Andy Downes: Deputy Editor:
I had no money, about the same amount of common sense, but I wanted that bike. Even the "killer kettle" label couldn't put me off. In fact, as a spotty 18-year-old, it seemed positively a challenge rather than a threat. The RD350 Powervalve beckoned me. Stacking shelves in a DIY shop meant the £975 price tag was a bit of a problem, but I was under the spell of the mini Micron pipes, the whir of the powervalve and ring-ding-ding of the two-stroke motor pumping obnoxious blue smoke into the atmosphere.
Since passing my test an RD200 and a Yamaha XS250 four-stroke had led me, slowly, into the world of real motorcycles. But the Powervalve was a whole new world, secondhand or not. A world where car drivers were a blur in my mirrors, a world where the front tyre often hovered above the ground, a world of speed which I ruled on my steel horse. Well, something like that.
Leaving Tonbridge in Kent I treated the RD with respect, fearing it would spit me off before I'd even had the chance to sample its legendary kick in the arse at about 8000rpm. It was at least, ooh 10 minutes before dared twist the throttle... hard. For the last three years I'd tried, mostly in vain, to pull wheelies on a variety of bikes from a Suzuki AP50, to a DT175, and the aforementioned RD and XS. With this thing, I didn't have to try - it did it all by itself. I had to redefine my definition of the word fast.
Flicking through the gears I was watching the clock almost as much as I was the road. I'd read the spec sheet and all the road tests and knew this baby would hit about 115mph in top. I'd been lucky to see much more than 75 on the XS.
The needle swung around the speedo, my toe nudged the gearbox into top. My chest flat against the tank, my head tucked as far behind the bikini fairing as possible, there was no way I was going to back off.
I had about 90 on the clock and I knew a sharp right-hander was approaching. This was my moment. Holding it open for another couple of seconds saw the needle reach and pass the 100mph barrier.
How irresponsible, how immature, how bloody brilliant.
Terry Snelling: Products Editor:
For a revved-up youngster, 1969 was a year when joining the Ton Up Club was both a sign of becoming a real man and yet was rapidly fading as a biking achievement.
That was the year I started biking, and it was also the dawn of the
modern superbike era, because Honda's awesome, astonishing four-cylinder CB750 went on sale. I was caught between the new era and the old. My formative years were spent admiring AJS, Velocette, Ariel and Triumph machinery, yet here was Honda putting a 120mph wonderbike within reach or ordinary mortals. But the exotic race-developed CB750 was a dream. My biking began on a clapped out 150cc BSA Bantam, capable of about 44mph under the right conditions. So seeing the magic Ton on a clock was still a milestone event to be dreamed about, and even a 350cc Triumph which replaced the Bantam was only capable of 90mph downhill with a following wind. It took the purchase of a 650cc Triton around 1970 to get ton-up performance within reach. Never mind that the Japanese factories had made three-figure speeds an everyday possibility, I couldn't afford to buy into that scene, and never mind that Triumph-Norton hybrids were becoming old fashioned, they still had a fascination. There was something about a 650cc pre-unit twin in a Featherbed frame that seemed the best of British. Even so, seeing the Ton for the first time was not to be rushed at. The
bike demanded an oil change, new spark plugs, and a careful look over the Dunlop TT100 tyres before I dared cruise to the A3 in Surrey, feeling all the anticipation of warming up for a race event.
My tall-geared Triton demanded a run-up for the speed attempt, so as the corners smoothed out and a dual carriageway approached, I opened the throttle and heard the reverse-cone megaphones sounding crisp. Amazingly quickly the Smiths speedo needle hit the 100, and the Triton held the speed for the next three miles. Man and machine bonded together in the achievement. Having done it, the magic Ton immediately lost its appeal. I never again set out deliberately to hit three figures. But the way the Triton performed earned it a special place in my life history. And that's why I'm now restoring it - though it will certainly never see the Ton again.
Adam Morrissey: Features Writer:
I waited until my 21st birthday to buy the bike – the insurance quote was a lot cheaper being over 20 – so duly on November 6 I got a lift to the shop on the back of my mate Alex’s Yamaha FZR600.
There it was, a beauty in Suzuki’s black and red. My very own GSX-R400. Well, mine after I’d handed over the bundle of notes burning a hole in me back bin. The money didn’t matter – I had a big cheesy grin plastered on my face that wasn’t about to disappear. A quick call to the broker to say " Start the policy now! " and I was away.
Getting from the shop to proper roads is a crappy tussle with one-way systems and town traffic, but finally we were free of it and out past those magic signs that say you can now do 60mph. Thank you.
Alex might have had the upper hand with a bigger bike but I had a Yoshimura full system (that’s the exhaust it came with officer) and every intention of using it. At the old noise measuring revs (3000rpm) it was just a nice legal burble. At full chat, around 15,000 revs I think, it was a different story. I was later to learn that my girlfriend knew if I’d gone straight home or into town after dropping her off cos she could hear the noise across the two-miles between our homes. Which was nice.
Anyway, Alex jetted off on the black and silver Yam with me in close pursuit. On came the little red light to tell Japs they were now breaking the law (grey import, you see). That told me I was about on the edge of legal. Never mind – I’ve owned this bike 15 minutes, time to see what she’ll do.
She’d pretty well match the bigger FZR as we went deeper into the illegal zone, it seemed. The needle swept past the ton (OK 160kph but I’d done the maths as I didn’t have the stickers for the clock yet) and still she kept going strong. If it was possible the grin was bigger than when I’d handed over the dosh, and growing all the time. The needle went past the final figure on the Japan-only speedo – 180kph or 112mph and still there was more. Something close to 120mph on Alex’s clock before the limiter ended the party. But it was enough.
That journey home was the quickest I’d ever made the trip until then. More was to come, and having a nostalgic streak a mile wide, looking back every day was heaven with that little beast. I’d have another one in an instant… But while I did have lots of great times, that sunny, dry November day stands out. I did the ton and I did it moments after buying the bike.
Gary Pinchin: Sports Editor:
I had this cherry-red US-spec Triumph Bonneville, one of the bikes that had been stockpiled during the Meridan lock-in. To be honest, it was a bit of slug top speed wise but a great bike in every other respect – especially after owning a Bantam and C15 before it.
There was this place just outside our village called Blackman’s Hollow, betweeen the villages of Potterne and West Lavington in Wiltshire where everyone went to try and hit the ton on their British bikes.
I just remember night after night going out there to crack the magic figure – holding that poor old thing nailed – forcing more oil out of the crankcase faces. Trouble was the bike had those high and wide US bars so the thing would tankslap around which was okay in the hollow but fun trying to keep the front end point in the right direction coming out of it.
Eventually I did it – well I think I did. At that speed the clock dial was bouncing around so much I wasn’t sure if I was doing 80 or 120 – so the mean average of a ton was good enough for me.
Jon Urry: News Reporter:
I had an old RD400 two stroke bike that was my first decent bike when I was seventeen. This evil little stroker managed to propell me to an indicated 100mph leaving a dense smoke cloud behind. The speedo was seriously dodgy so I am not sure if it was correct. My aero dynamics were hampered by a huge puffer jacket , as was the fashon in 1995. Other safety equipment included doc martin boots and jeans. The little bastard siezed on me two weeks later at about 80mph just as I was going into a corner. From that day on I always ride strokers with two fingers on the clutch just in case. When I got my Honda NC30 a few months later I hit a proper 100mph. The little bugger was restricted to 113mph, Japanese import, and I was gutted it wouldn't go any faster. I was on an airfield of course.