Column: The heart grows Honda
Honda deserves all the kudos in the world after achieving the near-impossible: five race victories at the recent Isle of Man TT. Oh, and congratulations to Ian Hutchinson for being the man in the saddle!
I know records are meant to be broken, but who’d have thought Ian Hutchinson on Honda machinery could claim victory on the final day’s racing last week and take honours that can only ever be equalled but never bettered. While the island belonged to Honda for 2010 let’s reflect for a moment on another motorcycle brand that hails from the Land of the Rising Sun: Suzuki, who have just celebrated their 50th year racing the island …
I’ve never owned a Honda motorcycle but I’ve certainly owned a few Suzukis. I think the reason I first came across the S-marque was being fed up to the back teeth with my Brit bikes breaking down. Whether minor or major, I had experienced them all in the form of hefty oil leaks to mudguard stays, silencers, fragile electrical rectifiers and most often tappet covers that would make “a dash for freedom” at the most inopportune moment — and usually leave me stranded.
25 years later
A learned friend in KZN said to me one day: “What you should consider (and this was back in 1971) is one of the new Suzuki TS185 scramblers.” Suffice to say the bike duly bought was still in the Fall family garage 25 years later after teaching all three of my boys to ride while I used it just about every day as a commuter. I don’t ever remember having any real problems with the bike — oh yes, I did have to have it rebored at 170 000km!
Honda Motorcycle Company was in its infancy in the early 50s, while Suzuki concentrated on making sturdy and reliable two-wheeled transport — something it had got down to a fine art. Whereas Honda utilised war-stock moped engines bolted into a rudimentary bicycle frame, Suzuki designed and built its very own two-stroke motorcycle. Car manufacture was the next logical step for this go-ahead company in 1955, but it really fancied its chances at road racing at, you’ve guessed it, the Isle of Man.
Okay, Honda beat it to road racing by 12 months, but in 1961 Suzuki had instant success in the lightweight 50cc/125cc class — bikes that could lap the island in the hands of skilled Japanese riders such as Mitsuo Itoh and Toshio Matsumoto at 80 mph plus.
"Japanese Indian Rubber Man"
In case you thought Japanese riders were fairly new to the game, bear in mind that the 1914 Sunbeam team had one such rider, and in 1930 Velocette employed the services of a real character called Kenzo Tada who was nicknamed the “Japanese Indian Rubber Man” due to his penchant for falling off, dusting himself down and continuing on his way!
A grubby little book I’ve owned for ages about Japanese riders who ever raced “the Island” noted: “Tada was always prepared for the fan and after each session handed out small cards bearing his autograph along with a picture of his national flag.”
Interestingly, either side of the Second World War there were at least 40 motorcycle brands in Japan — all going great business. Could this be the reason for their meteoric rise in all things two wheels when venturing West? You decide!
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