hen the first ts 185 rolled out of the Hamamatsu factory gates in the spring of 1971 few could have imagined that it would prove to be one of the Japanese giant’s most enduring machines or that in its later er guise the little two-stroke would still be in production over 40 years into the future. From the day the first suzukis appeared in the american, English and australian markets in 1963 they included a range of ‘street scramblers’ featuring upswept exhausts and high wide handlebars, and while the TC 250 and the 80cc K11T may not have been suitable for tackling a desert race in California or a muddy scramble in the UK, they certainly caught the imagination of the bike-buying public. The genre of a dual-purpose on/off road machine was not a new one as from the early days all of the major British manufacturers had produced similarly styled ‘colonial’ models to tackle the rough unmade roads in africa and the Far East, but these big bangers were poles apart from the pair of lightweight Japanese two-strokes which would prove to be the forerunner to a whole new class of motorcycle. Keen to make their little single more usable off-road, the Hamamatsu design team introduced the B105p ‘Bearcat’ for the 1966 season. This was a purposeful looking machine which in addition to a high level silencer, engine bash plate, folding footrests, abbreviated dual seat and knobbly tyres also came equipped with twin rear sprockets and an additional length of chain.
Amazing to realise just how long-lived and loved suzuki’s urban scramblers have become.
This allowed the gearing to be lowered when the rider reached an off-road section but messing around with chain lengths – especially when arriving back on the Tarmac after negotiating a muddy lane – didn’t fit with the ‘easy to use’ image that suzuki was keen to portray and within a year the B105p was superseded with a far more technically efficient – if more costly – solution. This came in the form of what was described as the “dual range gearbox” fitted in a six model line-up of twostrokes designated the KT 120, TC 90, TC 100, TC 120, TC 125 and the TC 185. The concept of the dual range ’box was to provide the rider with a choice of ratios greater than the four found on their roadster singles and in achieving this suzuki’s engineers had cleverly managed to squeeze two sets of three – one for road use the other for trail – into the same area as the original four-speed cluster. The actual selection process was achieved by way of a lever mounted externally of the gearbox outboard of the final drive chain. The only bike from the six model range to be officially imported into the UK was the TC 120 ‘Trailcat’, a well-made little bike which when tested by period journalist Bruce preston for Motorcycle Sport in the winter of 1970 was described as being “a superb dual-purpose machine and at £240 a bargain for the rider who wants the best of both worlds”. Good as the Trailcat was, suzuki was not content to sit on its laurels and on the dawn of the new decade two new strokers carrying the model designation Ts appeared in the showrooms. The pair – 90cc and 250cc ‘savage’ – were both aimed clearly at the burgeoning american