Classic Motorcycle Mechanics


It’s not your average 70s bike, but Suzuki’s RV125 makes Scoop giggle


Steve Cooper rides a charming little Suzook!

Those that truly know small motorcycle­s will tell you they offer some of the most involving riding experience­s you can have. Yes, those lithe Latin lovelies of the 70s or 80s deliver stunning power with unbelievab­ly peerless handling. Little comes close to the pure, visceral brawn and muscle of a Harley and a classic DOHC Japanese superbike is potentiall­y the pinnacle of modern classic ownership. And yet what none of the big, macho stuff supplies is the pure and exhilarati­ng thrill of getting a couple more em-pee-aitch out of a tiddler around your favourite bend.

Small bikes often have large hearts and seem to possess a disproport­ionate ability to make their riders smile. Without question the illogical passion many have for their tiny steeds is irrational and ultimately unscientif­ic. If you remain unconvince­d, check out the Facebook page – Great Fun on Small Bikes – to see just how passionate the owners are about their tiddlers. Small bikes often cost significan­t sums to restore and the money thus invested is generally irreconcil­able with their actual worth – but not necessaril­y their value. Well, to their owners at least. As the phrase goes: ‘If I had to explain you probably wouldn’t understand.’ So with that tautologic­al reasoning establishe­d let’s get to one of the many apogees of small bike ownership and the subject of this month’s classic ride, Suzuki’s totally bonkers, out there, why did they make that, RV125, aka The Van-van.

Now let’s get a few things establishe­d because this motorcycle is pretty much unlike any other two-wheeler you will ever have sampled. Firstly it’s low, stupidly low almost. Next there’s no petrol tank to grip between your knees, just the nose of an extended saddle that looks like it could accommodat­e two, but in the real world won’t. Then there’s the frankly bizarre steering geometry, which has the yokes’ centres almost in line with the steering head. Apparently this is said to be an artefact of those strange Bridgeston­e ‘balloon’ tyres that sit on bolt-up, pressed steel, split rims. Oh, and the tyres are also an intrinsic part of the bike’s suspension system. Perhaps the one, almost recognisab­ly reassuring thing about the RV is that it does run a semi-convention­al chassis with a spine top-tube, single down-tube, semi-double cradle engine mounts and a tail end that’s decipherab­le as normal, if squat and oddly proportion­ed.

There’s also a lot of faux camouflage on your average RV to distract the eye, such as its superbroad mudguards (fenders to our American readers), curious top frame cover, battery cover and sidepanel. It is, unquestion­ably, an odd bird yet, fortunatel­y, Suzuki had the good sense to use a proven power unit, thereby removing any potential buyer hesitation.

By the time the RV gang rolled into town for the 1972 model year the company had establishe­d an enviably strong reputation for building robust and reliable two-stroke singles. From the late 1960s onwards Suzuki had been rolling out a panoply of beautifull­y engineered machinery that centred around a Posi-force lubricatio­n system that injected undiluted two-stroke oil direct to the engine’s main bearings precisely where it was needed: therefore taking a TS125 motor, giving it just the subtlest of tweaks and its own unique characteri­stic exhaust system almost automatica­lly instilled customer confidence in what, unarguably, one seriously quirky piece of kit.

And yet despite its mad-as-cheese appearance the RV125 has more than an air of practicali­ty to it. It has a set of proper road-going lights fitted to it, strongly hinting that its designers expected the RV to be used not only during daylight hours. Further

underlinin­g the fact that it was intended for tarmac use are four prominent indicators along with a pair of gauges for rpm and road speed. This isn’t some minimalist, parts bin special afterthoug­ht, there’s even a full-length chain-guard and pillion rests. Obviously, in Suzuki’s mind at least, even fun bikes had to exhibit practical qualities then!

That any RV isn’t going to be your normal road bike ride is a given, surely? If those balloon tyres aren’t a giveaway then unquestion­ably the lack of inches between the wheel spindles might suggest something of a frisky jaunt? The single most reassuring facet about the upcoming ride is that, as far as I’m able to ascertain, Suzuki USA never got hit with a product liability suit for the RV so there’s probably not too much to be worried about. The motor is standard 70s stroker single fair so flip down the choke, turn on the fuel and switch on the ignition… ok, where the hell is that then? Of course, how stupid of me! It’s below the back face of the top yoke on the left of the centre line… where else would it be? Once located and energised, the engine is only one or two kicks off cold from dang-dangdangin­g away as we get ready for a quick blat around some prime south Welsh roads.

Rule Number One of RV riding states: ‘Do not attempt to overthink the riding experience or it’s likely to end in tears.’ Short wheelbases allied to narrow diameter, wide profile rubber makes for a singularly odd riding experience and one that’s almost certainly alien unless you’ve ridden something similar. Having been ‘blessed’ with a Yamaha Chappy, I kind of know where this one is going and the correct verb for the initial first few hundred metres is definitely ‘squirrely’. Try to ride an RV like a convention­al machine and you will, ultimately, fall foul of its peculiarit­ies. It turns on the metaphoric­al sixpence, moves faster than you might expect and takes absolutely minimal rider input to move over two feet of best tarmac in the blink of an eye. It also undertakes the most extreme of low speed, feet up, U-turns without batting an

eyelid. Anything over 30 mph feels decidedly skittishly unstable until you park your preconcept­ions, halt your hubris and recalibrat­e your riding.

Take the angst out of your expectatio­ns and the tension out of your shoulders, relax your current vice-like grip of the bars and go with the flow. This is only another motorcycle, just totally like any other you may have piloted, but it just requires you to ride with a delicacy of control you wouldn’t have thought possible. Allow the bike to make its own way and, very quickly, things become so much easier. Yes, it does feel like it’s wandering all over the place, yet in reality once you get your head around the frame’s bonkers geometry, the massively wide bars and what amounts to two wheelbarro­w’s worth of rubber it’s actually rather good fun.

The motor is geared for low speed accelerati­on and the way it fires up to 30 once you’re in the zone makes you grin like a loon. The twin facts that you can’t grip owt with your knees and that your feet feel actually too close together somehow just add to hilarity. I’m bombing (a relative term you understand) around the Black Mountains on a Saturday morning and the pair of us are getting more than our fair share of smiles. The RV125 is like that. It’s a bike that the general public can take notice of and not find a reason to object or judge. No one who ever rode a Van-van was called a hooligan. Some

might suggest it’s a clown’s, bike but that would be doing it a huge disservice because it’s far more sophistica­ted than that. Those basic drums do a decent job, the suspension is plush, the exhaust note has delightful, yet muted edgeyes, and on this fine day all is right with the world.

As I gain confidence the speed creeps up, but I’m never going to be taking liberties with such a rare and tidy example so any notions of getting near its theoretica­l 60+ top speed are just so much pie in the sky. In between the odd ride-by for Gary the Lens I’ve located a couple of turn-around points that feature a mixture of Welsh gravel, grass and sheep poop. Riding the RV on to all or any of the above seems to have not the vaguest impact upon its stability. Ok, so I’m not leg out rooster tailing the little yellow bike, but suddenly you begin to get a flavour for what the RV is all about. It’s a dualpurpos­e machine, but it’s not a trail iron, it’s also a road bike, but not in the convention­al sense. That odd constructi­on, the bouncy castle tyres, the plush suspension all suddenly tot up to make sense… well, of a kind obviously.

The RV is a go-anywhere, ride over anything, make you smile and come back for more fun bike – that’s its purpose, pure and simple. If I’d have had one as a lad and the private land to ride it around on I reckon I’d have learnt more about machine control on unpredicta­ble surfaces in a weekend than I learnt in my first five years of riding career. You could fall off an RV and probably collapse in a fit of giggles simply because you know you’d be unlikely to hurt yourself and you’d repeat the process time and again just to see how and where to push your luck k.

Not every motorcycle we encounter is the e fastest, the best handling, the scariest, etc. Someti mes they’re purely and simply about the craic an nd with an RV under you, you’ll be laughing fit to b urst!

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 ??  ?? Normally more at home on a California­n beach...
Normally more at home on a California­n beach...
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 ??  ?? The Rock... pictured just behind Scoop and the RV!
The Rock... pictured just behind Scoop and the RV!
 ??  ?? Cute little motor offers 'ooomph'.
Cute little motor offers 'ooomph'.
 ??  ?? Very pretty and very fun...
Very pretty and very fun...

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