19th October

Buying Bikes – Yamaha FS1E

By VJMC editor, Steve Cooper

Can anyone explain how one piece of legislation manages to catalyse a sub-culture amongst classic motorcycle enthusiasts almost fifty years after its inception? How come even the most hardened biker has a soft spot for a moped? Just what is it about a machine that couldn’t pull the proverbial skin off a rice pudding that makes grown men get all unnecessary? This time we take a peek inside the world of the world of the ubiquitous Fizzy.

The FS1-E, as the UK knows the bike, arrived on these shores as a direct response to the so-called “moped laws”. Until the 14th December 1971 a spotty 16 year old could ride a motor cycle on L-plates up to 250cc solo or unlimited capacity with a sidecar. From the 15th everything changed and novice motorcyclists were limited to 50cc until their seventeenth birthday. In retrospect the concept was a sound one. Allowing a sixteen year old on the public highway with no training and a Japanese 250 capable of 90mph was, realistically, an open invitation to serious injury or death. The government had bought into the concept of youngsters acquiring road skills on NSU Quicklys, Puch Maxis, Moblyettes, Raleigh Runabouts and the like; no one had the foresight to believe foreign manufacturers would gear up to make special models for the UK. Puch were hot out of the blocks selling sporty versions of the MS50 (beloved by the Post Office) in the guise of M50. Yamaha just happened to have a 50cc motorcycle that was begging to be adapted for the UK laws. Mitsui Machinery launched the Yamaha FS1-E and the rest, as they say, is history.

The first references to anything bearing the FS1 moniker appear on Yamaha parts lists in 1970 with the FS1P but the outline concept goes back some five years earlier when the company was defining the basic architecture of its disc valved two stroke singles. The odd handful of pedal-less models found their way into the UK by mistake post 1970 but the launch of the bike as the Yamaha SS marked the beginning of the Fizzy Cult. In essence nothing particularly special, the humble Fizzer won legions of fans simply because it rarely went wrong. Other machines were possibly faster, snazzier, lighter, had more gears or more style but the FS1-E had one insurmountable virtue; it was nigh on impossible to break and for a sixteen year old this was key. Most of Yamaha’s small, single cylinder, machines had been designed to sell in huge volumes to a market that didn’t give a damn about top speed, colour, graphics or chip shop credibility. The machines were destined to have their guts slogged out as working bikes in SE Asia; even now a trip to Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam etc will see thousands of bikes earning their living as working machinery. Yamaha elected to take on the Honda Cub et al and the bikes it produced are the direct ancestors of the Fizzy having proved the concept of the simple, honest, reliable and practically unburstable two stroke single.

Yamaha’s take on the moped law was, simplistically, to add a pedal system in place of footrests to a 50cc motorcycle and thus comply with the law’s definition of a moped. Without going into the legalisation of the technical requirement for a moped the machine had to be capable of being propelled by human pedal power, as well as or in addition to, the vehicle’s own engine. No one had thought to add a clause that said the pedals were to be in operational mode at all times and this was where the Japanese engineers really scored. By virtue of a simple lever and dog clutch system one pedal can be rotated through 180 degrees and locked to mirror its opposite number. A simple and elegant low cost solution to fulfilling a niche market. Those teenagers whose aspirations had been thwarted by the new law ploughed either their prepubescent savings, their parent’s hard earned cash or signed the HP form in their droves. Pretty soon the little Fizzer was top dog and the machine to have for spotty oiks with racing aspirations. Other machines came and went, some challenged the FS1E for its top spot in the sales chart but inevitably they failed by and large. Having something the public want and being first to the market place has major advantages. Amongst the rivals were European machines like Garelli, Casal, Fantic, Mallagutti, Puch, Gitane, KTM, Montesa etc; some were good, many were average and a few were dire but every manufacturer was after a slice of the Fizzy’s pie. Honda made a worthy attempt with their SS50 and Suzuki pulled out the stops with the AP50 or A50P depending on which pedant has corned you in the pub. The Suzuki take was arguably a better machine but the Yamaha had the proven track record. 

All too soon the party was over; someone jabbed a pointed stick into the eye socket of some faceless Whitehall mandarin and woke him up to the rampant dangers of lads riding at a heady 45-50mph on Her Majesty’s Highways. A revision of the moped laws came into effect as of August 1st 1977 and the machines were hence limited to 30mph. Almost without exception the European manufacturers dipped out. Yamaha simply rolled with the new legislation and restricted their FS1 offering to comply with the law. After all they did have something of a reputation to maintain!

What Goes Wrong?  

The humble Fizzer is a remarkably solid little beast and takes a surprising amount of abuse but every machine has its limits. Corrosion is probably public enemy number one so pay particular attention to rusting. Swinging arms are known to rot out on some machines and this is a potentially life threatening; don’t take chances here and don’t expect to find replacement off the shelf. Seat bases can rot away and seat trims are often lost damaged or bent beyond repair. Many have mangled pedal sets and this needs to be considered if you are looking to own an authentic example. The tinware is no better or worse than any other bike of its age but may have suffered from a severe lack of cleaning by generations of spotty oiks; stone chips and rust scabs are often the norm. The back end of the tank can rot out where the front of the seat pad has rubbed against it and this is exacerbated by a sponge masquerading as a split seat. Mudguards are often dinged, dented, twisted or simply rotted to hell so check before you buy. The motor is vertically split and is essentially a simple design to work on but look for signs of stupidity during rebuilds. Check the crankcase joint for evidence of screw driver or wood chisel damage where someone has tried to lever the case apart. The flywheel magneto is best removed with the correct threaded puller rather that two tyre levers and a cold chisel so ask the seller to take of the points cover just to be sure. If in doubt mentally rewind your own life back to the age of sixteen and try to picture exactly how much mechanical knowledge you possessed…………enough said?

What to buy and how much to pay?

For such a simple and elementary machine there are a surprising amount of pitfalls here and it’s beyond our remit to cover all the bases. Well presented and super shiny may not be the correct approach; you need to proceed with caution. The Fizzy restoration cult has been in full swing for some years and the bike has really catalysed the pattern parts market so all that glisters may not necessarily be gold, or genuinely Yamaha! Some pattern parts are fine and make effective replacements. There are pattern chain guards out there that are better made than the originals but there is also some truly naff stuff out there as well. Taking an expert with you to view a prospective purchase is a very sensible idea; at the very least join one of the several specialist clubs and research your subject in depth. Should your model have a disc brake, are all yellow Fizzies automatically DX models, is Baja brown the correct colour for drum and DX models, which machines have a cable tunnel running down the spine of the rear guard? All of these issues need to be resolved if you are intent on buying a correct example. Prices have been regularly very robust for some time and even a total snotter seems to fetch good money. Although this month’s subject is the FS1-E such is the allure of machine that the later slo-ped FS1 is also caught up in the spiral of madness. Examples of this later model that have been laid up for a decade are fetching £550+ even in these hard times. A barn find, project level, 1973 model, heavily rusted but principally all there, has just sold for nearly £1300. With an alleged UK record of £6000+ for a purple model you’ll need to be on the ball to ensure you place your money wisely. Current market prices seem to be hovering around £4500 for a good restored, run of the mill, machine. The later, post 1977, sloped versions are now creeping and are starting to touch £4000.  Keenness, enthusiasm or just plain old fashioned lunacy; you’ll have to make that call.

Spec Sheet & Useful Contacts

Engine                             2 stroke air cooled single cylinder, 4 speed gear box, kick starter, disc valve.

Displacement                   49cc

Bore x stroke                    43.00mm x 39.7mm                    

Carburetion                      VM16SC MIKUNI 

Compression ratio            7.0:1 

Max HP                            4.8  @ 7,000 rpm                   

Max torque                       0.5 kgm@ 8000 rpm                  

Ignition system                 Flywheel magneto

Dry weight                       70kgs   

Tyres                                2.25-17 (F), 2.50-17 (R)

Performance                     approx 45-infinity mph depending on who’s talking and/or listening

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The information contained in this blog post is based on sources that we believe are reliable and should be understood as general information only. It is not intended to be taken as advice with respect to any specific or individual situation and cannot be relied upon as such.