The Yamaha XS750 triple was big news in the late '70s. I was persuaded by journalists rattling on about how wonderful it was, and bought one in 1978 from a dealer who had bought too many and needed to clear stock to make room for the new models. I think it cost about £1700, and it was the first and only new bike I have had. I used it mostly for touring two-up with Jan. It was an excellent bike marred by spectacular defects.
The bike would constantly miss the shift from first into second when I was in a hurry. I sent it back to the shop, but I think the mechanic did nothing more than stare at it malevolently, walk around it three times, whistle "The Muckin' o' Geordie's Byre" to the accompaniment of an apprentice marking time with broken Honda cam-chains, and park it in the yard ready for collection.
The second problem only manifested after about 300 miles of hard riding. The central cylinder would start to miss, then give up altogether over the next few hundred miles. It would be right as rain the following day. I could ride the bike from London to Lancashire and it wouldn't miss a beat. I travelled up to to Scotland, breaking the journey in Wakefield, and it was wonderful. The trip to St. Tropez, on the other hand, was a bloody nightmare.
Jan was working as an art editor for a magazine, and she had the offer of a week's free holiday on a caravan site near St. Tropez. An advertising promotion you understand. The only problem was we had to get there. The first day found us somewhere to the north-east of Paris. We drove until it was dark, wheeled the bike into a field, and slept fully clothed under the plastic bike cover. The next day we made splendid time down the Autoroute du Soleil, but by Lyon I was bored to death with the monotony, and consulted my Michelin road map. It showed a road going directly from Grenoble to the Rivieria. Splendid! We set off for Grenoble, and as the mountains closed I realised why there were blank white spaces on the Michelin map. We had about a hundred miles to go, and it was one hundred miles of the scariest switchbacks, Z-bends, and precipices I have driven on.
A short distance from Grenoble the rear tyre went at 70 mph. in a line of traffic. The heavily-loaded back end slewed all over the road. It took hours to get the wheel off. The rack had to come off, and then a locking split pin refused to come out. I didn't even know where the nearest garage was. Fortunately an amiable Gaul riding a Honda 125 that had been chopped into a Ducati-like café racer complete with megaphone pulled up, gesticulated in a Gallic way, shot off down the road, and came back with the news that there was a garage about two miles away. He even gave me a lift there.
It was a long, hot walk back, rolling the tyre. There is a lot to be said for carrying a spare tube. There is even more to be said for older bikes with tyre tubes where you can patch up anything short of a tear in the tyre wall. By the time we set off again it was nearly dark. I was exhausted. We found an Auberge and spent the night there.
The alpine roads were so difficult it took us until early afternoon on the third day to make St. Tropez. It wasn't that the XS750 handled badly. It handled better with a passenger and luggage than any bike I have owned. I think it was the lack of fencing, the thousand foot cliffs, the steep downhill grades, and the endless supply of madmen in Citreons three feet from the tail light that put me off my stride. I could lose the madmen on the uphill stretches, but I couldn't lose them on the precipitous down grades.
The return trip was worse. We had lost three days out of seven travelling down, and we left it until the last day to return. The French Riviera to London is a long day's drive. We set off at 5.00 am, with about 4 litres of wine and God-knows how much cheese, in addition to all the luggage we were already carrying. The suspension went after about three hundred miles. The odometer said the bike had done only 5000 miles in total, but the rear suspension gave up the ghost, and from there on it felt as if the rear wheel was attached to the bike by old mattress springs. The middle cylinder also began to fail, and by the time we had covered 500 miles it had stopped working.
We hit the Paris Peripherique during the evening rush hour. The bike was weaving and bobbing and farting. I had been riding non-stop for twelve hours. The traffic was as polite and considerate as only Paris traffic can be. At one point, in an underpass section with steep cobbled walls, a 2CV went hurtling past the traffic along the side of the cobbled underpass wall in the best wall-of-death style. I just about lost it then.
We reached Calais at about midnight, and London at about 4.00 am. As we were travelling through the Rotherhithe Tunnel under the Thames we were nearly plastered to the walls by two Capris racing each other.
When we arrived in Walthamstow at 4.30 am, I had, apart from the Channel ferry, been nursing a sick bike continously for twenty-three and a half hours. There were eight hundred miles on the trip meter. The engine was fine the following day. I sold the XS750 shortly afterwards.
south of Grenoble. You can't see most of the luggage.
I can't remember why the rack had to come off to remove the back wheel, but there was a good reason. I am sure of this.
auberge somewhere in the French Alps. We'd spent the
previous night sleeping fully clothed on the ground in a
field. After cycling about 500 miles in the day and
spending four hours repairing a puncture (see above) I
was so bloody exhausted I couldn't get my thermal long
johns off. Jan lovingly captured this unique moment.
Who says motorcycles aren't romatic?
a field near Chipping Norton during the Easter bank
holiday of 1979. Jan appears to be concerned that her wig
will blow away.
The XS750 was a comfortable touring bike. We used it on several lengthy touring holidays.
|Jan, not a
million miles from High Beech in Epping Forest.
High Beech is one of a small number of major biking meccas in the UK, something like Box Hill, and Matlock Bath. It is about 15 minutes from where we used to live in Walthamstow, so it was a good place to kill time, and have a cup of vile tea from the kiosk on a Sunday afternoon.
Why is there no such place in the Bristol area? Why do I have to ride all the way to north London to buy a polystyrene cup of vile tea?
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Copyright © Colin Low 1997