For men (it’s usually men) of a certain age, the Yamaha FS1E gave them their first, heady taste of freedom.
Seb St. John-Clarke was one of hundreds of thousands who got their teenage kicks on the legendary Fizzy – the best-selling of the so-called Sixteener Specials first introduced in the early 1970s.
But while most youngsters fairly quickly sold them on for bigger bikes or cars, Seb could never bear to let his 1978 bike go, storing it in a variety of garages and sheds for nearly 30 years.
“It has very fond memories for me and the family as a whole,” he says, older brother Dominic first buying the bike in 1984 before selling it to Seb three years later.
The smell and the noise
“It tells a great story about my youth, the things we’ve done on it, the smell and the noise it makes.”
For the past decade, the bike has been chained up in Seb’s shed, somewhat worse for wear after three decades of inaction.
“About three or four years ago I bought a Fizzy restoration book, so the idea has been bubbling away, but that’s about as far as I got,” he says, chatting in his garden in south Norfolk.
Then one dismal winter’s day in February, with little else to do, Seb set about tidying up the shed, something of an annual task.
“My shed is full of crap,” he laughs, “and I’d almost cleared it all out when I thought ‘there’s something missing – someone’s nicked my bike’.
“I was a bit angry because someone had previously come to look at my car and I said ‘I’ve got this Fizz’ and he said ‘my wife wants one of those, can I have a look?’
“I said ‘I’m not selling it so I’m not going to show you’. So then I started to think ‘maybe he’s nicked it’. You think the worst of people, don’t you?
“Someone’s nicked my bike”
“I went in to my wife with this big hefty chain, and said ‘someone’s nicked my bike, I’m going to have to call the police’.”
Rather than being stolen, the Yamaha had been quietly removed in an operation orchestrated by another of Seb’s five brothers, Adam, to be recommissioned in time for a 50th birthday surprise in March.
Seb’s wife, Katie, was forced to come clean.
“The idea was they were going to ride it in on my birthday,” says Seb, who runs his own corporate communications business. “Anyway, it was a relief that that’s where it had gone.”
Another brother – Rupert – picked it up in his BMW and took it to a family friend, Dave Willis, who did all the work.
“It was in a terrible state really because it had been untouched for so long,” says Seb. “People had taken bits off, to borrow bolts and things like that. The front forks were knackered, the brakes were knackered.
“It needed a couple of new tyres because the tyres were probably 40 years old. When you took the back tyre off the rim of the rear wheel basically collapsed, so Dave rebuilt the wheel, which now looks really nice. He did a fantastic job of getting it back up and running.”
With an MoT under its belt, the Yamaha was finally ready to hit the road again, under a somewhat apprehensive Seb.
“I took it for a little zip up the road, which was quite a weird feeling,” he says. “I’m quite big compared to how I was when I was 18, so it feels quite small now.
“My younger daughter, Matilda, sat on it. She’s 13, and she’s a good size on it. I felt very vulnerable actually, partly because I haven’t ridden it enough to trust everything that’s been done to it. I’m quite pessimistic about my vehicles because they’ve always broken down a lot!”
Back to 1984, when Dominic bought the then six-year-old bike that was already “in a little bit of a state”.
“He got it put back together and rode it for three years,” says Seb. “By the time he had passed his test he could take someone on the back and we used to ride it two-up to parties and things like that when we were in the sixth form.
“I got into it, as you do, from my older brothers.”
At 16, Seb had bought a Yamaha V50 twin step-thru with electronic ignition.
“I rode it for quite a while and then it just wouldn’t work properly, and I couldn’t get it to work properly,” he remembers. “It wasn’t very cool, whereas the Fizzy always was quite cool even then and looked a bit more the part.”
When Dominic was ready to take driving lessons, he sold his younger brother the bike for about £200.
“I was only doing a paper round, and I think I may have paid him in instalments,” says Seb. “This was back in the day when I would ride into Bury St Edmunds every month to pay an instalment on my insurance.
“I had a friend who had one as well, and the number plate was SEB, so I was very jealous of that, and he had a Micron exhaust as well, which was quite spectacular and really noisy.”
As well as sometimes riding the Yamaha to school, Seb would visit his then girlfriend, now wife, in a small village “in the middle of nowhere” near Bury St Edmunds.
Late night breakdowns
“She lived down this creepy track, I’d leave late at night and halfway down it would invariably break down,” he says. “It would get a little bit of carbon in the spark plug. I’d be in the middle of the little track and always have a spark plug remover and would have to get it out in the dark, thinking ‘oh my God’.”
He worked at the Elveden Center Parcs in the holidays, helping to landscape the then new facility, and remembers riding the 30-mile round trip to work.
“I remember taking home a big holly bush once,” he says. “I sat this holly bush on the speedo and rode home.”
The earlier FS1Es, like its rivals the Honda SS50 and Suzuki AP50, had no engine restrictions, but on August 1, 1977, they had to be restricted to a maximum speed of 30mph.
For a bike with a lively two-stroke, 4.8bhp engine, and with sports bike looks and a four-speed gearbox, this was a disappointment to many a teenager.
But derestriction was a fairly simple procedure, and a lot of later Fizzies could be seen keeping up with the traffic on the B-roads of the UK.
“I had 50 out of it,” smiles Seb. “Everyone always says they had 50 out of it, don’t they, crouching down over the handlebars.
“It did seize up towards the end of the period when I was riding it regularly, and Rupert and I rebuilt it – new piston, a top end rebuild. That’s where it is now and it’s never quite been as good since. Part of the reason might be that the exhaust pipe is not very good, hence I’ve got another one to try to improve it.”
Seb passed his driving test at 19 and bought a Mini, but continued to ride the Fizzy occasionally until he was about 21.
After graduating from Newcastle University with a history degree, he moved first to Reading and then to London, working in financial services and, ultimately, PR and marketing for a large insurance broker.
Throughout, the Yamaha stayed in his mother’s garage until she moved house after about 20 years.
“I got it out of the garage a few times, I probably got it started just to see, but it barely turned a wheel,” he says. “When she moved it went to live with Dominic, who had a garage.”
In 2008, Seb moved to south Norfolk to work on a freelance basis from home, and the bike could finally return to its owner.
“I never really thought about selling it,” he says. “I suppose if somebody had come to me and said ‘oh my God, I’ll give you £5,000 for that, it’s something I’ve always wanted’ I might have thought about it.
“It wasn’t rotting away”
“I never felt guilty about it just sitting there because it’s dry in the shed – it wasn’t rotting away – and it’s quite small so it wasn’t in the way.”
For the past few years, Seb had been thinking about the best way to restore the bike, but the Fizzy restoration manual became a much-thumbed toilet read rather than a practical workshop manual.
“I wasn’t quite sure whether to totally strip it and have the frame properly done, shot-blasted, or to have it more as a rolling restoration and keep some of that patina,” he explains.
“I’m still not completely decided, but I do like the story it tells. I recently changed the back mudguard and when I pulled out the wiring to take off the rear light assembly there was evidence of my brother’s past bodgery.
“He won’t like me saying this, but there’s masking tape holding the wires together and I thought ‘that’s quite nice’. There are mismatched bolts everywhere because we would use whatever we could find in the garage. So it tells a bit of a story, which I quite like.”
Thankfully, when his brothers whisked it away for its birthday recommissioning, it returned in working order but retained all the little quirks that make it so personal to Seb.
Things like the rear shocks, which are lifted from his Yamaha V50.
A bit of history
“The shocks broke, so I switched them for ones from my first moped,” he says. “You can still see the flecks of blue paint under the black respray. I don’t know whether to change those or just leave them, because they work and it’s a bit of history.
“We also think it probably has a non standard swinging arm that came from a Honda C50 or something like that.
“But I don’t want to change everything; it becomes a bit like Trigger’s Broom then. I want to try to retain that character wherever I can.”
The old bike displays its life story on its chipped and scratched original fuel tank, its rust-mottled frame, and its much-dented front mudguard, which Seb says was the work of a previous owner.
“I think that was before us; touch wood, I’ve never crashed it and Dominic didn’t either,” he adds. “It’s fallen over a few times, hence why the clutch lever has snapped off – that needs to be replaced…”
Now that the Fizzy is finally back on the road, Seb plans to finish off the small remaining jobs and keep it in working order for years to come.
The same probably can’t be said for the Austin-Healey Sprite that sits under a cover on the driveway, bought when Seb was living and working in Reading more than 20 years ago but now in need of considerable work.
“I should probably sell it but I’m not sure I can,” he laughs. “I clearly have a problem getting rid of mechanical things.
“What I quite like about the bike is that there are little mechanical jobs that are quite doable with a limited range of tools. Compare that to the car, which is a motherload of welding, and I don’t know how to weld. It feels beyond me.”
While the Sprite may one day be reluctantly sold, the bike – which has taken on the status of a family heirloom – will not.
“Keep it forever”
“I’ll definitely keep it forever, and pass it on to someone else,” says Seb. “I’d like it to stay in the family.”
Eldest daughter Isabella, 15, already has her eyes on the prize, but dad won’t be signing over the paperwork in a year’s time.
“She said ‘can I ride it when I’m 16?’ I thought ‘I don’t really want you to ride it’, not because I’m precious about it (well, I am) but more because I’m anxious about her riding a moped.
“The idea of her being stranded in the middle of some dark Norfolk lane at 12.30am or something…”
Seb plans to have much more fun on the iconic bike of his youth before he hands it over to anyone just yet.
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