Real Classic


Ever considered owning an entirely unique road-going racer with a funny front end? That noise is opportunit­y knocking (not the bottom end)…


Ever considered owning an entirely unique road-going racer with a funny front end? That noise is opportunit­y knocking (not the bottom end)…

Ihad seen Scott Pearson’s bike a couple of times, usually from a distance or occasional­ly flashing past me, but I finally got a close look at it last summer. It rolled into the gathering in neutral. Soon a small group were fixing a clutch cable with pliers and a cook’s blowtorch, borrowed from a chef running a nacho stand. It was clearly a remarkble thing, this Suzuki T500 that uses Jack Difazio’s hub-centre steering system, so deserved further investigat­ion.

In his workshop in Frome during the 1950s, Jack Difazio decided that the telescopic fork didn’t work terribly well and decided to do something about it. That something was his hub-centre system. At first it was used in a

racing sidecar outfit, and it was only when the disc brake became available that the concept Jack was carrying round in his head could be used on a solo. A telescopic fork must do too many things at once to be a really good design. It must cope with the bike bouncing, steering and braking, all at the same time. Hub-centre separates all these three things into individual operations.

The T500 uses a swinging arm at the front. Shock absorbers run from the swinging arm to mounts on the front of the frame. Going up and down on the same plane is all they do. The swinging arm is wider at the back than a rear swinging arm. This allows for the wheel to turn from side to side, but it does restrict the low-speed turning circle a bit.

In middle of the wheel, there are two hubs, one inside the other. Inside the central hub there is a kingpin on which the wheel pivots, and the spindle stays fixed. There are brake discs on each side of the outer hub. Two bits of A-frame hold the calipers and outer hub, and these are fastened to what would be called the steering head on a convention­al bike, with movement controlled through rose joints and rods. All of which makes for incredible rigidity. The steering stem runs from in front of the rider, through the frame to a tube welded between the two frame down tubes. Simple really.

The Suzuki was built originally for racing. Scott Pearson, who owns this Difazio, believes the T500 was the last one left racing when he took it on. Officially it’s a 1968 Difazio HS, thanks to the use of an early Suzuki frame as a base. And it was only in 2019 that it got road registrati­on. This was made much easier as the original frame number was still available, even though the front end had no resemblanc­e at all to the original and the front frame down tubes are at an entirely different angle to the original geometry.

The T500’s engine is highly tuned and as a result can be temperamen­tal, as you might imagine. The battery, missing in most of these pictures, is normally mounted at the front of the steering head, along with most of the electrics. To MOT it and keep it quiet a pair of cheap ebay baffles were bolted to the racing ’spannies. Effectiven­ess is marginal.

The Difazio is badged as a ‘replica’ which shows respect for Jack’s

original design, as it is a real Difazio, built by Richard Difazio and John Ransome in the 1990s, combining a Suzuki T500 engine and a heavily modified road bike frame. John Ransome had worked for Difazio during the heyday of hubcentre production and had a batch of spares made for other Difazio owners.

Despite its technical sophistica­tion, the Difazio design was almost ignored by major manufactur­ers. Telescopic forks attached to a spindly steering head are a lot cheaper to make than hub-centre set-ups. Only Yamaha have tried to replicate it, with its poor selling and almost forgotten GTS 1000.

Difazio were something of Suzuki wizards in the 1960s and managed to get the T500 engine to turn out as much power as a Manx Norton. They also built touring Difazio machines which had fairings and stands, and wowed testers who praised its stability, good handling, high comfort, excellent front brake and exceptiona­l load capacity. This racing bike is pared down to the bone, with all Difazio’s genius exposed for the world to see. The glassfibre fuel tank fills the space previously taken by the two-stroke oil tank, which lowers the centre of gravity and provides extra capacity for the thirsty engine, and the two-stroke oil is carried in a tank in the seat hump. The lack of a top yoke is a little disconcert­ing, but as the handlebars only have to move the two rods and rose joints rather than an entire front end, it doesn’t need one.

Low speed handling can be a little challengin­g. Scott said: ‘You have to ease into it at first, but once you get used to it it’s a lot easier.’ Above 20mph the riding experience is quite different. With a frame that’s completely stiff the front wheel will barely move from the direction the rider points it in with the minimum of correction. ‘The steering is really tight.’

One roadtester in the 1970s claimed the bike was so stable you could take both hands off the bars and eat a sandwich without the machine moving off its line. This may have been journalist­ic hyperbole, as they didn’t mention how they operated the throttle while enjoying lunch. Like any bespoke motorcycle, the Difazio comes with its own quirks.

‘The bike was designed for a little Italian bloke,’ said Scott, ‘so I had some big issues trying to make it fit me. On the road at speed, it’s a joy to ride. It’s very stable and very smooth.’the stability offered by the front end makes it a great straight-line sprinter too. ‘It’s been clocked at 88mph over the quarter mile.’

Scott admits that there are a few issues riding the T500. ‘At the front end the brakes are great, but the back end is terrible.’the racing crouch has its challenges too: ‘An hour on it is enough.’

If you are interested in buying a bit of motorcycli­ng history, and a potentiall­y classleadi­ng racer and road bike, Scott might be persuaded to part with the Difazio Suzuki. Offers invited. Call him on 07769 708061.

 ??  ??
 ??  ?? Tubes, and brackets. Inelegant genius
Tubes, and brackets. Inelegant genius
 ??  ??
 ??  ?? Yes, you will have to carry your side stand
Yes, you will have to carry your side stand
 ??  ?? Electrics go here. And possibly sandwiches
Electrics go here. And possibly sandwiches
 ??  ?? As powerful as a Manx Norton. Allegedly
As powerful as a Manx Norton. Allegedly
 ??  ?? Spindly. Speedomete­r? Purely advisory
Spindly. Speedomete­r? Purely advisory
 ??  ?? Roadside repairs with a chef ’s blowtorch
Roadside repairs with a chef ’s blowtorch
 ??  ?? It looks like something is missing, but there isn’t (apart from the battery)
It looks like something is missing, but there isn’t (apart from the battery)

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United Kingdom