Kevin Schwantz won his only 500cc World Championship in 1993, that’s now a quarter of a century ago. If anything, Brand 34 is a bigger draw these days than it’s ever been. The proof of this can be seen in the bikes that us ‘forty somethings’ tinker with. Schwantz never got an official Suzuki replica machine; it doesn’t really matter though because for over two decades, his band of loyal fans, churn out their own tributes to their hero.
Ash Smith is the latest to spend his cash on a bike that pays homage to Revving Kevin. We bumped into Ash at a Suzuki promotional event in 2017 at Wheels Motorcycles in Peterborough. It was Bank Holiday Monday and temperatures were already on their way to a 27 degree high in the PE1 postcode. Ash had heard about the event via some online posts and decided to ride his freshly restored bike over 100 miles from his home in Stafford. Upon arrival he enquired if there was any chance that Kevin could pose for a picture with his pride and joy. I was the person he asked, and after a quick chat with Kevin’s agent and the Manager at Wheels, Ash’s wish was set to be granted. I’m a right sucker for a happy ending.
Whilst watching a constant stream of Kev’s fans come and go, I chatted to Ash about his Suzuki. Ash talked me through the story of his Lucky Strike RGV250 and like all good stories, we started right at the beginning. “I have owned two RGV250s before, along with a host of other two stroke bikes. My last RGV250 was sold in 1992, it was taking up too much room in my lounge and a change in jobs meant I no longer commuted on a daily basis. For years I’d been up and down the M6 on a variety of two strokes. It started with a RD400 when I was 18, then I moved to an LC, before more modern bikes like the TZR250 and a VJ21 RGV250 were purchased. I have owned bikes since, mostly 600cc machines, my current one being a Honda CBR600FY. I got that hankering for a two stroke again a while back and that’s when I discovered Clive Dooley. Clive owns and runs 2 Stroke Innovations and he’s based nearby in Stafford. He finds unloved two strokes and then restores them; once they’re finished he sells them on. Back in March this year Clive bought an unloved RGV250 VJ22. It needed a full restoration after being unused for around 10 years, but it was just how he likes to find them. I went to see the bike and decided that when it was finished it would be the perfect bike for me. Despite the bike being in a right old state, the fuel tank was pretty decent. It was also finished in Lucky Strike colours, which is what lead to the bike being restored with a Schwantz theme.”
Clive obviously doesn’t hang around, less than 5 months later the bike was finished. I took some time to admire his handy work. Not only does it look fabulous, it’s also mechanically sorted. There are only a few freshly restored bikes that would cope with a journey of 100 miles straight out of the box, let alone a two stroker. I didn’t want to sound negative, but I had to ask Ash if there had been any issues? Though I needn’t have worried, Ash filled me in. “The only issues I’ve had are these: a fork seal that decided to weep and the front brakes lacked real bite. After some tinkering by Clive, the spongy feel was eradicated; it was a sticky piston in one caliper. Yesterday the bike wasn’t running that great, all I did was change the plugs and it came back on song. Typical two stroke issues really. I have done just over 100 miles to get here and the only issues I had, was several people waving and giving me the thumbs up along the motorway!” Ash loves the black finish on the frame and swinging arm, it’s something that Clive suggested to Ash during the build, it might divide opinion with the purists, but I for one think it looks great.
With Kevin having been busy inside signing everything from old racing DVD discs, various posters and clothing to dabbing an autograph on someone’s tattoo of him, we coaxed Kevin and his Sharpie outside to the crowd in the car park. Ash had moved his RGV250 to a prime spot outside the doors to the store, but beyond that there wasn’t any script. Kevin was more than happy to chat to anyone and everyone and Ash took his turn to meet his hero. Then unprovoked, Kevin sat on Ash’s bike to pose for his much sought after Kodak moment. What then happened was captured on video direct to the Wheels Facebook page. Within 24 hours, the video of Schwantz striking up Ash’s bike and then signing the tank, had a reach of 250,000 views and 672 shares. For those who aren’t up on their social media, that’s what’s known as going viral.
I rang Ash up the following day to check he’d got home ok, but again I needn’t have worried. Ash was still beaming; I could hear it in his voice. “I can’t stop seeing Kevin’s grin. I must admit I never expected to have such an amazing day when I had set off. The video is the cherry on the cake; I’ve had some brilliant comments and even advice on how to lacquer over Kevin’s signature on my petrol tank. To think I only found out about the event a few days before. This was when my friend in Vietnam saw the Wheels Motorcycles’ post and messaged me! Kevin was fantastic. When he sat on my bike I asked him how it compared to his RGV500 race bike. He said, other than the tank was slimmer, it felt pretty much the same. Ever since I watched Schwantz at the Transatlantic meets riding a Slabby, I’d always been a fan. The guy is a true legend. The bike behaved perfectly on the way home, and I had several more thumbs up from people in cars. Even my stop for a coffee resulted in a chat with a guy who used to own a RGV years back. I’m not too sure he believed my Schwantz story!”
What better way to round off this magical episode in the life of this RGV250N, than to put it down in print. Sure the internet gets a bad press and we probably all spend far too much time on it, but every so often it creates a gem of a story that we can all enjoy. Like Ash’s tale proves, owning, riding and tinkering with old motorcycles is still the best way to meet new people, escape the humdrum of daily living and create magical memories. That’s exactly why Ash ended our call saying this RGV won’t be ending up in the lounge!
Catching up with Kev, we managed to grab him for a few minutes and ask him these off the cuff questions:
Is there a race bike that grew from a road bike which left a lasting impression on you?
Absoluetly! The Suzuki GSX-R750. It’s the bike that really launched my international career. I have raced them in everything from American Superbike to the Suzuka eight hour. The GSX-R brand continues to be a top brand within most championships it competes in. From its inception in 1985, it’s been the benchmark as far as sports bikes go.
Do you still own any of your old race bikes?
Sure I do, I’ve got my 93 championship winning bike and also my 94 RGV500. I also own my Suzuki GS700 that I started out with.
For over two decades men in sheds have created their own Schwantz replica motorcycles, was there ever any plans for a factory built Schwantz replica?
Not that I know of. If any manufacturer was going to do it, it would be Suzuki. It’s not a plan that I’ve heard anything about.
2018 is the 25th anniversary of your 1993 500cc World Championship, are there any plans to celebrate this milestone?
Hey, not really no. I look at it this way, my whole life is a celebration!
At Wheels Motorcycles in Peterborough you made Ash Smith’s day when you signed his RGV250, what’s the strangest thing that you’ve ever autographed?