The Bridgestone 175+ Racer



A long long time ago in a world far far away, I was involved in resurrecting a Bridgestone 175 twin racer. 

This particular scoot had actually entered my life years earlier……………….

It was my High School Graduation night, 1969 and I had just gotten my 1946 Harley 45 Flathead running.  Fine looking young lady from Thief River Falls was coming down to go to the graduation party with me, and all was right with the world! 

I can still remember getting ready to leave for the party.  The Harley was sporting a brand new BRIGHT ORANGE rattle can paint job, and I had removed the stock seat and had a homemade king queen seat installed along with a sissy bar.  The front fender was removed, and the rear bobbed so it ended just past the sissy bar.  I had removed the stock muffler and ran a straight pipe back past the rear axle then up behind the sissy bar to about ear level.  It was a serious chopper for a 17 year old back in the boonies of northern Minnesota .

The Harley was parked out side of our shop and my Uncle Bob was talking to me as I prepared to go.  Hey wadda ya know the dipstick in the stock oil tank showed she was low on oil.  So top it off I did. 

For those of you that are familiar with this particular era Harley Davidson motorcycle will remember that one side of the big fat tank was the fuel, and the other was engine oil.  The engine has what is called a dry sump lubrication system.  Which means then when running there is a pump that provides oil to the engine, and one that scavenges the oil that has gone through the engine and pumps it back to the oil tank.

The interesting thing about this system is that when the engine is not running, the oil in the tank sometimes drains back into the engine. To properly check the oil, one has to start the engine and let it run a little while in order to give the scavenge pump enough time to pump the oil out of the crankcase and back to the tank.  Then the oil can be checked for the proper level

Something that I failed to remember when talking to my Uncle and getting ready to go to a party, on my new scooter with a fine looking lady waiting for me.  The Harley started after the 2nd kick or so, and not wanting to waste any time waiting for it to warm up, off I go to pick up my girlfriend.  About a half a block down the road, oil starts gushing out of the oil filler cap.  The Harley puked all of the oil I had just put in it out onto my right pants leg.  The Harley was just trying to get rid of the excess oil that I had put in after failing to properly check the oil level, which was actually ok to start with.

Ya know I can remember all that, but I don’t remember whether or not I went back and changed pants, or if I just wiped the Harley down and kept on going.  

Things went fairly well that evening.  There were two parties to go to, one being just a couple of miles out of town, and the other which was to last all night about 20 miles further east.  Jerry Snobl’s place I think.  It was dark by the time we got to the first party, and it was remarked that the flames coming out of the stack on the Harley looked cool at highway speeds.  Ya got a love it when good engineering melds with aesthetic appeal.

Anyways after spending and appropriate amount of time at the first party engaging in the required social interactions and underage drinking, time came to head out to the next venue.  I intended to make the most of the occasion.  So after getting the young lady on the scoot, and getting the bike lit up, I decided it was time to do some show boating.  After a couple of good whacks on the throttle which resulted in some impressive VROOOM BRAHHHH noises and some pretty wicked flames out the pipe, I figured the best thing to do was to rev it up and drop the hammer. 

So I whacked the throttle and sidestepped the suicide clutch.  Off we went fish tailing and throwing gravel everywhere in an absolute roar of noise.  WAY IMPRESSIVE I might say.  I was earning MAJOR LEAGUE COOL POINTS for about 15 seconds where upon the much abused primary drive chain decided it had enough of these hi-jinks and decides to part company with it’s associated sprockets, with a very loud BANG followed by some of the worse noises that a mechanical device committing Hari Kari can make.

Our departure did make quite an impression on the assembled masses, who cheered and celebrated such a masterful command of a machine by its rider.  But those cheers were nothing compared to the howls and guffaws of laughter that followed the catastrophic failure of the drive chain.  Harley 2, me 0

Well there was nothing left to do with the Harley, So leaving it abandoned in the ditch at the first party we caught a ride to the second.  Where a good time was had by all. 

The next morning found me out on the front stoop of the Snobl residence enjoying a what was going to be a beautiful blue skied early summer day, and one of my first hang-overs.  Ya know the sun though warm is REALLY BRIGHT on a beautiful blue skied, early summer day.

How does this relate to the Bridgestone 175 you might ask yourself?  Well from where I was sitting, I could see across a bright green alfalfa field about a half a mile away to the main highway.  I could only see about a third of mile stretch of the highway between two groves of trees bordering that section of road.  What I did see was a little black streak flash from right to left on that road followed a few seconds later by scream of a fast shifting unmuffled two stroke being made to sing for its supper!!  I was stunned even more than by the hangover or the bright midmorning sun.  I was a motorcycle junkie, and I thought I knew every single motorcycle running or not in the county.  Here was one that I’d not only never seen or heard of, but one that was quicker and louder than ANYTHING I’d ever seen before.  A few minutes later I was treated to a repeat performance this time from east to west that was no less stunning than the first.

Due to the highly entertaining events of the previous evening, not only was I without transportation to chase down this mystery bike, but I was severely lacking in the motivation required to get off the stoop and begin such a search.  Did I mention how bright the sun was?  So dumfounded I sat for more than one reason, never to see that scoot again, or so I thought.

Evidently that scoot ended up in Beckmann’s junkyard on the East Side of my hometown where a buddy of mine bought it about 4 years later for less than a song. Though he was a mechanic of some renown, he couldn't get it to run fer squat.  It would start but had no power.  So he seeins as I was a local motorcycle guru, and a self proclaimed expert in EVERYTHING he called me in to see what I could do.  Yep he brought in the heavy hitter from the south side. 

Thing is we didn't know what this motorcycle was at the time, just thought it was some kind of dirt bike, cause it had up swept pipes.  The odd part was they were unmuffled stingers. That along with the rotary valves should have been some kind of hint.  I also thought that the "Total Loss" ignition was strange for a dirt bike, but it was the first Bridgestone ‘dirt bike’ I'd ever seen, and maybe that’s just the way Bridgestone did things. 

I did all the appropriate tests and adjustments, it was timed right, had fresh fuel, good compression, the plugs weren't too far off and the battery had a good charge.  The bike would start, but barely had enough power to roll down a flat road.

I spent a whole afternoon trying everything I could think of to get it to run to no avail, a 50cc scooter could whip this things ass.  So I decided to use the test of last resort.  Hold the throttle wide open till it runs or blows up.  So off I go, 1st gear, wide open, and this damn thing won't hardly go at all............  So I just stay on the throttle and the RPMs slowly climb....... TILL BAM!!!!! IT HITS LIKE A HAMMER!!!!!!!!!  I mean it almost leapt out from under me!!!! I slam the throttle shut.

AH HA!!!!!!  I've got an inkling of what is going on.  A dim memory comes to me from the past, something having to do with a bright sun, a beautiful girl and a screaming black spot.

So I ride back to a spot where all of the guys are standing around so as to give them a good look at what's about to happen.  I use the same throttle technique, but this time I know what to expect.  Just as I pass by my buddies the Bridgestone hits the power band and just explodes with power.  THIS THING HAS MORE POWER THAN AN RD-350!!!  I fan the shifter just as fast as I can and before I know it this thing is going a LOT faster than I want!!!  I shut her down and gently motor back to my buddies in triumph!!

It had a Power band that couldn't have been more than 1000 rpm wide. Either side of the power band and there was NOTHING.  On the power band the bike was ungodly powerful !!  I mean like DUHH!!! Stingers, no flywheel or alternator/generator and total loss ignition!  This was a balls to the walls all out performance motorcycle.  Not just some stinking foo fer rah dirt bike!

OH yea, on a side note; some Bridgestone two strokes of that era had an interesting if somewhat quirky shifting pattern.  On most motorcycles there is a foot actuated lever that shifts the gears in the transmission.  The most common shifting pattern is one where when the lever is pushed down once, the motorcycle shifts down one gear.  When the lever is pulled up, it shifts up one gear.  This pattern repeats until the motorcycle is either in the lowest gear or the highest gear.  The brilliant engineers at Bridgestone decided, Hey why should we make the riders go up and down sequentially though the gears? Lets make our transmission so that once the highest gear is attained, the next pull on the lever will shift to the lowest gear.   WHAT A GREAT IDEA!! So that’s what they did.  I think it’s called a rotary gear pattern, you could push down on the lever and shift through all the gears to the lowest and the next push down would give you the highest and you could repeat the cycle.  Same with going up through the gears from first through sixth and back to first.

So it was kind of interesting to find out about the 6th gear to 1st gear thing.  I mean you know, strange motorcycle, a powerband like nothing I'd ever seen before, and a transmission with more gears than I could count. :o   I mean what a rush!  HOTTEST SCOOT I'D EVER BEEN ON!  Fanning the shifter like a fiend! Goin like HELL when all of a sudden it tries to toss me over the bars! When after loosing count of the number of gears I shifted through, I discovered the major disadvantage of the rotary shifting pattern.  If you are at the maximum speed attainable by the motorcycle in it’s highest gear, then shift directly to it’s lowest gear, the engine cannot spin fast enough to keep the rear wheel turning at the speed it was before the shift.  For all intents and purposes the rear wheel stops, causing in most cases a near instantaneous loss of control.  I strongly suspect that’s why NO manufacturer today makes a motorcycle with that type of shift pattern

The only thing that saved me from a real nasty crash was the fact that I was in the dirt, which allowed the rear wheel to slide and my clutch hand panicked and pulled in the clutch before I even thought about it.  Disengaging the transmission from the rear wheel allowing it to continue rolling again.

Either way two mysteries were solved that day, the first being the one about the Black Streak seen on a early summer morning, and the other being why this motorcycle didn’t seem to want to run.  This scooter was designed and built to produce high performance in a very narrow range.  A range that the average rider would never encounter, But one that I am sure works well on a race track in the hands of a capable motorcycle racer.

Neither myself, my Buddy, or any our friends was able to successfully ride this motorcycle recreationally.  The poor scoot languished in the back of my Buddy’s garage.

 Until about year after the above incident, two of  my brothers decided that they wanted to go Flat Trackin.  There was a Flat Track race in Park Rapids Minnesota coming up, but they had no bike.  Somehow, and I really have no idea how, they found the Bridgestone 175 and bought it.  It was Friday night and the race was on Sunday.  So they got drunked up and decided to modify the Bridgestone for Flat Trackin.

Luckily I had a social engagement that evening so I was not a witness to the ensuing butchery.  Sometime that evening, after charging the battery, cleaning the points, retiming, cleaning the carb and putting fresh gas in it they got the bike running.  Armed with the all of the information that I had gleaned from riding the bike previously, along with a few more beers, they proceeded to take a cutting torch to the frame.

Evidently they had decided that the stock frame geometry was not optimized for flat track racing.  They surmised that the center of gravity had to be lower and the front suspension has to be raked out more.  So they took the torch and cut the down tube(s?) then heated to red hot the aft end of the back bone and bent the backbone and steering head up a few degrees.  They then found some plumbing pipe that nested more or less into the down tubes that they used to fill the ensuing gap in the downtubes caused by these bends, and using a “cracker box” stick welder welded them in.  They stood back in glory at what they had done and said. TA DA!.

I was recruited the next day to test ride the thing.  After finding their reasoning and conceptualizations unsound, and their engineering woefully inadequate, I took the bike for a spin.  I believed that it was just a grenade with the pin pulled waiting to kill someone.  I found that though the riding position was woefully lacking in comfort, the bike tracked straight when asked and turned in the correct direction with the proper control input.

My verbal report to the owners and future riders was that I found the motorcycle to be effectively destroyed as far as a reasonably safe piece of machinery was concerned and that anyone considering riding it at speed had a death wish.  So with that blessing they cheerfully went about preparing for the race.

The next day was a flurry of activity.  Since they were going to the races anyway, I decided to race there as well, using a 100 cc Honda we had laying around.  As a result of the frenzied preparations required I remember little of what ensued up until the first practice session.

The bike I was riding was not a race motorcycle in any way shape or form.  It was a tired worn out old beater of a scoot that was sorely put upon this race day.  My Flat Track racing career was a short one that was not only lacking in distinction, but very uneventful in more than one way.  On my second Flat Track practice lap EVER I was midway between turns 3 & 4 going as fast as that little 100cc Honda would go.  There I was hauling ASS tucked in behind the bars doing maybe 45-50 mph or more who knows, the Honda was given me all she had, when mere inches from my right shoulder blasts a Harley XR-750 pure Flat Track Racer.  That guy was feets up and had to be doing over a hundred miles an hour if not three hundred as far as I could tell.  Either way after I completed turn four and looked down the straight away and didn’t see the Harley, I realized that I wasn’t goin fast, and I wasn’t a flat track racer, so I coasted to the pits and the end of my Flat Track racing career.

BUT my brothers on the other hand were having a field day!!  Inspite of the cobbled together aged Bridgestone 175 that they were tossing around the track on ancient stone hard tires that weren’t meant for Flat Tracking in the first place and in spite of their total lack of experience they had done so well in open practice that they were included in a protest that was being lodged by the single piston racers against the multi-piston racers.

It turns out that there was some exotic machinery there that day.  There were two highly modified Yamaha 250cc twin cylinder custom built racers along with a VERY highly modified single cylinder custom framed Yoshimura  Honda 250.  Any one of those motorcycles cost more than I had made in many years and their pits were stocked with a plethora of extra race tires, sprocket sets, rims and all of the accoutrements of serious professional racers.

The Yamaha twins were nearly as fast as the open class bikes, and the riders that had single cylinder bikes were protesting their performance and demanding that they run in the open class and not in the 250cc class to which they belonged. 

Since there was no 175cc class my brothers were required to run in the 250cc class.   As I said they had run so well in practice that they got lumped in with the other twins.  They would have had to race in the open class against that self same Harley XR-750 that humbled me so badly earlier.

In the end it was pointed out that the rules were based on displacement, and not the number of cylinders that the motorcycles had, so all the motorcycles above 125cc and below 251cc’s would run in the 250cc class.

The luck of the draw placed my brothers in the same qualifying race as the two Yamaha’s and the Yoshimura  Honda.  It didn’t look good.

When the flag dropped my younger brother, who was the designated rider, mainly because he was too young to be scared, and he weighed substantially less than my older brother, got a great start and was 3rd into the first turn behind the Yamaha’s!  Later he said that exiting onto the back straight away he saw both Yamaha’s entering turn 3.  He knew he had no chance of catching them.  Somewhere in turn 3 or 4 the Yoshimura  Honda just blew by him.

BUT once he exited the turn and got the little Bridgestone pointed in a straight line he accelerated hard and had no problem passing the Honda.  The remainder of the race continued in the same pattern.  The Yamaha twins were too far ahead to be seen, and the Yoshimura  Honda would pass my brother in the turns on both ends of the track, with my brother passing the Honda in the straights.  At the end my brother and the Bridgestone  finished 4th and qualified for the final.

The rest of the day was spent hangin around and acting cool waiting for the finals that early evening.

The final started out exactly as the qualifier.  My brother was 3rd into the first turn behind the Yamaha’s,, which were never seen again and ahead of the Yoshimura  Honda.  The difference this time was that my brother was now a seasoned racer having one qualifier under his belt.  As a result he was now a little faster in the turns and the Honda was having a real hard time getting past him.  That fact had nothing to do with the bizarre handling characteristics of the poor Bridgestone, and the resulting dance of death it did in every turn. 

During the ensuing laps the Honda was only able to get around my brother two times, and my brother easily answered those passes with the Bridgestone’s phenomenal straight line speed.  Coming out of the 2nd turn on the last lap he had a full turn lead on the Honda.

There he was in his first ever Flat Track race, in the final, solidly in 3rd place on an obsolete ancient 175cc two stroke that cost less than the front tire of the high dollar Yoshimura  Honda whose ass he was currently waxing……….

Do you remember earlier when I was discussing the mechanical aspects of this motorcycle whence my Buddy first bought it?  Part of it’s performance was do to the fact that it had absolutely NO battery charging system.  Generating electricity takes power, and this motorcycle was originally designed to waste not a wit of power on luxuries, but instead put every single BTU into SPEED.  Thing is the ignition does demand a certain amount of electricity.  That came from the battery and only the battery.  A system like that is called a total loss ignition.  Since none of the energy taken from the battery to power the ignition system is returned to the battery the energy in the battery is totally lost.  In this case the term total loss ignition meant a little more than that.

Upon exiting the 2nd turn of the last lap, the little Bridgestone began to run rough, and at the end of the back straight was barely running at all.  The Yoshimura  Honda had no trouble passing for 3rd place.  The Bridgestone coasted to a finish back in the pack.

If there is a moral to this part of the story it is that talent and good luck can take you quite a ways, but you will never finish in the money if you don’t keep yer battery charged.

That was the end of our flat trackin days.  One of my Brothers went on to bigger and better things and has successfully campaigned  in/on go-carts  snowmobiles, and a variety of Stock Cars.  The other brother did lesser and worse things none of which will be mentioned here.  As for the Bridgestone 175, I have absolutely no idea what ever became of it, but I hope it is sitting some were in someone’s garage or barn waiting for another reincarnation.


Copyright April 7, 2012 all rights reserved

Copyright April 7 2012 all rights reserved

If you give me money, I'll try to spend it.