It is a frosty 27 degrees outside as I write this. I glanced quickly out the window earlier as I took my first few sips of coffee and of course everything appears to be blanketed in a thin white covering and is pretty well frozen. The few inches of snow we received here in Middle Delaware is no doubt crunchy underfoot; that thought caused a memory to float to the surface of my groggy consciousness.
The year was 1974 as I recall. The weather had been very similar to this winter’s weather so far. Alternating between warm and very cold and we had just received a few inches of snow off and on the day before . So it thawed and froze in thin sheets on the roads of my neighborhood as the residual heat from the roadway was gradually absorbed.
The end result was an ice skaters dream. The roads had leveled out, the tire tracks in the snow had been filed in by the fresh snow which had melted just enough to smooth everything over and freeze solid about 4 or 5 inches deep overnight.
After shoveling the walks and driveway and a path to get to and from the car, plus clearing the car and it’s windows of snow and ice I went inside to warm up and have some of that homemade hot chocolate Mom had told me was almost ready.
Once warmed I put on new dry socks and found some dry gloves and ventured back outside on a different mission. I had to…no, Needed To…gain access to the garage. As luck would have it, a few months earlier I had purchased a used Yamaha DT250 similar to this one.
Even back then, in high school I was buying, fixing or modifying minibikes and motorcycles and selling them for profit. The proximity of the Air Force Base and it’s never ending supply of personnel delivered a constant stream of vehicles of all types for sale at reasonable prices. anyway, I picked up this neat, nearly new Yamaha for just really a few dollars. The airman had bought it new, first bike, blah blah blah, Zero maintenance, etc.
As was my habit, I had stripped the bike immediately of all body and fender components and wrapped them in blankets and put them on the high shelves I had built around the inside of the garage. Next to go were all the “consumables” as I called them, chain, sprockets, cables, filters, etc. The chassis then went up on a wooden stand I had built to cradle the under frame and keep both wheels off the floor by an inch or so. A 2×4 under the rear tire and a couple tie downs to eyehooks in the stand steadied the thing while I removed the forks.
Since I had been about 8 years old I had mowed lawns and worked to buy model cars, model rockets and whatever else sparked my imagination. However the thing I worked the most for were the magazines! Hot Rod, Car Craft, Popular Science, Popular Mechanics and others…but mostly motorcycle and mini cycle magazines.
Remember this was in the days when they had actual writers and staffers who actually wrote about stuff. Not this regurgitated advertiser’s prepackaged and pre-approved drivel, drivel, drool that permeates the trades today.
Anyway, somewhere in those pages I had recently absorbed an article about enlarging the rebound orifices in these DT250 forks, what oil to use and a spring swap with another model. They also detailed how to easily modify a “universal” set of sintered brass bushings to replace the plastic junk that was stock on the swing arm pivot. I also planned a special mod of my own. I would drill and tap the swing arm and add a grease fitting!
The article also covered which shocks to use, as I recall they were “upside down” with a remote built on finned oil reservoir! In those days the phrase was “High Zoot”!
While the front was apart I would also remove and clean and re-grease and reinstall the loose ball bearings in the steering neck along with new seals, if it even had them. I already had a fresh Trelleborg knobby tire and rim lock and heavy duty tube and fork brace and new fork seals that would complete the front end transformation.
Next up was the engine. It ran just fine and started easily, which would be OK normally. However I had also read about Yamaha’s GYT Kits for several years and knew that for a reasonable price you could get a cylinder, head and piston combo that would Absolutely Wake These Things Up! But since this was to be my own personal street bike, come next spring time, I wanted something different than just a on/off switch in the power department. Well. Yamaha had also just released some midway specs concerning porting, piston crown shaping, carburetion and such for enduro and desert use. These mods fattened up the torque curve and enabled wheelying out of turns while throwing a huge roost – and still being under control of the throttle!
I had also picked out a Whispering Smith pipe because it gave the fattest torque. The name brand turned out to be a smart assed comment – the thing was LOUD. I could not wait to try this out on the street!
So, once the bike was back together I schlepped it over to Dover Cycles because I could do top ends, bottom ends, transmissions and clutches and so on but did not have any porting tools or real know how. Besides, I knew a couple of the techs and one in particular (Mike) was very meticulous indeed. I had him do the work.
By the way he has remained a life long friend, the kind of guy who is always there to help me get into two wheeled and other kinds of mechanical trouble while he does so himself, and is in fact my next door neighbor to this day!
Well I had dropped the bike off with the old well worn rear Trails tire. No way would I ever let those guys have my bike with a fresh rear tire. And so it was to be. I picked the bike up and it seriously needed a new rear tire and right now too!
Once home, the new Pirelli (I think) rear knobby went on and I took it out on the local trails for some gentle warm up. The bike performed flawlessly. Power wheelies were now just a turn of the throttle, and if you were in the right gear you controlled the front wheel’s lift off and altitude with your right wrist. The rear end hooked up easily and left a 4.10 inch wide trench whenever you wanted. The suspension was amazing for it’s time, though in just a few short months there would be huge advances in that department on the new models.
But I digress. Back to the story. I’ve been riding the bike for months now, off road only. The road is frozen over, I’ve got this tricked out, stripped down DT250 with well worn knobbies front and rear and a box of hex head self tapping sheet metal screws 3/4 of inch long. You get extra credit if you know what happens next. If you don’t just read on.
I had also read an article on those crazy Ice Racer bikes and how they have special tires with provisions for ice racing studs. As I read that I thought about just screwing some screws into an old set of knobbies and spooning them on a used set of rims. Swap them over when needed. Lo and behold, the article went on to say that you can do just that and even explained how! So naturally, that is what I did. I screwed them in most of the way then cut the heads off. Instant spiked knobbies!
The Yamaha loved it. I loved it. The Ice loved it. The Neighborhood hated it. The serene calm and quite and graceful and not so graceful skaters and people slipping along and running and then seeing who could slide the fastest or farthest was instantly shattered by the ear splitting howl of this smoke belching, ice chip throwing, speeding MOTORCYCLE! A MOTORCYCLE OF ALL THINGS!
They scurried to the relative safety of snowbanks and began to throw snowballs at me. For my part, I joined in good naturedly and only chased the few that ventured out for a better aim. As I said the bike was great, I found that as long as I respected the throttle, it’s cornering and braking were fairly stable. I could slide flat track style at a medium speed, say about maybe 20 mph and then carefully lift the front tire with the throttle a few inches as I came out of it and rode smoothly away.
I knew someone was going to call the cops, so this whole episode only lasted a few minutes. I put the bike away and went inside and stayed inside for a few hours. Just at dusk, however I did ride the DT out around the whole development just really getting off on it for a few minutes. Everyone was inside by then anyway.
So it’s a happy memory, unexpectedly flashing in my mind as I sip coffee and look out at the day. As the memory wound down I wondered what it would be like to ride that same bike now, knowing what i now know about modern bikes. Would I even like it all? Well, yeah. It’s a motorcycle! Of course.
Then I remembered why I don’t have it anymore. My dating scene had gained momentum. I needed a Van!