As is so often seems to happen, you think you are covering one story, only for it to change into something completely different, but no less interesting. Having known Rob Coutts for a few years, I was well aware of his love for all things two-stroke in the motorcycling world, but not necessarily how he came upon that passion. It turns out the path he traveled in his early years is as interesting as the collection he currently curates.
Motorcycle inspiration came at an early age, when a friend of his mum’s arrived on a Suzuki GS550. “I was nine and she took me for a ride on it and I just remember the sensation of acceleration in my gut and I thought, ‘Jeez, this has got to be the most incredible thing’.
“Dirt bikes at that stage were a big thing and my first motorbike was a Suzuki TM400 motocross bike. It started but had no exhaust; it was literally a piece of junk! I swapped it for a skateboard! I was 10, just turning 11 and what we used to do was load up me and three friends, and we’d ride to the veldt near the golf course around Linksfield and play around.
“One day we were heading over Sylvia’s Pass to Bruma - which was all veldt in those days - and we were all young kids, totally illegal, and the guy at the back turned around and said, ‘the cops are chasing us.’ He was joking but I didn’t realise and I went flat out up Sylvia’s Pass, couldn’t make the corner at the top, mounted the pavement, and rode straight into a pole. Broke the bike and we all ran, too scared to go back and get it in case the cops were there. When we eventually went back about 5 or 6 hours later, it was gone.
“But the bug had bitten and by the time I was 14 or so, I paid R150 for a Zundapp 80cc, with suicide bars; fast but it looked terrible. That was a lot of money back then but it was a great little motorbike and I rode all over on it, even though I didn’t have a license - no-one did!”
Even at this point, two-strokes ruled Rob’s world and a natural progression was into racing, achieved yet again in a completely unorthodox way.
“My very first racing bike was given to me. I was working weekends at Joe’s Suzuki on Main Street. A guy who came to the spares department had a Suzuki GT550 three-cylinder water-cooled. I helped him fix something on one of his other bikes and he was so grateful he said, ‘I’ve got this piece of scrap. Do you want it?’ It had been in an accident so I took it and stripped the whole thing - the broken fairings, the electrical system, the ignition, and so on. The tank was held on with sticky tape and I took cardboard and made a fairing and used that as a mold to make a fiberglass fairing. I hand-painted it, took a hammer to the exhausts to increase the ground clearance because I kept scraping them through the bends on Louis Botha and took the bike to Zwartkops.
“I went and asked if I could race in the regionals and they just laughed at me. They took one look at the bike and said, ‘we can’t scrutineer this!’ And I pleaded with them to let me have just one go, let me do just one race and I promised that if anything went wrong I’d go home and not come back.”
With no idea how to do this racing lark and with a bike that was completely unprepared and unsuitable, Rob was allowed into his first race….and won it! Naturally, those whom he had beaten were a bit upset as the 550cc class only permitted 350cc two-strokes. So they quickly made it understood that Rob could finish the weekend but not come back again, especially with a bike that was clearly a danger to others, let alone Rob himself although he does allow that he replaced the sticky tape holding the tank on with string!
“Then I went out to Tiger Yamaha in Newtown and told them I wanted to race in the 550cc class. I had a Yamaha RD350LC but they said, no, hang on, the new RD350 YPVS is coming out and, if you’re going to race, we’ll give you the first one in the country at cost. So they did; it arrived in its crate and I assembled it.
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