In around 1972, a man named Rollin ‘Molly’ Sanders in the USA came up with the famous Yamaha black and yellow strobe stripe design that we all now know as the Yamaha speed block design. Whilst the American Yamaha Factory riders and bikes of the 1970s were bedecked in bright yellow with the black and white speed block design, over in Canada at the same time, Yamaha followed the same speed block theme, but changed the main colour of yellow to red. A rider called Steve Baker rode in this iconic red variation, which some might say, including Jack White of ‘The White Stripes’, is the perfect aesthetic of red, black and white. This was the colour combination I preferred to the yellow, black and white.
About 10 years ago, I bought a 1975 Yamaha RD250, which started first kick when I bought it and has continued to do so to this day. Whilst it doesn’t wear the classic speed block design, I have since found an original 1970s Yamaha helmet and a British made leather jacket, which both sport the red version of the speed block design. Whilst the jacket is worn regularly, the helmet is confined to a shelf in the shed due to safety reasons. It’s remarkable really that there aren’t any garments sporting this iconic design in our modern day e-shops and real shops, and this got me thinking……
My wife is ultra-creative and always has (like me) a number of projects on the go at any one time. She is a true Projecteer. One of the creative avenues that she follows is knitting. Knitting simple stitches in a super technical way can create something amazing, and from equally amazing and natural materials, and here’s the connection. I wanted a Yamaha speed block jumper in the red, black and white, so I drew an example and submitted the design to my wife for her consideration as a potential project for her, and a great jumper for me.
Her initial reaction was a bit luke warm, and mainly due to the fact that she didn’t want to hand knit something which wasn’t going to be a challenge (read as: a boring knit). This changed when she came up with the idea a few weeks later of knitting the main, red and black colour areas on her knitting machine, and then knitting the actual white and black speed block design by hand. It would also mean that she would have to create her own pattern to fit me perfectly. We found the colours that fitted the design criteria in her (some might say ‘huge’) wool stash, but there wasn’t enough of each colour so ‘we‘ had to buy some more. At least she had the right sized knitting needles as well, which isn’t always the case.
This combined machine-hand-knit approach meant that there would be four panels to the jumper; a back, a front and two sleeves, and which would obviously need stitching together when made. Once the black main panels had been knitted on the machine, the creation of the actual black and white speed blocks would be calculated and hand knitted, and then the panel would be put back on the machine to knit the red part. Sounds simple huh? Let’s just say that she didn’t get it right first time. In fact, the first sleeve took several attempts as it was knitted, undone, knitted, undone etc. Getting the speed blocks on the sleeves to perfectly line up with those on the main body of the jumper wasn’t easy either. Knitting requires a lot of counting of stitches, and I have learnt over time, not to distract or talk to her whilst she’s counting stitches.
When you’re having something like a garment hand made for you, which was based on initial measurements, which then drove the pattern calculation, and which is designed to fit perfectly, it is key not to put any additional body weight on, otherwise, it’ll be a bit of a snug fitting. Anyway, long story short. I didn’t put weight on. The sizing was perfect and the blend of sheep and alpaca wool that it is knitted out of is super soft and warm. What is also interesting and clever in this case, is that you can’t tell the difference between where the jumper was machine knitted and where the hand knitting was done. This isn’t easy to achieve apparently.
So, as you’ll see from the feature photo, my one-off Yamaha speed block jumper matches my other speed block patterned things and crucially, it is amazingly warm, which is exactly what you need to be wearing on a motorcycle in Northern Europe. I reckon there’s a market for this jumper, but scaling production isn’t going to be simple, cheap or fast, so I am more than satisfied with my custom speed block jumper. Also, if there is a reason to not put weight on, it’s managing to stay within the design measurements of this jumper!
Huge thanks to my wife for taking on the challenge and ‘knocking this one out’?
Feature photo by my wife and all other photos by the Author.