Words and photos by Graeme McElligott
I discovered dirt bikes in 1975 courtesy of a friend with a Honda Z50. That first ride led to a lifelong obsession with the off road world, and eventually led to my active involvement in vintage motocross. However, I was never a motocross racer, preferring instead to play ride in the local bush - following the trails, riding the beaches, and carving up the quarries. So it was. that in a way, I missed out on those 'Golden Years' of motocross from say 1970 to 1985.
Still, I did ride the occasional MX bike in that time and in fact owned a few after getting into dirt track in the ‘80s, and of course I spectated at quite a few MX meetings as well. And now, after all these years, a couple of bikes from way back then stand out. Both are Suzukis – back in the day I was very impressed by the little yellow screamers, although I mostly rode Yamahas. Those bikes are the 1974 TM125, and the 1975 RM125M/S.
So, when the opportunity came up to buy a TM in reasonable condition for $500, I jumped at the chance. I figured for a few hundred dollars, I could get the thing running and go race some Pre 75. Today, over two years later, I have spent a fortune restoring the little beast to what I'd call a good quality race resto and haven't actually raced it properly yet...
And I blame eBay for this.
Once I got the TM home in April 2005, I immediately stripped it down to see what sort of shape it was in. I have no idea of its history, but here are a few interesting observations. The rear shocks had been forward mounted, fairly professionally it seemed, the oil pump removed, and the muffler was missing - obviously the pipe had been cut and an aftermarket muffler attached (or not, maybe). But otherwise, the bike was remarkably original – all original plastics (too damaged to be useable), pegs straight, frame tubes straight and not too dinged up, even all the original plastic and aluminium cable ties were still in place.
So I figure it had led a reasonable life and may not have been subjected to the thrash it and throw it away second life of old motocrossers. Reassured, I kept dismantling until I could go no further.
With the bike now in a million pieces in the garage, I began hunting parts off eBay. Well, what a bonanza. At that time TM parts were plentiful and not well sought after. Today they are still plentiful, but keenly chased and priced more fancifully. How could I resist this treasure trove of parts and the sheer thrill of the chase? So it was that I began a spending spree on parts that really I didn't need. Stainless steel case bolt set? Yep, gotta have that. New footpegs, yes please. Set of NOS forksprings? Why not.
And with each purchase that thrill grew. I was no longer content to just 'get her running'. Nope, now we were aiming for an almost brand new quality resto. And as I searched, so the list of parts I wanted grew, and the suppliers contacted expanded.
The hours searching eBay, the fruitless calls from my wife asking me to go to bed, the feverish bidding, and the slow dawning of a stealth in bidding that saw me winning auctions everywhere. Who needs a wild night in the sack when they can buy a NOS TM125 ignition coil for just $45 landed?? (Tough question Graeme, let me think about that one for three seconds – Ed)
In fact, the TM was an easy restoration. Every part I needed was found without too much drama, right down to some tiny little springs for the shift assembly. I believe there were enough parts on eBay in the winter of 2005 that you could have built a completely new TM, and for a reasonable price too. Not so easy now, but that must be a sign that the little TM, for so long ignored, has once again become desirable.
After a couple of years I had no justifiable excuse for continuing to acquire parts, so the time had come to reassemble the thing. This was very straightforward, I was impressed by how well designed they are in that respect (for 1974 that is!). Everything lined up, easy to access, fairly simple and tidy. I did however make the mistake of spotting an incredibly hot looking TM125 at CD4 – this one was wearing a Circle F pipe which to my mind looked far sexier than the standard pipe, so off my order went. OK, so just one more part was needed…
Although the wait for the pipe was a long one, it was worth it. It really suits the bike and sets it off perfectly.
Eventually the big day came to fire it up, and to my joy it started within half a dozen kicks and sounded fine. A trip to a local track to run it in and then off I went to the Wagga DT Nats with no clue as to what gearing to run or how the jetting should be set up. Unfortunately, the gearing I had was miles out, the jetting worse, and an error in mounting the front wheel had the bearings dragging, so the race was an absolute farce with the bike about as fast as that first Z50 I ever rode. And yet it had seemed perfectly OK at the practice track only the weekend before…rose-coloured glasses?
Nonetheless, I was pretty rapt with the restoration. The bike really does look a million dollars, it was fun to do, and parts easy to get. My only regret is that I skimped on rims and used a second hand gold front rim and even more second hand silver rear. One day I might get to and find me some decent new gold ones.
So, what do I think of the TM after riding it? Remember, I hadn't ridden a Pre 75 bike since, well…about 1975, and I’ve been racing VMX on a succession of big bore twin shockers – a RM400, a CR500 Husky and an HL500. So perhaps my impressions are a little jaundiced.
But to be honest, I think the bike works much better being looked at in my garage. The engine is as peaky as and slow, the forks twist, bottom, top and clank around, the rear suspension is really not deserving of that name, the riding position is cramped and the brakes worthless. But I assume most of the other bikes from that time are as bad, and in a way the pain of riding it is fun. It's just such a laugh banging and bumping around the track in a series of manic surges – weeeeeAWWW, weeeeAAWWWWW, weeeAWWWWW.
Maybe I'll race it somewhere along the line, maybe I'll take it to CD5, or maybe I'll just leave it alone and look at it. Whichever way I go, it's been worth every cent of the experience, even if it is true I could have bought a nice second hand modern bike for the money. It makes me feel good every time I look at it, and if that isn't half the fun of this vintage motocross, well I don't know what is.
Excellent Suppliers found along the way: Vintage Suzuki (http://www.vintage-suzuki.com), suziparts.com, eBay.