Memorable Motorcycles Yamaha DT175

June 2, 2003
Frank Melling
Frank Melling
Contributing Editor| Articles|RSS

Our Memorable Motorcycles expert, Frank Melling also is the organizer of the British vintage motorcycle extravaganza known as Thundersprint. Melling began riding five decades ago and remains as much in love with motorcycles as when he drove his first bike into a cow shed wall aged ten. In the last 50 years, Melling has competed in every form of motorcycle sport and now declares himself to be too old to grow up and be sensible.

Everyone wanted the DT when they first arrived on Yamaha dealer showroom floors. Some were destined for the track while most were going to be ridden into the ground by generation after generation of motorcycling families around the globe.
Everyone wanted the DT when they first arrived on Yamaha dealer showroom floors. Some were destined for the track while most were going to be ridden into the ground by generation after generation of motorcycling families around the globe.

If ever there was a case of the right bike at the right time it was the Yamaha DT175MX. In 1978, everyone had a baby Yam in their garage because at $900 they were the greatest biking bargain ever. They were also idiot-proof and maintenance consisted of adding gas and oil. Best of all, the DT was all things to all men. Beginners got their motorcycle licenses on them. Road riders commuted on DTs and enduro-riders thrashed them like thoroughbred race bikes.

The early twin shock DTs were desperately ordinary bikes and sales were dismal. But Yamaha had pioneered long travel, monoshock rear suspension taking Belgian Lucien Tilkien’s novel idea to production. The system revolutionized motocross and Yamaha won the 1973 250cc World Motocross championship with the first mono-shock racer. It was about to have the same impact on trail bikes.

The DT’s reed-valved motor and six-speed gearbox were also lifted from motocross technology. In 1978, Yamaha put all their racing expertise into a trail bike package – and then added everything needed to make the machine fully road legal. The bike was revolutionary and re-wrote the standards for dual purpose motorcycles.

Newcomers to motorcycling just loved the DT. It could be started hot or cold with one half-hearted prod of the kick-start and all the controls were feather light and utterly non-threatening. The 173cc engine needed a good handful of revs to make any power and beginners found this very comforting.

Best of all, everything worked on the bike. The gearbox was so sweet that the clutch never needed touching for upward changes, the drum brakes were powerful and waterproof and even the lights were excellent.

1978 Yamaha DT175MX

But there was another side to the bike too. It had astonishing performance when ridden hard and was capable of taking unimaginable abuse without complaint. Almost as soon as it was launched, DTs began appearing in serious enduros. Many an expert, riding a thoroughbred enduro machine, was humbled by a youngster hurtling past on his DT with the throttle nailed to the stop. In fact, the DT was so good that a number of world class enduro racers began their careers on this incredible little trail bike.

Sadly, the DT soon became outdated. The suspension, which was so advanced at launch, became superseded by better systems from Kawasaki and Suzuki and that lovely little engine, so willing and reliable, began to look under powered as rivals brought in state of the art designs. This meant that the DTs soon became relegated to the very bottom of the motorcycling tree – the field bike.

Eventually, they disappeared even from this lowly state and now a nice DT is almost impossible to find – a sad ending for one of the most complete motorcycles ever sold.

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