Sunday, September 27, 2009

Personal Rides: Yamaha Twin Jet 100

In my continuing Personal Rides series, I've been posting pictures and stories of bicycles I've owned in the chronological order that I acquired 'em. I'm not done yet, still have a few to go. In the meantime, thought I'd toss in some motorcycles - since my obsession with all things two wheeled includes some moto powered versions as well.

My interest in motorcycles goes way back to maybe age 12 or so. It was the early '70s and the dirt bike, mini-cycle and mini-bike boom was in full swing. Lots of kids in the neighborhood buzzed around on Honda CT-70s, Z 50s, Yamaha Mini Enduro 60s - as well as crude mini-bikes - complete with Briggs and Stratton mower engines, centrifugal clutches chattering away. Man, I wanted a motorcycle so bad - it hurt.

During this era, our family made occasional visits to relatives we had down by the Jersey Shore. My cousin Billy, about 5 years my senior, kept an old Yamaha Twin Jet 100 in the garage - a '60s model, slightly battered and outfitted with knobby tires. He usually let me ride it around the yard and that was always the highlight of the trip. Cousin Billy was the older cool cousin to me - had motorcycles, car projects, as well a great sense of humor. I remember one family get together, when he took me for a ride on the back of his Honda 750. To me, at the time - it felt like the fastest thing on earth.

During one visit, my dad asked him if he wanted to sell the old Yamaha. Cousin Billy just told us to take it home - for free. I was stunned. This was like Santa Claus giving you the whole toy shop. A great childhood memory for sure. We somehow wedged the bike - sideways - into the trunk of the family '69 Buick Skylark for the ride home. I couldn't believe it, I now owned a motorcycle.

Well, technically my brother and I owned a motorcycle, since he was part of the deal - even though he didn't know how to ride one. My mom was not thrilled with whole situation, as you'd expect when it comes down to motorcycles. The story of Cousin Billy crashing the bike, sans helmet, a few years earlier and laying in the woods unconscious, didn't help matters.

We lived in Randolph, New Jersey at the time, in an apartment with no garage. My school pal and fellow rider, Ray Westcott, let me keep the bike in his shed - a short walk up the road. It was an old shed, complete with a dirt floor - the smell of the dirt and gasoline is etched into my brain for life. Ray and I were in the same grade, but he was one of those kids who was big, or in any case, more mature for his age. He owned a few dirt motorcycles during this era - a Yamaha DT100, Montesa Cota 123, and at this time - a Hodaka Super Rat. I though the Super Rat was the trickest dirt bike ever - red frame, chrome tank - seemed like an exotic motocross bike to me.

For reasons I don't remember, Ray lived with uncle and grandmother at the house. His grandmother spoke only Italian and I recall his uncle as being super nice. I also remember meeting his dad a few times, who occasionally left his Norton Commando in the shed as well. Ray told me he'd snuck a few rides out on the Norton when no one was around. When I think back on it, that means were talking about a 12 or 13 year old buzzing the streets on a 750. Pretty crazy. Hey, it was the '70s.

Right across the street from Ray's house, you could cut into a small patch of woods, then dump out onto a decent sized field. I'd take the Yamaha over there, complete with my Kmart sparkle red helmet, and ride laps around the field. At times, there could be a few others buzzing around as well. Nobody cared and nobody complained. I already knew how to ride a motorcycle - shift, work the clutch, etc - from previous bummed rides. However, riding around on the Yamaha honed those skills. One time, my brother headed over to the field to try the Yamaha. He couldn't quite get the clutch action figured out, then after a few unintentional wheelies, had enough. I vividly remember that day, since Ray was also there riding the Super Rat. I remember him passing me over and over as we lapped the field. I was in awe watching that Hodaka blow by.

Since the Yamaha was really a street bike, its shortcoming in the dirt became apparent as I used it more - despite the knobby dirt tires wedged under the fenders. I wanted a real dirt motorcycle, so thought I'd sell the Yamaha and apply that money towards a Yamaha DT or Hodaka. My dad found someone to buy it and off it went - if I remember correctly for $75 or $100. My plan was foiled however, since my non-riding brother Tom, reminded everyone that technically half the money was his - so I had to fork it over. $50 doesn't buy much dirt bike action - even in the '70s - so the upgrade plan was shot down. It took another year or two to score another bike.

I didn't hang on to this Yamaha very long and compared to motorcycles I later owned, where I remember every little detail, it's a bit of a vague memory. After some Internet poking around, think it was a '65 to '67 model. It was a 100cc twin two stroke motor, so 50cc for each cylinder - tiny by modern standards. It would be fun to own today as a vintage material, don't think there are many around.

Picture above was pulled off the Internet. I have no photos of my actual bike. Mine was red, not black and nowhere as clean. Still, it was officially my first motorcycle and there's something to be said for that. It was the springboard for later motorcycles, lots of dirt riding, motocross, and other action. Lots of fun memories.

Thanks Yamaha and especially Cousin Billy.

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