Roger, Suzuki and Me
Have you ever done something so damn stupid that you still get the hot flushes and goose bumps when you think of it, even 30 years later? I am here to confess that I did something so bloody dumb back in 1972 that I still sweat at the thought of it. Lets go back to the beginning...
In early 1972 the International circus hit town. Names like Adolf Weil, Willi Bauer, Bengt Aberg, Andy Robertson and the best of the best, the Suzuki pairing of Roger de Coster and Joel Robert were bought to Australia by pet food entrepreneur Linden Prowse for a three state tour. The final round was at Sydney’s Oran Park and that was all the info Maroubras motocross experts needed. With Flag Ale and barbecued chooks crammed into the Eskies we headed off to see the heroes that we had only previously read about in the Holy Bible... Super Hunky era Dirt Bike. At the Golden Grove on the Friday evening prior to the big race the potential winner had been the main topic of conversation. The more beer, the hotter the opinion. I was certain that our local expat Euro, Per Klitland would stick it to them. After all he had beaten just about everything thrown at him in the previous year in Australia. " How could anybody toss him", I vainly reasoned with my mates, their minds poisoned by the yellow press coming out of Europe telling them just how great De Coster and Robert were. The poor buggers will learn, thought I, these overrated Belgian upstarts were only riding JAPANESE BIKES while my Danish hero will be aboard a Maico and everyone knew that a thoroughbred motocross bike is far better than those "kitted Japanese trailbike
thingies" the Belgians were on.
History of course, shows that I was very, very wrong. DeCoster trounced not only my Maico mounted hero but the rest of his fellow European holidaymakers in a display that left our jaws resting on out chests. But was his success a product of his obvious skills or was it the innocent looking yellow Suzuki he was aboard? Maybe Japanese bikes weren't that bad after all! Perhaps the producers of all things nasty and wobbly in the dirt bike scene had finally got their show together. Maybe I had done the wrong thing buying a Maico. We were about to find out, as Maroubra went into a De Coster inspired Suzuki frenzy. The going was about to get weird.
Of course it was our suburbs own Richy Rich clone who was the first to jump on the Suzuki bandwagon. Steve Blindside (name changed to prevent a punch on the nose) wasn't a regular part of the Maroubra dirt bike scene at that stage but he was tolerated because his Grandpa was rich and had given him a brand new shiny red XT Falcon GT when he got his license. Blindside had been impressed by Roger Ds Oran Park antics as well so, armed with a Grandpa signed cheque he headed downtown to Suzuki Distributors, Hazell and Moore, and became the owner of Maroubras first TS400 Suzuki.
Because Blindside live next door but one from me I was the first to see the shiny new scoot when he arrived home from the dealer. Not wanting to waste an opportunity while the big red beauty was still sitting proudly in the boxtrailer behind the GT, I suggested that we head straight for our practice track, the legendary "Stacks", a toxic but wonderful tract of wasteland situated between the ICI chemical plant, the Kellogg’s Cornflake factory and a Paper recycling plant in the garden suburb of Botany and give her a burl. A quick sprint home and back for my boots and helmet (Ashman Red Devils and Stadium) and we were off.
Because I had used the idle travel time to put my boots on in the car, I was pretty much ready for action as soon as we got there. Blindside was taking far too long to put his embarrassingly new gear on so in one of my now legendary moments of kindness I offered to start the shiny big Asian and warm it up for him.
The big bugger was pretty easy to start compared to my Bing equipped Maico and I stood there lightly revving it while ol'Blindside struggled to get his stiff new Sidis over his Rabbitoh footy socks. I was getting a tad bored with this so, I nonchalantly indicated to him that I would just putter her up to the end of the paddock to make sure everything worked. He may have said something but I missed it as I clicked the big red and chrome Suzuki into gear and slowly took off down towards the train line that marked the outer perimeter of the place. First gear seemed a tad tall but the power seemed OK. I shortchanged through the rest of the gears only noticing that the bike seemed pretty heavy and making a mental note to tell Blindside to remove the mirrors before he did any serious riding. From the train line I noticed that Steve had finally finished putting his gear on and that he was gesturing me to return. It was when I clicked the bike into gear for the return 200 metre journey that the legendary red mist descended. It was as if the Mr Nasty side of my personality had drugged and blindfolded Mr Sensible and locked him in the trunk. I nailed the sucker in first carrying the wheel right through the one-two change. Cool, thought I as the wheel came down half way through second gear. That was the last normal thing the bike ever did. Once the trials universal hit Terra Firma the front went into a shimmy shimmy which caused the rear end to shake shake.. I nailed it even harder and clicked her into third thinking it would straighten her out. Nah! The big Suzuki got into the most violent of tank slappers since Evel Kneivels landing at Caesars Palace.. Jumping and bucking and wheelying in an ever-widening arc whilst heading for its horrified owner at a rocket like pace. No matter what I did the evil machine tried even harder to buck me off, eventually succeeding adjacent to a huge pile of dumped demolition concrete complete with exposed steel reinforcing.
I hit the ground like a sack of spuds, my shoulder instantly parting company with its cartilage. Just before I passed out I witnessed the final few cartwheels of the Suzuki’s wild watusi. After bouncing a couple of times off the concrete and steel the mangled mess came to rest at its mortified owners feet in a puddle of toxic goo, its warm-up ride complete.
That little ride cost me two months off work, the shoulder needed some surgery and still gives me the occasional tingle to this day but the broken ribs and missing bark healed unaided. That was zilch however, compared to the damage the bike did to itself. The tank, seat, forks, front wheel, headlight, taillight, rear fender and sundry other little things were trashed beyond help. Strangely, the bloody mirrors survived intact.
Because the bike was so new to the market parts had to be imported from Japan and they came by sea in those days so it took a few weeks for the bike to get back together. That was probably a good thing as I needed a bit of time to save up the money to pay for the damage.
Finally his big day came. The Kurnell Sandhills on the shores of Boat Harbour was to be the scene of Steves Big First Ride. Actually the day went quite well with lots of sand roosts, biiiiiig hill climbs and fun power sliding on the flat, hard foreshore. Eventually the day came to an end and as we were loading our bikes onto the trailers Steve took off on "just one last little burn up the entrance road". I missed the first part of his journey as I made the final rope adjustments to my Maico in the ute. My attention was quickly averted by the sickening sound of metal hitting bitumen at speed and a 2 stroke free revving to the point of hemorrhage. All that I could see was a bike doing barrel rolls down the road and Steve flopping around like a rag doll. It was all over in a couple of seconds but in my memory it took minutes. Apparently he was doing a high gear wheelie when his throttle jammed on full spitting him off the back. Steve was in a pretty bad state and the ambulance got him to hospital just in time before bled to death, his spleen ruptured. He was in a critical condition for quite sometime but eventually got back as far to normal as a spleenless
person can. The dreaded TS400 had garnered two victims in two rides. A big effort. So all of you folks out there who think that the TM/TS 400 Suzuki reputation is all urban myth, see if you can borrow one at the races one day and make your own mind up...