PROJECT SUZUKI RG500 PART 1

Our Aussie mate Jeff Ware starts a heart-warm­ing build!

Classic Motorcycle Mechanics - - CONTENTS - WORDS AND PHO­TOS: JEFF WARE

Our Down Un­der cor­re­spon­dent has a touch­ing story that shows dreams can come true and mem­o­ries can be kept alive.

Okay, stick with me here, this is a long story so let me grab a beer from my fridge as I’m in the shed and it’s bloody hot. As I write, it was this ex­act day 25 years ago – Aus­tralia Day, Jan­uary 26, 1993. I was 17 years and eight months old and work­ing as a first year ap­pren­tice mo­tor­cy­cle me­chanic at Will­ing Motorcycles (of the brothers Len, War­ren and Glen Will­ing fame). War­ren, a mul­ti­ple Grand Prix cham­pion here, was the Marl­boro Roberts 500cc GP Yamaha en­gi­neer at the time, Len was my boss and was Aus­tralian 500cc cham­pion and a su­per­bike leg­end and Glen was a pro­duc­tion rac­ing and tun­ing guru. The head me­chanic, Dud­ley Lis­ter, was the ex Mick Doohan me­chanic. In short, I was in heaven. I’d been skip­ping school and hang­ing around the shop for years, scab­bing brochures and stick­ers, rum­mag­ing through the bins, and as soon as I turned 17, Len Will­ing said to me one day: “Oi, I sup­pose you want a job you lit­tle f***er?” Work­ing there and dream­ing about 500cc GP bikes day in day out, while ser­vic­ing RG500S and RZ500S along the way, had me well hooked on two-strokes. I owned a rough 1987 TZR250 and Aus­tralia Day, be­ing a pub­lic hol­i­day, was race day up the lo­cal hills for us dream­ers. With fresh rub­ber fit­ted, a new pair of jeans bought af­ter pay day, and no idea what ‘scrub­bing in’ was, I headed north to the Old Road, my lo­cal fa­mous bike stretch of 30 miles

of tight and chal­leng­ing cor­ners. I had no mates that rode bikes yet, so when I saw a bunch of riders at a café, I kinda parked up and hung back in the shade (it’s bloody hot in Jan­uary!) I re­mem­ber hop­ing they would no­tice the ex­tra ef­fort I went to that day clean­ing my TZR250, in­clud­ing the chain of course! Even­tu­ally they said g’day and asked if I’d like to tag along for a lap of the Old Road. I didn’t give it a sec­ond thought. This was my time to show these old 30 and 40-year-old farts how to ride their RG500S, GSX-R750S and 1100s, Fire­blades and Ducati 900SS beasts. Off we went, me at the back, and as we ap­proached a long up­hill straight I opened up the TZR and over­took ev­ery sin­gle one of them. I was amazed just how ta­lented and skilled I was com­pared to these ‘old guys’, in fact, they were even brak­ing while I was still on the pipe! I couldn’t work it out! All those nights watch­ing the Grand Prixs must have been pay­ing off! Sud­denly, I had a slight prob­lem on my hands. A 90° off cam­ber up­hill right han­der, lined with Armco rail­ing. Yes, I was that knob that passed every­one in a straight line then crashed! And the re­sult? Bro­ken ribs, shoul­der, rup­tured kid­ney, cracked ver­te­brae and sadly a snapped bike! As I lay in agony beg­ging these guys not to call my mother or po­lice and to take me to the hos­pi­tal, a tall man calmly walked over to me, leaned down, opened a cig­a­rette case and in a thick Ger­man ac­cent, said, “Would you like a smoke, young man?” His name was Hel­mut Phillip and from that day on we be­came great mates, de­spite a 40-year age gap. In fact, all the guys that were there are still my best mates to this day and I just had a cof­fee with one of them to­day plus I’m go­ing rid­ing with an­other to­mor­row. I don’t ride on Aus­tralia Day, haven’t for 25 years aside from once at the In­ter­na­tional Is­land Clas­sic. Back to Hel­mut: he was rid­ing a mint RG500 that he bought near brand-new. I thought he was a real leg­end, rid­ing an RG500 when he was so ‘old’! I spent the next few years rid­ing ev­ery Sun­day with the guys and al­ways po­si­tioned my­self near the RG500, so I could hear and smell it. I longed for that bike so badly and had ev­ery book and mag with an RG500 in it. But it was Hel­mut’s bike I re­ally loved… I went off rac­ing and pub­lish­ing mag­a­zines for 20 years, but I still saw the RG reg­u­larly un­til Hel­mut parked it in 2001 when the clocks turned over 100,000km. He was in his late 60s, so he bought a mod­ern bike with elec­tric start and got the last Kawasaki ZX-9R, which he also did over 100,000km on. The RG500 was stored and no amount of beg­ging would con­vince Hel­mut to sell it to me… House, kids, mul­ti­ple bikes and near bankrupt­cies came and went and then

one day, out of the blue, my mo­bile phone rang at an odd time… ‘Hel­mut’ was dis­played on the screen and I was hop­ing that he’d fi­nally de­cided to make the call and sell me his RG! Sadly, it wasn’t Hel­mut’s voice on the other end of the line: “I’m sorry Jeff, this is Peter, Hel­mut’s son, I have some very sad news.” You can guess the rest. I could not be­lieve it. I put the phone down and just went down to the shed, opened the beer fridge and started drink­ing. It was a sad night… Hel­mut had signed off, aged 80. He rode his ZX-9R un­til a few days be­fore the heart at­tack claimed him. With no mo­tor­cy­clists in his fam­ily, the RG500 was go­ing to be sold. I was of­fered first op­tion and I just had to have it. The prob­lem was, I was skint with a busted knee and four kids to feed. The just re­stored (three years hard labour) 1985 GSX-R750F would have to go... I quickly sold it off and went down the shed and opened the beer fridge and even­tu­ally fell on the floor some time af­ter 1am. It was a sad night. A few days later, the RG500 was de­liv­ered to my house. This was THE RG500, THE Hel­mut Phillip RG500. I parked the bike in the shed, where the 1985 GSX-R750F had been and opened the beer fridge. At around 2am, I ran out of beer and I’d burned a hole in the RG500 just star­ing at it. It was that spe­cial a ma­chine to me. That was in Jan­uary 2017. I just find it hard to make a start. Hel­mut loved his RG500, it was his main thing af­ter fam­ily. He was su­per fussy and if you look at the pho­tos, you will un­der­stand why I’ve found it hard to start strip­ping the bike. It still has his spirit hov­er­ing around it! I’m ready though, we’ve come to an agree­ment that I’ll just get it back on the road in orig­i­nal nick, not a full resto, there­fore it’ll be as Hel­mut owned it. I re­ally miss the guy, he was a true leg­end. He es­caped from the East to the West, run­ning across the bor­der un­der gun fire when he was a bor­der guard. Even­tu­ally he made his way Down Un­der, where he set­tled for a se­ries of Yamaha and Suzuki two-strokes through the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. He still had a soft spot for the MZ, of course, and even the RG500 has an MZ badge on the top triple-clamp, which I will leave there for Hel­mut… This year, I swear, I’m go­ing to get this thing back on the road and head up to the Old Road. The plan is not too com­pli­cated. I’ve done an ini­tial strip down and as the bike was so fas­tid­i­ously main­tained I know I have a good ex­am­ple. I want to re­place the ro­tary disc valves and I will re­build the car­bu­ret­tors. I’ll check and ser­vice the top-end as nec­es­sary along with the crankshafts, gear­box and clutch but the bike will only be on club pa­pers so used for lo­cal runs and so forth. I’m on a su­per tight bud­get so can’t do a full re­build. The shock is stuffed so I will see what I can do there, re­build the forks, re­place the steer­ing head bear­ings, swingarm and link­age bear­ings and a few ca­bles here and there. New rub­ber, brake caliper seals, fluid and pos­si­bly lines will be sorted. The fair­ings need some re­pairs, but I have de­cided not to paint the bike. It is a rare colour here, as most deal­er­ships in 1985 painted all the bikes blue/white as these weren’t pop­u­lar colours. Per­son­ally, I love them… Aside from the me­chan­i­cals, I’ll spray a lot of the black bits, pol­ish up some al­loy here and there with­out mak­ing it look un­o­rig­i­nal, and ba­si­cally give the bike a full strip, clean and re­assem­ble. I hope the en­gine is okay: it had a full re­build at 60,000km. Watch this space!

All pretty stan­dard.

Get­ting Suzi’s clothes off.

She’s been looked af­ter.

Clocks sum up an era.

Jeff with Hel­mut’s old RG500.

Hel­mut Phillip: a proper biker!

At­trac­tive scheme is rare!

Front-end looks clean.

All-in-all it’s not too bad.

Ahhh a kicker!

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