DOWN AND DIRTY

Ralph Fer­rand rides his fin­ished Yamaha DT175 MX.

Classic Motorcycle Mechanics - - CONTENTS - WORDS: RALPH FER­RAND PHO­TOS: JONATHAN LEAR

The last time I rode a bike like the DT was when I was 17 and it was my land­lord’s TS185. I’ve put on an ounce or two since then and one or two hairs may have left my scalp, but that has re­mained the limit of my off-road­ing. Okay, so I had a brief flir­ta­tion with a Bul­taco 250 Sherpa, which would spit me off back­wards in any gear and then re­fused to start with its lu­di­crous left-hand kick-starter – but it got sold af­ter a very brief pe­riod of own­er­ship, to fi­nance a trip to the TT on my FJ1100 in 1990. So, the DT was go­ing to be my bap­tism of fire, if you like, but first I had to run it in and do a few odd jobs. Some­one on the DT fo­rum had men­tioned that there were some tem­per­a­ture gauges avail­able to keep an eye on the en­gine. I de­cided to in­vest in one. I had in­tended to just use it to run the tid­dler in and then have it as a work­shop tool. It has a ring con­tain­ing some form of ther­mo­cou­ple that acts as an ex­tra washer un­der the spark­plug which has a thin cable that at­taches to a dig­i­tal dis­play unit I at­tached to the han­dle­bars with a cou­ple of small cable ties, it be­ing tem­po­rary. By this time I had per­fected the start­ing pro­ce­dure; turn on the fuel tap be­fore mov­ing her out­side, pull out the choke and kick her over with a closed throt­tle. She now leaps into life at the sec­ond spir­ited prod of the kick-start. Pre­vi­ously, start­ing the lit­tle bike ended up with the grad­ual re­moval of cloth­ing and tow­elling the sweat from the brow be­fore be­ing re­warded with the heart-touch­ing crackle of the (prob­a­bly not too le­gal) Fresco ex­haust. The sound is be­yond com­pare and gets even sharper when the choke is turned off. For an old four-stroke man, the speed at which the en­gine re­sponds to the throt­tle is frankly as­ton­ish­ing and quite ex­cit­ing. Given my in­ex­pe­ri­ence with off-road bikes, I re­ally didn’t know what to ex­pect with the diminu­tive Yamaha. Ev­ery­one I talked to about the lit­tle trailie, held it in the high­est es­teem and I couldn’t re­ally un­der­stand how some­thing so small and pump­ing out a mere 15bhp could get grown men so ex­cited. Be­ing care­ful not to raise the revs too high, but also to give the lit­tle bike a fight­ing chance of set­ting off with 17 stone of mid­dle aged flab aboard, I gin­gerly let out the clutch and set off down the road in front of my work­shop. Be­fore I knew what was hap­pen­ing she had hit four thou­sand revs and was de­mand­ing I se­lect an­other ra­tio. In no time at all I was hook­ing yet an­other cog and so it went on. The im­me­di­acy of the ac­cel­er­a­tion re­ally sur­prised me and the ea­ger­ness of the mid­get trailie to pull hard. I rang my mate to book her in for an MOT and he was keen to see what I had done with her; those of you who have read the whole se­ries might re­mem­ber that I bought/res­cued her from John, the guy who does my trade MOTS. He hadn’t wanted to sell her, but did ac­cept my ar­gu­ment that he had been in­tend­ing to do some­thing with her for many years and still she was lean­ing for­lorn against a wall and had be­come a climb­ing trel­lis for some kind of plant, so a deal was struck. John was thrilled to see her in the sort of

con­di­tion she de­served to be in and in­sisted on tak­ing her for a test ride. John has lots of ex­pe­ri­ence with off-road bikes and his son com­petes in­ter­na­tion­ally on a KTM, so when he told me that my freshly re­stored DT was run­ning very well I was more than slightly chuffed. In the early miles I kept a con­stant eye on the en­gine tem­per­a­ture and found that it went up most at higher road speeds, which I found coun­ter­in­tu­itive. I would have thought that the more speed, the quicker it would cool, but this turned out not to be the case. On A-roads, ini­tially re­strict­ing my­self to 4000 revs, she seemed very slow and I was be­ing con­stantly over­taken by traf­fic, which isn’t some­thing that has hap­pened to me since my moped days. Ap­par­ently Mr Yamaha de­creed that 500 miles was the run­ning in pe­riod, but I found this hard to ac­cept. Af­ter a cou­ple of hun­dred miles I started us­ing more revs and no harm seemed to come to her and af­ter 300 I now con­sid­ered her fully run in: but even now I still keep a close eye on the tem­po­rary tem­per­a­ture gauge. It wasn’t many miles be­fore I ten­ta­tively took her down a green lane. When ex­plor­ing the small coun­try lanes sur­round­ing my vil­lage I hap­pened upon plenty of green lanes of vary­ing lev­els of dif­fi­culty. While the DT was clearly not suited to quick A-roads, she took to the off-road stuff like a duck to water and I soon re­alised that she was far more ca­pa­ble than my­self. Un­like her rider she is light and agile and seemed to be able to pull me up any de­scent I threw at her. It wasn’t long be­fore I fell off and started brak­ing in­di­ca­tors and levers. For­tu­nately, with my ac­cess to trade sup­pli­ers, pat­tern in­di­ca­tors and levers weren’t go­ing to break the bank. I learned that the se­cret to not fall­ing off go­ing up seem­ingly very steep in­clines is to grow a pair and keep the power on. The most com­mon rea­son for my fall­ing off was los­ing my bot­tle go­ing up a steep lumpy bit and throt­tling off at the top for fear of, well I’m not sure of what, but the re­sult is that the en­gine stalls and then you fall off back­wards with the bike land­ing on top. Times like this I was glad to be play­ing with the DT and not a great lumpy GS. Even while I was run­ning the en­gine in, I was gob­s­macked at how well the lit­tle bike pulled up steep slopes, even de­prived of the ben­e­fit of its power­band. I keep meet­ing chaps on dirt bikes in green lanes who al­ways tell me my lit­tle DT is too good for such treat­ment. I al­ways tell them the same: “I built her to ride. She’s not a show pony.” Too many bikes are taken to shows in vans and the only fresh air they get is be­ing wheeled from the trans­port to their show stand. She’s been to one show once and that was only to al­low the CMM read­ers a chance to see her

“Many have won pots and sil­ver­ware rac­ing the hum­ble DT in am­a­teur en­duro events since the late 1970s. If any­one owns a DT to­day and doesn’t spank its arse off-road, let me say this: you’re re­ally miss­ing out. You have to try it!”

‘in the flesh.’ Nowa­days she gets the odd jet wash when the mud reaches an out­ra­geous thick­ness, but this bike is about FUN! For a bike with only 14.9bhp (as mea­sured by Mo­tor­cy­cle Me­chan­ics for Septem­ber 1981 is­sue at LEDAR dyno), the fun quo­tient is off the scale and while I have a sta­ble full of rea­son­ably ex­otic Ja­panese clas­sics, she is reg­u­larly rid­den. One night, on the spur of the mo­ment, I rode her to a lo­cal bike night where she seemed to be the star ex­hibit, with more folk show­ing in­ter­est in her than they did my ex­otic Godier Ge­noud Z1300. If I had a pound for ev­ery time some­one had come up to me telling me that they used to have one back in the day, I would be able to buy a fleet of them! The tank doesn’t hold very much, which would be lim­it­ing if I were to use it like my other bikes, but the lit­tle mud-plug­ger is not about that, it’s about hav­ing slow-speed fun, though fly­ing along green lanes, bounc­ing around, strug­gling to hold the steer­ing as great ruts and boul­ders try to dis­mount me, duck­ing un­der branches, it feels plenty fast! The com­edy, toy bike sized brake drums seemed like a joke, but in re­al­ity they are ad­e­quate for the use the bike is put to. That said I would hate to have to do an emer­gency stop on the road and so tem­per my rid­ing to take into ac­count the fact that brakes have moved on a bit in the last 36 years or so. Off-road they’re fine. Back in the day when the DT175 was the bike to own for the learner, these bikes were of­ten used to carry young­sters to their place of work dur­ing the week and then had the in­di­ca­tors and mir­rors re­moved for a spot of club­man rac­ing at the week­end. While the DT was never a se­ri­ous com­pe­ti­tion bike, I have talked to a num­ber of folks who rode them in am­a­teur en­duro and some­times even mo­tocross races. For those seek­ing shelves of sil­ver­ware, the Yamaha YZ was the tool for the job, but many lads gained great plea­sure ham­mer­ing their DTS in com­pe­ti­tions with other like-minded folk. In the Septem­ber 1978 is­sue of this very mag­a­zine, though it wasn’t clas­sic back then, a road test on the DT175MX re­ported that Lon­don dealer Dave Rayner won a Gold Medal in the Welsh Two Day Trial to prove the ef­fi­cacy of the lit­tle trial bike. To con­clude, any­one who has one of these lit­tle bikes and doesn’t spank its arse down green lanes is re­ally miss­ing out. The lit­tle Yama­has were de­signed for joy and mine has been ful­fill­ing that re­mit in spades. Even a com­plete off-road novice, like me can have some se­ri­ous fun on it. I put this down to the de­sign of this very ca­pa­ble bike, which makes off road rid­ing so easy for a novice. The ex­cited crackle com­ing from the Fresco end can is ad­dic­tive and while she is quite happy to tick over one does feel the need to con­stantly blip the throt­tle like a race bike, just to hear that gor­geous note. The in­stant pickup of revs is sub­lime and this bike is def­i­nitely a keeper and the whole bike can be summed up in one word – FUN! If you haven’t, as I hadn’t, tried a lit­tle trail bike, I would strongly sug­gest you give it a go! cmm

How it all started. Ralph and the ring-dinger have come a long way.

ABOVE: Light­weight and pokey (the bike) makes the DT a de­light on dirt.

BE­LOW: It has to be said, Ralph did a tip-top job!

BE­LOW RIGHT: A light­weight Ralph back in the day...

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