Character – column

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A comrade gives me motorcycle magazines about modern motorcycles. They are about electronic assistance systems. About motorcycles with at least 100 horsepower. But luckily I saw a 'character bike'. Okay, it was an ad and it was about a new model Yamaha 125. But still: a character bike.
Then you know that you are now a fossil. Because such a motorcycle is of course just a perfect moped. A fun toy. Ideal for the Randstad or at the back of the camper. (Who doesn't have one?) But a character bike? In the past, the description 'character' was the description to think up quirks with the cloak of love. The worse the engine, the more character it was attributed to.

An Italian fly

Friend Stanley had put his heart and soul aside plus financed himself to buy a Ducati 750 SS. His purchase was critically reviewed. Everything was wrong with the thing. The paintwork, the wiring, the finish. Stan's pride was kindly razed to the ground by a Honda owner and Richard Nieuwenhuis who happily announced that he had only married his wife because there was enough money from that side of the family to buy a BMW. When it was announced with joy that a fly had been laminated to the polyester of the fairing, Stan whined in utter defense: “But it is an Italian fly!”

More Italian character

The Ducati GT 750 that I bought myself in Weesp for 2.000 guilders had so much character that the owner had to get rid of it from his wife because the Duc ate ​​too much of the income. The thing went away because it kept shifting badly in the end. Also on the test drive. Once home it shifted well and kept doing that until I traded it for three Ducati single cylinders. The Amsterdam student had three. Because he always had one that drove. At the time of the trade, none of his Ducs were running. I was able to talk to one again. And was called by the student who reported that his new purchase did not work.

Which, by the way, were also huge character boxes?

The Harleys of the AMF era. By the way, it can be said that AMF saved Harley from destruction at the time. But as long as you didn't drive them faster than 100, they did a nice job. They barely braked. That was character.

The mercilessly sunk Yamaha XZ550 also had character

For cold starting, accelerate and start twice. You would have drowned it if you gave it three throttles. If you touched the gas when starting a hot block, they also drowned. Or: If it starts difficult after standing still for a while, remove the tank and air filter and start with a cloth on the carburettor to get the hoses vacuumed again. Very nice, that car technique!

Character was also in the authenticity – use that word often, it's modern – of your bike. One Triumph Bonneville or BSA could ask for a significantly different starting procedure than the others. Quality spread in production allowed two 'identical' engines to each feel and drive very differently. It was the time when you really had to get to know your bike. But then, together with the fact that we drove considerably more kilometers 'vroegah' than now, you could also read and write with it.

You could have a lot of fun with all those quirks and quirks

Times were different. What if the crankshaft of your BSA A65L broke down on the Friday afternoon before you went on holiday? Then it was just a matter of calling and arranging. But then in the night from Friday to Saturday another crankshaft came in. Saturday was followed by a hearty breakfast. And the vacation could begin. In this case to Paris. There was an output shaft bearing broke. It was made on a very small airfield by a mechanic who had been a pilot until he lost his left eye. At Sander the frame of his sidecar combination broke. It was ordered locally by a village blacksmith who had an eye for it. Because the man welded on his own initiative some reinforcements at the headset and the rear fork suspension.

Character doesn't always have to mean misery

But in the past – say until 1969 – motorcycles per brand, type or copy often had things that you had to know or that you had to get used to. From that time on you often read about the perfection of Hondas. Plus the fact that they were sometimes carefully described as 'a bit boring' in the blabla magazines. The sales figures proved that the majority of motorcyclists were crazy about 'boring' motorcycles. But if you had a character bike without really annoying quirks, you still felt mildly elevated above the boring BMW and Honda riders. Arrange a test drive on such a 125 cc Yamahaatje.

Also read:
- More stories about classic engines
- Lake columns
- Classically exposed: The BMW R69S (1964-1969)

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Give a reaction
  1. I once had a 'characterful' 4 stroke moped. A cheap Chinese Jingcheng JC 50 with small wheels. A copy of a Honda from about 40 years earlier… a bad copy. In fact, it turned out to be a very expensive thing because I walked off it more than I sat on it. What displeased men sometimes say about their ex. Chinese stuff? Never again! Just like a friend, you have to be able to count on a moped/motorcycle. I remain in love with a Honda Amigo/ Novio, 4-stroke. You sometimes still see the latter on Flemish traffic signs and they deserve that place of honor.

    • That's a good answer for now! You may move on to the next question: When will the Chinese realize the trick so well that they also conquer the rest of the world qualitatively!

  2. I used to buy a yamaha xz 550 new, it had already become a shop daughter, but have not regretted it. It was a problem-free bike apart and quite a bit of power for that time, I converted it myself with an original S fairing

  3. Dear Dolf,

    Nicely worded observations, indeed today's motorcycles lack character and soul, they have become computers, made according to the recipe of the same standard sausage!
    Try the 125 Yamaha as a 2 cylinder 2-stroke, quite a sharp animal in its category!

    Fine we.

    Best regards ,


    • What a bullshit, modern motorcycles lack character and soul, because they have a computer dashboard on them!
      I have been driving for over 40 years now and have a motorcycle to ride and not to walk by!

    • Hi Nicolas, thanks for your advice. It's already itching. I cherish my two-stroke past: Jawa 250, 350, Suzuki T500 and GT 500 and Hercules 125 BW. Let's see what the future brings!

  4. Previously my Audi broke down quite a few times. So character, but also just old because already more than 15 plus when purchased. What I did find loyal of him is that he always did that at or near home. So I've never been 'on the side of the road' anywhere, but just with a breakdown in the parking lot or in front of the house.

  5. I recently bought a Salira resto project for 'fun'; old belgian moped with a 197cc Villiers racing tent underneath.
    Just have a nice crackling on secondary and on the dikes (if Mrs. You know well doesn't look and runs after me)..
    Restoration-on-zn-farmer's whistles can be read on MF at Projecten..
    I know… surreptitious advertising…but for a good cause so to speak; how come you're not a guy until you've got 200 riding mode controlled horsepower up your ass?
    8,5 are more than enough in this case..😉

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