DOWN AND DIRTY
Ralph Ferrand rides his finished Yamaha DT175 MX.
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
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...
How it all started. Ralph and the ring-dinger have come a long way.