My motorcycle history started in 1991 when I bought my first motorcycle, a Suzuki X1-ZR50 in white. The X1 had a small nose fairing, and looked like a mini 70’s superbike to me as a 16 year old. The bike had been well cared for and everything worked properly when I picked it up and rode it home for the first time. In 1991 the law regarding riding motorcycles changed, and now required learners to obtain a compulsory basic training (CBT) certificate.
Passing my first motorcycle test
To obtain the certificate you needed to attend a several training sessions, and be assessed by instructors. When you have passed your CBT you can legally ride a 49cc motorcycle at 16 years old, and a 124cc motorcycle at 17 years old. The CBT certificate was valid for two years, which resulted in you having to retake the CBT if you hadn’t already passed the full motorcycle license.
Stepping up to a 125cc motorcycle
When I reached 17 years old I decided to buy a Honda CB125 for a step-up in performance, and have something more suitable for taking my full motorcycle license test. The CB125 only lasted a few months due to an accident which involved a car driver pulling out in front of me at a junction. After I had recovered from the accident it would have been sensible to take driving lessons and buy a car but I was keen to get back on a bike again, so I bought another CB125. When I obtained my full motorcycle license I was keen to step up from the Honda CB125 and decided to buy a Suzuki GSX250.
Moving on to big motorcycles
The GSX250 handled well but the 250 engine was underpowered and overcomplicated. It also became clear that the bike had been the victim of poor maintenance botched electrics which caused reliability problems. I kept the GSX250 for approximately 6 months before deciding to buy a 1976 Yamaha RD400 from a friend. The RD400 was ten years older than the GSX250 which it replaced but was a significant improvement in engine performance.
The two stroke Yamaha years
The RD400 chassis and brakes were typical 70’s being fairly useless as standard, but the engine made up for the deficiencies. The two stroke 400cc engine allowed the RD400 to reach around 100mph, and with relative light weight it also had excellent acceleration. The RD400 was responsible for my first speeding ticket and regular wheelies away form the traffic lights. Whilst the RD400 was fun it was also impractical as regular transport, primarily because it was too cramped for someone of my height. I decided to keep the RD400 for weekend fun and buy another bike which would be more practical and modern.
Mixing things up with a big Suzuki
I had seen pictures of the Suzuki Katana in various motorcycle magazines and instantly loved the styling, and liked the idea of having the power of the 750cc engine. Buying a Suzuki Katana was a significant investment at the time so after obtaining a bank loan I contacted DK Motorcycles and asked them to import a bike from Japan. The Katana was only officially imported to the UK for a short period of time, and most of the examples for sale within the UK were either too expensive or in poor condition. The Katana SE model was fitted with a pop-up headlight which was very cool in the 80’s, and gave the Katana a very sleek look with the headlight in the down position.
Buying another Yamaha RD
When I first rode the Katana it was in a completely different league when compared to my previous motorcycles, with superior chassis and speed. The Katana also drew a lot of attention wherever it was parked because so few of them were brought to the UK, and also looked very futuristic. At this point I now owned two motorcycles but temptation got the better of me when I saw a Yamaha RD250 for sale locally, so the tally was increased to three. The RD250 was from the same era as the RD400 but with a slightly smaller engine, but still had the wheelie characteristics of its bigger brother.
During my ownership of the Katana I started to develop a liking for the larger 4 stroke motorcycles with their reliability and performance on the road. After owning the Katana for two years I wanted to step-up again to something more aligned with a superbike you would see racing at the Isle of Man TT or World Superbikes. The motorcycle magazines at the time were featuring great motorcycles such as the Honda CBR900, Suzuki GSXR1100, and Ducati 888. Whilst the Honda and Ducati were superior handling motorcycles, the GSXR1100 had a brutal charm, with an engine which offered huge tuning potential and interchangeable parts across the GSXR1100 and GSXR750 production life.
Stepping up to the Suzuki GSXR1100
I was hooked on the GSXR1100 so in order to make some room for a new ride, the RD250 was sold to a friend. After searching through the classified adverts at the back of motorcycling magazines I found a GSXR1100 for sale locally. The bike sported original bodywork but had been fitted with later wheels and uprated brakes, which is a popular modification. A deal was struck and the bike was delivered to me the following week with a fresh MOT. The first shock when the GSXR1100 was the increase to my insurance premium, but was soon overshadowed by the awesome performance on my first test ride. The GSXR1100 has a top speed approaching 160mph and will accelerate to 60mph under 4 seconds, and with the uprated wheels and brakes it was amazing first ride. When I had come to terms with riding the GSXR1100, the other bikes in the garage felt mediocre so I decided to trade the Katana and the RD400 for another GSXR1100!
The second GSXR1100 didn’t have the upgraded brakes or wheels so I used it as regular transport, and kept the modified GSXR1100 for fun on the back roads. I kept upgrading my modified GSXR1100 with performance parts, including increased engine capacity to 1109 from 1052 and upgraded carburettors.
My first taste of superbike v-twins
The second GSXR1100 provided reliable service as my regular transport but I fancied buying something new, and v-twins was the fashion in World Superbikes. The motorcycle that most riders lusted after was the Ducati 916, primarily due to the success of Carl Forgarty and Troy Corser in WSB during the late 90’s. I tried a 916 demonstrator at a local bike dealer and whilst it was fast and handled well, it was too uncomfortable for someone of my height.
The Aprilia RSV and RST
I had given up on v-twins until Italian manufacturer Aprilia introduced the RSV Mille. The RSV Mille had very similar power and handling characteristics to 916, but was a larger bike and suited taller riders. In 2002 I had saved enough money to buy a low mileage 2001 RSV Mille R, and immediately realised what I had been missing. The RSV Mille R was the upgraded version of the standard bike with Ohlins suspension and single seat unit. The RSV was a very focused sports bike with superb handling and a powerful v-twin engine, which had an addictive quality when rolling on the power out of corners.
After purchasing the RSV I couldn’t justify keeping the second GSXR1100, so I decided to sell it to a friend along with some spares to upgrade the wheels and brakes. Having reduced by bike tally back to two bikes in the garage, I then started to realise that Aprilia also offered other less sportier versions of the RSV. I now had two bikes which were great fun but not very good for regular use or long distances for touring. After doing some research I realised that the Aprilia RST Futura was the bike I needed, with a slightly detuned RSV engine and sports touring luggage and comfort. When the RST Futura was released in 2001 it was directly competing with Honda’s super reliable and sturdy VFR800, and as a consequence the RST didn’t sell in large numbers and was dropped from Aprilia’s line-up in 2003.
In 2008 I managed to find a low mileage 2003 RST, which also included the hard luggage. After a few phone calls I secured a deposit on the bike, and picked it up the following weekend from a dealer near Silverstone race circuit. The RST was everything that I had expected, and was more than capable of back road tomfoolery with sensible characteristics for fully loaded long distance touring.
The tough times with cancer
After a few months on ownership I planned to take the RST on a trip to Europe on 2009 but life threatening illness changed everything. After being diagnosed with cancer, undergoing treatment and having to lose my left eye most people would have given up on motorcycles but I’m glad that I kept the faith. It took a while to rebuild my confidence and also put myself through a DVLA reassessment but eventually I was back riding, and loving every minute of it. I still had the RSV, RST and GSXR1100 in the garage but ebay got the better of in 2010 and I decided to purchase a Yamaha FJ1100 as a winter hack.
Moving on and new barn find projects
The FJ1100 was only £650, and it felt like it when I reached home. The engine was strong but the handling, clutch and brakes were awful. When I started to check the bike over I had probably got what I paid for, so decided to used it as intended and purchase few minor service parts from the FJ Owners Club. Although the FJ1100 engine was strong, it was also noisy due to rattling starter chain. The rattling doesn’t impact the performance and reliability but does become annoying, and is a very difficult problem to solve because the starter chain is driven directly from the crankshaft with no tensioner.
After using the bike through winter and fixing some of the minor faults I decided that it was time to move it on, and look for a project bike to use as winter transport. After selling the FJ1100 I decided to build a GSXR750 using a project bike bought from ebay and the spare parts pool gathered over a period of years with my friend Simon (You can read more about project GSXR750 here). I hope you enjoyed my motorcycle history, and I will hopefully have more stories to add over the coming months and years.