“This is (as far as I know) the only 1968 DT1 which was imported officially to Europe.”
In 1968, Yamaha introduced a machine that would change the motorcycle world forever, the DT-1. It was an inexpensive, reliable 250cc two-stroke dirt bike that was street-legal. While that might not sound earth-shaking today, such a machine didn’t really exist before the DT. The British scramblers and desert sleds were large, heavy bikes, while the purpose-built dirt bikes from companies like Penton, Montesa, and Greeves were expensive, quirky, and rarely street-legal.
The DT, in comparison, was a true race-on-Sunday, commute-on-Monday type of machine:
“The Yamaha DT-1 was a solid, inexpensive bike you could ride to the track and then run with the best purpose-built dirt bikes of the day once you got there. And even if you weren’t a racer, it was a great compromise bike that could handle almost any trail you threw at it — and still get you safely home at the end of the day.” —Motorcycle Classics
Here in the States, the bike was a huge hit, effectively creating a whole new market for dirt-ready dual-sports and enduros. The first batch of 12,000 sold out quickly and Yamaha ramped up production while the rest of the motorcycle world scrambled to catch up. Europe, however, was not so lucky. The ’68 DT-1 wasn’t imported there…or so we thought.
Enter our friend Peter Abelmann of Germany, a lifelong motorcyclist, restorer, and collector who quite literally wrote the book on Yamaha two-strokes in German: Yamaha Zweitakt. Last year, we featured his 1984 Yamaha “RD380” YPVS cafe racer — a bike better known as the liquid-cooled RZ350 here in North America — and now he’s back with what may be the only 1968 Yamaha DT-1 officially imported to Europe.
“I always call these kinds of bikes “tractors” but this DT1 is special — because it is the first of a long family of off-road bikes!”
As many of you know, we have a pair of 70s Yamaha DT’s in the BikeBound stable, so we jumped at the opportunity to learn more about this great-grandfather of the breed. Peter found the bike through a Belgian member of a forum we ourselves frequent, Yamaha-Enduros.com, with only 400 kms on the clock! Apparently, the bike was specially imported for a former tennis star who’s since deceased, so details are scarce, but the speedo is on the kilometer scale, so it’s not a US model.
Though the mileage was low, the bike had been improperly stored in the past, so Peter set out to restore the bike, careful to preserve as much of the original charm as possible.
“I am proud that I managed to bring the bike back to life without destroying the original patina!”
Below, we get the full details on this great-grandfather of the DT family.
Yamaha DT-1 Restoration: Owner Interview
• Please tell us a bit about yourself, your history with motorcycles, and your workshop.
My name is Peter Abelmann from Germany now almost 50 years old. I’ve been into motorcycles since I was 16. I love the Yamaha two-strokers — my first bike was a DT80MX from 1981. My first “big” bike was a RD350YPVS (RZ in the States). I am restoring bikes just for myself — my house has a big room for the bikes, but you never have enough space when you are “collector.” I’ve restored bikes from the 1959 YDS1 to the RD500 V4 in the last few years. I am just restoring some Yamaha two-stroke racers like the TR3. But I still have some more bikes to do in the next few years.
• What’s the make, model, and year of the bike?
This bike is a 1968 Yamaha DT1. These bikes had a big impact in the American motorcycle market. Most of the off-road market was “made” from these bikes with the idea to have a bike for “normal” use over the week and to “race” it on weekends — like you can see in the movie On Any Sunday. The DT1 was the first Japanese enduro and was sold in the US in huge numbers. The 1968 DT1 in white is like an icon in the States…
• Where did you find the bike, what makes it so special, and what kind of condition was it in?
I’m a member of the American Yamaha Enduro Forum (www.yamaha-enduros.com) and came in contact with a guy in Belgium who found a 68 DT1 in his home country. He had problems with the coil of the bike and I gave him some advice. As Belgium is only about 200 km from my home I gave him my contacts with the hint: If you ever want to sell the bike just call me. This call came last November (2019). We discussed the price and I got the bike.
The great thing was: The bike had only 400 km on the odometer. The bad thing was that the bike was poorly stored the last few years and some parts badly corroded. So what to do? I thought it would be great to save some of the patina and all original paint!
A very interesting point is that this is (as far as I know) the only 1968 DT1 which was imported officially to Europe. It was sold via a Belgium sales agent to a former tennis star — maybe he saw the DT1 in the States? But as the sales agent is closed and the tennis star is dead we couldn’t ask anyone now… The bike has a speedo with Km scale — so it is not a US model.
• Can you tell us about the restoration process?
First I cleaned the whole bike. Found some dirt in every part of it. But some badly corroded parts came to my zinc platers (like the chain-tensioners). The front fork received a full service with new seals, new oil, and also one new fork stanchion (had this in my parts bin). The first owner had also put a 21 inch wheel in the front.
I bought an original 19 incher in Australia and put it on the bike. Some of the (grey) cables had also been changed, which was no problem because they are available as replicas. The exhaust got some new black paint — all other parts only got a touch up.
The cylinder had a broken fin — so a friend restored it with a piece of aluminium. In this process I saw the piston which was almost like new — so the 400km seemed to be true. In February 2020, the bike was ready! On the first ride the engine had a little “ringing” because of the GYT (Genuine Yamaha Tuning) cylinder head which was installed. So my last thing was to change the head to the proper 1968 DT1 head.
• Can you tell us what it’s like to ride this bike?
The bike is a very nice ride. It has a lot of torque and does not rev high. The brakes are good for a 52 year old bike. I like it a lot! I also have the big Brother — a 1971 360 RT1B — but the 250 is much better to ride — the 360 is a lot harder!
• Does the bike have a nickname?
I always call these kinds of bikes “tractors” but this DT1 is special — because it is the first of a long family of off-road bikes!
• Was there anything done during the restoration that you are particularly proud of?
I am proud that I managed to bring the bike back to life without destroying the original patina!