Bill Bryant - Yamaha Motolife
A life on two wheels was always on the cards for UK-born Bill Bryant. His father – also Bill – was a handy scrambles racer back in the day and ended up riding motocross for Team Great Britain in the European Championships. Perhaps inevitably, Bill junior caught the bug and went racing himself. “I was on a motorbike pretty much as soon as I could walk,” he says cheerfully.
When it was time to hang up his racing boots, Bill turned to restoration projects to help scratch his motorcycling itch. Tinkering with old bikes naturally led to track days so he could stretch the legs of his lovingly restored classics. One thing has remained constant through Bill's motorcycle journey - the tuning fork logo of Yamaha
"I was on a motorbike pretty much as soon as I could walk"
Wander Into Bill’s shed and you will encounter an eclectic mix of Yamahas, all of which have names. Pamela (1991 FZR600), Samantha (1981 RD350LC) and Carmen (1989 FZR250) are among them. The racer-turned-part-time-restorer cheerfully admits to becoming a dedicated Yamaha nut through a process of osmosis. It wasn’t always the case, though his ‘conversion’ did happen a long time ago.
The whole osmosis Yamaha thing happened through Eric Cheney, a champion British motocross rider. Cheney was a close friend of Bill Snr, and by the time Bill Jr. was taking his motocross racing seriously, Eric had turned his considerable talents to chassis design. One of his frames helped fellow Briton Phil Read win the 1970 250 GP world title with Yamaha. “I was doing dirt track riding as a junior and switched up to motocross when I was 17, " Bill reveals. "I was riding some other brand and I blew up the engine. I didn’t have a lot of money but managed to scrape together enough for a Yamaha YZ250F. Eric said to me, ‘I know what the works teams do with the swinging arm – bring it over and I’ll fix that up’. He turned it into a really nice handling bike.”
The motocross career took a back seat at one stage, courtesy of a bout of glandular fever. On his return, the chance to buy an ex-works Yamaha YZ250J came up, again through Eric. “My first race on it, and the first race of the season, was on a track I really liked – a really technical track,” he explains. “I hadn’t trained for months and was weak and unfit, but I just had to get out there on the new bike. I won my first race, finished runner-up in the second, and faded to ninth in the third. I just ran out of steam but still got second overall for the day! That was a special tool – a really nice bike to ride.”
Like many promising riders, Bill saw a potential career in what he was doing. “I raced motocross for a couple of years sponsored by my father through his business as well as being supported by a Japanese electronics company. Then I switched to road racing. As my dad wasn’t into road racing, I lost his sponsorship. I funded it all myself for a year, hoping to get a sponsored ride somewhere.”
That was back in the mid-1980s when one-make series were hot property around the world. Bill had a go at one that looked promising. “To try and get myself in front of other teams, I did a series called the Honda Hotshots and they used Honda VT250s,” he says. “Basically it was a rent-a-racer type deal. I had good success there, but could only afford to do half the series.” Bill finished a credible third in the championship, while the winner got a fully-sponsored ride.
While he didn’t win the sponsored ride he was after, someone did spot his talent and presented a proposition: “I got offered a Yamaha dealer supported ride but I had to come up with 50 per cent of the budget. Unfortunately, I had no money and no idea how to raise the budget, so I just couldn’t do it.”
Facing that harsh reality, Bill says he then focused on getting a job and living a normal life. It was during this time that Bill purchased and fell in love with a Yamaha legendary two-stroke road bike, the RD350LC. His enthusiasm for the model is still as strong today and somewhat infectious. “Back then I was in my early 20s and the RD350LC was the hooligan’s tool of choice. I thrashed mine mercilessly and had an awful lot of fun on it. It may not have been the fastest thing going around, but It was light, you could wheelie it pretty much in any gear, and you could make it handle reasonably well. It delivered so much fun, just not at warp factor speeds.”
Of course, there is now an RD350LC in the Bryant shed, bought as a restoration project, it has been brought back to its former glory and it a shining example of Bill’s exceptional attention to detail.
Other magic going on in the shed includes a pair of FZR600s; no, make that three. “I bought an FZR600 back in 2019. It was a bike I wanted to buy when they first came out (1988-89), but I had just got married and there was the mortgage and kids to think of,” he explains. What started as a project FZR600s, also required a second for spares. The second turned out to be too good to wreck, so he went out and got a third as a donor machine for the first two. The end result is two beautiful machines – a 1989 model for the road and 1991 model for the track. However, the road bike has caught the attention of a very determined collector, who was so impressed by the workmanship that he made an offer that was simply too good to refuse. You can tell this decision is still being questioned.
There are other projects to keep him amused, including the previously mentioned RD350LC, a 1989 FZR250 with its screaming 18,500rpm redline, a TT250 and IT175E.
So, what would he go out and buy with a lottery win? It seems an RD500LC V-four two-stroke is top of the list. Fingers crossed, Bill, you never know…