Colin's Corner: More Framers and Rare Chassis Designs

Following my most recent blog concerning Lang Hindle, the 1970s and the very rare Tri Mil Racing frame, a couple of readers contacted me to talk about other rare chassis.  Custom-built designs have always been the exception rather than the rule in racing, particularly in North America.  In Europe, specifically in France and the UK, the custom-built bike was more common, and the wacky French endurance scene produced some unusual layouts.

In North America, most frame mods involved improving a standard design already in use.  Much has been made of the lack of road holding manners that plagued Japanese sports bikes in the 1970s.  In truth, it would be fair to say that performance (meaning engine output) simply pulled away from the chassis designers – that is, until the mid-1980s at least.

Long before adjustable compression or rebound anything, well before today’s at-the-track suspension gurus, the best handling production bikes tended to have long wheelbases, stiff frames, conservative geometry and torquey twin-cylinder engines.  This covers most Ducatis, as well as Laverdas, Moto Guzzis etc. from the era.

Those racing the more powerful inline 1970s O.E. four cylinders, particularly the Kawasaki and later Suzukis tricked out by Yoshimura, were forced to try and improved their chassis’ configuration. This involved changing the steering geometry, bracing the frames, beefing up the swing arms, laying down the twin rear shocks and improving suspension travel where possible.

Soon, the privateers copied the “A” team mods, and Lang Hindle hit on a successful geometry formula for his Kawasaki Z-1 Superbikes.  However, unlike some builders, Hindle didn’t believe in too much bracing or giant engine mounts that turned those gigantic air-cooled mills into stressed chassis members.

Perhaps the wildest "improvements" ever performed (or at least ever approved by the technical inspectors) in AMA superbike involved the works 1976 factory BMW R90S, some of which raced with mono-shock rear suspension inspired by the breakthrough Yamaha GP design.  In production form, the BeeMm came with vertical twin shocks, but getting a shaft drive bike to win on the race track was quite an achievement, regardless of the tricks employed.

BMW officially withdrew after taking the inaugural ’76 Superbike crown in the US, and didn’t return to the SBK class until the advent of their own four-cylinder in-line S1000RR, waaaay back in 2010!

Meanwhile, the ‘70s privateer bike of choice for the featured Formula 750/Formula One category was Yamaha’s long-serving TZ750 four-cylinder two-stroke, which you will read about in more detail in Graham Clayton’s upcoming Rapid Classics feature in the April issue of Inside Motorcycles (available in early March).  Tire, chassis and suspension development on road racing machines really came into its prime thanks to the big Yamaha, although it took years for all the tricks to filter down to the privateers.

While Kenny Roberts bitched about not getting his full works, unobtanium YZR750 to handle, the owners of the later production TZ750s (D through F models) did their best to imitate every part ever viewed on the rare works bikes of Roberts, Steve Baker, Skip Akslund and world champ Johnny Cecotto.

Special swingarms were constructed to clear the larger rear wheels and tires, while the counter shafts were spaced out, chain runs revised and the trick, crossover, three silencers on one side exhaust layout was also replicated.  The '70s-era Yamaha stayed competitive well into the 1980s, and by that time some brave souls even experimented with the newfangled 16-inch front wheels.  Power was ever increasing, so making rear slicks last was a major, ongoing concern.

Perhaps the most aggressively developed Yamaha TZ750 was the final bike campaigned by Canadian Miles Baldwin in the AMA F-1 series in 1983.  With help from famed Boston-area builder Kevin Cameron, hardcore privateer Baldwin almost snatched the AMA crown from the works Honda of non-relative Mike Baldwin.

“Milo’s” Yamaha was well used and well travelled, bought from Mike Baldwin at the end of the 1978 season.  In fact, it was the bike that Mike used to win the Mosport F-750 World round at the end of 1978, launching Mike’s works racing career.

Nearing the end of its storied career, Miles Baldwin’s TZ was heavily massaged by Cameron, improved in every way.  Eventually the bike featured a one-off, heavily modified chassis, complete with bell crank-actuated swing arm.  This is perhaps the most exotic and rare “production” Yamaha TZ750, although no doubt someone has it hidden away in a barn somewhere.  Anyone heard anything?

Thursday, 16 February 2012 16:42

Memories Of 2011: Mad Bastard Scooter Rally

The wakeup call came early at 4:30 am. The predicted rain was indeed falling. A sane man would have returned to bed after looking out the window, especially when faced with a two-wheel rally covering over 700 kilometres. Only a mad bastard would suit up, hop on a scooter and head over to the start line.

That's right — 700 km on a scooter. That distance is tough enough in a car, and produces bragging rights when completed on a motorcycle. On a scooter, it's epic.

Friday, 03 February 2012 12:06

Colin's Corner: Hindle Special

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.

Tuesday, 31 January 2012 17:15

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