Yamaha have al­ways built a mean two-stroke. When the TZR250 hit the UK in 1987 it be­gan a class war that re­warded any­one with a se­ri­ous smok­ing habit

Practical Sportsbikes (UK) - - CONTENTS - Words: Kev Ray­mond Pic­tures: Bauer ar­chive/ps read­ers

PS read­ers re­mem­ber the bike that started the best 250 wars we’ve ever had. And still have

The ’80s re­ally were the glory days of the 250cc two-stroke.the bouyant Ja­panese home mar­ket, fuelled by li­cence laws which kept most rid­ers on a max­i­mum of 400cc four-strokes or 250cc stro­kers, meant com­pe­ti­tion be­tween the fac­to­ries was fierce.this was ex­actly the mo­ment when the Ja­panese mak­ers fi­nally worked out how to make their bikes han­dle prop­erly as well as go in a straight line, and tyre tech­nol­ogy made a huge leap for­ward to make the most of it. In 1986 Yamaha’s TZR250 was right at the cut­ting edge but we nearly didn’t see it in the UK, as Andy Smith, then head of Yamaha’s UK op­er­a­tion, re­mem­bers: “It took some BIG re­quests from us in the UK to get the TZR over here.we’d seen the Ja­panese ver­sion, and we knew there were some grey im­ports com­ing in too.the 250 mar­ket was


boom­ing in Ja­pan and there­fore de­vel­op­ment was hap­pen­ing every six months. Every­one wanted a race replica and the TZR was the one.”

It cer­tainly was – it made Yamaha’s own RD350 YPVS look like an old-fash­ioned sports tourer, and killed sales of Suzuki’s RG, the pre­vi­ous must-have 250, al­most overnight. Smith again: “We gave it a big push, ba­si­cally try­ing to repli­cate the suc­cess we’d had with the orig­i­nal RD launch. So we kept sup­ply short to keep up in­ter­est, had a sys­tem of pre-or­der­ing, and then started a TZR Cup one-make se­ries, which was later re­peated in France, Ger­many and Spain. I re­mem­ber Car­nell and Mo­tor­cy­cle City, who be­tween them sold nearly 30 per cent of all new UK bikes back then, al­ways com­plain­ing they needed more bikes, and each try­ing to find out how many we’d sup­plied to the other – ah, those were the days!”

So if you tried to buy a TZR in 1987, and didn’t get one, now you know why. Even the lucky few didn’t get to ride away un­til June of that year – most peo­ple had to wait un­til 1988 at the ear­li­est to get a sniff of one. It was worth the wait though, as Colin Laverty will tell you: “I had a 350 Power Valve and my friend David gave me a go on his re­cently pur­chased TZR. In con­trast, the Pow­er­valve was a lum­ber­ing old bus and had no brakes. The TZR had no midrange by com­par­i­son but it han­dled a lot bet­ter, so I had to have one. Within the week I had found and bought an im­mac­u­late 2MA. I spent all my stu­dent grant for that year on it, and then for the next two years poured su­per un­leaded and Mo­tul in, and wrung its neck ev­ery­where I went. Out­side the col­lege there was a short sec­tion of dual car­riage­way with a round­about at each end – once we had our TZRS David and I spent a lot of lunch times racing be­tween the two round­abouts and try­ing to drag the footrests. If either of us could have af­forded knee slid­ers we would have used them at the round­abouts as well.

“An­other act of youth­ful­ness (stu­pid­ity, but so much fun) in­volved rid­ing along an­other sec­tion of dual car­riage­way and onto the round­about at the end. There was a 30mph sign about 100 me­tres from the round­about that David, I and a few other friends used as a brake marker. We could pass the sign at 100mph and still man­age to get the TZRS slowed down enough to get round the round­ far I re­mem­ber no cars ever seemed to be driv­ing on the round­about when we were brake test­ing on these oc­ca­sions, be­cause I’m fairly sure I wouldn’t have got the TZR to stop in the dis­tance avail­able. Some­one did sug­gest fit­ting a sec­ond brake disk and then we would have been able to do 125mph past the sign – the fact that a TZR was never that fast was ir­rel­e­vant.and it’s worth not­ing that the col­lege was right be­side the lo­cal po­lice sta­tion, it’s a won­der that we were never ‘spo­ken to’. Equally amaz­ing

that none of us ended up in the un­der­growth – the TZR was one of the few bikes of that pe­riod that I never fell off or crashed!”

Oth­ers weren’t so lucky. Si­mon Gun­ning’s 1989 TZR barely got through its first tank of fuel be­fore dis­as­ter struck... “I’d swapped a Ford Fi­esta Bravo for it, and I only had it about four days be­fore a van pulled out on me on the main road out of Can­ter­bury. I braked hard and missed the van, but lost the front. It was dark and I saw the sparks com­ing off the bike as it slid down the road. I was ex­pect­ing a badly scratched bike but it had hit a parked car and bounced over the other side of the road; holed clutch cas­ing, mas­sive dent in the frame, snapped-off sub­frame, and I only had third party in­sur­ance. Not good.” It all worked out in the end though, with Si­mon’s wreck form­ing the ba­sis of a com­pet­i­tive club racer.

“I got the frame straight­ened and re­built it, but it was never go­ing to be worth the £2000 that a clean one would fetch, so af­ter about 15k road miles I got some sec­ond­hand Stan Stephens F3 bar­rels and de­cided to give club racing a go. It turned out that all that tear­ing around the south east roads had stood me in good stead and I wasn’t bad at it. I’ve got 30 tro­phies from my racing days, and held the TZR lap record at Ly­d­den for a while.”


With so many TZRS end­ing up either crashed or as race bikes (or usu­ally both), find­ing a good one quickly be­came tricky, which is where the grey im­port scene came in. For every of­fi­cially im­ported 2MA model TZR you see, there’s at least one un­of­fi­cially im­ported Ja­panese-mar­ket 1KT or 2XT out there. Paul Lee had a 1KT. “I first fell in love with the TZR when a mate called Beaker who worked at our lo­cal bike shop (Dug­dale Mo­tors in Helsby) bought a new one in blue and yel­low, and af­ter watch­ing him carve around the round­about on J14 of the M56 it was like one of those hal­lelu­jah mo­ments. Hav­ing seen the unimag­in­able an­gles of lean he demon­strated, I knew I had to have one, one day. Roll on four years and I man­aged to pur­chase a nearly new 1KT im­port from Col­wyn Bay Mo­tor­cy­cles, on a G reg. It had around 300kms on the clock! It was the stun­ning Gauloises blue and yel­low, just like Beaker had, and it was the first bike I got my knee down on.”

As is the way of things though, he let it go and has re­gret­ted it ever since: “I kept it for around 18 months and 14,000kms, but in the end I did a deal with a guy in Sad­dle­worth and swapped it for a Capri 2.8 In­jec­tion, only for the new owner to have it stolen a week later.the lad who nicked it ended up rid­ing it into a shop win­dow and dy­ing.the bike was a write-off. It was a fab­u­lous bike and I’ve since owned a cou­ple more – none held the same ap­peal as the first one though.” The trou­ble with nos­tal­gia is things move on, as Ru­pert Paul points out: “The TZR ex­pe­ri­ence back then was tan­gled up with youth and in­no­cence, and the be­lief that this was the purest, most mod­ern two-stroke imag­in­able. Own­ing one to­day would be a very dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ence; 46 horse­power is not so much in 2018, es­pe­cially if it’s push­ing a lardy mid­dle-aged bloke along, and bikes like this tend to have ac­quired a string of me­chan­i­cally in­ept own­ers.this is a prob­lem, be­cause more than any­thing su­per­sport two-strokes need to be ab­so­lutely on-song and per­fectly main­tained. If they aren’t they just feel like a nail.”

Which doesn’t stop peo­ple try­ing – and suc­ceed­ing. Saul­varan­das Fer­reira raced in the TZR cup in his na­tive Por­tu­gal way back when, but now lives in Switzer­land, where he’s just re­stored a 2MA: “I bought it from a hippy in Ger­many – it was all painted red and had lots of prob­lems. It took me a year and a half to re­store it, paint it (I’ve al­ways loved the So­nauto Yamaha blue paint scheme) and get it set up right.all the parts were ex­pen­sive – ex­hausts, fair­ings and the rest. I had to buy some more project bikes just to sup­ply parts. It’s not so easy now – the prices for these lit­tle Ja­panese weapons have gone crazy, you don’t find the bar­gains any more. I’m re­ally happy. It rides won­der­fully, and it’s great on the road. It’s just been a plea­sure to re­visit my child­hood dreams!”

Colin Laverty’s an­other for­mer owner keen to push back time: “Of all the bikes I have owned it was one of my favourites and I have since bought an­other ‘Far­away’ blue bike, with a fi­bre­glass nose cone and a hor­rific paint job. I’ve been col­lect­ing parts over the last cou­ple of years to get it back on the road, and once it’s run­ning I’ll be re­liv­ing those heady days through my rose-tinted vi­sor.”

Pink eye­wear seems to be all the rage... Last word goes to for­mer club racer Si­mon Gun­ning: “I’ve def­i­nitely got rose tinted spec­ta­cles when it comes to the TZR. I’ve had an­other three of them over the years. It was just such a weapon back in the day and out-han­dled any­thing. Hope­fully I’ll get an­other one to stick in the garage for nos­tal­gia pur­poses one day, to re­mind me of a great pe­riod of my life.thetzr will al­ways give me a strange feel­ing in­side when I see one.”

Same with us Si­mon. Same with us.

TZR Cup ca­su­al­ties. When TZRS were dis­pos­able items

So very sim­ple. One of the great 250 prod­die en­gines of all time

Saul Fer­reira looks a bit stiff here poor fella. Crack­ing TZR

Slim and nar­row-waisted, weighed naff-all too, great paint, good noise, it was even comfy as well

Paul Lee in the way of some very nice climb­ing roses

Gary Fis­senden show­ing ex­cel­lent syle

Per­fect in its day in every way, even the sin­gle big front disc (half an FZR1000 set-up)

Colin Laverty’s: the one bike he never crashed (tried hard enough too)

Gauloises or fac­tory red and white? Both rock

Such a kick ass road bike too

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