Hill Billy

Suzuki made their name with small two-stroke singles and for the first feature in this series we're looking at a bike that covers two totally different criteria. Fact one is that it's one of the least common 1960 Suzukis, in the UK at least, but when one turns up they generally stop passers-by dead. Fact two is that the layout and design concept are so totally 60s Suzuki, and many similar Japanese machines too, if we're honest.

The Suzuki K15P is a derivation of the family of K series bikes that ran from around 1964 through to the mid-1970s, when you might have thought the genre had had its day, but the concept was nothing if not tried and tested and this saw various versions reappearing in the late 1980s and again at the turn of the millennium. Motorcycles based around air-cooled two-stroke singles fitted into pressed steel frames don't get much simpler to produce and when you have a cash cow it'd be churlish not to milk it on occasion.

The K15P (aka Trail 80 or Hill Billy) first appeared in Suzuki's catalogue in 1964 as a trailised road bike sporting a piston ported, two-stroke engine of 79cc, running on premix. Visually and engineering-wise not a million miles away from the company's K11 Sport, the bike proved to be a big hit the USA where the concept of off-road or trail riding had proved to be popular. The bike was billed as an adjunct to fishing, hunting or camping pursuits and came complete with a single seat and rear rack; the latter presumably where the owner could tie on their tent or latest hunting trophy.

Although the bike was effectively a road machine that had been reworked, the conversion was much more than lip service to off-road use. On top of a pair of braced bars the bike was fitted with folding footrests, a sump guard, waterproof brakes graced both ends and a high level pipe ensure hassle free stream crossing. Shrouded front forks and knobbly tyres added to the bike's off-road capabilities and the rider was also treated to the luxury of eight gears. This last feature was courtesy of a double rear sprocket, which might seem a primitive idea now but was used successfully in various guises by at least two other Japanese factories.

In order to go from road ratio to off-road gearing, the rider parked the bike up, took the chain apart at the split link, inserted a short length of extra chain supplied with the bike, added another link, fitted the now extended chain to the larger of the two sprockets and happily rode off into the wild blue yonder. The two rear sprockets sit exactly between the centre line of the front sprocket, thus the chain runs slightly out of line.

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