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It’s over six months since I last rode my Quasar, but I picked it up from Mark Crowson’s Hastings Quasar factory/museum on May Day to coincide with the annual gathering of motorbicycle enthusiasts to the Sussex seaside town. I persuaded Mark to come out for a quick pose down the seafront in the late Nick Roche’s red machine – the only one of his three Quasars which is currently roadworthy. I rode the Roche machine back across town and found it much better than Mark had led me to expect, although he has spent a lot of time ironing out a myriad of small problems on it since he’s had it. I particularly liked the light throttle and clutch – both are still really stiff on mine! One very worthwhile modification that Mark has done to my beast over the winter was to add new right thumb switches for both the starter and the heater.

I saw the ‘South African’ Quasar for the first time, looking much tidier than I’d expexted and Mark also fired up the SEV Z1300 in his garage for my benefit, which was awesome to behold on open pipes. The wreck that I saw last autumn after its return from Oz has been transformed and it’s now very close to being rideable again – the lack of brakes being the main stumbling block. It’s a hell of an achievement just to get it running again, requiring as it did, a top end strip and complete carb rebuild and a host of electrical gizmo wizardry.

I rode my black beast back to Godalming on a cross-country route via Bexhill, the A22, A272, A24, A281 and the B2130 having first had a fight with the filler cap in order to fill up. (Mark has considerably smartened up and improved the Quasar’s side panels/footboards but in tightening the fit, the filler cap became more tightly ‘embraced’ by the right hand side panel and became very hard to unscrew.) Riding west into a low sun was bad news, especially as I wasn’t wearing my Schubert helmet with its built-in inner sun visor. But it was good news to have a foam back-rest at last, in place of the usual swinging hammock, although I would have liked it to be a bit thicker.

I also missed the Schubert’s sound-proofing. As usual for long journeys in the Quasar I was wearing my Momo ‘fake full face’ which looks great and is much lighter and smaller than the Schubert and also has as much field of vision as an open face helmet, but even with the visor down its sound-proofing is so poor that you can’t really hear what’s being said on the radio. I resolved to try the Schubert in the Quasar next time. As the light faded I was glad of the new Metro control stalks that Mark had also fitted – the original Reliant units had a nasty habit of plunging me into pitch darkness every time I attempted to switch to main beam. The lights are not great, considering that there are two 60watt Halogens; Mark has spent a fortune trying to improve his own Quasars’ lights but has come to the conclusion that they are fatally handicapped by having to shine through such a thick layer of glass. Mine are OK on a road with lots of fresh reflective paint up the middle and sides, but on ‘traditional’ roads with faded paint and old cats’ eyes, especially twisty ones like the B2130, they leave a lot to be desired However, on main beam you can actually be dazzled by the reflections from the chevrons on sharp bends!

I had a nasty moment when I met a car on main beam which was very slow to dip its lights. Completely blinded, I had to slow almost to a stop in a near-panic bit of braking and inadvertently put the right hand indicator on as I pulled back the left lever to dip myself. There’s also no question in my mind that the Quasar roof pillars create unhealthily large blind-spots, which can be tricky to cope with even in good daylight – when you’re trying to see your way through a tight, pitch black, corner on a twisty back-road they are a veritable pain in the proverbial. The final hurdle was the hairpin turn onto the unmade-up road which forms the entrance to Elspeth’s drive, but I negotiated it without mishap. Phew!

Two days later I returned to sunny Sussex to finally get the Quasar dyno’d at MB Customs of Pevensey. The ride back on a warm and sunny Wednesday afternoon was a lot more enjoyable than the evening ride up. The Quasar was a pleasure to lean through the bends on the A-roads and it purred effortlessly down the A24 at 90-100mph. The engine and transmission sounded a whole lot healthier with my Schubert helmet on and I could follow what was being said on Radio 4 with no problem! The Schubert is OK once you’re on board, but it’s a really tight squeeze just to get your head into and out of the cockpit while wearing it, and it’s not possible to raise the hinge-able front of the helmet either – there just isn’t room! You can bash your bonce just leaning forward in the seat – anyone got any recommendations for a quiet open face?

The eponymous Malcolm Barton, boss of MB Customs, turned out to be quite a character; he regaled me with tales of turbocharged Hayabusas making hundreds of horsepower and choppers that handle even worse than Mark’s GS1000 Phasar, which Malcolm had tried for himself. www.mbcustoms.co.uk

Apparently the GS Phasar is actually too long for the MB dyno, but a standard Quasar just fits on. I got to ride it myself on the dyno, which was quite exciting! I took it to 5,400rpm in top and a theoretical 112mph –and was pleased to discover that the rev counter and speedo are both spot on. What wasn’t so pleasing was the actual number of gee-gees getting to the ground. Bearing in mind that the Reliant engine is now running better than at any time since I bought the bike a year ago, and that it has actually made a GPS-checked 100mph on the road, I was confident that it would make at least 30 rear wheel bhp. Unfortunately this turned out to be somewhat optimistic! The plain truth is that it made just 25rwbhp, albeit with a torque curve like a Harley, as you might expect. This is actually less outright horsepower than the fuel-injected Mk3 Burger 400 that I tested a couple of years ago – that made 26bhp from a single cylinder of just 385cc! The fact that it actually managed to achieve 100mph on the road despite having so little power and so much weight, just goes to show how aerodynamic the Quasar is. My Mk1 Tmax never quite managed to crack the ton with 31rwbhp. It also chimes with the 1977 road test of a Quasar in New Motorcycling Monthly – the orange one they tested broke the MIRA timing lights at 101mph.

This 25rwbhp figure also makes Royce and Ian K’s Voyagers’ power outputs of 30-something rwbhp look a lot more respectable, and makes you appreciate why Mark’s lightened, F750-tuned white Quasar feels as lively as it does with its rip-snorting 43bhp. It also makes me think that Ian Pegram’s Genesis could probably do over 120mph with the right gearing and removal of the fuel/speed limiter, bearing in mind that my bog-standard Burger 650 made 42rwbhp. Malcolm B gave me a printout with Mark’s power and torque curves overlaid on top of my own. It’ll be interesting to see what difference the Rebel Racing inlet and exhaust parts make when we finally get around to fitting them. Malcolm B said that he once rode a Quasar belonging to a guy who managed Led Zeppelin – I think he said his name was Peter Grant; does that ring any bells with anyone? I also bought a can of Octane booster for £10 as an experiment, although I’m not sure whether it’s really the right stuff to protect one’s old-style valves from unleaded petrol! (I fill up with LRP whenever I can).

By the time I left MB Customs it was a really warm afternoon so I bungeed my Aerostitch overtrousers behind me, which padded out the existing foam and gave a better riding position. However, within a few hundred yards of leaving the dyno I experienced the worst wobble I’ve ever had in my Quasar. I had already noticed that the machine seemed worryingly prone to wobbles when I took one hand off the handlebars, which it hadn’t been last autumn, but up until now it had come back under control as soon as I put both hands back on the bars. This time, that didn’t work. The Quasar started to weave when I took my left hand off the bars to pull back my right cuff to look at my watch….but it carried on weaving when I put it back. I tried accelerating, which didn’t work, so I tried braking with the rear brake only, and that didn’t work either. I finally used both brakes together and managed to come to a stop at the side of the road, but I really did think for a few seconds that I was going to crash.

Five minutes later I had another wobble as I was approaching Bexhill….this time I just got it under control at about walking pace and five minutes later I had another one. They all started at 35-45mph. I stopped at a caff for a late, late breakfast and called Mark, who came out on his partner Hilary’s old V-Max, which I rode while he had a go in my Quasar. This V-Max has been tested on the self-same MBC dyno as my Quasar, and puts out an astonishing 120rwbhp. I have to say that it’s entirely wasted on such a shocking chassis. Hilary’s V-Max does a fine line in tank-slappers of its own, but they do at least stop when you put both hands back on the bars, unlike my Quasar. Having said that, my Quasar refused to really misbehave for Mark. I don’t know whether him being quite a lot lighter than me was a factor, but I think that it was more to do with the fact that he had the right technique for damping it before it got out of hand. He told me not to fight the wobble, but to just hold the bars gently, using my arms as dampers. This does actually seem to work, but it doesn’t explain why the damn thing has suddenly got so much more prone to wobble in the first place! Any ideas, anyone?

Mark has quite a lot of experience with wobbling Quasars. The first time I ever met him was when he brought his white machine to the Top Gear filming at Wroughton aerodrome in 1988 and it displayed an alarming tendency to go into a death wobble with me in the back of it. I really thought we were going to crash that day too….Apparently he eventually traced the problem to a bent swinging arm which put the wheels out of alignment. This definitely doesn’t apply to mine, since it was perfectly well behaved, by comparison, even when it had ancient tyres and two sets of knackered head bearings!

Back at Mark’s place we reversed the dipswitch wiring so that I now push forward to dip and pull back for main beam, which is a much more satisfactory arrangement. Mark also replaced a dodgy pilot bulb while I filed away some of the fibre glass around the filler cap so that I could get the bloody thing off without having to release the smart new Dzus fastener on the right hand side panel. When it was time to leave, Mark convinced me to transfer a lot of the weight in the top box to the space behind me so I put my nice new foam block in the top box and replaced it with my heavy shoulder bag full of magazines and bits and bobs. Unfortunately, it made bugger-all difference to the wob prob!

I filled up with LRP at Sainsbury’s on the A21 going out of Hastings and was delighted to discover that in the 170 miles to Godalming and back I’d used only 12.72 litres of fuel. That’s 2.8 gals (imperial) = 60.71mpg. However, although there were a couple of fast blasts on a few miles of dual carriageway, that did not include any motorway going. I suspect that the next tank-full won’t be quite so economical, since it included the fast dual carriageway sections of A21 and 20-odd miles of the M25 at 90-100mph. It’s certainly a lot better than the 43mpg that I’ve averaged on my Tmax over the past four tankfulls. I stopped about ten miles out of Hastings to replace the batteries in my digital radio and to put on my coat liner and warm gloves, which was a good move since the temperature was dropping fast as the sun went down. I made pretty good progress and overtook a fast-moving Volvo estate which had previously overtaken me on an uphill bit of dual carriageway.

Unfortunately my shoulder bag was killing me after a few miles – I suspect it was the various plugs and chargers that were sticking into my back! I couldn’t put it back in the top box because that was now filled with shopping. By and large I was warm enough, but I do still feel that it would be good to have some wind deflectors in front of your feet to stop the wind going up your trouser-legs!

I had one more big wobble on the A21, but the secret of controlling them does seem to be what Mark said – hold the bars gently, don’t try to fight them! But the paradox remains – how come, with every aspect of my Quasar better sorted than ever before, it wobbles worse than ever?!

The machine has never been in such good condition since I bought it. The brakes now work a treat, the gearbox changes on demand, both up and down and neutral can be found at rest. The indicators indicate, the horn blasts loudly. It boasts a fresh pair of matched, balanced Metzeler tyres and the engine feels good and strong.

But it’s never wobbled so badly!

Quasar drivin’ in the rush hour.

Last Friday, I put my Burger King rear wheel (with mystery air-leak to be fixed) in the back of the Quasar’s seat and rode off to West London Motorcycles in Bedfont in horrendous rush-hour traffic. I got stuck in a queue in East Twickenham – it was impossible to overtake with traffic coming the other way; I let a Ducati Monster through but then got past him on the inside at the lights. The bottleneck only lasted for about half a mile, but it took ages to get through it. I finally fought my way through to the A316 and then made good progress all the way to Feltham. At Feltham station there’s a sharp, downhill left hand hairpin bend with a zebra crossing on it and as I turned gently down it at about 20mph the front wheel started to slide away and I had to make a crash-saving dab with my left foot! I’ve never done that in a Quasar before – I didn’t even know it was possible! Not really sure why it slid though – I presume it was on some spilt diesel or something similar.

I showed the Quasar to Mark and Ray at WLSuzuki and had a daft conversation with a local oik who reckoned he could wheelie it! I did my best to explain that the laws of physics would not permit it, but I don’t think he believed me. On the way home I stopped off at Lidl and was waylaid by a motorcycle instructor in full leathers. He was originally from Lebanon but had been in the UK for 26 years but had never seen or heard of the Quasar and couldn’t believe his eyes – he took a video of it with his mobile phone. He said he knew a rich woman who might be very keen to buy it! He had actually been in Hastings on May day but hadn’t seen us!

I also stopped off at Jambusters in Hampton, which has recently switched allegiance from Piaggio to Yamaha. John, the MD had also never seen or heard of the Quasar, despite being older than me. The ride back to Ham was much easier at 6.45pm – there was much less traffic, although the A316 was still chokka-block for over a mile to the roundabout at Twickehnham stadium, but the Quasar went between the crawling lines of cars easily. Before replacing the Burger wheel in the scoot, I took some pix of it alongside the Quasar rear wheel – amazing how much wider it is!

I rode the Quasar back down to Godalming after dark. It cruised down the A3 really smoothly at 90+mph. I let one car past, then got him back. It was very comfy without the Burger rear wheel digging me in the back and with an old back protector added to the foam. Wearing the Schubert again, I could hear Mariella Frostrup’s Radio 4 review programme all the way loud and clear.

Yesterday (Wednesday), before leaving Godalming, I decided to make room for my Schubert helmet in the Quasar’s rear compartment. The Schubert must be the biggest helmet currently on sale – it’s really, really wide and deep. The original compartment itself is nevertheless wide enough to hold it, but as most of you will know, the problem is the narrowness of the opening. Call me a brute if you like, but I just took a hacksaw to the top of the opening, thereby making it the crucial inch or so wider in the middle to allow the hinge of the Schubert to squeeze through. My only concern is that the compartment might be slightly less waterproof than it was before. I should probably add some sort of rubber liner to the edge of the lid to make up for the missing overlap of fibreglass.

Within a minute of leaving my girlfriend’s place the Quasar was wobbling badly again – and I hadn’t even taken a hand off the bars! Munstead Heath Road is however, extremely bumpy and winding and I’m beginning to think that the front suspension units are a major factor in these tank-slappers, because on smooth going the beast behaves itself much better.

After a small detour to the scenic Losely Park for some pix, we cruised up the A3 all the way to Barnes where I had some trouble re-starting with a hot engine on what was the hottest afternoon of this year. The Quasar definitely didn’t like it, even though there was no sign of overheating from the gauge. It had to be revved quite hard to keep it running on all four cylinders and even stalled on me at one set of traffic lights. Any thoughts on that, anyone?

So, to conclude, Mark and I are baffled by my Quasar’s new-found instability when it is better fettled than at any time since I bought it! Do you think I should experiment with different air suspension pressure settings in the S&Ws front and rear? It’s hard to believe that raising the back axle half an inch with a new rear tyre would upset the balance of the bike so much. Or that no longer swinging in the hammock could be anything other than an improvement? Surely?!