This is Rich and his rad 1978 WetBike. The Wetbike was built by a division of what's now known as Arctic Cat, and first sold in 1978, a few years after Kawasaki's Jet Ski and Bombardier's Sea-Doo were introduced. It was marketed (accurately) as a sort of motorcycle for the water. Wetbikes were propelled by pump jets, like other personal watercraft, but didn't share their boat-like hulls. Instead, the Wetbike rode on hydrofoils mounted fore and aft.
Unlike its peers, which have always steered from the back, the Wetbike steered from the front. This was accomplished by turning the forward hydrofoil as if it was the front wheel of a motorcycle. Riders also leaned it into turns, as on a street bike.
Wetbikes sat low in the water until the rider revved up the engine using a motorbike-like twist grip. Once it hit about 11 miles per hour, the Wetbike would rise up and skim across the water on its hydrofoils.
Original engines were 50-horsepower Suzuki mills displacing 723cc. They allowed the tiny craft, at just over seven feet, to hit speeds up to 32 mph. The engine was upgraded in 1986 to a 60-hp, 798cc Suzuki unit. These later engines allowed for a top speed exceeding 38 mph, making it the fastest personal watercraft of its day. Two models were produced, the Silver Streak and sportier Tomcat.
The Wetbike remained in production only until 1992. Reviewers noted that it was harder to ride than regular PWCs and prone to tipping if you didn't maintain balance. It also needed deeper water to launch than most peers; the draft was a substantial 2.5 feet until it got up on the plane.
It makes sense that Rich likes his WetBike. He likes anything that is a challenge to master, is stylishly old school, has patina, is mechanically simple and comes with a great story. He cannot stop smiling when he's on this thing. In fact, it's rare to see Rich ever not smiling, on or off the water-cycle. Understandable. He's got a garage full of fun toys. And he's got a super cool dog named Dudley.
Rich started coming around Steeltown while the shop was still under construction, over two years ago now. He's donated some rad vintage helmets to the helmet wall. We've had long winter chats over hot americanos. And he's helped us rescue discarded dirt bikes from local dumpsters. But that's not why we love Rich. We love Rich because he really is a free spirit.
He's lifelong Hamilton kid. He's super passionate but laid back like a surfer. He's always positive. Like, always. He doesn't take things too seriously and he knows when to cut outta work to have some fun. Sure there's some grey in his hair, and some wrinkles around his eyes. But make no mistake, Rich is still just a kid from Steeltown.