Yamaha AS1 125cc racer test
Illustrated January 1971
When Honda first
introduced their ]R93 twin-cylinder machines,
they virtually set the 125 cc class alight.
Never in the history of the ultra-lightweight
class had such sophisticated, beautifully engineered
little bikes been made available to the private
owner, and they dominated the class for several
seasons. On the short circuit racing scene,
riders found that if they wanted to win they
had to have a Honda - if you didn't have a Honda,
you didn't stand a chance. There were one or
two exceptions, such as the Tohatsu, but they
were very much in the minority.
Then the Hondas went out of production, and
Buhaco (who had been on top prior to the Japanese
"invasion") took over once more. Using
basically the same design, they produced a water-cooled,
single-cylinder two-stroke with a six-speed
gearbox. These machines were just that bit quicker
than the ageing Hondas, possibly because they
were considerably lighter and consequently had
a more favourable power to weight ratio. However,
just over a season ago, Bultaco ceased production
as well leaving the 125 cc class in a very sorry
state regarding the availability of new, competitive
Last season, Villa, Maico and Aermacchi machines
appeared in small numbers, and although successful
to a degree, none have made as big an impact
as the new Yamaha twins. It seems as if these
race-kitted road machines are going to dominate
the 125 cc class in the future, just as they
have dominated the 250 cc and 350 cc classes
in the past.
A few weeks ago, on a very wet and windy afternoon
at Brands Hatch, I had the opportunity of testing
one of these remarkable little bikes. Although
conditions were far from ideal, and the treacherous-looking
surface deterred me from trying anything fancy,
I did at least get the chance to squirt the
bike from one corner to the next, and the resulting
performance left me very, very impressed.
The Yamaha that I rode belongs to Alan Jackson,
boss of the Sondel Sport motorcycle shop
in North London, and he kindly brought the machine
down to Brands for the sole purpose of allowing
me to test it. We had organised the date some
time previously - it was a pity that the weather
hadn't been kinder.
Alan is a comparative newcomer to motorcycling,
and 1970 was his first season as a sponsor.
Although he has plenty of experience as a competitor
in road racing on two wheels, this was not on
motorcycles, but in the grind and sweat world
of cycle racing. Riding as an international
amateur, Alan represented England on no fewer
than 12 occasions. He rode in some of the big
tours abroad, including Egypt, Sweden, and one
behind the Iron Curtain, which took him pedalling
through Warsaw, Berlin and Prague. In the 1956
Olympics, held in Australia, he finished third
in the 120-mile road race section and won a
bronze medal. The English team finished second,
so Alan won a silver medal as well. It took
only 5Vi hours to complete the course, at an
average speed of 22/23 mph - phew! Some average
for a pushbike.
"I started a cycle business in partnership
with another chap," said Alan, "and
we had a pretty good name, due to the racing
side, so we made and sold lightweight cycles.
After a while sales began to drop so we switched
to selling bread and butter cycles. Then, when
the sales of all pedal cycles really began to
drop, we took on a moped agency. My interest
in motorcycles started with the decline in cycles.
When Hondas first began to flood the market
we took on an agency for them, and have been
involved in motorcycles ever since, but we have
switched our interests to Yamaha. As Yamaha
progressed, our spares side developed too. It/s
handy for us, because the Yamaha base is also
in London and we get on very well with them;
ihere seems to be a good liaison between the
company and their dealers. They help us, and
we help them, but there is no support or financial
backing for racing enterprises."
Ron Bayliss is the Sondel team mechanic, and
he also works full-time at the shop as Yamaha
spares manager. Previously a motor mechanic
and electrical fitter, Ron joined Alan some
time ago. He built and raced a 50 cc bike for
a while, but due to the responsibilities of
a baby daughter he now confines his activities
to just building bikes. In fact, he admits that
he gets more fun out of building a bike than
When the 125 cc Yamaha road machines were first
introduced, both Alan and Ron thought that the
bikes had possibilities for track use. Conversion
kits became available around Christmas time
in 1969, so the enthusiastic pair exhibited
a race-kitted machine at the Sports and Racing
Motorcycle Show during January of 1970.
Grant Gibson, who also lives in London, heard
that Sondel were building a racer and wanted
a rider; he was very interested and went along
to the shop to volunteer his services.
"I breezed into the shop," Grant
said with a laugh, "and told them who I
was . . . 'Who?' they said. I thought great;
Everyone had a good laugh at the recollection
of this first meeting. "Well," Alan
explained, "we hardly knew anyone in the
racing world, either by reputation or personally."
Although they received a stack of applications
from riders, Grant was the man they chose.
"In all fairness," Grant continued,
"the bike didn't look right at first, and
Alan wanted to modify a few things before I
raced it; but I persuaded him to let me have
it for an early season event, just to assess
its potential. 'Come on,' I said, 'let's get
it out of the window, otherwise we'll never
race it.' I ran it in at Snetterton on the Thursday
and raced it at Castle Combe the following Saturday.
As I already had an entry in the 350 cc class
and was going to Castle Combe anyway, I thought
that it wouldn't be a bad idea to take the little'un
along as well, just for the ride." The
meeting was a national one, and Grant finished
a very creditable third, on an un-raced machine.
This stage, the bike was a completely standard,
race-kitted Yamaha, but the frame had extra
struts welded into it for more rigidity, the
forks had been substituted for slightly heavier-duty
Yamaha units - just to be on the safe side -
and a special twin-disc Campagnolo front brake
was fitted in place of the standard drum.
Originally, it was intended to keep the bike
as standard as possible and sell identical bikes
for around £400, but as the season wore
on it became apparent that, although these machines
would be ideal for a club racer, they needed
to steer a bit better to be competitive in national
and international events. The engine was quick
enough, but the handling, although not bad,
was not good enough for scratching round corners
on the limit. So, on a trial-and-error basis,
the little Yamaha was suitably modified throughout
the season. The rear sub-frame was strengthened
and Girling racing units substituted for the
standard one. The footrest layout had been attached
to the swinging arm, which put Grant off at
first. "I didn't fancy the idea of my feet
pattering up and down as the bike went over
bumps, but it didn't bother me at all, once
I got used to it."
"No, but it must have put off the blokes
behind you," Alan said with a laugh, "seeing
your feet bobbing up and down in time with th-
However, once they got organised, Ron made
up a special set of plates to accommodate the
footrest assemblies, and these are attached
conventionally to the frame. Sondel also designed
their own tank and seat, which they make in
Well, that's dealt with the background of the
bike, so it's on with the testing bit. In fairness,
the atrocious conditions did not allow me to
do the thing as thoroughly as I would have liked.
Of course, the ever-humorous Gibson put me off
my stroke before I even went out of the paddock.
"Oh, I nearly forgot to tell you,"
he said, with that characteristic grin on his
face, "the gears are the wrong way round
- one down and four up!"
"Charming-now he tells me," I thought
as I splashed the little bike out on to the
track. "What happens when I change down
instead of up, coming out of a bend?"
The riding position suited me a treat, but
of course, this is a matter of preference. There
is no such thing as an ideal standard riding
position, as every rider has to tailor a machine
to suit his individual requirements. Sondel's
seat and tank fined me admirably, especially
so because it allowed me to move around a bit
on the bike. When I say "move around,"
I mean backwards and forwards. I don't like
the modern "wedged" racing position,
where a rider is stuck between the tank and
seat, with his weight well to the rear, not
able to move either forward or back. I like
to move well forward on the seat when sitting
up and braking, to transfer as much weight to
the front wheel as possible when cornering,
especially on a lightweight machine. On a small
bike there isn't the power to provoke the back
end into breaking adhesion, and because the
"wedged in, sitting back position"
prevents a rider from getting his weight forward,
the front end is always light. This was the
case on the 125 cc Honda I used to race. If
I started cornering hard on it, the front wheel
would break away first - it used to scare the
pants off me! With the Yamaha I could transfer
my weight on to the front wheel, and if anything
moved at all it was always the back end, which
was both predictable and controllable.
Steering was light, positive and precise. The
bike could be set up on line with the minimum
amount of effort. As I said, the front behaved
beautifully, but the back end did move around
on the ripples on Kidney Bend and could be induced
into breaking away, though not once did the
bike feel that it was going to take over. Grant
said that in the dry, when he is trying hard
on a bumpy bend, the back gets skittish, but
it's never bad enough to cause concern, once
you get used to it.
It was impossible to try the brakes out to
their maximum. A pity, because I would like
to have sampled the twin-disc to its full potential.
All that I can say is that the brakes did have
a nice progressive "feel" to them,
which is very reassuring in the rain. Just how
good they are in the dry, I'm afraid I cannot
say, but Grant tells me that they are smooth,
progressive and totally adequate -and that's
good enough for me. The rear brake is standard,
with racing linings.
Gearbox operation was superb. It was light,
positive and sweet, requiring very little pressure
on the gear lever. In fact, the lever hardly
moved at all and it was only the change in the
exhaust note that made me realise that 1 had
changed-gear shifting was a real dream. Even
though the gearbox operation was the "wrong"
way round (down for down, up for up) it couldn't
tarnish my impressions of it; anyway, I only
forgot once, and changed up twice instead of
down going into Clearways.
Not being a two-stroke rider, I must admit
to having had difficulty in keeping the revs
between 11,500 and 13,500 on the corners, especially
on Druids and Clearways. If it hadn't been wet,
I don't think I would have had any trouble at
all. However, if the revs did drop off the power
band while cornering, caution had to be exercised
in trying to coax them back up when still leaning
over, for as the power came back in with a bang
it caused the back wheel to step out-surpris
ing punch for such a small engine. At first,
I was off the power band more than I was on
it, but I did improve towards the end of the
session. The exhaust note made real music and
produced a lovely tune while juggling with the
All in all, I thought that it was a fabulous
little bike and, to be quite honest, I couldn't
find any real faults at all. The only small
grouse I did have was that the throttle action
was a bit on the stiff side; but that isn't
fair comment, because I always like the throttle
as light as a feather, probably to the degree
of being finicky. I used to oil all my cables
with Molyslip. Clutch operation was smooth and
Sondel Sport are designing their own frame
for next season. They plan to use T45 tubing
and aim to produce a frame that is lighter,
more rigid and also makes the whole bike lower.
They feel that the standard road frame makes
the centre of gravity too high. Also, the wheelbase
will be slightly lengthened. By doing this and
other modifications, Sondel hope to bring the
overall weight of their machine down from 190
Ib to 170 Ib.
They intend to market frame kits, seats, tanks,
fairings-in fact, anything that they use on
their own machine will be available to their
customers, once they have tested and proved
everything to their satisfaction. Complete machines
will also oe available, and these will be supplied
according to the customer's specification. Selection
will range from a good club racer for around
£400, to a top-class machine with all
the special bits that will be really competitive
in the bigger meetings, and the price of this
will be between £575 and £600.
Roll on, next season
rw-iHIS YEAR has been the training JL ground
for this enthusiastic little team, and they
intend to have a real crack at next season's
British championship. In spite of the inevitable
teething troubles encountered last year, Grant
finished between second and sixth on numerous
occasions. At the last meeting of the year,
in a national event at Snetterton. he finished
fifth in a very strong field after being almost
last away. After covering nearly half a lap
on one cylinder, he was almost on the point
of touring in to retire when the other pot chimed
in, so he got his head down and had a go. "The
bike was really flying, and I made joint fastest
lap in my climb to fifth place. I was really
chuffed-roll on next season when we get our
new frame and all the 'goodies'." The new
bike will be exhibited at the motorcycle show
Sponsors are few and far between in this sport
of ours, and it's nice to see a new team come
along with some support. Sondel are only a small
team; they sponsor only one rider and enter
one bike, but they are doing a great job by
ploughing something back into the sport in these
days of dwindling assistance-pity there weren't
more like them. I wish them all the best in
their racing ventures, and I personally hope
that Grant Gibson wins that elusive British
championship for them. Whether he wins
or loses, he always wears that characteristic
"gay cavalier" grin on his face, and
anyone who can keep smiling in the helter-skelter
world of motorcycle racing-even when the unpredictable
catastrophies occur-has my genuine admiration.
Specification (standard road going
- Yamaha twin cylinder two-stroke with race
kit, comprising: racing pistons, barrels,
exhausts and expansion boxes.
- Special ignition system.
- Special clutch plates and springs.
- Racing fifth gear.
- Extras on tested machine:
- Dunlop racing tyres; alloy rims;
- Campagnolo twin-disc front brake; Girling
racing rear units.
- Sondel.Sport: racing tank, fairing, and
- Standard road frame and swinging arm suitably
- Heavier duty Yamaha front forks.
- Footrests, gear linkage and rear brake conversion.
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