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|Bike Review - Posted 12th December 2014|
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Panther Black Shadow
The practice of borrowing a famous British name and attaching it to a bike built in the Far East has been going on for decades. Paul Bubear cut his motorcycling teeth on a two-stroke from Taiwan...
If one can define a classic Bike as follows: single cylinder, leaks oil, vibrates, loses sundry bits and pieces, has dodgy electronics, seizes solid on occasion, has a dicey carb and bears an evocative name, then I owned one in 1973. A Panther Black Shadow, to be precise. ‘There ain’t no such thing!’ I hear you cry. I beg to differ and refer you to the Panther Owners’ Club (www.pantherownersclub.com).
The bike in question was manufactured in Taiwan by the Shin San Tong factory between 1969 and 1973 and was marketed in the US as the Panther Black Shadow. In South Africa, where I live, it was simply known as the Gemini 175.
As an 18-year-old avid, but impecunious, rider (accounting articled clerks were NOT well paid), who had been commuting to work (20 km each way) on a Suzuki AC50, the urge for a bigger bike became irresistible. An off-road style of bike was required as I harboured dreams of joining the scrambling fraternity. Suzuki, Honda and Yamaha dealers were visited and much time spent drooling over their off-road offerings. All would have fitted the bill, except for the price – which was at least double the amount I could afford to repay on my measly pittance.
The Suzuki AC50 continued to provide daily transport until I passed a showroom displaying speedboats and outboard motors. Featured in the window was a pair of brand-new, shiny off-road Gemini 175 motorcycles, one red and the other blue. A sharp U-turn and I was in the showroom, studying the bikes closely. Big, knobbly wheels, shiny paint and chrome and a price tag that I could afford! A quick test ride later and I was sold. The acceleration. The noise. The ‘big bike’ feel. Much paperwork followed. Getting dad to sign the HP forms was not difficult, given that the family transport back in the UK when I was born was a Norton 500 outfit.
The great day dawned, and the blue Gemini was ridden home. Thereafter followed a couple of weeks of blissful riding – apart from being stopped by a motorcycle cop (back in the days before they all hid behind trees with speed cameras) for belching excessive smoke. To be fair, the cupful of 2T oil I added to the tank to aid with running in was probably to blame.
The gearing was definitely biased toward the ‘cow trail riding’ mentioned in the advert. Acceleration from the lights in the morning rush hour was great – leaving the cars standing while the front knobbly barely kissed the tarmac. Trouble is, the vibration got fairly nasty when one reached about 50mph, so the tin boxes caught up fairly quickly.
The noise was fantastic – made my mate’s Honda Elsinore 250 sound tinny.
Returning home one afternoon, my nether regions suddenly felt cold and wet, and the smell of leaded petrol filled the air. Investigation revealed that the petrol tank had split alongside the rear mounting lug. Obviously upset, I was not particularly worried because the bike was almost brand new, so a new tank would be provided by the dealer. Oh – the optimism of youth. An unknown bike purchased from a boat dealer was not the recipe for good spares back-up. A bodge involving putty and lots of gaffer tape saw me return to the dealer the following day to be greeted with ‘we have no spares; we’ll have to order a tank from Taiwan’. This was no good to me as I needed the bike for work every day. Because I was studying Commercial Law at the time, I was able to quote the Consumer Act chapter and verse and suggested that the tank from the other (red) bike on the floor would solve the problem.
‘No mechanic available,’ was their reply.
‘I’ve brought spanners’, said I, proceeding to swap the tanks right there on the showroom floor. The red tank had been mounted with rubber washers, my blue one, not. Problem sorted, albeit with a now multi-coloured bike.
Bliss returned for a while until, when homeward bound one evening, the normal rorty exhaust note became a deafening roar. The baffle was rolling across the road among the rush-hour cars and lorries. A quick dash through the traffic and the baffle was retrieved and secured in place with a piece of wire from someone’s fence. A 6mm gutter bolt later cured the problem.
Now that a fair number of miles had been ridden, unburned oil was building up in the exhaust pipe resulting in oily, black wisps floating behind the bike. Given that the South East wind in Cape Town blows at about 30mph for most of the summer, the oily, black wisps from that short exhaust pipe were ending up on my girlfriend’s pink, fluffy jacket. Not the best thing for a peaceful relationship. A chrome exhaust extension for a car was purchased and affixed in place by the aforementioned gutter bolt. A slight reduction in oily marks resulted.
A strange rubbing noise was heard on the way home from work, raising worries of wheel bearings going. It turned out to be the rear light structure fracturing and rubbing against the rear wheel while dangling from its cable. I replaced the whole thing with a small, round red light, mounted directly on the mudguard. Great for signalling my intention to stop to passing aircraft.
Around this time, a few spots of oil were noted on my parents’ patio – where the bike resided at night. I used to wipe them up every morning, but they grew progressively worse. A cardboard box filled with sand sorted this. I never found exactly where the leak was, but not once did I have to lubricate the chain. Of course, oil flung from the chain (given the abbreviated chainguard) made even more of a mess on the pink, fluffy jacket. I don’t think that the girlfriend ever rode on the back of that bike again. She remembers the bike vividly though. When I showed her the picture of it she remarked, ‘I HATED that ****ing thing.’
Vibration continued to wreak havoc. The number plate mounting holes enlarged to such an extent that the plate was swinging in the wind. A pair of beer bottle tops, flattened and drilled, soon held it securely in place.
One indicator stem fractured, and the cost of replacing all four with genuine Yamaha parts was frightening, so I removed all the indicators. Classic bikes don’t have indicators, do they? I accidentally discovered a novel way of draining the petrol tank when I was distracted by the thought of an impending exam and forgot to close the petrol tap. Returning three hours later, I was greeted by a spreading pool of go-juice, and a nearly empty tank. Never forgot the tap again.
Having spent my youth reading Motor Cycle Sport and Bike magazines, I was well aware of the ‘death rattle of an impending seizure’ although I had never experienced one. That was soon to change as, returning from work one afternoon in about 35 degree Celsius heat, the dreaded rattle was heard. Luckily, I whipped the clutch in before the rear wheel locked and ended up pushing the last five miles home. Stripping the head and cylinder off revealed the cause of the problem. The gudgeon pin retaining circlip had disintegrated, with pieces ending up wedged between piston and bore.
The Panther’s 175 motor was definitely based on a Yamaha design, as the conrod was clearly marked ‘Yamaha’. Took the cylinder to the Yamaha dealer for a rebore, purchased a piston and rings to suit and re-assembled. To my extreme delight, the bike actually started.
Because everything that could fall off either had or had been secured, the bike actually became quite reliable and served me well for the next year or so.
Marriage and a change of job followed. The new job did not require daily travel, and we’d moved into a flat near the railway station, so the bike was not used as much.
One Saturday morning, I received my University exam results. Passed everything. Celebratory bottle of champagne required. The wife was at work, so I wheeled the bike out of the garage, kicked it into life and headed off towards the off-licence via the back roads. A dog (about the size of a large pony) took exception to the noise of the bike and came bounding from a driveway, barking and snarling.
‘Hah!’ thinks I, dropping two gears and whacking the throttle wide open. Up into fourth, up into fifth, dog left behind and T-junction fast approaching. Close throttle and apply brakes. Throttle remains wide open. Apply both brakes forcefully. Not a lot of retardation takes place. Pull in clutch in desperation. Suction caused by now screaming engine sucks throttle slide closed. Both wheels lock up on a patch of loose gravel, and I end up sliding along the road…
Picked up the bike, kicked the bent footpeg back to a usable angle, started the bike and proceeded to purchase champagne. Off-licence staff were far from impressed by the blood dripped on their counter from my lacerated arm. My injuries were fairly minor, except for my left knee, which bore a patch of melted nylon jeans over an embedded piece of gravel. Infection set in after a few days, and I’ve still got a decent scar, 38 years later.
I stripped the carb, polished the slide and re-assembled, throwing away the couple of bits left over. The bike started OK, idled well and stuck wide open when revved. Resignedly I parked the bike in the garage and swapped it to a farmer for a pair of gates a few years down the line.
If nothing else, the Panther Black Shadow taught me a lot about bodging fixes to get home – a very handy skill. It also drummed home the need to purchase a known make from a reputable dealer.
Cars, children and a Yamaha RS 195 twin followed the Gemini. Much later, with children’s education finished, decent bikes were finally purchased. A BMW F650GS (nice commuter but not suited to two-up touring) was followed by a Honda ST1100 (lousy local dealer) then a BMW R1100R. Next came a BMW R1200RT and then, some 40,000 miles later, a BMW K1200GT which still resides in the carport. In an effort to spare the tourer the daily 40 mile commute, a BMW R1150GS was purchased (since sold) along with a BMW R1150R, which still lives alongside the K. Finally, a year before retiring, a Triumph Tiger 800 joined the stable.
Obviously, the Panther Black Shadow didn’t dampen this rider’s love of bikes.
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