Flares flapping in the breeze, big collars slapping you hard in the face, screaming two stroke engines and smoky exhausts. For many greying men (me included), your seventeenth birthday meant only one thing. The casting aside of your super moped and the acquisition of your first real bike. These were the glam rock days. The rockers were fading and the mods long gone as Britain hauled itself into the glitter laden and star spangled seventies.
Japanese bikes from this period were ideal. Comparatively fast, brightly coloured and definitely cool. The new generation of teenagers riding them found near on 100mph performance and quick acceleration through close ratio gearboxes. Scorned by the die hard British bike community, these young upstarts laughed as they gave leaky old bigger engined Triumphs and BSAs a run for their money.
In those far off days, a quick briefing from the bike shop salesman on how to ride your new steed on the day of collection, and the hasty attachment of 'L' plates was about all you could expect before (or even after) being handed the keys. And, as you could ride bikes up to 250cc as a 17 year old learner from the early seventies onwards, that was the size of steed you had to have.
The Suzuki Hustler had been around in various guises in the UK since 1966. Firstly, as the T20 Super Six, and then the T250 from 1969, until the appearance of the GT250 in 1973. When launched, the bike in its early form was a sensation and with little modification won races almost straight out of the crate. By the next decade, the re-styled T250 was made available in bright colours such as orange, blue and red with raised handlebars giving a more upright riding position. Bad for aerodynamics, but great for pose value.
Youngsters had more disposable income than ever before, although most bikes were bought on hire purchase with 'Dad' standing as guarantor. Even so, not everybody could afford a new 250 like a Yamaha RD or a Suzuki GT, so for many a secondhand Hustler was the typical choice. Not the fastest, and certainly not the slowest, the T250 was nonetheless raucous, racey and a thrill a minute in its day. If you stood on any urban street corner in 1974, it wouldn't be long before a screaming Japanese two stroke 250 raced past leaving a pungent blue smoke trail behind it. And it wasn't uncommon for the roads to become a race track as Yammies, Kwackers and Suzies jostled with each other for position in a manic unofficial road race.
I had a Hustler from 1974. A secondhand 1972 T250R, the third out of four derivatives of the bike, it was a candy orange colour and was my only form of personal transport for two years. Often on its back wheel and tearing around Harrow's roads, it was for me and I'm sure for many others a great source of adrenalin and an escape from the more reserved attitudes of parents and seemingly more ordered home life of those days.
Developing around 32bhp, top speeds of around 95mph could be achieved. This meant adopting an uncomfortable grasshopper like posture, lying uncomfortably on the tank and waiting for the engine to clear the oil out of its plugs, as your bike spluttered, bucked and crackled its way past 80. The six speed box was a novelty; sitting up on the bike on any hill or into a headwind had you clicking into a lower gear to keep the bike cooking. Quite heavy for a small bike (140kg), it felt light to ride and could be flicked around corners quite comfortably after a bit of practice.
They were supplied with Japanese tyres as standard - and they were not for the unwary. Wet roads made your steed feel like it was on ice; we were convinced these tyres were made of nylon, and they were scary. Hard wearing they might have been, but many were soon discarded in favour of Avon Roadmasters.
Marginal brakes and inexperienced young riders didn't mix well with quick little 250s, and there were frequent spills and occasional tragic accidents. Everybody at least knew someone who had been badly injured or worse, and the future changes in the learner laws were inevitable.
Nowadays, Hustlers are becoming sought after. Many, like me, had a lot of fun on them and those machines that remain are now increasingly being cherished. I recently purchased a candy red T250J, and stepping back onto it after a break of 25 years had me right back in there again. As I rode home in my sensible Arai Crash helmet and armoured leathers, I began to wish I'd kept my flares, platforms and open faced crash helmet with its plastic peak. The bike wailed on through a couple of large towns, and I half expected, half hoped to see an RD or a GT in my mirror. Back in '74, I'd be snicking down a couple of cogs and the race would be on...
** Hustler fan? Were you there in the 70's? Want to see the restored bike? www.suzukihustler.co.uk **