 37 teeth and a first-gear ratio of 25:1. In a few minutes time the rider could loosen a few bolts and slide the new 59-tooth sprocket over the old one, giving a ratio of 40:1. Good for going up Mount Fuji!
In 1967 two very similar C2 120 models came to the U.S., the TR (Trail Rider) and the SS, both with street-scrambler styling. Obviously the word was that Americans thought that an upswept exhaust system was cool, and that occasionally leaving the pavement was great fun. The bikes were also given the Road Runner name. Most of us can remember the Road Runner cartoon character, a bird that was always being chased across the desert by Wile E. Coyote. The owner’s manual had an illustration of the bird. Obviously the California fellows thought this would be a great name for the bike, but there is no mention of whether the KMC execs ever asked “Looney Tunes” for permission.
The TR was slightly more off-road oriented, having knobbier tires, a smaller front fender mounted well above the wheel, slightly shortened saddle, bash plate and a big luggage rack — for carrying all that camping gear for the trip into the wilderness. Although the engine was a bit on the small side for anyone wanting to tackle rough, steep terrain.
The cylinder was aluminum with a cast iron liner and was almost square, with a 53mm bore, 52.5mm stroke for an actual 115cc and a compression ratio of 6.7:1. The factory was claiming 11.5 horses at 7,000 rpm, which was a small herd from a small paddock, with one pony for every 10cc; very neat. The advertised torque curve — what there was of it — was pleasantly flat, with 6.5 lb-ft at 2,000 rpm, maxing out at 9.1 lb-ft at 5,000 and dropping off to 7 lb-ft at an over-revved 8,000.
An 18mm Mikuni carburetor was coupled with an automatic lubrication system, called Superlube. The oil tank, easily accessible under the seat, delivered the lubricant (the amount being dependent on the throttle opening) to the front of the rotary valve, where it would mix with the gas. Fouling plugs was a thing pretty much of the past.
Oil-level viewing was on the left side panel.
The engine cases, made of aluminum alloy, held the cylinder up front, gearbox behind. Power ran back to a four-speed transmission of the rotary style, which meant the rider could go all the way around from fourth directly to neutral to first gear, or shift backwards through third and second. The shift lever was heel and toe so downshifting could be done without besmirching the rider’s white bucks. Remember those?
The chassis did have some off-road pretensions, the photo model having a curious optional brace bolted to the lower legs of the fork and looping over the wheel in front of the fender. It may also have fended off the brush that an enthusiastic rider might get into. The full double-cradle frame was made of mild steel and very strong by the swingarm pivot. The double-cradle aspect extended to a pair of tubes forming the backbone under the tank and then going farther back from the main cradle to support the saddle and the tops of the two shock absorbers. Even with the aforementioned bash plate, there was more than six inches of ground clearance. Suspension was, well, not competitive, but quite adequate for the college-aged fellow who liked having a coed pressed against his back as they cruised the city streets.
Wheels were 18 inches at both ends, with small drum brakes that worked OK considering the speeds the Road Runner went. Forty-five inches between the axles made for a short machine. With 1.7 gallons of gas in the tank, weight was a modest 186 pounds.
The C2 Road Runners went away late in 1969; did“Looney Tunes” have anything to do with that?
This has to be one of the least-known motorcycles built since the end of World War II, with an Ariel 4G Mark II Square Four engine bolted into a Roger Slater frame. The photo model is one of the two prototypes, and lacks some of the amenities of the production versions – such as the side panels.
The Healey 1000/4 does not appear to be listed in any of the popular motorcycle encyclopedias, and the only major mention to be found in motorcycle histories are some three pages in Roy Bacon’s “Ariel – The Postwar Models.” I remember reading something about it in an American motorcycle magazine in the early 1970s, but that is about it. After punching a few keys on my computer a dozen different sites come up, with varied information. Any number of articles have probably been written about this bike in British magazines, but apparently those stories are not online.
Starting at the beginning means back to the first 997cc OHV Ariel 4G engine. An earlier, smaller, OHC version existed, but we’ll leave that out. That 4G was around from 1936 to 1959, with Ariel advertising Squariels that last year, along with the new two-strokes.
The biggest problem with an air-cooled square four is that the front cylinders do fine, but the rear pair can overheat. Over the quarter-century of the 4G’s production – minus a couple of years due to the war – there were continuous upgrades in the run that totaled some 12,000 bikes. The final Mark II version had an alloy cylinder block with pressed-in barrels, and a lightweight alloy cylinder head with a slightly X-shaped induction manifold feeding all four cylinders via just one SU carburetor. A single transverse camshaft operated the eight valves. Two separate cast aluminum exhaust manifolds ran four separate header pipes, better for cooling. The dry sump engine had eight pints of oil in the reservoir. The oil-bathed primary chain ran back to a dry clutch, and the four-speed gearbox was a Burman GB.
The original purpose of this model was to haul sidecars, so it did not have much in the way of horsepower – around 40 with the 7.2:1 compression – but bags of torque. Sprinting, the British word for drag racing, was popular in the 1950s, and a stock Mark II, being rather hefty, ran in the mid-15s with a speed of around 85 mph. One fellow put a supercharger on a Vincent V-twin and turned 11.3 seconds in 1958, but when somebody tried that with a 4G, it ended with a big BANG! as the cylinders separated from the crankcase.
A pair of brothers, George and Tim Healey, liked playing around with the 4Gs, and were sprinting them in the 1960s. Some time after Ariel shut down 4G production, the Healeys began gathering up the unsold stock. They had a shop in Redditch, a few miles south of the Ariel factory, and by 1967 the spares were running out and building replacement parts had become their full-time business, called the Ariel Sq4 Specialists. Then they decided to build their own motorcycle.
The old Square Four had a rather basic, and heavy, cradle frame, with an Ariel fork and Anstey-link plunger suspension at the back. The boys got in touch with Slater, who was making tubular spine-type frames for Vincents under an agreement with Fritz Egli (read about the Egli-Vincent here). Could he make a similar design for the Square Four? Not a problem. Essentially the engine was suspended from the frame, using half a dozen through-bolts. Up front a turnbuckle went from the steering head to the crankcase – just in case there might be a similar BANG!, this would prevent the crankcase from falling to the road. Slater built the prototypes, and production versions were manufactured in Redditch. The oil supply was held in the backbone, with the Healeys putting in an improved lubrication system and bolting an oil cooler on up front.
Metal Profile, a noted company that supplied forks to many British motorcycle companies, made the front fork, with tapered roller bearings used at the head. Rear shocks were by Girling, with two-way damping. Brakes were Italian, a powerful alloy drum having a pair of two leading shoes to slow the front wheel, single leading shoe at the back. Spoked wheels were both 18-inchers, with a 3.25 tire on the front, a 4.00 on the rear. The large gas tank on this prototype was a Slater design, but when the bike went into production, a more refined style was used. Instruments were speedo, tach, ammeter, sitting above a seven-inch headlight; a little clock was added to the production dash.
End result was somewhat impressive. Better cooling and lubrication allowed the compression ratio to be upped to 7.5:1. The Healey advertising said the 1000/4 put out 50 horsepower, 10 more than the old Mark II. Potential self-destruction kept radical changes at bay. Wheelbase was 57 inches, seat height 30 inches, and ground clearance at the unprotected sump was 7.5 inches. Most impressive was the weight, 355 pounds dry, 80 pounds less than the Mark II.
The first showing of a production bike was at Britain’s big motorcycle show in late 1971, and improvements went on over the next six years, ending with disc brakes and mag wheels, Italian fork and shocks. But the price was high, more than the new-in-1975 Gold Wing, and the company shut down in 1977. Precisely how many production models were built and sold is not known, but 18 seems to be a fair number. Plus nine or 10 kits for people who already had the 4G engine. Collectability? A Healey sold at auction for $40,000 in 2016.
It would be entertaining to find out how much this little turbo cost Suzuki, as in development and manufacturing expenses versus sales. Probably it was a heckuva lot. In the very early 1980s turbo-mania was in the air, and Honda and Yamaha were the first out, with the four Japanese manufacturers prone to following one another.
Remember the Universal Japanese Motorcycle? Four cylinders in line, preferably with an overhead camshaft or two. Well, this was the turbo version, and while Honda used the OHV V-twin CX500 for its turbo, the rest were UJMs. In 1981 Suzuki came out with two 650cc UJMs, the chain-driven sporty E and the shaft-drive commuter G. Similar, but different. And Suzuki realized that this two-valve (per cylinder) motor was rapidly becoming obsolete, replaced by the four-valver. So how could it get a little more use from the powerplant? Put it in the Turbo!
For the Turbo the engineers took the G’s one-piece forged crankshaft running on plain bearings, instead of the E’s roller bearings. Apparently plain bearings are smoother running. But the three 650s all had those two-valve heads, and twin overhead camshafts, that are the pretty much the same. However, everything on the Turbo’s engine, from connecting rods to cylinder studs, was strengthened.
Amusingly, when looking at the magazine spec sheets for all three bikes one notes that they all have a bore and stroke of 65 x 55.8, but the E and G are said to have 674cc capacity, while the Turbo is 673cc. The wonders of finite numbers. And copy editing.
After Honda and Yamaha began working on their turbos, probably a little corporate spying was going on. I can see the Suzuki marketing types charging into the CEO’s office and demanding that a turbo be built. Maybe somebody ran it past the financial department, maybe not. The XN85 appeared less than a year after the others, but more work had gone into the project, as it was truly a semi-new machine, excepting the reworked motor.
As anybody who wrote a Ph.D. thesis on Japanese turbocharged motorcycles knows, that funny XN85 alpha-numeration came from Suzuki’s claim that the turbo 673cc put out 85 horsepower – which it might have, at the crankshaft. Fair enough, but the real world was more interested in what happened at the rear wheel, where a dyno measured 71 horses at 8,000 rpm. And close to 50 lb-ft of torque at 6,500 rpm. Which was quite respectable, and a lightweight rider might sneak into the 11s in the popular quarter-mile drags. The flow of air and a big oil cooler, with more than three quarts of oil in the system, kept the engine heat under control. A new aspect of the cooling system was the forcible spray of oil on the bottom of the pistons, quite useful in keeping these little round things intact.
The IHI (Ishikawajima-Harima Industries) turbo was mounted close to the electronic fuel injectors, which were just beyond the butterfly valve, and the blast of pressurized air would jam that fuel right into those combustion chambers. Where, in the interests of longevity, the compression ratios had been drastically lowered, from the 9.5:1 of the E and G to 7.4:1. The turbo had a non-adjustable pressure gauge and when the boost went over 9.6 psi the waste gate would open. The electronic ignition also had an ability to read boost pressures, retarding timing as the boost mounted. And should that waste gate get stuck, the ignition could deal with that as well. Pretty smart device. When the turbo began to intrude around 5,000 rpm, the lag was noticeable, but less than on the competition.
The real trick with this XN85 was not so much the engine, but the chassis. The main frame was a round-tube double-cradle affair, with a triangulated backbone running to the steering head. Up front was a 37mm Kayaba fork, with anti-dive and air-adjustability, providing 5.5 inches of travel. Rake was a conservative 27 degrees, with trail of 3.9 inches. The fork connected to a 16-inch front wheel – which surprised many. Sixteen inches?! That was racing stuff. But even with a pretty lengthy 58.7 inches between axles, the bike handled extremely well. Probably helped along by the Full-Floater rear suspension, using an aluminum swingarm with caged needle bearings, the single Kayaba shock having remote hydraulic preload adjustment. And 4.1 inches of travel.
The front wheel was endowed with a pair of 10-inch discs and single-piston calipers, while the rear wheel, a 17-incher, had an 11-inch disc with a single-piston caliper. They sound a bit iffy when compared to today’s GSX-R650 with radially mounted monoblock brakes, but the XN85 is 36 years in the past.
The half fairing looked great, and did a good job of protecting the rider if he wished to exceed the government-mandated 55-mph speed limit. The seat, 30.5 inches above the ground, was comfy, and the flat handlebar allowed for a cheerful 200-mile range – which was about what the five-gallon tank allowed. The fairing did disguise the fact that a modified version of the Ram Air System served to help cool the cylinders; the new design did not look at all like the RAS on the two-stroke triples in the 1970s.
Somehow the Turbo’s curb weight had shot up 70 pounds over the previous E model, weighing in at 550 pounds.
According to numbers found on the Internet, the factory produced only 1,153 of these turbos from 1983 to 1985, of which 300 in the first batch came to the United States. And sold at $4,700. A good reason for that was the third iteration of Suzuki’s normally-aspirated 750 four, which also came out in 1983, now with four valves per cylinder and Full-Floater rear suspension. It put out 72 horsepower at the rear wheel, weighed 30 pounds less than the Turbo and cost a mere $3,500. Talk about trumping your own ace!
Obviously the remaining 853 turbos were sold in motorcycling hotspots like Mongolia and Libya, in case you are looking for a used one.
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.
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!”
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.
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.
Fifty years ago, in 1969, the first BMW motorcycle rolled off the assembly line at BMW’s factory in Berlin Spandau. The new /5 series (pronounced “slash five”) included the R 50/5, R 60/5 and R 75/5, and sported a new chassis and engine and a fresh, modern design with a wide range of bold color options.
In honor of the 50th anniversary of the classic /5 series, BMW has announced a special R nineT /5 that evokes the look and spirit of the originals.
The 2019 R nineT /5 features black kneepads on a gorgeous Lupine Blue metallic tank, with a smoke effect, double-line pin stripe, a special 50th anniversary badge and a double seat with white piping. Other /5 details include chrome mirrors, exhaust manifold and silencer, fork gaiters and brushed aluminum engine covers, gearbox, fork tubes and wheels.
Otherwise the R nineT /5 is familiar, with its air- and oil-cooled 1,170cc opposed-twin boxer engine, spoked tube-type rims, standard ABS, ASC (automatic stability control) and heated grips and 6-speed gearbox.
You probably wouldn’t think that new riders looking for a cheap and unintimidating starter bike would have much in common with budget-minded veterans who neither need nor want the expense and complexity of new models. But the requirements of both often seem to converge around middleweights from the mid-1990s. At the center of this particular Venn diagram is Yamaha’s Seca II, a bike whose modest specifications belie its versatility, and whose used price is such a bargain you almost can’t afford to not buy one.
The Seca’s 599cc engine has dual overhead cams, two valves per cylinder, four 28mm Mikuni carbs and a six-speed gearbox. There’s little in that list to make a sportbike rider’s heart beat faster, but that wasn’t what Yamaha was after. With 61 horsepower on tap, the 452-pound Seca is sufficient to introduce novice riders to the heady joys of acceleration while keeping the transportation-focused ones from becoming hood ornaments on the freeway.
What the Seca lacks in sheer excitement it makes up for in practicality, usually as a backup for your hot-blooded sportbike or your elephantine tourer. The Seca won’t take up much of your weekends with maintenance or repair; the understressed engine routinely sends the odometer past the 50,000-mile mark with little more than regular oil changes and the occasional chain service. Some high-mile engines sound like they have a dollar’s worth of loose change in the crankcase, but synching the carbs and adjusting the valves usually clears it up.
One very large red flag is if the starter spins without turning over the engine. A stripped idler gear might be the cause, and it’s not an easy fix–the crankcases have to be split to get at it. Leaky valve-cover and clutch-cover gaskets are common but easily fixed.
The Seca’s chassis mimics the engine’s no-big-deal philosophy. The tubular-steel frame has a 38mm non-adjustable front fork, a single rear shock with preload adjustment, a 320mm single disc brake and a 245mm rear. Cast wheels are shod with a 110/80-17 front tire and 130/70-18 rear. The seat is 30.3 inches off the deck and, while not actually built for touring, is tolerable for one or two riders on day rides. Mileage is typically in the 45-55 mpg range, depending on how you load the bike and how hard you flog it.
The fairing does a decent job of blunting the wind. But like all plastic parts, and especially those on older bikes, it’s expensive to replace, so look closely for cracks around the mounting points and the windscreen, and be prepared to lower your offer substantially depending on what you find. Also inspect the fuel petcock for leaks. Faulty ones let gas drain into the engine, leading to the aforementioned starter idler gear losing its teeth as it strains against flooded cylinders.
The Seca’s reputation for reliability is sometimes its downfall, as owners neglect necessary chores in favor of more road time. Check used examples for leaks, loose steering-head bearings and crash damage. Shine a light in the tank and look for rust caused by water in the gas. The Seca is notoriously cold-blooded, but if it can’t be ridden cleanly off the choke after 10 minutes something’s up. Book prices range from just under a grand for a 1992 model to $1,300 for a ’98.
Yamaha XJ600 Seca II
Pros: A solid and reliable middleweight that won’t keep you up late at night in the garage. A learner bike worth keeping.
Cons: All the flair of vanilla ice cream. Gets you there with little fuss, and less excitement.
Specs: Displacement: 599cc Final drive: Chain Wet Weight: 452 lbs. Fuel capacity: 4.6 gals. Seat Height: 30.3 in.
Nice little bike. Great for commuting, but entirely capable of a cross-country trip. This model was an answer to problems in the global economy. The dollar was devalued in 1971, with President Nixon taking us off the gold standard, meaning we had less money to spend on foreign products. Also, Congress was upping the import tariffs on lots of things, trying to figure out how to pay for the war in Vietnam. In response, Kawasaki decided to build a factory in Lincoln, Nebraska. This was not a real manufacturing facility, but more of an assembly plant, as the import duties on bits and pieces of a motorcycle were a lot less than bringing in a whole one.
Kawasaki had been looking at the success of Honda’s little four-stroke twin, the CB350, which had modest performance but all the amenities Americans seemed to like, including an electric starter. Kawasaki’s R&D backroom boys put their heads together, drew up plans and came forth with a very efficient, if rather uninspired, 398cc vertical twin, with a 360-degree crankshaft, an overhead camshaft and an electric leg. In June of 1974 the first KZ400 rolled off the assembly line in Akashi, Japan, and a number of them arrived in the United States. But that was just the beginning, as the factory was turning out a lot more parts than those assembly line workers could use. Crates of them were going to Nebraska. In January of 1975 a KZ400 rolled off the Lincoln line with “Made in the USA” on the ID plate.
One should add that the price of gas went up 45 percent between 1973 and 1975, from 39 cents per gallon to 57 cents. Could there be a better time for a 50-mpg econo-bike to hit the market?
The frame was a simple double cradle having dual downtubes, with a big, fat backbone tube meeting up with the cradle at the swingarm pivot, a very solid affair that avoided any notion of flexiness. Front fork was by Kawasaki, very much like a Ceriani, and on the inexpensive, non-adjustable side. Five inches of travel was good, with a 27-degree rake and trail of approximately four inches offering a very middle-of-the-road stance. The swingarm ran out 20 inches, bouncing along on a cheap pair of Kawasaki shock absorbers having preload adjustability and three inches of travel. Too soft, reviewers said.
Spoked wheels were both 18 inchers, the front carrying a 3.25 tire, the rear, 3.50. Braking was done by a single 226mm (10.91-inch) disc on the front, a 180mm (7.09-inch) drum on the back. As a polite reviewer might say, adequate. But this was not intended for sporting riding like the Z-1, and the brakes worked fine for commuter use. Distance between the axles was 53.3 inches.
The wet-sump engine was straightforward, being slightly oversquare with a 64mm bore, 62mm stroke. Of minor note was the chain-driven counter-rotating balancer system down in the crankcase, called “harmonic” by one reviewer. It did not smooth out all vibrations, but for anyone happy to ride at two-thirds of redline (9,000 rpm) it was entirely adequate. Commuters, the intended buyers, were not known as rip-snorting riders.
The four valves, two per cylinder, were pushed down by a single overhead camshaft, and 36mm Keihin CV carbs fed high-test gas (preferred) and air into the combustion chambers, where it was compressed 9:1. The engine was rated by the factory at 35 ponies, which was usually measured at the crankshaft, not the rear wheel; on a dyno it was closer to 29. Respectable; good for an honest 90 mph. In 1977, with the fuel crisis in the headlines, the carb size was reduced to 32mm to enhance mileage figures a little. And the compression was raised to 9.4:1, which served to create roughly the same power output. Ignition was by battery and single two-feed coil. Starting was by button, except a kickstarter was there as a backup, as many Americans did not yet fully trust electrically powered gizmos.
Primary drive was via a Hy-Vo chain, and then through a wet clutch to a five-speed transmission and chain final drive. The long, flat saddle was great for one person, a bit crowded for two. Looks were OK, with shiny chrome fenders and nice paint on the 3.2-gallon gas tank and side panels. Curb weight was a shade more than 400 pounds. The only complaint seemed to be about occasional oil weepage coming from around the head.
The number of KZ400 models expanded. The D series, the essential KZ400 that we have here, went from ’74 to ’77 and cost $1,170 in ’74. The cheaper S series, with a drum front brake and no electric starter, went for $995 in ’75. And for one year, ’77, there was the A model, with small handlebar fairing, saddlebags and luggage rack.
For ’78 the D designation became a B, with a redesign in the head, a slightly different gas tank and mufflers, an extra gear in the transmission and the fuel tap getting a diaphragm. The low-price version stayed with five speeds and had a two-into-one exhaust. And there was the stepped-saddle LTD “custom” model, with cast wheels.
This modest motorcycle was also a modest financial success. Kawasaki ran a lot of entertaining ads focused on the commuter, one saying, “More fun than any car I ever drove.” This ’76 model, in the same family since new, is quite stock except for the MAC mufflers.
For 1980 the engine was bored out to 67.5 mm, a 10 percent increase in size, and received a new KZ440 designation, giving the basic design four more years of life.