TWT: Pheathon, we hardly knew ye…


These three horrible-quality photos are the only remaining evidence of my first (okay, only) roadracer, which I dubbed “Pheathon” (after the Greek demi-god Zeus was forced to strike down, because he was driving the chariot of the sun so recklessly — I assume you can make the connection).
It was originally a Bultaco Pursang 250 Mk8 (circa 1975) that I bought in 1984 while stationed at Ft. Lewis, Washington. Two years later, after my discharge, I had little need for a dirt bike in suburban Minneapolis, and desperately wanted to go roadracing. Thus began its transformation into the form you see here. It wholly exceeded my expectations, which made it’s desperately short life all the more tragic.

The engine was only mildly refreshed with new Barnett clutch plates and springs, new rings and cylinder hone, and fresh fluids. The front end is from a clapped-out ’73 Suzuki GT250K that a neighbor sold me on the cheap. The frame and swingarm were unmodified except for new steering stops to match the Suzuki triple clamps. The aluminum tank was hanging in the shop rafters of one of my mentors; he guessed it was an early Malcolm Smith aftermarket item. The other modifications included K&N clubman bars, new cables, Vesrah brake pads and shoes, a pair of no-name rear shocks and Continental race tires. Instrumentation included an Aaen EGT gauge and a Kitaco digital tach. A bit of safety wiring and I was good to race. It was geared for 90 MPH at redline in top gear.
I raced at Brainerd Int’l Raceway during the summer of 1986. It was too new for vintage classes at the time, and since it was not based on a street-legal machine, I had to run Formula 3 & 4. The bike was remarkably competitive on the tarmac, given its basic dirt specs and my lack of talent.
At the start of my first-ever race (a three-lapper for new riders), I stalled the motor right before the green flag. I held up my clutch hand to indicate a dead machine, and then push started it once the other riders were well down the front straight. On the last lap, I was right back on their tails, and rapidly reeling in an RD350. For time’s sake, we had been instructed to exit right before the flagman on the final lap and not actually cross the start-finish line. I was so excited and focused on catching him that I never noticed the white flag, and on the next lap I just about had the Yamaha rider, coming out of the last turn on the inside, when…he braked and pulled off! Crap! We’d been specifically instructed not to use the pit turn-off at the end of the front straight. I had no choice other than to go all the way around the 3.1 mile track, while everybody waited for the idiot noob. I got a stern talking-to afterwards by the course marshall, but didn’t get my license pulled. (“But if you EVER do that again…!”) An experienced racer I knew found me in the pits and said, “We were all talking about how quickly you got back to the pack. Nice riding!” I have never enjoyed a complement more.
One day later that summer, on my way back from the races, somebody rear-ended my trailer on I-35W. I was heartbroken. The Bul’s frame was twisted, the alloy tank was caved in, and the forks tweaked. I sold the tires off it, and sold the rest as scrap to SportWheels in Jordan, MN. For all I know, what’s left of it is still out in their yard somewhere. I still have two parts off it: the Richter silencer and the front number plate.
I know the images are pretty bad, but I snapped them on a whim late one evening with my crappy Kodak Disc camera (remember those? — gak!). The sad part is that my dad had snapped a bunch of pictures of me and the bike in the back yard with his 35mm camera a week before the accident. I discovered afterwards that he’d neglected to put film in the camera!
I keep promising myself that someday I’m going to replicate this bike design, but as a 360 street roadster.

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  1. B72 Avatar
    B72

    Bultaco – built to go!
    I love those early dirt/ dual purpose bikes. Basic, rugged, and relatively viceless.

  2. Rust-MyEnemy Avatar

    So sad the things you never take photos of.
    My father had a Yamaha YDS7, the stroker that led to the famous RD250. When I was 13 or so he got rid of it to prevent me taking it for a spin and wiping myself out. The thing hadn't been inspected or insured since the year I was born, but he'd still occasionally take it for a midnight ride to blow the cobwebs out. I can still hear it.
    Sadly the only photos he has are a few he hastily snapped when the guy came to take it away. He swapped it for an outboard motor, now somewhere at the bottom of the sea. The bike has since been restored and probably sold for a fortune.

  3. SSurfer321 Avatar
    SSurfer321

    I'm not a bike guy in the least, but great, albeit sad, story. Thanks for sharing.

  4. theeastbaykid Avatar
    theeastbaykid

    Love the story. Cool bike.

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