Pianos and Motorbikes

"There's somebody lining up on the start of a Moto GP grid with a grand piano..." Rev those keys! Play that throttle!
Pianos and Motorbikes
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IF someone told you 88 keys, and two wheels with an internal combustion motor had something in common, would you believe them?

Not likely.

The piano's storied history is largely indoors too, unlike that of the motorbike...but somehow they're related!

Very few clues in the topics, however Sam's Rolodex throws up the name of a special guest, friend-of-the-show, and expert motorcyclist!

DAVE: "Ohhh, The Piano. Remember that movie?"

GLENN: "There's The Pianist, and then there's The Piano which was a New Zealand film... That's a good film.

"We used to have a pianola. You work the pedals which causes air to go through a number of holes, which a scroll goes over, which designates which key will be played, and you felt like you could play it!"

DAVE: "I wish I could play the piano."

GLENN: "If I could choose an instrument [to play], it would be piano, 'cause I used to love a bit of jazz piano, a bit of Oscar Peterson.

"It's got the widest tone of all the instruments. I think it can play the melody, along with the accompaniment.

"There's the grand piano, and then there's the upright. You could play a bit of honky-tonk on that."

DAVE: "These day's there's the electronic piano, a keyboard."

GLENN: "Who are the piano players? Beethoven... Rachmaninoff... Chopin...Mozart... Brahms... Liberace... Billy Joel!"

DAVE: "The bloke from [The Midday Show], Geoff Harvey."

GLENN: "If you ever give up the stand-up comedy, you could play the piano, and have a big wine glass for tips."

DAVE: "I'd love to be doing a gig and if it starts to die in the arse, I could just play the piano and sing a song.

"I'm more likely to play the piano than ride a motorbike. I've been telling my kids motorbikes are dangerous."

GLENN: "Let's pretend the motorbike had never been invented. I'm going to pitch it to you.

"So you get the car engine, right? I'm just going to put wheels on either end of the engine..."

DAVE: "Like a bicycle!"

GLENN: "Like a bicycle, but it's an engine and I'm going to put a seat right on top of the engine."

DAVE: "Oh, my god!"

GLENN: "And that's all you got! That's it."

DAVE: "Am I encased in a bubble, in case I fall off?"

GLENN: "Nooo! You'd just fall onto the road. It's gonna be huge, and you know what? It's gonna be cool."

DAVE: "When we grew up, they were cool. Young blokes in particular wanted to ride motorbikes."

Dave remembers seeing kids on PeeWee 50s and dirt bikes on a track by the Nunawading tip when he was a teenager. Jonathan Brown said it's still there!

Glenn's uncle, who owned a factory, made him his own minibike.

GLENN: "It was shit. It had a Victa engine on it. [His son] went onto be one of Melbourne's best orthopaedic surgeons. He learned all his skills with bones on my minibike!"

He also remembers his brother's Ducati motorbike. Glenn had a near miss on it at an old mine site one day!

GLENN: "I must have been about 15, and I saw these bumps over on the other side of the mine, and thought, 'I'm going to go over there. It's going to be like a rollercoaster!'

"I go over one, I go over two, I go over three, and I get to the fourth and there was nothing on the other side.

"The bike dropped away, and I kind of walked up in the air, and the stem nearly got me... It ripped my jeans, and just missed my testicle.

"They're pretty hard to miss."

DAVE: "These days! Not when you were younger."

GLENN: "What famous people ride motorbikes?"

DAVE: "Eric Bana?"

GLENN: "Yes! He rode right across the USA. He loves motorbikes."

DAVE: "Who else do I know that rides motorbikes?"

GLENN: "Ross Noble!"

DAVE: "We could ring Ross... Let's ask him."

SAM: "Calling Ross Noble now."

ROSS: "Hello!"

DAVE: "This is Dave O'Neil and Glenn Robbins, and you are on our podcast!

"We've got two topics; pianos and motorbikes, and we're just trying to work out what the answer is."

GLENN: "You're a motorbike guy, you did a television series!"

ROSS: "I did a show where I rode around Australia on a motorbike, and then I did a show in the UK where I rode a motorbike around just following tweets, and just kind of improvising a show, and Tony Martin was one of my producers on it.

"Then I did another show where I took on the Scottish Six Day Trial. I basically turned my hobby into work."

DAVE: "What sort of motorbike is your choice?"

ROSS: "The main bike that I ride at the moment is a trial."

GLENN: "It's the fine art of balance, is it not?"

ROSS: "Yeah, exactly. You basically have a section, then there's flags, and you have to ride in through the section over rocks, obstacles, steps, logs, banks...

"Every time you put your foot down, you get a penalty mark against you."

GLENN: "It's balletic."

DAVE: "Do you compete, Ross, or just do it at home?"

ROSS: "I got into...enduro where you race all off-road.

"I did this race called the Dawn to Dusk, which is a 24-hour dirt bike race in Wales... Crazy extreme riding.

"I got so obsessed with that, that I spent six months training for it, pretty much at the exclusion of everything else, and I won it!

"It's the only thing I've ever won in my life. 24 hours, and then through doing that, there's another thing called extreme enduro.

"There's a race called the Red Bull Romaniacs in the Carpathian Mountains, Transylvania, and they make the hardest route they can possibly find, to try and knock people out.

"In Sibiu in Romania...the whole town comes out, and lines the main streets, and they set up shipping containers with ramps going up, and they have these huge rocks that they bring in, and then all these crazy obstacles.

"They have a DJ, and then to qualify, you have to ride this course. All you can hear is the revving of bikes and music.

"There's no health and safety over there, the bike will fall into the crowd, and they'll just grab it and throw it back in.

"You know the Running of the Bulls? It's like the Romanian version of that.

"I'm very passionate... Anyone who doesn't care about motorbikes is incredibly boring."

DAVE: "Can you work out for us, what is the connection between pianos and motorbikes? Got any idea?"

ROSS: "I think I do. I would think it would be a Japanese company, probably. I think it's Yamaha.

"Yamaha make musical instruments. A lot of these motorcycle companies, they've got a bit of a weird way that they've come into existence."

GLENN: "What came first do you reckon, in that company?"

ROSS: "Yamaha started as a piano company."

DAVE: "..and then they went to motorbikes!

"I saw a big guy in the street with a Yamaha leather jacket on, and I said to him, 'yeah, they make good flute!'"

GLENN: "'The pianos are going well, but let's pivot. We're gonna go motorbikes!'"

ROSS: "There's somebody lining up on the start of a Moto GP grid with a grand piano.

"Valentino Rossi's shouting at the pit crew, 'it hasn't even got casters on it!'"

DAVE: "I think you've got it."

ROSS: "It's probably something to do with the making, or the factory where they made the pianos.

"It's probably the mechanism that makes the keys go up and down, because they're like pistons. I would put my money on it being that; something to do with what's inside a piano."

GLENN: "Brilliant Ross. You've come with stories, information... You're a legend of the motorbike."

ROSS: "Can you text me when you find out? No, I'll listen when it goes out..."

DAVE: "Thanks Ross."

There was no need for thinking music, as Dave and Glenn put all their chips on Ross' answer... and it was right!


Yamaha Corporation is a large company that makes a variety of products, and they include both motorcycles and pianos!

The brand was founded by Torakusu Yamaha in the late-1880s. He was a Japanese trailblazer when it came to the manufacturing of western musical instruments in his home country, and was more broadly fascinated by the technological advances and scientific findings of the west.

An enterprising man, Yamaha was a watchmaker, medical tool-repairer, and found his pathway to musical instruments when he was tasked with fixing the Hamamatsu Jinjo Elementary School's reed organ.

He took this opportunity to draft up a sketch of the instrument's internal make-up, and afterwards, referred to the drawing to make his own reed organ prototype; the first-ever musical product from Yamaha.

In 1916, Yamaha took the iconic branding of the three overlapping tuning forks, which are reflective of "technology, production, and sales," having initially had a logo depicting a phoenix with a tuning fork in its mouth.

Yamaha uses purple branding for their instrument production, while the Yamaha Motor Co - now a sister company manufacturing the motorbikes - has a red logo.

The Motor Co rode into the motorcycle market in early 1950s.

Yamaha leadership tasked the Corporation with making an engine prototype for a motorbike in November of 1953, with a goal to go into manufacturing and start selling the product within 12 months.

Yamaha's then president Genichi Kawakami wanted to enter the motorcycle market because he was aware sourcing timber to craft musical instruments could be challenging in the future, and thought - having seen the success of motorcycles in Europe - that they would be a means to ensure business boomed in the long term.

The first Yamaha two-stroke air-cooled 125-cubic-centimetre engine, the YA1, was finished by February of 1955, based on the German-made DKW RT125.


Interested in what Ross Noble mentioned about motorbikes?

Here are some links, in case you're curious. Lots are endurance rides and they overlap a little in places...

Trial bikes, not "trail".

Dawn to Dusk, the 24-hour enduro dirt bike race in Wales that Ross competed in...

The Red Bull Romaniacs...

Roof of Africa - Ross has competed in this too!

Check out Ross in the Scottish Six Day...

A lot of the motorcycle companies have odd histories, according to Ross.


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