Cycle News - Archive Issues - 1990's

Cycle News 1997 04 16

Cycle News is a weekly magazine that covers all aspects of motorcycling including Supercross, Motocross and MotoGP as well as new motorcycles

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Page 70 of 71

AVIEW FROM THE FENCE BY ERIC JOHNSOfI A Suzuki's first swipe at developing its own bike was a total trial-and-error affair and the first two models were rather crude and makeshift. Then in 1967, Suzuki sent its best rider, Kasuo Kubo, team manager Mr. Ishikawa, and two RH67s on a fact-finding mission to Europe. . Their mission was to investigate the 250cc World Championship circuit. While the two Suzuki comrades were new to the game, Ishikaw was a savvy observer, no doubt having learned many valuable lessons from his previous experience as a European-based road race manager. Shortly thereafter, Ishikawa reported back to Japan that Suzuki would need a development rider that knew the ins and outs of the rough~and-tumble European Grand Prix circuit. The job description dictated that this rider be a consistent front-runner, who could always deliver the bike to the finish line. Moreover, the rider would have to be very analytical and be able to articulate the motorcycle's positives - and negatives - to the engineers. In 1967, Sweden's aile Pettersson, a 30-year-old veteran GP campaigner, was invited to Hamamatsu, Japan, to shake down the new RH-68. While no formal deal had been struck, Pettersson spent 10 days aboard the bike, giving it the once over, twice. While the Swede was said to be somewhat impressed, he told Suzuki that the bike needed a number of significant changes. The bike was far too short, this problem being traced back to the fact that it was designed for a shorter, Japanese rider. In addition, the wheelbase was claimed to be too short and unacceptable for the rugged GP tracks. Moreover, the engine was mounted too far forward in the frame, upsetting the weight balance of the machine. Finally, Pettersson suggested tha t the footpegs be moved back, the swingarm lengthened, and the frame and steering-head angle be reconfigured. Pettersson then packed his bags and flew back home. To his absolute amazement, a month later, the new and improved RH-68 showed up in Sweden - complete with all of Pettersson's requested tweaks. Next stop: The 1968 Grand Prix wars! Things went well from the beginning. Pettersson won the very first moto he entered and continued through the first half of the season with strong, consistent placings. While all of this was taking place, the boys back in the shop in Japan continued developing the next evolution of the RH for the 1%9 racing season. In their complete assault on the World Championship title, Suzuki had the foresight to keep improving upon their baseline RH-68. As the season wore on, Pettersson was slated to test the trick new RH-69 in July. However, the hand of fate would slap Pettersson and the Suzuki program upside the head. At a Swedish National event, Pettersson got off hard, severely breaking his leg. He would be out eight months. Suzuki, faithful to Pettersson and all he had done for their fledging RH race program, hopped off the circuit, headed back to Japan, and continued to finetune the RH while Pettersson healed in Sweden. While tinkering with the bike, the engineers concentrated on the engine, which Pettersson claimed to be too "lightswitch" in nature. What he meant was that the original RH motor, rated at 30 hp at 6500 rpm, was far too narrow in its power delivery. In order to remedy the situation, the RH-69 was dialed-in at 30 hpat 7000 rpm. Through altering the cylinder .ports and exhaust pipe shape, the powerband of the RH-69 was stretched considerably, making it far more "user friendly." Concurrently, the engineers put the RH on a serious weight-loss program. Over 24. pounds were meticulously trimmed off of the original RH model. The revised RH-69 was now down to a mind-boggling 187 pounds in weight by far the lightest bike on the GP circuit. In 1969, Pettersson returned to the circuit and rode the RH-69 to a very encouraging third-place overall in the series standings. All of the hard work, blood, swea t and tears paid off in droves. The time had now come for Suzuki to cross swords with the mighty European-based CZ factory - then the ruling marque in the 2SOcc division - in an effort to wrest the FIM 250cc Gold Medal from its hands. In January of 1970, defending World Champion Joel Robert and his partner in crime, Sylvain Geboers, secertly tested the new RH-70 in Japan, Reportedly, they were rendered speechless by the motorcycle's light weight, razor-sharp handling and tractable, barking motor. The two were so impressed by the RH70, that they declared the Japanese-fabricated bike would trounce the CZ Robert had ridden to the World Championship the season before. As finishing touches, Robert and Geboers requested that the footpegs be relocated, the swingarm lengthened by 3/4-inch, the shift lever moved to the left side of the bike, and a thinly padded seat mounted to the frame. Immediately thereafter, the two signed on the dotted line to ride for Suzuki in an effort to deliver Japan its first-ever World Motocross Championship. When the two Belgians arrived for the first race, the dazzling RH-70 weighed in at 187 pounds, was graced with 6.5 inches of front-suspension travel, ultra"trick rear shocks, molded plastic fenders (replacing aluminum), an aluminum gas tank, five-speed transmission and a 32-hp engine that toppedoff at 7300 rpm. Now, back to the aforementioned video tape. As the sun passed its apex and began to set over the Italian mountain range, the gate dropped on the second mota. Geboers got the jump on the pack and sailed alone out front, as the spectators - many of the men dressed in suits, and women in dresses (imagine seeing that at the Hangtown National!) - urged on Joel Robert, who was raging through the field after suffering a poor start. As the three-lap sign was displayed, Robert pulled up on Geboers' rear fender. Geboers would win the moto, while Robert - aware that he had a 30-second time advantage over his teammate from the first moto (overall results factored in combined elapsed moto time during that era), rolled off the throttle rolling beneath the checkered flag just a few seconds adrift of his teammate, thus claiming the overall win. Team Suzuki had made it look so very easy. When all was said and done, Joel Robert and Sylvain Geboers would ultimately demolish anything that got in their way during the 70 campaign, easily claiming the FIM 2SOcc Gold and Silver medals, respectively. Pettersson, meanwhile, would finish in a very respectable sixth place, thrilled to see the project he was so instrumental in molding come to fruition. In a staggering display of total domination, Suzuki had claimed its very first World Motocross Championship just five years after the original scheme had been hatched. In doing so, the Hamamtsu-based motor corporation would forever change the complexion of international motocross. And what became of the young Belgian CZ rider who stood atop the stage with his two compatriots that afternoon? That rider would soon become a part of Suzuki's "Orient Express" and go on to become the most prolific rider in the history of the sport. His name? Roger DeCoster. a 30 YEARS AGO... APRIL 27,1967 by Steve Stricklin on a Bultaco and Husky-mounted John Rice ... Sammy Tanner won the Expert Final at the Ascot, California, Half-Mile races over Dan Haaby and Ralph White. trailers, etc.) used for racing totaled more than $108,875 collectively, illustrating the jobs created and maintained by this faction of racing and the devastating effects a proposed ORV ban would have on related industries ... Husqvarna's Malcolm Smith took first overall and first in the Open class at the grueling Tecate 500 Enduro in Mexico. Larry Langley got econd in the Open class on a Honda and Joe Jones took third in the Open class on a Honda ...CN conducted an interview with American trials legend Bernie Schreiber. respectively, giving Honda a clean sweep of the podium...Team Kawasaki's Jeff Ward and Ron Lechien split 2SOcc wins at an AMA Supercross doubleheader in Pontiac, Michigan. Yamaha's Keith Bowen and Jeff Leisk finished second and third, respectively to Ward on Saturday, and Suzuki's George Rolland and Johnny O'Mara finished second and third, respectively, to Lechien on Sunday. Suzuki teammates Ron Tichenor and Keith Turpin split 125cc wins ...Team Husqvarna's Dan Smith rode solo and won the SCORE Great Mojave 250 in Lucerne Valley, California, over Team Honda's Dan Ashcraft and Randy Morales. Husky's Ed Lojak won the AMA National Hare Scrambles in Nashville, Tennessee, and Hondamounted Kevin Brown won the AMA National Hare Scrambles the following week in Cadiz, Kentucky. L~ s the "Evolution of Motocross" videotape rolled through my trusty VCR, I watched on in awe. Dressed in vivid yellow Suzuki "rising sun" jerseys, complete with Belgian-flag bibs draped over their shoulders, Joel Robert and Sylvain Geboers stood atop the platform arui waved to the adoring crowd. ext to them was a young, unknown Belgian CZ rider. The year was 1970, and Robert and I Geboers were about to do battle on a breathtaking race track etched out of a brilliant green mountainside in Italy. A few minutes later, the steward gave the command and the 40 riders kicked over their motorcycles and took their assigned places behind the starting gate. Seconds later, the gate hit the dirt, and the field fired out of the hole - the FIM 250cc Grand Prix of Italy was on. The start straight went directly up the side of the mountain, and as the riders launched from plateau to plateau, the 50,000 spectators in attendance - a true sea of humanity - cheered them on. Among the throng was a large contingent of Japanese engineers and technicians. In from Hamamatsu, Japan, the. group, led by race team manager Mr. Ishikawa, represented the Suzuki Motor Corporation. They watched and studied every ingle move Robert and Geboers made upon the bright yellow and white RH-70 works Suzukis. All remained silent as the two Belgians - far and away the class of the field - methodically rode .off to a commanding one-two finish in the moto. Robert - already a three-time World Champion - crossed the finish line Over 30 seconds ahead of his teammate. lt would be a precursor of things to come. As the Belgians rolled off the track, the two bikes were wheeled back to ~ pits, and the team went to work, studying and attending to the stunning RH-70s. The bikes, the rage of the FIM World Championship circuit, were the culmination of five long years of brilliant engineering and design. The visionary of the project was Mr. Okano, Sukuki's head manager of research and development. Throughout the 1950s and '60s, Suzuki's only foray into two-wheeled competition had been in the high-speed world of road racing (Suzu ki won the 1962, '63:64, '67 and '68 50cc World Road Racing Manufacturers' Championship). However, urged on by a number of enthusiasts within the company, Suzuki began development of a full-on, purpose-built motocross bike in 1965. Referred to as the RH66 and RH67, ittle Dennis Roberson was on the cover of CN after starting with the rest of the SOcc machines and taking the class win ahead of all of the 90cc machines, who started a row ahead of him at the Modesto Scrambles in California ... c.H. Wheat won the Open Expert class on a Triumph at the 13 Rebels crambles in Prado Park, California. Mike Van Acker and Ben Fakkeldy finished second and third, respectively, o on Triurnphs...Husky-mounted J.N. oberts took first overall at the Simi Valey MC Hare Scrambles in Adelanto, alifornia. Greeves-mounted Bill Friant inished second overall, first 250cc xpert, and Howard Beach took third verall and first Open Amateur...Malolm Smith took his Husky to the 2SOcc xpert win at the Riverside Bombers ambles in Perris, California, followed L 20 YEARS AGO... APRIL 20, 1977 im Pomeroy was on the cover of CN and was featured in an in-depth interview about his life racing in Europe and the U.S ....Team Honda's Marty Smith won the 2S0cc class at the AMA Hangtown Classic National Motocross opener in Plymouth, California. Honda-mounted Pomeroy finished second and Suzuki's Tony DiStefano grabbed third. Suzuki's Danny LaPorte won the 12Scc class with a perfect 1-1 over Pat Richter and Gary Ogden, also riding Suzukis...CN took a look at 10 desert racing families in Southern California, who's equipment (bikes, vans, J 10 YEARS AGO... APRil 22, 1987 reddie Spencer Racing's Doug Chandler won his second National Half-Mile at Ascot Raceway in California, backing up his win there the previous year. Ronnie Jones and the late Ted Boody finished second and third, F ..... ~ 0.. < 67

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