I was supermotard before Supermotard was supermotard

As any 2-wheel hoon will tell you, motards, or streetified dirt bikes, are an unholy blast. Here’s mine, circa 1984. You might be tempted to call it a Supermotard, but at the time this bike was built, the term didn’t exist, or at least hadn’t migrated outside of France. Back in late 1983 (as you’ll recall from my Bultaco Streaker article), I bought a brand new Honda XL600R. I was an Army Spec-4 at the time, living on-post at Ft. Lewis WA, smack dab in the middle of a nearly inexhaustible web of wide, dusty tank trails. Like my own, private unpaved Interstate highway system, the range was just perfect for a big, powerful off-road cruiser like the 600R.

XL600R
The XL in its original, dirt-friendly form
Back then, “dualsport” was still called “dual-purpose,” and initially I divided my time between cruising the trails and streets. But I had begun working corners regularly for WMRRA roadraces at Seattle International Raceway (now Pacific Raceways), and my enthusiasm for asphalt won out. I was already besting some friends’ sport bikes on twisty, rural Washington 2-lanes, but my skinny enduro front tire made going fast in the corners rather dicey. I wanted some real rubber. I wasn’t the first to think of this. The Superbikers had been an annual event on Wide World of Sports for years, and the unique style of slick-shod motocrosser it spawned had been featured in moto-mag coverage a number of times. But I had never seen one on the street, and the only conversions I’d seen were dedicated roadracing bikes with lowered suspensions and café fairings. I had gotten to know Seattle tuning wiz Steve Giblin at the track, and I asked him to lace a 19″ aluminum D.I.D rim onto my front hub. He did the job aces and then slapped on a pair of Dunlop K291 Sport Elites (the stickiest street rubber you could get at the time): a 3.50×19″ up front and a 5.10×17 in the rear. I left the suspension stock, which quickened the steering just enough to be perfect for the street. Since I now had a dedicated street racer, I went all the way and swapped the wide bars for a pair of K&N clubmans. I initially wanted to mount a low front fender, but I couldn’t find an aftermarket café fender that would work with the XL’s wide fork tubes and leading axle, so the stock one remained.
Damn you, Kodak, for that horrid Disc camera.
The bike was awesome, but the tire choice was probably not the most practical. For the first few miles each morning, cornering was downright scary until the K291s warmed up sufficiently, a difficult task on a bike as light as the XL in damp, cool Washington weather. I ended up on my tush several times on my morning commute around the airfield. (Early Sport Elites were ferociously sticky when hot, but the consistency of a bowling ball when cold, and they could actually get a visible glaze on the tread overnight). Fortunately, being a dirt bike, everything was tucked up nicely and very little was damaged by sliding across the tarmac. The bike was stunningly effective in the twisties, though. I found myself routinely playing hound to a pack of large-bore UJM sportbikes, including a GPz1100 and the new Ninja 900. I was forced to sell the XL at a giveaway price when I was discharged; nobody wanted the strange contraption. It would be a number of years before the torch passed from ABC Sports’ Superbikers to the French riders who would make Supermotard a common term in the States and teach the general riding population how much sense these bikes really make.

Tanshanomi is Japanese [単車のみ] for "motorcycle(s) only." Though primarily tasked with creating two-wheel oriented content for Hooniverse, Pete is a lover of all sorts of motorized vehicles.

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