THEY are often considered the high point of motorcycle engine design — Japan’s 500cc two stroke grand prix bikes virtually ended the horsepower war by generating more power than any tyre manufacturer could ever hope to handle; more power than any frame could ever hope to contain; more power than any race course designer could ever hope to accommodate; more power than any rider could ever hope to use.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, riders like Englishman Barry Sheene and American Kenny Roberts managed to control the fire-breathing two strokes well enough to get to the front of any pack and, provided they didn’t crash and their bikes didn’t hand-grenade, to stay there.
Sheene’s ride at the Belgian Grand Prix in July 1977 has gone down in history as the fastest motorcycle GP race of all time. His square-four Suzuki averaged (yes, averaged) just over 217kmh.
Not surprisingly, bike riders across the globe wanted to ride a bike like Sheene’s square-four Suzuki or Roberts’ V-four Yamaha.
The Yamaha RZ500 came first in 1984, looking all the biz like a race bike. Suzuki responded the following year with the RG500. The Yamaha had a broader powerband and was considered easier to ride; the Suzuki was explosive.
Perth classic bike enthusiast Tim Wright remembers those years well.
“When I was in my late teens, I really wanted to own an RZ500,” Tim told The Bike Shed Times last week. “But a friend of mine told me I’d regret it. ‘Get an RG instead’, he said. And I did.”
Tim located a second-hand RG in Perth and loved it — but a fatal accident in which he lost a best friend put an end to his early bike riding.
“When my friend died, I instantly lost interest in bikes,” Tim says. “I sold my RG, literally, the very next day.”
Tim didn’t ride another motorbike for 15 years.
“The years passed, and a few of my friends bought bikes. One day I climbed on a Honda Fireblade. It was incredibly fast but, even more than that, I could hardly believe how quickly it stopped – I grabbed the brakes and almost went over the handlebars.”
The bike bug had been reinstalled, and Tim wanted to reconnect with the bikes he loved as a teenager. But this time he decided not to make a choice between an RG500 and an RZ500 — he tracked down and bought one of each, and has restored them to showroom condition.
“To be honest, I haven’t done much of the work. I’m the guy with the chequebook, and I tracked down parts and such. Most of the work was done by two young men who work for me, James Williams and my son Mike.”
The day I visited Tim’s auto-electrical business in Osborne Park, the two bikes had just been washed. Still dripping water, they gleamed brighter than any 30+ year old bike should.
“The paintwork (by Motorcycle Panel and Paint) is just perfect, and a lot of time has gone into polishing them,” he said. “I’ve been told the bikes are ‘over-restored’, but I don’t care. That’s how I like it.”
The RG, in particular, is a showcase of perfection. Every nut, every washer, every clip and fitting is correct.
“I think I got a bit obsessive-compulsive with the Suzuki,” Tim says. “I try not to think about how much it owes me.”
Both of Tim’s bikes were on show at last year’s York Motorcycle Festival, and the RZ won ‘Best Japanese Vintage’.
“I was very surprised that the Yamaha won, considering how much extra effort went into the Suzuki,” he says. “But you never know with these things!”