Reprehensible behaviour on motorcycles during the late 1970s was always entertaining despite Bristol being mostly dull, wet and pretty boring. Swapping my home town for Cape Town at the beginning of the 1980s was a revelation. A true biker’s heaven. Mostly warm and sunny, lovely mountain roads winding around the coast, a vibrant bike scene and did I mention sunshine, lots and lots of it? It was the type of place where you’d happily get out of bed two hours early just to get some riding in before work. All I needed to indulge in all this was a bike!
The Yamaha 350LC was what I really, really wanted (along with about a million other blokes) but money, or rather a lack of it, scuppered that. The best I could do was a Yamaha DT 175, a two-stroke Trail Bike, pretty much like the Suzuki TS 185 I’d owned some years earlier but without its rough and ready character. Anyway, a lack of horsepower was never an obstacle to a bit of two-wheeled idiocy so off I set.
Like many supposed trail bikes, they were actually pretty good little road bikes. The handling, especially ground clearance, was brilliant and only held back by the type of tire generally available for the large front wheels. My DT was never going to do any serious off-roading as I was always crap at that malarkey. However, there were lots of dirt roads around where these capabilities would come in handy. I also had the idea that this might be the bike on which to continue my, up until then, largely pathetic efforts at wheeling. Despite its trail bike pretensions, the DT didn’t really have the grunt needed to get up on one wheel using power alone so I happened on the idea of using an incline to help things along. I found a suitable road which was quite steep and also had a series of crossroads where the surface flattened and served to tilt the bike even more skyward if the front wheel was already elevated. Wanting to record my sterling efforts on film, I asked a mate along to take some photos.
Showing off on bikes for mates with a camera is, as we all know, always a recipe for disaster! Anyway, after many attempts, I started to get the thing pretty vertical and on one occasion even caught the rear number plate on the ground. It must have looked quite good but in truth, very little of what I was doing was actually under control. Unusually for me, I took heed of several near disasters and gave up on the idea of becoming a wheelie king. I was shit and I knew I was!
So far, the DT had proved to be a pretty good backroad scratching tool, decent enough on dirt roads and easily withstood my cack-handed attempts at riding on one wheel. It had another surprise in store though. It accidentally turned out to be a bit of a long-distance, two-up tourer as well. A mate of mine asked me to take him to see some of his long lost relations who he had just discovered lived in a small town which he said was an hour or so by road. Being a nice guy and always up for a ride, I agreed and off we set. My mate was giving directions but it was just a long straight road so I never bothered to look at a map. After an hour or so, we still hadn’t even seen a sign for our destination so we stopped and asked a few people who all agreed we were going the right way. Trouble was, we were riding in a Northerly direction from more or less the foot of Africa so in theory this was the right way for a great many places.
The DT purred along easily at a steady 55 MPH and even coped pretty well when we started to hit a few mountain passes. However, fuel can be a problem when you have a small tank and there are huge distances between filling stations so this started to be a consideration as the day wore on. What I should have done was turn round after we had been on the road for three hours with no end in sight. However, we kept getting told our destination was just up the road a bit and anyway, I was enjoying the ride. After about four hours, the sun went down and we were plunged into darkness (no twilight in that part of the Southern Hemisphere). Being right out in the countryside, there was no street lighting at all and it soon got pretty cold. It looked like we could be in for a cold old night but for someone who appeared not to have a fucking clue where we were, my mate was able to direct me to nearby hamlet of sorts where he thought another of his relations lived. This turned out to be a real test for the DT as we found ourselves riding through deep sand in pitch blackness. There were no road names or actual roads for that matter but we eventually found his relation’s house/shack!
The final leg the next day took another three hours. This place was so remote, bin day wasn’t just for rubbish collection it was also the day they collected the contents of everyone’s outside toilets. So much for a little jaunt up the road! Turns out there were two towns with the same name, one was only 20 odd miles away but the one we needed was over 300. We had to do it all again to get home the next day and we were both pretty saddle sore afterwards. The Yamaha though, took it all in its stride. Good little runner that the DT was, I was still hankering after a 350 LC, the most hooligan of all hooligan bikes EVER!