Sunday, 28 February 2016


Like many young lads (and girls too) I became all caught up in the sports moped fever of the 1970s.  In those days, these little bikes could be ridden in the UK at age 16 on just a provisional license - Unlike today however, you didn’t require any prior compulsory rider training (CBT) before actually taking one straight out on the road!

Quite simply, I loved my little moped, as to me it represented total freedom and independence! Suddenly I was able to travel as far and wide as I cared to – Well as far as I could get before the spark plug oiled up, which was normally about every five miles or so!

As Jasper Carrott famously sang in his 1975 hit, ‘Funky Moped’:

When I get me moped out on the road
Ain't nobody gonna tell me where to go. No!
When I get me moped out on the road
I'm gonna ride, ride, ride, ride, ride!

The sports mopeds that emerged from the early 1970’s onwards, were a world apart from the more traditional ‘step-through’ machines, such as the Raleigh Runabout or Puch Maxi etc, that previously had been the only things on offer, to 16 year olds eager to get their first taste of motorised two wheel transport.

Although still essentially mopeds, (i.e. restricted to 49cc and capable of being ridden and started with pedals, if registered in the UK prior to Sept 1977), some were not much different in terms of actual physical size, to their siblings in the 100cc to 125cc bracket.  In addition many of the manufacturers began to add kick starters and foot change gear shifts to their bikes, as well as adapting pedals so that they would lock into position adjacent to each other, like proper motorcycle foot rests.

For any mopeds registered in the UK after September 1977, a change in UK law meant that these could now made and ridden without (the hated) pedals, although they were now restricted to a top speed of 30mph!  At the time, this restriction on top speed meant that pre 1977 machines became highly prized, as many were capable of hitting the magic 50mph barrier, or even greater speeds if you had a steep gradient and a good tail wind!

In terms of sheer popularity (i.e. judging by the numbers on the road) at the time, THE BIG THREE TO OWN WERE UNQUESTIONABLY:

The Yamaha FS1E (affectionately dubbed 'The Fizzy').

The Suzuki AP50.

The Honda SS50

There were also a host of other less common (but no less desirable) sports mopeds around then too, such as:

The exotic (and expensive) café racer style Puch M50 Grand Prix

The Garelli Tiger Cross.

The Gilera Trials.

Plus the Casal K190 to name but a few.

And then there was the ultimate in 1970’s two wheeled teen cool, the utterly mad looking Fantic 50 Chopper.  Yes, even this could be ridden at 16 back then!

I still recall saving up hard to buy my own moped, using money earned from any odd jobs I could get, either after school or at weekends.  Most of my friends had been doing the same and one by one, we began to acquire our very own ‘dream-machines’. 


Before buying my own bike, I had been envious of my best friend who just prior to his own 16th birthday, had acquired an almost new Yamaha FS1E (‘Fizzy’), resplendent in its Baja brown Yamaha livery.  Curiosity had gotten the better of us both one sunny afternoon and no longer satisfied with just starting the bike up in his back yard, we decided to wheel the Fizzy a short distance to the local playing field, in order to give it a proper try out!

My friend went first and after a few increasingly confident laps, dismounted from his pride and joy and unwisely gestured for me to have a go too.  I didn’t want to admit to never actually having ridden a bike with a foot operated gear change before, so I tried to look competent and climbed on board.  Somehow I knew that the clutch lever had to be kept pulled in, as I tentatively pressed the gear shift down into first with my foot.  Any comments of concern that my friend may have been making at that point however, were then drowned out by the screaming engine note of the ‘fizzy’ as I twisted the throttle fully back and let the clutch out.  The front wheel of the little beast was trying to reach for the sky (similar to the image above) as I ‘wheelied’ away, frantically trying to keep from falling off, whilst at the same time attempting to veer away from the metal posts of some nearby swings, which by now were rushing headlong towards me!

By a twist of fate, I missed the posts and managed to get the front wheel back on the ground, just prior to disappearing down the bank of a dried up ditch, before emerging up the other side.  At this point, I was simply grateful for having remained upright and was even feeling quite proud of my ‘trials-rider’ performance - That was until I glanced up, just prior to the point where both the Fizzy and myself were hungrily consumed by a giant holly bush.

I finally emerged, a little bruised and scratched but minus the Fizzy, which was still lodged in a leafy embrace by the bush.  I shouted out to my friend that he shouldn’t worry as I was okay, but quickly gathered from his wild facial expressions, hand gestures and colourful expletives, that my own welfare was far from being his immediate concern!  Thankfully however, his beloved Fizzy was none the worse for wear either, apart from a few scratches, which I feebly tried to convince him would add to its inherent character.


My own big day finally came, as having been up early to check out the small ads in our local paper, I had spotted something promising!  The advert was for a 1972 ruby red coloured Honda SS50 and I impatiently rang up the seller, eager to get there first.

On viewing the bike, I was so relieved to have finally found a moped I could actually afford (and a Honda at that), that I blindly overlooked it’s many obvious faults and somewhat shabby, lacklustre appearance – My eyes glazed over and I bought it on the spot, naively assuming that everything could be put right with some TLC and a little elbow grease.

On getting the bike home, I set to work cleaning it up and after many hours of  rubbing until my fingers were numb, the little Honda now shone like an only slightly rusty pin!  The main problem was that at some stage it must have been ridden by a circus elephant, due to the fact that the rear wheel was badly buckled and the centre stand was bent almost double - I would frequently have to ignore the frantic pointing of other concerned motorists (and even pedestrians) who were urgently trying to alert me to the fact that my rear wheel was about to fall off - Such was the illusory effect, created by the wheel buckle.

Furthermore, the broken centre stand meant the bike was incapable of remaining upright by itself and had to be leant against something heavy and suitable (like a lamppost), when you dismounted.  Thinking outside of the box, I quickly came up with a solution and resorted to carrying two hulking great blocks of wood with me wherever I went. When parking the bike up, I simply pulled the wood blocks out from my bulging pockets and used them to jack up the centre stand.  This was not always successful and more often than not the bike would be reclining lazily on the ground when I returned.  On one occasion I had proudly parked it up at the end of a line of other motorcycles, only to return a short while later and find all the bikes collapsed one on top of the other, dominoes fashion – Luckily on that occasion, my guilty little Honda started first time, allowing for a hasty get away!


In addition to the broken centre stand, I had also been seduced by the captivating exhaust note of my tiny metal steed.  For some reason the baffle (a tubular silencing device) had been removed from the exhaust by it’s previous keeper, the result being that it now sounded more like a hulking great 1950s style 500cc thumper, than a little 50cc moped - You could hear it coming for miles around!

Unfortunately my parents failed to share my passion and no doubt further encouraged by their shell shocked neighbours, warned me to find a way of restricting the racket.  After giving this some thought and carrying out a little rudimentary research on exhaust baffles, I came up with a solution.  I dismantled a steel bicycle pump, then took the main tube and packed it with some wire wool.  My contraption required something to hold all the wire wool inside, but still let the exhaust gases pass through.  A steel washer would have been perfect for the job but unable to find one suitable, I had yet another brainwave!  I proceeded to hammer an old Indian coin, which I had found was the perfect size and just happened to have a hole in the middle, into the end of the now butchered bicycle pump.

My crudely made baffle was then rammed down the bike’s exhaust pipe and after a few firm taps with a hammer, appeared to be held fast.  Fingers firmly crossed, I started the moped up and was met with something that now sounded more like an angry wasp in a tin can, than a muscular sounding motorbike.  The main thing however, was that my efforts had been successful in making the bike much quieter and miraculously, didn’t appear to have unduly affected its performance.


What I had failed to foresee however, was that after a few miles or so, the wire wool I had packed down the exhaust would begin to glow red and due to the little Honda’s occasional habit of backfiring, it had now been given the ability to fire bursts of glowing hot shrapnel, straight back in the face of anyone unlucky enough to be following behind - Unwittingly, I had created a lethal weapon to rival anything created by Q-Branch in the James Bond movies!!!