Wild Nordics

Adventures, Passions, and Surviving Finland

The Motorcyles that got me hooked

By on 22/10/2017

At the age of 14 I was pretty desperate to get a motorcycle. Going to school in the countryside, it was all the other boys ever talked about. For some reason though, my dad did not seem so interested in the idea of me getting a set of wheels. If I had asked for a horse like my sister did, it would have been an easy sell. He was fond of horses and had warm memories from his own childhood.

The breakthrough came when one of my mates from school was selling his old motorcycle cheap. $300 did not seem like a big investment to my dad and he realised that I wasn’t going to stop asking.

Yamaha DT 175 1985 model

This 2 stroke Yamaha had seen its share of hard riding. There was also a reason it was cheap. The previous owner had tried to tow a car with it and bent a selector rod in the gearbox so 1st gear was pretty much unusable.  The other gears seemed to work okay though.

I had a lot of fun riding and occasionally crashing it. Most of the time I escaped with minor bruises or scratches but one  time I burnt my leg pretty bad on the exhaust when I lost the back wheel on wet grass and the motorcycle fell on me. Lesson learnt: shorts aren’t the best apparel for riding.

Unfortunately the gearbox continued a gradual course of decline until it was inoperable. I attempted to rebuild the gearbox and engine in my senior year of high school but there was a misunderstanding and the engine got thrown out in a cleanup in the Autotech department. Now rendered useless I believe the rest of the motorcycle met a similar fate.

 Kawasaki GT 750 1982 model

A short time after the DT 175 became unridable due to the gearbox issues, the neighbour down the road was selling this motorcycle. For a 15 year old it was a pretty heavy motorcycle but after riding it once down the back lane I was hooked.

The motorcycle was a 4 cylinder / 4 carburettor  shaft drive with a 4 into 1 sports exhaust. It actually went pretty quick, especially up in the higher rev range.

The neighbour offered it to me for $1200 with the option to gradually pay it off. I was working in my father’s shop on weekends so was able to pay it off relatively quick. Dad was not a big fan of me buying a motorcycle I couldn’t legally ride but he supported me anyway.

I had a lot of great adventures on this motorcycle including a 1000 km return road trip to the alpine snow fields with school friend Don before my 16th birthday. The 5 and a half hour trip was pretty cold to say the least but we made it there and back. I later got my license on the motorcycle after the second try after returning to live in Canberra. At the time it was the only State/Territory in Australia that did not restrict the size of the engine for a learner.

Other great memories from the motorcycle include:

  • riding the Hawkesbury river with my dad not long after getting the motorcycle (dad had his licence but was not so proficient)
  • when my stepfather Doug drove me to Sydney with the trailer to pick up the motorcycle so I could get my license on it after it had been sitting in storage for a year (my step father was very strict about not riding the motorcycle before I got my license)
  • in my senior year of high school when school friend Lara melted her high heel shoe completely on the exhaust
  • my road trip from Canberra up to Brisbane after finishing high school
  • when my cousin Josh and I caught a goanna and carried it home on the bike in a helmet bag
  • the time I crashed it riding 4 wheel drive tracks around Mount Warning, had to hike out and was rescued by my uncle Jim
  • getting bogged on the mud flats in Queensland just as the tide was turning

In hindsight I took this motorcycle a lot of places you probably shouldn’t take a street bike but it handled surprisingly good off road and it was sowing the seeds for my love of Adventure riding. I had to replace the rear suspension and a few things I smashed from coming off but it was a very trouble free bike. At the age of 19 I sold the motorcycle to finance a trip abroad. I ended up getting slightly more than I had paid for it.

Kawasaki ZX10 1988 model

In an effort to get back into motorcycles after coming back from Taiwan I bought this machine for $3200 with a loan from my grandmother. It was pretty fast and quite fun to ride but broke my student budget on more than one occasion.

This motorcycle spent significant time in and out of repair shops. There was a problem with the 4 carburettors being out of balance which caused it to run very rough. The root cause was bad seals but I spent a lot of money trying to get to the bottom of the problem.

It also cost a lot in registration and insurance due to it’s power and my lack of riding experience.  On top of that it burnt through tires quite quickly and there was always something needing to be replaced.

It wasn’t all bad though, I remember going on some fantastic rides out north west of Brisbane (Mount Glorious, Somerset Dam, Dayboro). The motorcycle just loved the corners, brakes quickly and put me on the back seat on more than one occasion. Surprisingly I got very few speeding tickets on it compared to the previous motorcycle, the GT 750. Maybe it was maturity, but more than likely it was because I knew I couldn’t afford to break the bank any further with the motorcycle.

Before heading to Taiwan the second time after my first year of uni, I rode it down from Brisbane to Sydney and  sold it there. I got pretty close to what I paid for it but never did recoup all the money I spent on repairs.

 The Red Devil (Kymco 125 Scooter)

Very few people in Taiwan own a car but everyone has a scooters. The maximum engine size is restricted to 150 cc. When I got there I was mostly getting around on my friend Annie’s 50 cc green terror. It started slow but could gradually get up to speed.

I randomly met a mechanic who ended up selling me the red Kymco for less than $400. He had done some work to make it go a bit faster. The power delivery was sudden to say the least but it was still very manageable after coming a ZX10. The scooter had stiff front suspension, didn’t always didn’t always sound so smooth and occasionally made a loud clang when starter motor engaged, but it was reliable.

I remember climbing mountains with it and taking it off road on mountain trails. It climbed very well, even at high altitude. I stupidly lent it once to an inexperienced friend who managed to run into a bicycle and a car before ending up in a ditch within the first 5 seconds of riding it. Surprisingly no major damage was done to anyone and the motorcycle only sustained some cosmetic scratches.

The Red Devil was cheap to run and served me well as a student. I sold this motorcycle to a classmate before heading back to Australia to continue. my studies.

 Yamaha DT 125 1986 model

By chance I spotted this motorcycle in the basement of one of the apartments I lived in. Yamaha DT’s in Taiwan were rare as hens teeth so I was very excited to find one. It so happened got word that my cousin Josh was coming over to live with me for a few months and this was as good an excuse as any to buy another motorcycle. I found out who the owner was and made a generous offer on the motorcycle. He was reluctant to sell but finally agreed.

The motorcycle overall was in pretty good shape but needed a little work. I managed to find a skilful mechanic who owned one himself. He ripped it down, bored out the engine and re-jetted it to give it a bit more power.

The motorcycle was fantastic and every chance we got we were taking to the mountains. There were so many spectacular trails but maps of the mountain trail were almost non existent so we had to pay attention on to get lost. The red devil (Kymco 125) came along on many of the trips but it was a bit more of a bumpy ride than what the DT offered.

When it was time to leave Taiwan I knew I would not be back for a long time so I reluctantly sold it. It is still one of my favourite motorcycles to this day.

Suzuki DR 750 1989 model

After selling the DT 125 in 2002 there was a 10 year gap before I bought the DR 750 in 2012.

Between finishing studies, moving to Finland, working and looking after a young family there was little time to pursue passions. It also didn’t help that Finland had a ridiculously short motorcycle riding season.

A further nail to the coffin of motorcycling was  witnessing the death of a motorcyclist outside my house in circumstances when one would not expect it. It shook me up pretty bad and made me realise how fragile life can be. It wasn’t until after my divorce when I went in search of myself and the things that made me happy that I rediscovered motorcycling.

The first step was while in Taiwan on business I hired a motorcycle and circumnavigated the island. I was hooked again and there was no going back. I decided on adventure riding as it was the riding style I enjoyed most. I promised myself to buy the best safety gear and  and stay away from high performance racing bikes that just begged the rider to ride like an idiot.

When back in Finland I started looking into all the options. I selected the Suzuki DR 750 because it was big enough for long distance and did not require much of an investment (around €2000). I stripped it down and prepared it for a trip through the north of Finland to the top of continental Europe and back down the Norwegian coast. This trip took adventure riding to a whole new level for me.

In all fairness DR 750 handled the job pretty well but it was far from the smoothest ride. There is  a good reason they don’t make single piston 750’s anymore. There is a lot of vibration from the engine, they require 2 carburettors and 2 spark plugs to burn the fuel evenly and just to kick them over requires a decompression lever.

Since buying other motorcycles I have tried to sell the DR 750 a number of times but with little success. It doesn’t cost much to keep but I don’t think I would do another big ride on it so would happily find a new home for it.

 BMW R1200 GSA 2014 model

My Norway trip on the DR750 had been so spectacular I wanted more but was looking for a better bike to do it on. After a few test rides on the king of Adventure riding, the BMW R1200 GSA, there was no going back.

With the exception of the €30,000 Finnish price for the bike, this machine comes about as close to perfection for Adventure riding as a motorcycle can come. It has a low centre of gravity, plenty of torque and is comfortable to sit on all day. As a rider it’s really easy to feel part of the machine.

Not to be mistaken, this motorcycle is an asphalt bike but it can take a fair amount of punishment. It eats up gravel as long as the surface is firm. Hitting mud on the bike can be outright scary, especially without the right tires. Due to it’s weight (just under 400 kg with rider and gear) it will sink first chance it gets into the soft stuff.

I bought this bike new in 2014 and headed straight for the Alps via the Baltic states and back through Denmark and Sweden. The trip took a month and covered about 10,000 km. My second big ride circumnavigated Europe in a 42 day 18,000 km marathon. In the space of 2 summers I had managed to put 30,000 km on the bike so I made the decision to take a break from the long rides and sell the bike before it got too many kilometres.

 Honda CRF 250L 2015 model

It might seem a bit weird going from a BMW 1200 cc motorcycle to a Honda 250 cc. I saw this machine at a motorcycle show and bought in a bit on a whim. It was cheap at under €5,000 and I thought it could be a good motorcycle to teach my wife how to ride and build up some confidence riding off-road.

Today it mostly used as a commuter motorcycle to and from work. It cuts nicely between the lanes, gets me free parking and hardly uses any fuel. The biggest shock with it was the insurance. It was initially more expensive than what I paid for the BMW.

Out of the factory it is geared a little too high to be useful off-road and doesn’t have very good top end pull on the highway. Reducing the gearing did help with both of these problems but it is still not practical for any sort of distance riding.

I don’t regret buying it, just wish it was more powerful and a bit more capable of carrying a load.

 What’s next

The plan is in the next year or so to buy a Honda CRF 1000L African twin. It should be more capable off-road to handle something like a trip across Siberia. I am sure one day I will end up with another BMW, but in the meantime I plan to have a little more fun off-road.