Suzuki’s VanVan. Return of a classic

We don’t get a lot of fat-tyre bikes in South Africa and that’s a strange thing indeed.

Consider that there are tens of thousands of kilometres of gravel roads here, not to mention the grim miles of potholed, bomb-scarred, rotten tar. Perfect territory, one would think, for a bike with bombproof tyres and an easy riding suspension …Take Yamaha’s TW200 which has earned a small cult following, especially among farmers and certain hardy, minimalist long-distance touring types. As a Yamaha salesman once told me, “We don’t need to market the TW – it just flies out of the showrooms”.

Back in the 70’s, though, Suzuki had a minor hit here with the RV90, the 90cc, two-stroke “beach bike” which had doughnut tyres, high handlebars and a wide padded seat. On tar, the RV90 handled like a drunk, but on sand or gravel, it was a champ and farmers loved ’em.

I thought the RV had gone the way of most things, so I was mighty surprised while walking down a damp, dark London street in 2005 to see something that looked like an echo of the past gleaming softly in the glow of a street lamp. That was the first time I clocked the VanVan which by then was already a cult bike in Europe and Japan.

Why it took Suzuki another decade to bring it to these sunny shores is not important. The VanVan is here now and people love it. Or at least some people do. You can read my Sunday Times review of it here.