There’s something about dirt bikes that gets under your skin (and nails). Just ask Nick Green who was a passion for the Suzuki PE enduro range.
A rider popping a wheelle the length of Teignmouth seafront on a bright yellow two-stroke might not have done much for the image of motorcycling but 30 years ago It certainly left a mark on a Devon teenager.
The open-mouthed youth was Nick Green; the bike a PE Suzuki and three decades on from that memorable day he now owns one of the best collections of the iconic Japanese enduro machines in the country.
In its heyday it was a bike which sold in its thousands and introduced many riders to the joys of wet, cold Sunday mornings and the thrill of negotiating muddy woods and high speed forest tracks in an attempt to keep to time for that elusive gold medal.
In the early Eighties it was a common sight to have half the entry of an enduro on PEs. Like any competition bike they led a hard life but thanks to their bulletproof engines many still survive, including the seven which now rub handlebars with a Beamish trials bike and a modern 2400 enduro in Nick’s garage. The enthusiastic West Countryman was brought up with the smell of burning mud and hot exhausts in his blood, so it’s little wonder he became a motorcyclist, but as I discovered on a recent visit although he’s been on bikes since his teens the PE collection is one which only started some five years ago; he takes up the story.
“Back in the 1930s my grandad opened a bike shop in Newton Abbot specialising mostly in BSAs which were delivered each week by train from Birmingham. As a lad my father spent a lot of time In the workshop but on leaving school he went off to Small Heath and a five year apprenticeship before returning to Devon to open his own shop, buying, selling and repairing bikes at Preston on the outskirts of Paignton; then when grandad retired in the mid 1960s he took over the family business, J E Green’s garage. By then he was working on and selling alt sorts of bikes. My first powered two wheeler was a NSU Quickly moped; a super little machine which, before I was old enough to ride on the road, I used to tear around the garden pretending to be my great motocross hero Joel Robert.
“On reaching the age of 16 I had a 50cc Gilera trials moped which I rode in the West of England club’s Good Friday trial and then progressed to a TS 90 Suzuki which had a hard life playing at enduros in the local woods. In 19811 bought myself a brand new Beamish Suzuki — which I still own and ride today — and during the last 30-plus years I’ve had all sorts of different machines, but it wasn’t until I started riding competitively in trials again about five years ago that I fancied restoring an oid motocross or enduro bike.
“I immediately thought about the sight of the guy doing a wheelle along Teignmouth seafront on the PE Suzuki and although at that time I had no idea what model or capacity it was 1 decided I would try to get one. I found one on eBay; a 1979 175cc N model which had been imported from the States in the 1990s and registered with a UK plate. It had been left standing in a shed for some time; it was a bit tatty but a runner and the perfect bike for me so after winning it I had my first ‘Pure Enduro’. My intention was not to do a nut and bolt restoration but to get the bike road legal and usable for green-laning. Although it needed a bit of work and general tidying the engine sounded as sweet as a nut and I quickly discovered that any spares and advice I needed were readily available through both Nick at ‘Motoduro’ and Gary at the PE owners club.»
The last four or five years has seen Nick’s collection steadily grow and now numbers seven — one of each model of the 175s — plus a 250 and a 400, bikes which as he explained have come from various sources.
“In addition to the first model N i’ve got a C which came from America, a 1982 full floater Z from Northern Ireland, while the other two 175s, an X and T are both UK specification bikes. To complete the full set of capacities I’ve now also got a pair of 250 and 400cc Ts which were both originally registered in the UK in 1980. The 250 came from a lovely chap by the name of Frank in north Wales, he’d bought it from the original owner in 1983 and used it for green laning but it had been off the road for the best part of 20 years when I got it in 2009.
“Like several of the bikes I’ve got, it was a bit rough but complete and it only needed a clean of the carburettor and some fresh petrol to get it running again; the engines are really amazing.
“i’ve tried to keep all of the bikes as original as possible, so unless a component is actually missing or broken I refurbish the factory fitted item, however spares are sometimes needed and thanks to the internet this is not usually a problem. Some things like genuine plastics, rear mudguards and speedo heads — often taken off or smashed — are hard to find but if it’s not available from my two main sources in the UK or from Suzuki then it’s a fair bet that someone in the States will have it. During the seven year production run thousands of PEs were sold in the USA and although complete bikes are now more difficult to find there it seems that stripping them down to the last nut and boit and selling the components is now a lucrative business.”
The bikes in the Green collection range from the cosmetically ‘rough and ready’ through to immaculate but with the exception of the 175 X all are sound runners with tax and MoT and get regular outings along the local green lanes. In his ‘day job’ Nick is an automotive lecturer at the local college and thanks to some of his enthusiastic apprentices the X -discovered in a shed at nearby Brixham -is now nearing the end of a full restoration. With just the wheel building to finish it off it now looks better than the day it rolled out of the Hamamatsu factory gates but whether it will get used and dirty along the Devon lanes remains to be seen.
However, its restorer believes that bikes are for riding, not hiding, and before I departed I had the opportunity to sample a pair of his 175s; the well used 1979 model N which started the collection and a very clean and tidy UK specification T from the following year. With an extra 5bhp on tap and a quickly detachable rear wheel which allows it to be removed without disturbing the chain, cush drive or brake the T is reckoned to be the better of the two when used in serious enduros but my ride was not against the clock but an enjoyable soiree along some fairly gentle -but muddy — lanes.
Unlike many temperamental competition two-strokes it only took one or two prods to bring the little singles singing into life and the primary kick-start means that the six speed engine can be fired up either in gear with the clutch withdrawn or in neutral; an important consideration if you happen to stall in a muddy morass during an enduro. Thanks to the crankcase mounted reed valve it was possible to chuff along in almost any gear without the motor gassing up and the power delivery on both bikes was silky smooth making for a very relaxed ride. But don’t be misled into thinking the 175 is sedate as given its head it’s reckoned to be good for a top speed nudging 8Omph in sixth and with its race bred handling and decent brakes the PE Suzuki really is the perfect clubman’s enduro machine.
THE LIFE AND TIMES OF THE PE
In engine displacements from 175 through to 400cc Suzuki’s range of ‘Pure Enduro’ off-road racing motorcycles ran from 1977 through to 1984 and with their rugged reliability and sure-footed handling they became one of the most popular and best selling enduro bikes of their era.
With star riders like Joel Robert, Roger de Coster, Sylvain Gobers, Gaston Rahir and Gerrit Wolsink in the saddle of their ultra quick and reliable factory two-strokes Suzuki won a staggering eight world motocross titles during the 1970s but until the arrivai of the PE the huge — and potentially lucrative — Stateside enduro market had been overlooked. At that time the enduro scene was one largely dominated by the specialist competition bikes from the likes of Penton (KTM), Husqvarna, Maico and CZ.
Spurred on by John Morgan’s success on the TS in 1975 he was approached by Suzuki and asked to provide it with information about enduros and the requirements for a bike to take on and beat the Europeans. At the same time Suzuki had also enrolled its UK importer Graham Beamish into the idea and with the newly announced RM production motocrosser it had the perfect chassis for an enduro iron. This was duly fitted out with a suitably retuned engine, lighting set and suspension changes and the first PE; the 250B was born.
During the latter part of 1975 Morgan and three other Americans competed in four national enduros and in a prelude to the bike’s public launch three 250ESs were supplied to the British Trophy team for the 1976 International Six Day Trial in Austria, where despite repeated stops to allow the engines to cool they all survived six hard days and earned their riders — Ted Thompson, Ernie Page and Brian Higgins -gold medals for their efforts.
When the first production PEs arrived in the UK they were the star attraction on the Eddie Crooks stand at the Belle Vue show and in the hands of their sponsored rider Frank Melling it didn’t take long to notch their first enduro gold medal. Tweaked by Crooks’ top mechanic John Wren the PE was at the time possibly the fastest 250 enduro bike in Britain and at the time Melling reported that it was good for around 90mph. Although fast the great charm of the PE was its 28bhp reed valve, air-cooled, five speed RM motocross based engine which with its altered gearing, porting and heavier flywheel not only developed an outstanding amount of torque but was incredibly rugged and reliable. Under all conditions it was a one or two kick starter and thanks to the crankcase-mounted reed valve the powerband was almost limitless; in his test Melling said: «It will pull from 1500rpm all the way to 9000rpm and has a fat area in the middle of the rev range where instant crisp urge is readily available.’’
The following year (1978) the decision was made to broaden the range and the PE175C was released. A six-speeder, this was based on the RM 125 motocrosser and although at the time the spring rates were criticised as being too soft, the little 175 was the clubman’s perfect enduro machine. Like its bigger brother it went well, was completely raceworthy straight from the showroom and with a discounted price of around £775 it wasn’t long before every enduro was filled with endless numbers of the single cylinder two-strokes. A bigger 400cc bike was introduced in 1980 and although surprisingly tractable, with excellent midrange, it only lasted for three seasons before both it and the PE250Z were pensioned off, leaving just the 175 to fly the Suzuki flag.
By now Suzuki was changing its focus and although the 175 continued to evolve and took advantage of the ‘Full Floater’ suspension system from the RM 125 motocrosser a lack of engine development meant that it was now slower than the 200cc machines from the opposition and in 1984 the last PE — the 175E — rolled off the production lines; the end of an era for the Suzuki ‘Pure Enduro’, a motorcycling icon.