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Memorable MC Bridgestone Hurricane

Wednesday, February 18, 2009
Bridgestone Hurricane
A very sophisticated bike for its time but the bottom line would ultimately end Bridgestone's motorcycle branch.
I must confess that I have a problem with riders who go around calling bikes, "She" and "Her". No one in the galaxy is more passionate about their bike than I am about our Matchless G.50 – my winner for the second year running of MCUSA's Bike of the Year competition - but I still don't want to take it to bed for a night of passion.

So that's my inviolable rule, but the Bridgestone Hurricane Scrambler is the one motorcycle which would get me to break it. The "Hurricane" is the Cocker Spaniel puppy of the bike world - all big smiles, heart-meltingly cute face, gleaming fur and just so, so, so willing to please. You just want to sit on the couch with a cup of coffee and stroke it whilst you watch "On Any Sunday" for the thirty-five-thousandth time.

Like the Cocker Spaniel the Hurricane is a keen worker too and will do everything its looks promise - and more.

The trade name Bridgestone comes from an Anglicization of the firm's founder's name, Shojiro Ishibashi. Translated into English, Mr. Ishibashi's name is "Stone Bridge".

Mr. Ishibashi was Japan's first manufacturer of rubber-soled footwear and began mass production in 1925. After the Second World War, Bridgestone began making a massive range of rubber products - and the success of a nascent motorcycle industry caught their attention, probably because they were already significant bicycle manufacturers.

The first Bridgestones were ultra lightweight, 26cc motorized bicycles feeding post-war Japan's need for practical commuter vehicles. By 1964 things had changed with Bridgestone producing a range of high quality lightweight motorcycles. With the closure of the Tohatsu and Lilac factories, Bridgestone found themselves in the position of being able to employ clever, experienced designers who would set the benchmark for innovation.

The Tohatsu engineers in particular had a major influence on the development of Bridgestone motorcycles. Although now almost an unknown name, Tohatsu (Tokyo Hatsudoki) held 3% of the Japanese domestic motorcycle market in 1961. Tohatsu was a cutting edge manufacturer and made the world's only production 50cc twin-cylinder road race machines as well as a gorgeous, disc-valved, twin-cylinder 125cc racer. When the factory folded in February 1964 it was on the point of launching a full blown Grand Prix effort headed by Englishman Dave Simmonds - who later went on to win Kawasaki's first ever World Championship in 1969. Tohatsu's loss was Bridgestone's gain.

Bridgestone Hurricane
While easy to keep running, the production of these special motors were costly compared to conventional piston.
Bridgestone's idea was to fill a niche in the market place for a premium quality, lightweight motorcycle. Nothing would be spared in terms of design or quality of parts. Drawing on Tohatsu's race experience, the factory manufactured a series of sophisticated disc-valved motors. These engines were far more efficient than the piston port engines produced by Suzuki and Yamaha which wasted much of the charge in each cycle because the inlet and exhaust ports opened at the same time.

On a rotary valve engine, the port timing can be asymmetrical which gives much better combustion. This efficiency can be used to make the motor produce more power or, in the case of road bike, better fuel efficiency and more torque.

The chrome cylinder bores - a first on a production street bike - were also a direct lift from racing and provided exemplary heat transfer and also a very useful weight saving.

However, a disc-valve engine is potentially wide - because the carburetors feed straight into the sides of the crankcase - and it takes clever engineering to ensure that the motor is not disconcertingly tubby across its waistline. Bridgestone did this beautifully.

The engines were bomb-proof with roller, needle, and ball bearings used in such profusion that they were up to the same standard as full blown race bikes. Unlike European engines of the day, which still required the rider to pre-mix the oil in the fuel, the Bridgestone engines had reliable automatic lubrication: keep plenty of two-stroke oil in the tank and the motor would run forever.

If there ever was a problem, the power-plants were simple and cheap to repair: truly, engines which covered every base except one - they were much more expensive to manufacture than piston port engines.

Bridgestone Hurricane
Racing quality brakes were just one of the many standard features.
The cycle parts on all Bridgestones were a whole order of magnitude better than anything else on sale at the time. Interestingly, if one visits classic shows today many bikes have been grossly over restored and the only bikes which were up to the standard of these show bikes straight from the production line were were Bridgestones! Everything about the bikes absolutely oozed quality from the superb paintwork to the state of the art brakes. Quite simply, you couldn't buy a better finished production bike.

Twin leading shoe brakes were the best available at the time and the Hurricane carried a neat little 6-inch unit on the front which was right up to racing standards.

In 1970, motocross in the USA was still in its infancy and a lot of riders fancied the "Scrambler" look - no doubt in the sadly optimistic hope that they would be the next Steve McQueen. Bizarrely, some riders even took bikes like the Hurricane at face value and tried to ride off-road with them. This was a seriously optimistic view of life because the little 177cc engine gave only 20 hp and this came at 8,000 rpm. Let the revs drop much below 4,000 rpm and the motor would bog down.

However, there was a race version available for the serious Bridgestone fans and this bike dominated the lightweight class at drag races all over the US and even won at Daytona.

With all this quality and performance, why isn't Bridgestone still up there with Honda, Suzuki and Yamaha? The myth is that the big Japanese manufacturers met the Bridgestone management in a dark, smoke filled Tokyo bar and warned that they would stop using Bridgestone tires if the factory continued making bikes. The bike manufacturers' Yakuza hit men stubbed out their cigarettes on the foreheads of the poor Bridgestone execs and bike manufacturing stopped forthwith.

It's a really good story but sadly, like all the best tales, it's pure myth. Bridgestone bikes suffered from high prices and a very poor distribution network. In Britain, they were sold nationwide through just one dealer - and he was primarily a Honda main agent. Many countries did not even have a single agent.

Bridgestone Hurricane
The Bridgestone Hurricane was truely a high quality bike, but the price and dealer network would ultimately spell the end of Bridgestone motorcycles.
They were also expensive too. A 350 Bridgestone was only slightly cheaper in price than the big, sexy, and high status 650cc Triumph Bonneville. Everyone wanted Bridgestone sophistication and quality - but few riders wanted to pay for it. That's the same story which killed off Brough, Vincent and Munch.

However, the crunch was quite simply factory space. Manufacturing bikes took up valuable space which could be used for making tires and so they were chopped. No gangsters, no secret meetings, no threats in plain brown envelopes: quite simply a lack of square feet on a factory floor.

Riding a Hurricane today is still a big thrill and, if you are prepared to tolerate a dire shortage of spare parts, owning a Bridgestone has got to be at the top of the classic motorcycling tree.
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Comments
paul -bridgestoner  January 8, 2011 05:57 AM
Well written article. However the red scrambler pictured is a Mach II, 200cc, not a 175 Hurricane. The 200 had a bigger engine, different seat cover, and separate speedometer/headlight.
Scott Hageman -Fan cover  October 20, 2009 02:56 PM
Does anyone have a fan cover for a Bridgestone 7 BS/7S its steel with a round metal chrome air grill/Grey in color
mike strennen -1961-? Bridgestone Motorcycle 125cc  September 2, 2009 05:35 PM
I have a 1961-? Bridestone in great condition. It does fire but we have never really tried to start it. It is complete. It even still has the key in the ignition. Do you have any idea of what the value would of it would be? In appearance, it is identical to the one showed in you picture. Please email me at strennen2020@yahoo.com Thank you.

2004done -rotary disc valve 2-stroke  March 4, 2009 07:01 AM
X2468 ? about rotary http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Two_stroke , almost halfway down the page, under "rotary inlet valve" but it is only a text description.
Frank Melling -Disc Valves  February 24, 2009 01:14 AM
We might be able to devote a whole Memorable Motorcycles to two-stroke technology in the future but in the interim here is an extremely simple description of a disc valve two-stroke. Imagine an extremely thin metal, or fibre, plate with roughly a third of the disc removed. This is then fixed on the end of the engine's crankcase and spins at the same speed as the engine. In the crankcase of the engine is a hole. When the hole is uncovered by the missing area of plate (the disc - hence disc valve) the petrol and air can be sucked through it. The suction is caused by the engine's piston travelling up the cylinder bore and causing a partial vacuum behind it. The hole is then covered again by the plate and the mixture is compressed by the piston travelling back down the bore. As the mixture is compressed, it is pushed through the transfer ports in the walls of the cylinder and into the space above the piston. When the mixture is highly compressed by the piston pushing it up the cylinder bore, a spark ignites it, combustion (high-speed burning) occurs, the piston is pushed down the bore and the cycle starts again. It sounds easy but the math and engineering behind the idea was stupendously difficult - especially pre-computers. I hope that this helps and thanks for reading MMs. Cheers Frank
x2468 -disk vave?  February 22, 2009 03:30 PM
i've never heard of a rotary disk valve. anyone have a diagram of how it works on a 2-stroke?
Randy Dawes -new Bridgestone 350 GTR road racer  February 20, 2009 07:18 PM
Back in '68-69 I road raced against a deaf amateur rider on a then new GTR, me on my then new R5 Yamaha in soCal. I found the GTR had more top end than my R5 and more ground clearance. I went to the local Bridgestone dealer(chain saw outfit) to see if BS would sponsor me. Nothing came of it. Now I know why. I could beat the GTR rider only because he couldn't hear me coming and he was as aggressive as me in the long right hander at Willow Springs. Otherwise, with a comparable rider, I figured a GTR could eat me alive. I finished in 2nd place for my class(350 Production) in the ACA racing series in `69, my last year of racing. I lost 1st place by 1 point against a blue printed CB350 Honda rider.
triumph110 -More news stories on old bikes  February 18, 2009 04:44 PM
Take a look at www.oldbikenews.com for more news stories on antique and vintage motorcycles.