Riding the Yamaha TZ-750 Racebike at Oran Park 

Road Tales By Kelly Ashton

I DON’T LIKE Jap bikes, always hated them in fact, much preferring British, then American bikes. But I’ll secretly admit that a few Japanese bikes over the years have… er… held my interest. In the unlikely event that I was ever offered a ride on any one of those rowdy two-strokes that Wayne Gardner and Mick Doohan rode in the Grands Prix, I’d be onto it like a flash—and that’s from a bloke who harbours a pathological hatred for all two-strokes. But the one Jap bike that I’d allow into my garage to live next to the old Pommy and Yank stuff would be a two-stroke. It would be a TZ-750 Yamaha, a four cylinder, fire breathing and completely uncivilised Road Racer from the 1970s.

Now, in my lifetime of motorcycling, I’ve ridden a lot of different machines, but the TZ-750 stands out in my mind. Being an ex bike journo (at one stage, working full-time for this glorious publication what you are reading right now) riding the latest and greatest models from manufacturers went with the territory. We’d road test all manner of new bikes: Harleys, Triumph, and… er, oh yeah, Buell, and… er, well, I suppose that’s all there was because the Publisher hates Jap bikes too.

Suffice to say a bike journo rides a lot of different bikes. It could get to a stage where you’d finally give back a long-term test bike, and another distributor is telling you their new, all improved model is sitting on the showroom floor awaiting your jaded journo arse to be plonked onto the plush leather seat. A smart operator could juggle the road test schedules to be constantly on two wheels courtesy of a number of eager brands all wishing to get their new baby in print. It’s only nasty, vile gossip, but there’s one operator who has never seen fit to actually own a motorbike for himself, relying on the generosity of dealers and distributors to supply him with a bike that never gets old, never needs to be serviced or re-registered, and if he plays his cards right, never needs to be filled with petrol or washed no matter how many miles he’s covered.

Gad knows how many different bikes I’ve ridden, but I’s gotta tells ya, I’s ridden a few; ridden an MV Agusta Magni owned by a mate after helping him make some clutch plates; I’ve thundered around Eastern Creek raceway on Billy Forbes’ 1947 Vincent Rapide; ridden short stroke and long stroke Manx Nortons with Featherbed and Garden Gate frames; if you name just about any Pommy bike, a fair few Eye-Tie brands and most American bikes, yep—I’ve probably been for a thrash on it.

TZ-750 Yamaha racebike

And the day I rode the TZ-750 Yamaha was a Saturday at Oran Park Raceway, south west of Sydney. Sadly, Oran Park has been demolished to make way for, you guessed it, more bloody housing. Ask any dickhead politician or bureaucrat why we need more housing and the answer will invariably be, “Because of our rapidly rising population, we need new housing for all the millions of immigrants to live!” Ask those same dickheads why we need millions of immigrants, and of course they’ll say, “Well, we need lots of people to fill all this new housing we’re building.” RIP Oran. RIP Amaro.

As you could imagine, race tracks all have their own personalities, that little something extra that makes it special. It’s the vibe, Your Honour, just the vibe.

Oran’s special thing was that many competitors camped overnight at the track, and that always made for an interesting Saturday night. Naturally, after the cessation of hostilities on the track on Saturday afternoon, tradition proclaims racers gather around BBQs and consume amounts of beer—usually just enough to make them look and feel their best for the following day’s racing. And that’s where it can get interesting.

Apparently, whenever the Swann Series was contested, the international riders had an ongoing contest to see who could get a rented Ford LTD the furthest up the 4WD test hill. I can’t tell you the name of the man who holds the never-to-be-broken record, but his initials are Rob McElnea… Doh!

I can tell you about the time a Japanese photo-journalist named Takai, touring Australia on a Postie Bike, was treated to a tour of Oran Park’s curves and dips while clinging to the unforgiving luggage rack of his Postie—I even wrote about that in a previous yarn in Ozbike. Suffice to say that a two-up Postie Bike can complete a lap of Oran Park short circuit in fading light without once rolling the throttle off the stop.

Another piece of trivia learned on a Saturday arvo at Oran was that four blokes can get a big, four-cylinder Kawasaki up and over a five foot high locked gate. Fair dink! When a mate, Mr Tilt, had to work the Saturday, he arrived when the party was in full swing, left his bike outside the locked gate and wandered up. Of course a rescue party of four healthy blokes, a table-top F100 and a nine-foot wobbly wooden plank were soon scared up. The process was simple: back the Effie up to the gate, feed the plank down to the Kawasaki and four blokes huff and puff to push the bike up the ramp, then lift the tail of the ramp to level the bike. I’ve gotta tell you, Big Jap Fours never look so heavy until they’re teetering on a gate above your head. With the Kwakka held steady, the ramp was fed underneath the bike. It sure looked weird, with bike staying still, ramp moving forward and wheels turning backwards. We even dispensed with the Effie and rolled that well-balanced Kwakka down to earth again. The other three heathens couldn’t believe what we’d just done, but it’s physics, mate, just physics.

After all my Kawasaki-lifting and gate-conquering duties were completed, it was time to grab a six-pack of Tooheys Old and go for a wander, visiting all the other race teams to tell them their on-track performances today were rubbish and would be worse tomorrow. First, it was a short wander down to the bottom garages near the swamp, where all the Newcastle blokes hang.

“G’day Hally, Scotty, Youngie, Greenie! How are you doing Jacko, Johnnno and Magilla?” If you’re from the greater Newcastle area, then you’ve got a nickname. And if you don’t, well… you’re not from Newcastle. And here’s the thing—they don’t put a whole lot of effort in nicknames around the Hunter region; basically, it’s the first syllable of your surname, plus something else. If you have a single-syllable surname, you simply add a ‘y’ or ‘ie’ and that’s your nickname. More than one syllable: Chop everything after the first syllable and add an ‘o’. Of course, there are always a few oddballs like Magilla who don’t follow the rules, but not many.

After spending some drinking time with the Newcastle blokes, it was time to move to the garage at the centre of Oran Park’s pit complex, where the Canberra blokes hung out. What happened there was the most interesting thing to ever happen to me at an Oran Park Pits Piss-Up. I got to ride a TZ-750 motorcycle.

Chris, a mate from Canberra, always had a nice collection of race bikes. He had a Manx Norton (yum!) a Suzuki RG500 (Nyair… alright, I s’pose…) and a bloody great TZ-750 Yamaha (quivering lip and nervous fart).

TZ-750 Yamaha racebike

“Jeez, they’re a big bike for a race machine,” I proclaimed knowledgeably as I swung a leg over the TZ widow maker and settled down into the gap between the big, triangular petrol tank and the even bigger, triangular seat fairing. I began to ask questions in the form of uninformed statements, like, “I’ll bet she’s a pig to start up and trundle to the start line?”

“No, quite the opposite,” my learned Canberrianish friend corrected. “It starts very easily and is very docile until you open the throttle.”

“Get fucked—really?” I said in as polite a tone as possible when uttering words such as that.

“Here, I’ll show you,” Chris said as he reached down below where I was sitting, thankfully just to turn on the fuel tap. He opened the roller shutter of the pit garage and said, “Put it in first gear and just let the clutch out, then pull it in again when she fires.”

Now, I’m a bit of a slow bowler at the best of times, but that little comprehension devil was tapping on the side of my head and yelling, “Hello… HELLO! He’s offering you a ride on his TZ!” into my one good ear.

Without really much time to over-think the situation, I stuck the thing into first gear and pulled in the clutch, trying to look as nonchalant and non-affected by alcohol as possible.

“What do I do with this?” I dumbly enquired, holding aloft the near-full beer can with my soon to be needed throttle hand.

“Just stick it down between your nutsack and the tank,” was his unexpected reply.

I’m sure the clever little Nip bastards who designed this devil machine factored in extra ball space—enough room for the unfeasibly large testicles possessed by any racer mad enough to want to push a TZ-750 to anywhere near its limits. Sad to say, the beer can fitted in easily, with enough breathing space around the old orchestra stalls to fit another emergency beer can—just in case.

TZ-750 Yamaha racebike

With Chris pushing the bike out of the shed and down the gentle slope, the only sound in the pits at that time was the metallic rattle of the dry clutch plates. Clutch home, engine fires and clutch straight back in again and a reasonably quiet Oran Park pit is rewarded with a sound like no other: Bradda bang dang badang babbadabrak badand badang brang. Sounded like 10,000 tin cans.

The four stingers on the ends of the four massive and crazily-routed expansion chambers emitted a monstrous howl, but Chris was right, the evil beast just sort of settled down and ran without much fuss other than the insane cacophony created by the pipes. With the clutch home again, the thing just trundled along in first gear.

So okay, this wasn’t the first time a motorcycle racer had ridden a TZ-750 Yamaha within the environs of a motorsports complex, but going through the safety checklist, each item made the event rarer: Can of beer behind petrol tank: Check! Sturdy denim jeans: Check! Helmet: Dang-dung! Racing leathers: Dang-dung! Gloves: Dang-dung! Commonsense: Dang-dung!

At least I wasn’t wearing thongs. It’s a fact that I had sturdy pair of Blundstones so it was partial rather than total stupidity.

It was docile as well, as me and my new favourite bike motored casually past the Newcastle blokes who were gawking a mixture of envy and jealousy. 

 I selected second gear, and then third and trundled, no—sashayed over towards the skulking, defeated entry gate to the Oran Park motorsports complex when I performed a lazy, feet-up U-turn and pulled up to drink in the atmosphere. I could probably Google the exact distance from the satellite pic, but for the sake of laziness, I’ll estimate it was about 700—800 metres in a nearly straight line from where I sat on Chris’ TZ, to where Chris was waiting at his pit garage.

If it was the start of a movie, the camera would’ve zoomed right in to a close-up of a pair of intense, pin-prick eyes. A visor would have been flipped down (if a helmet had been worn) before the camera panned back for a long shot of the mighty beast snaking, weaving and laying a lot of rubber.

But it wasn’t a movie, and I just fed the clutch a handful of revs and gently took off, wondering what all the fuss and awe about TZ-750s was all about.

The hellishly mournful drone from the four big carbies when I opened the throttle signalled that this docile beast had just woken up and was very angry. While not dumb enough to peg the throttle to the stop, I bravely gave it stern third, easing up to a hopeful half, and baby, did that sucker take off. The front wheel wasn’t even skimming the tar, rather being carried straight and level about 6 inches off the deck. I snicked it into second gear and away the devil bike went again. Nothing can prepare you for the exhilarating experience of clinging onto a TZ-750 and opening the throttle. I know I grabbed a lot more than half throttle once I’d snicked it into third gear and oh Mumma! This bastard was flying…

I’ve got a mate, Country, who’s also had a brief and tantalising ride on borrowed TZ-750. A racer from days gone by, Reg Ingram, was one of the lucky ones who scored a TZ-750 when they first came out, and he’d offered Country a ride, probably meaning a short blast up and down the dead-end in Brookvale where Reg had his factory. Reg probably hadn’t figured Country thought a quick blat entailed a long Tour de Brookvale up and down all the main roads. I can almost guarantee that Country had been wearing a trademark pair of thongs, so I suppose he had the edge on dangerous rides on TZs.

But here’s what he said: “On a TZ-750, it doesn’t feel like you’re riding a motorbike; more like you’re in a video game and the road is rushing up to meet you.” I’ve got to agree with him there.

While talking in TZ-750 terms, we weren’t travelling all that fast, but for a first ride on hellishly powerful motorcycle, complete with a beer squirrelled away near the crown jewels, and across the infamous drainage dip that ran across Oran’s pits, it was fast enough, thanks very much.

To give you some idea of how fast the TZ-750s could be, when the Swann Series was run, it consisted of the world’s top 500GP and Superbike riders mounted on (in many cases) the latest 500GP bikes. Thrown into the mix was a top-line racer in the form of Michael Dowson on a dinosaur of a bike, the Pitman’s TZ updated with a road bike front-end, and from the starts, the old TZ led the more exotic machines around for at least a few laps.

It was all over too soon, and the mighty TZ was idled around into its parking space in the shed and that was the first and last time I ever rode a TZ. It was a blast…

Road Tales By Kelly Ashton

One Comment

  1. Loved the 2 strokes, damn things scared the bejezus out of me in primary school learning to ride. RM80.
    Anyways Im sure it was a great article, lost me at Oran Park jibe.

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