Last August, while sorting paper at registration prior to the Parts Canada Superbike round at Mosport International Raceway, I had a chance visit with Lang Hindle. Best known as the founder of the Hindle Exhaust empire, building quality race components right here in Canada (actually near Mosport in Port Perry), Lang is even better known to bike fans of a “certain age” as the father of Superbike racing in Canada.
When I first got involved in the Canadian motorcycle road racing scene in the mid-1970s, Hindle was already a legendary character. At that time, he was busy working for the American Lester Wheels Endurance squad, mostly riding in the U.S. To give you an idea of how long ago this was in terms of technology, Lester Wheels built aftermarket cast wheels for motorcycles – back then, production bikes came with wire spoked wheels, not ideal for racing use.
While I knew of Hindle back then, I didn’t know him personally, although he was busy performing technical inspections on machines as a favor to the CMA sanctioning body at my first racing event, again at Mosport.
Lang’s claim to fame at the time centered on the fire-breathing, air-cooled, twin shock Superbikes of that early time period. Hindle was not only good at building these beasts – he also had a good handle on how to ride them. Over time, I would learn much about Lang’s unique philosophy of racing, mostly at long gone (but not forgotten) Ontario Honda on Queen Street in Toronto.
I was one of many racers that “Ontario” owners Murray Brown and Rick Andrews tolerated, and for a time, around 1980, Hindle worked at the shop as a mechanic. This allowed me to see Lang service and prep both his well-travelled “lucky Lady” Kawasaki Z-1 racer, as well as his V-12 E-type Jaguar street sports car, first hand.
During our recent chat at Mosport, Hindle told me a little about his time living in Los Angles, during the key ‘70s era that eventually established the Superbike platform as the central element of road racing in North America. For most fans back in the days before the internet, we learned about this community of hot rod builders through the pages of a long gone magazine called Cycle.
One of the main movers and shakers of the US/SoCal SBK scene was Pierre des Roches and his Racecrafters team. It turns out that Hindle almost got a dream ride with Racecrafters, but reluctantly declined the offer, out of loyalty to his Lester Wheels Team. When the March Daytona season opener went poorly, Lester Wheels pulled out of the AMA National series, leaving Hindle without full time work.
(Des Roches, as with Hindle, could build ‘em as well as ride ‘em, and did a lot of the development that eventually allowed the under-framed, over-horse powered Japanese machine to succeed. Des Roches died in a military helicopter crash in the 1980s.)
Although out of Superbike, the Lester Wheels team continued with their famed Endurance effort. Hindle however lost the chance to prove his sprint race prowess on the “Zee-One”; Racecrafters instead hooked up with former BMW team leader Reg Pridmore, and went on to win the Superbike crown in 1977 for Kawasaki. It was the first title for a Japanese four-cylinder Superbike, defining the era after previous success by euro twins such as BMW, Ducati and Moto Guzzi. Soon the series would be almost completely Japanese in content.
Hindle, meanwhile, didn’t get really famous on the Superbike scene for a few more years, returning to sprint action in 1980 when Superbikes got serious in Canada. However in the late 1970’s he did produce an interesting project, one most race fans don’t know anything about.
The Lester squad planned to go to France to compete against the works best at the famous 24-hour Bol d’Or event, the premier Endurance event of the day. Having dominated the WERA Enduro tour, they wanted to prove themselves against the best. Back in the 1970s, Endurance racing was a big deal in North America, with three 24-hour events, and the Canadians were very well represented – although Hindle mostly rode with “yanks”.
That era of European Endurance racing was even bigger, and full of custom built, often wacky “outside the box” designs from a host of builders, usually British. Most famous were the French importer teams for Kawasaki (Goudier-Genoud) and Honda (Japauto).
Hindle helped persuade Lester Wheels to commission a custom frame from California, produced by a dune buggy fabrication shop in Long Beach. Hence the Tri-Mil Kawasaki prototype was born, one of the rarest road racers of the custom bike world. With a single, large diameter backbone linked to a single rear shock – using the engine as a stressed member – the Tri-Mil was certainly ahead of its time.
I had almost forgotten about the Tri-Mil until Hindle mentioned the machine during our recent Mosport chat. Turns out he had found one of the chassis, although I am not sure if it’s the one he rode at Le Mans for Lester Wheels.
The last (heavily modified) Tri-Mil I remember seeing on track was piloted by Guelph’s speedy rookie Pro Colin Gibb. That Tri-Mil Kawasaki 1000 appeared occasionally with some success, including racing against Hindle’s Superbike Z-1 at the invitational Île Notre Dame race held in conjunction with the Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal, September 1981.
At the recent 2012 International Motorcycle Show near the Toronto Airport, the organizers had an impressive display of interesting motorcycles referencing the hundred year history of two-wheeled transportation. Although no one was making a fuss about it, among the machines was a (the only?) restored Tri-Mil Kawasaki, complete with Endurance refueling rig. It was great to see a bike so specific to Hindle, and so long out of the lime light, finally get a little of the attention it is due.