The journey to the Duke

In my first post I wrote that my bike adventure had started on Friday 3rd August (2012),  but thinking back, I realise now that this was just the start of the current episode in my adventure which actually began back in second half of the sixties.  At that time, in mid teen-hood I had fallen in love with the induction wail and exhaust song of the Yamaha two stroke twins.  Phil Read was the double 250cc and 125cc world champion and my dream bike was the Yamaha YDS3 – 305.

Yamaha YDS3 305
Yamaha YDS3 305

In June of 1969 I turned 16 and bought my first bike – a Yamaha 50cc – anything larger than 50cc would have to wait another 2 years.

I have no photos of the bike and had searched the internet for months before finally finding these pictures of a YF5A in Brazil.

Yamaha YF5A – source:

Mine had chrome-plated mudguards and a much more modest handlebar rise.  I remember a darker, metallic blue, but perhaps that’s a false memory.

Right side view – source:

One of the first modifications (yes I was a ‘Powerparter’ even in those days) was to fit a slim topline chainguard.  Later the tyres were replaced by Dunlop K70s.  The footrests were mounted rigidly by Yamaha (they did not hinge back- and upwards) and so I fell off a few times when they caught on the tarmac halfway through a corner.  The ports were enlarged and polished, the head skimmed, and I ran it on a mixture of petrol and benzine.  In late 1970 it had just received too much abuse and seized solid.  Although the barrel, piston and head were replaced, it never seemed to run properly again, poor thing.

In the meantime, I needed a more practical form of transport, and moved on to my Grandmother’s Fiat 1500.  Around that time too, motorcycle styling took, in my opinion, a turn for the worse, and my focus shifted completely to 4 wheeled transport until 1983.

[Years later, in June of 2010 my partner and I explored the possibility of a move to the wonderful Karoo town of Prince Albert.  In the garden of the guest cottage where we stayed, were a number of rusty old artefacts – the Karoo equivalent of the garden gnome, I suppose.  Amongst them was this:

I still wonder if this could have been, by some chance, my old bike.]

In 1983 I was walking past the local Kawasaki dealer when my attention was grabbed by an immaculate used Honda VF750F and I was immediately smitten.

The Honda in my driveway 1983
Honda VF750 – not mine, but a nice high res photo of one exactly like it. Source:

 We had a short and tempestuous relationship – I never trusted the bike, which always felt to me as if the front-end was about to wash away, something which two changes of front tire and suspension settings did nothing to change.

When in early 1984, the Kawasaki GPZ900R made its first appearance and stunned me and the rest of the world, it was back to the Kawasaki dealership where I had bought the Honda, and where I now traded it in on a new Ninja.

The Ninja in my driveway – 1984

Again, I can’t resist including a beautiful high-res photo on the Ninja, this time a rather splendid publicity shot by Kawasaki (yes, Kawasaki build ‘planes, trains and boats too).

The original 900 Ninja

This was probably the time when I was most moto-active.  I rode the bike to work several times a week and went on ‘breakfast runs’ from Randburg to Hartebeespoort Dam on most weekends, with the occasional longer run to Sun City.

Inevitably, however, there came a time when I would drop the bike (at walking pace) and then discover that I could not pick it up on my own.  I’ve never recovered from that experience, and light weight in a bike now still remains a priority for me.

Sometime in 1985 I sold the 900 to a riding buddy who had blown the turbo on his Z750, and ‘moved down’ to the newly released GPZ600R.

The ‘baby Ninja’ – 1986

With the GPZ600 I developed an enduring preferance for medium sized bikes, although, looking back at the specs I was surprised to see that it weighed 214 kg – that’s 14 kg  more than a Super Duke!

Breakfast run near Pelindaba, winter 1985.

In 1987 I moved from Randburg to Pietermaritzburg.   The movers were vague about how they would transport the bike, and fearing that it would get damaged in transit, I left it behind in a Kawasaki dealership.

The next few years were turbulent times, both in my personal life as well as in SA in general and in Natal in particular, and motorcycling drifted off the agenda until 1998 when the biking itch returned and I bought a Suzuki DRZ350SE.

My DR350SE

I loved the bike for its easy handling, and funky looks,  but it wasn’t really good for much else than commuting and eventually I found myself riding it less and less frequently.  I sold it in 2002.

The DRZ 350 – again, not my one, but a better photo than the one above. Source:

Predictably, some years later (this time 2009) I started thinking about riding again.  At first, I thought that all I wanted was just a cheap run-around like a Suzuki DR200 or a Yamaha XT250, but I soon realised that those options would never be rewarding and would lead to frustration.

I was still focussed on dual-purpose machines and considered the Yamaha XT650 the Suzuki DR650 as frontrunners.  Then I stumbled onto KTM, a brand which I had previously associated only with hard-core MX machines, but whose line-up, I now discovered, included bikes like the 690E, SMC and Duke as well as the 990 Super Moto and Super Duke.

I started off thinking seriously about the Duke, but then switched my attention to the 690 SMC.  When I went in to the KTM dealer to order an SMC, the salesman convinced me not to buy one, but to get a 690E instead.  In retrospect, that was a big mistake – I would have been far happier with either the SMC or the Duke.

A customised 2009 690 SMC
My 690E being uncrated at Alfie Cox Pinetown in January 2010.
The 690 Enduro – May 2012

The finish and build quality and component specifications of the 690E were superb – I loved the bike in theory but in reality never felt comfortable with the 910 mm seat height even though I am 1.83m tall, and consequently didn’t use it very often.

Anyway, this winding road has led me to the Duke 4 – the focus of this blog – and the bike I think I have always been looking for.  In the first four months that I have had the Duke I have covered more kilometers than I did on the 690E in two years – and that says something about the importance of finding the right bike.

My Duke 4 – end of August 2012.

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