Of a Two-Stroke Junkie
I remember the day like it was just yesterday: The day I first laid eyes on an actual RZ500. Not just a picture, mind you, but the real thing. It was back in June of 1984, in Carlsbad, California. The American round of the 500cc motocross World Championship used to be held the at the local motocross track, Carlsbad Raceway. On Saturday morning, before the qualifying rounds, they held tech inspection for the bikes in a local hotel parking lot.
It was a chance to see the exotic factory GP motocross equipment up close, and meet some of the riders. I had recently bought an '84 Kawasaki ZX 750 Turbo, and thought I'd ride it over to check out the tech inspections. First off, you have to understand one thing here. You see, I grew up riding two strokes. Had ridden everything from 1960s era twins to 1970s era triples to the latest RZ350s of the early 1980s. Loved two strokes. And I had developed a fascination with Grand Prix two strokes in particular. Both road-race and motocross. Kenny Roberts' epic battles with Freddie Spencer in the 1983 World Championship had made Yamaha's newest GP racer - a V-Four, 500cc two-stoke - the focus of my attention.
At this point in time I had only seen a brief news blurbs about the possibility of Yamaha producing a street version of Roberts' 1983 GP bike. Wouldn't that be exciting, I mused. But as I strolled through the parking lot looking at the motocross hardware that sunny June morning, it caught my eye. Sitting all by itself, over by the hotel's main entrance, was a shiny new RZ500. I couldn't believe what I was seeing! I was drawn over to it like a magnet.
Hot Damn! The ultimate road-going two stroke!
I spent the next hour or so checking out every little detail of that bike. 'What a machine,' I thought, 'a real beauty. An honest-to-goodness GP bike that I could ride.' I remember uttering to myself over and over 'I have to have one!' Soon, though, it was gone. Ken Clark, who at that time was head of Yamaha's U.S.racing program, came out of the hotel, jumped on the RZ, kicked it over, and rode away in a cloud of blue smoke. The bike must've been something Yamaha had given him to ride around on while he was in town for the motocross GP. Nice ride!
I was totally consumed with passion. I completely forgot about finishing my tour of the parking lot, and went over and got on my Kawasaki GPz750 Turbo, started it up, and headed back home. Riding the Turbo just wasn't the same after that. Within a month it was sold, and my order for an RZ500 was placed. Six months and many phone calls later my dream bike arrived from Canada, still in the crate. After some tense moments with the customs officials ('Hey, fellow, this bike's got kilometers per hour on the speedo. Supposed to have miles per hour...'), I brought the bike home and quickly assembled it, fired it up, and took it out for that first ride. It immediately won my heart as my lust turned to love. Still own that bike. Roadraced it too. I've acquired two more RZ500s since then, and for me, they are still the ultimate road-going two-stroke.
Photo by Tom Fortune
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