Willy’s Suzuki has been sitting in a dusty garage for more than a decade, but this winter he plans to get it back into shape, as pictured in 2005. (Willy Williamson / Winnipeg Free Press)
Back in the early ’90s, I mentioned to my friend, Joey Pasternak, that I was looking for a cheap used dirt bike to ride around at our cabin, near Grand Beach.
Apparently there was an old Honda in his friend’s barn — and it was probably for sale. The journey led us to Pasternak’s hometown of Ethelbert, located about 370 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg and 60 km north of Dauphin.
We wound up in Ethelbert about mid-afternoon at an old farm with a huge old barn. Pasternak’s friend led us into the dark barn. Way in the back, surrounded by old tractors and a few beat-up pickup trucks, the guy pulled a dirty tarp off an old motorcycle — and angels started singing.
It wasn’t a Honda at all but, rather, a 1974 Suzuki TC185 Ranger.
Despite being a bit dusty, it appeared to be in near-new condition. The odometer read less than 500 miles. It had been ridden around the farm for one summer, then parked in the barn. It hadn’t run since 1976.
Needless to say, I bought it for the full asking price of $300.
It was a long day of driving and nearly midnight by the time Pasternak dropped me and the bike off at home, but I was up early the next morning, excited to get it running.
My older brother, Allen, came over and we cleaned up the bike together. We made a trip to a local motorcycle dealer and picked up some two-stroke oil, a new battery and a spark plug. The fuel tank was a bit rusty inside, so I cleaned it up the best I could and also replaced the fuel line.
With the new battery installed, I let Allen have the honours, and with just a short push of the starter button, the old Suzuki roared to life. We cheered in unison, and once the bike warmed up, we took turns touring the nearby trails on this classic time machine. We were both in our early 30s at the time, and had a blast riding it.
Although only a 185cc, it is a two-stroke, and easily goes 100 km/h. It feels best, however, at about 80 km/h — smooth and straight, as I recall. It has full lights, the electric starter, a horn and a chrome rack on the back. The Ranger designation also means it has the optional high-low transmission. An additional shift lever on the side of the transmission case allows you to choose high or low, effectively making the five-speed transmission a 10-speed.
Back then, new tires were installed before I did any serious riding, and for three solid summers I rode that little Suzuki all around Grand Beach Provincial Park. It was dirt-cheap to insure, extremely reliable and ridiculously fun. One hot summer day while tooling down the trail in the thick forest, I came upon a huge black bear sitting on his butt, eating his lunch. He was only about two metres away from me when I hammered on the back brake, made a rapid U-turn and blazed back in the opposite direction.
This was long before GoPro cameras, but the memory easily replays in my mind’s eye as if it happened yesterday.
We sold that little cabin back in about 2004, and it’s been more than 10 years since I’ve ridden the old Suzuki. But it has been stored in our heated shop for all those years. Cosmetically, it still looks pretty good; back in the day, the gas tank was painted, and it has held up great. The tires have cracked, and the boot on the carburetor looks like it has dried up.
But it is still entirely complete.
My goal last winter was to get it back into mint shape. Well, that never happened, but I did pull it into the main shop.
Now, thanks to a buddy who recently lent me a motorcycle lift — I’ve got newfound enthusiasm for the project. This restoration should be easy on the wallet, and also easy on the back.
There’s something so perfect about an old two-stroke bike like this. It is smooth on the highway and beyond fun in the tight trails. You’d never ride it fast — it won’t let you — but it purrs along at a steady pace and has given me countless hours of riding enjoyment.
I’ve always called the bike Ranger — and it’s high time Ranger rides again.
A scan of the original sales brochure provides a great source of reference for a restoration. (Suzuki)