Suzuki VanVan 200


There’s a memorable scene in Out of Africa in which a band of Masai warriors comes trotting over the horizon into view carrying their weapons and we are given to understand that they can keep up their pursuit as long as required, day after day. Well, there is something immensely compelling about a performance that is clearly beyond normal human capabilities. I imagine our brains have been excited by this type of thing for countless millennia.

So compared to walking as our only means of getting around, a small motorcycle can almost be a transcendent thing. You can own it, maintain it, ride it easily and increase your range dramatically. Move around at 10-20 times the speed of a brisk walk. All the while carrying stuff, even another person.

When you get on your bike, your feet are flat on the ground and your eye can move from that ground all the way to the horizon, which is now only minutes away. Smell the grass and feel the air as you travel, listen to the engine working, watch the landscape and keep your balance, glance down at your feet gliding over the surface.

You aren’t disconnected from your natural habitat and your brain is comfortable with that. You are paying attention, applying yourself physically and mentally, and you have no time to think about other things. You have returned to your native self and you are okay.

On your minimalist motorcycle.

This primal machine of yours can’t have a lot of chrome or a lot of plastic, can’t be slick with a futuristic skin, can’t be too heavy to lift off the ground by yourself, can’t be a high speed machine, can’t sound like a chain saw and can’t cost too much.

It has to look good, feel good, sound good, work well, and be reliable and easy to maintain and repair.


2017 Suzuki VanVan 200


The Suzuki VanVan 200 looks like a bike worth considering as a simple, lightweight, dual sport motorcycle. 199cc air/oil cooled, fuel injected single, 30.5 inch seat height, 282 lb. curb weight, 54.5 inch wheelbase, 1.7 gallon tank, 16 hp @ 8000 rpm, $4599 MSRP. Comfy seat and cushy tires.

The word VanVan in Japanese means something like “keeps going on”.

Forward, of course.

After all, that’s the whole idea.




T. E. Lawrence survived the dangers of WWI Arabia only to die later in a motorcycle crash back in Dorset, England. He was safe at home in a civilized world.

So why did he then go considerably out of his way to ride a series of seven high performance Brough Superior motorcycles, beginning in 1922 and ending with the SS100 in 1935?

He called them Boanerges, by the way, meaning sons of thunder.


Lawrence was disillusioned with post war military life but the civilian experience was not for him either. On a fast motorcycle he could leave it all behind.

“I let in the clutch again, and eased Boanerges down the hill along the tram-lines through the dirty streets and up-hill to the aloof cathedral, where it stood in frigid perfection above the cowering close. No message of mercy in Lincoln. Our God is a jealous God: and man’s very best offering will fall disdainfully short of worthiness, in the sight of Saint Hugh and his angels.”

“The extravagance in which my surplus emotion expressed itself lay on the road. So long as roads were tarred blue and straight; not hedged; and empty and dry, so long I was rich.”

“The burble of my exhaust unwound like a long cord behind me. Soon my speed snapped it, and I heard only the cry of the wind which my battering head split and fended aside.”

from The Road, by T. E. Lawrence



George Brough and T. E. Lawrence


Lawrence once matched his Brough motorcycle against a WWI Bristol Fighter flying low overhead. The pilot pointed at the road to Lincoln and the race was on. Lawrence fell behind when he nearly crashed on a rough stretch of road but he recovered the lost ground and the race ended in a draw just as they were approaching the outskirts of Lincoln.


Bristol Fighter


At $50,000 in today’s money, the Brough SS100 motorcycle was special. It had a super-tuned 998cc V-Twin which smoothed out nicely once you got rolling in high gear. A very fast bike for the early 1930’s, it encouraged ever more throttle. Each one was tested at 100 mph before it left the factory. But it was “skittish” and had poor brakes.

Lawrence was apparently a speed addict, so it was natural that he would love this bike, and visa versa.  He said, “Because Boa loves me, he gives me five more miles of speed than a stranger would get from him.”


Lawrence’s last great motorcycle up close, when it was displayed at the Imperial War Museum in London. Privately owned, it is estimated to be worth almost $2,000,000.