Sunday, February 6, 2011

1987 Honda CR125

This picture was taken at the famous Mammoth Mountain Motocross race in 1988. I am aboard one of the best all-around bikes I have owned, a 1987 Honda CR125. Pre-race nerves aside, and notwithstanding the awesome "Team Fat Boy Nervous" hat I am wearing, I was fully in my element. Moments like this are what I have always lived for, even though I must admit some anxiety, nerves, excess adrenaline, butterflies and apprehension as I went through preparations for the race.

This race was a big deal for me and my buddies. We had, of course, read about the Mammoth race for years and always wanted to sample the legendary track nestled in the confines of the Mammoth Mountain ski resort in Northern California. Every motocross racer who ever rolled a knobby in the dirt knows about Mammoth and for many it is truly the one "must attend" event of the year, a chance to get out of the summer heat, and away from the dry, dusty tracks of Utah, left behind for the cool climes and rich, loamy soil of the high mountains. A chance to roost on hallowed ground that was the playground of so many of our heroes like Jeremy McGrath, Ron Lechien, Ryan Hughes, Doug Dubach and almost any other up-and-coming motocross idol you can name.

The Honda 125s of the late 1980s were super great bikes. They had been spawned from the omnipotent Honda works bikes of the mid eighties, super trick hand-made creations that were hewn from the most exotic materials and with technology that pushed the boundaries of performance and refinement. Honda was known for being the gold standard in quality and speed ever since the early Elsinores invaded the scene in the early 1970s. The production bikes that were offered to the hungry local racers, especially the 1986 and 1987 models, were solid handlers, tight turning, fairly stable, and had quick mid-range-and-up motors. The suspension was good in stock form, but my bike had something special: an Ohlins shock.

I can't take credit for the great modifications this bike already had when I bought it from my good friend Mark. It had been massaged by a great local tuner named Perry Payton (no relation to Mitch) who worked with some of Utah's top pros. Mark always liked to have the best equipment and partnering with Perry was a natural, producing some really smooth and fast motorcycles we were all envious of. By the time I got my claws on it, the lightly-used Honda was ready to rock, well-broken in and meticulously maintained. That easy life all changed when I got it as much happy roosting and berm-bashing ensued.

I was always more of a rider than a wrench. I will say that I was good about keeping the oil changed and new tires installed, but for the most part maintenance was just a necessary evil to keep me in the saddle and doing laps. The life that was left in the mechanicals was the currency I spent on fun, and the ebbing usefulness could be felt draining from one's sled as the months passed, ever advancing to the inevitable rebuild.

That point came in the last few weeks leading up to the spot on the calendar that we had marked off as THE event of the century, the much-anticipated Mammoth Mountain Motocross. As I was making my preparations for this monumentous occasion, I realized the transmission was in need of some attention. I think it was some missed gears, or maybe just some hesitation when the shift lever was forced upward in search of forward thrust, but something was amiss and the timing could not have been worse.

This chapter in my moto-history was post-serious racing. I had long since stopped racing every weekend and had been more of a "practice" rider with some events thrown in just to give the activity some purpose. I had been racing in some +25 veteran class events for the last couple of years and was clearly past my prime as far as speed was concerned. But the fire for the sport still burned bright in me, as it still does to this day. I have always loved the preparations and the ever-narrowing focus that comes from setting a race goal and putting myself on the start line to do battle. There are always moments leading up to the race that cause you to wonder just what the heck you are doing, and if all the emotions, sweaty palms and nervousness are worth it.

This photo reminds me of an exquisite irony I encountered there at Mammoth Mountain. I had spent weeks carefully attending every detail of my race preparation. I rebuilt the transmission on that Honda. I cleaned and re-cleaned every nook and cranny. I had new tires with new tubes just be be safe. I had every spare part you could reasonably carry to California. Every tool was polished and nestled in my tool box. Every detail was inventoried, checked, double-checked and rallied to the cause.

I was as ready as you could be for this race. And I was super wound up as you might be able to see in the photo. Tight was maybe a better word, and I rode like it. It was one of those races that seems like you are just flying at top speed as you are being passed right and left by everyone you were ahead of off the start. I was blowing through berms, braking half way down the big downhill, skimming the jumps, all the while gripping the bars with an iron grip. I had a predictably poor finish and was, honestly happy to get off the track with my good health intact.

As I was riding my shiny bike back to the pits, I noticed a local California racer unloading his bike from the back of his pickup truck. His Yamaha was a couple of hard-ridden years old, and dirty as it could be with mud and dust sticking to every surface. He was wheeling the bike down an aged piece of wood that was as grimy and scarred as a loading ramp could be and as he reached the mid way point of his offloading precedure, the whole carcass of a bike slumped off the side of that rickety ramp and thumped to the ground, chunks of debris flying. Just another race day for that guy. Oh and he was relaxed, joking with his buds and grinning away. It left an impression on me and I vowed to never lose sight of having fun again.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

1986 Kawasaki KX125

On my long list of bikes I've owned (look to the right side of this blog in case you haven't noticed) there is only one Kawasaki. It's no reflection on the brand, they are good bikes. I flirted with getting a KX125 back in 1978 when I was shopping around that year. The 1978 bike was very fast. It had a case-induction motor that used a side-mounted impeller to induct gas directly into the bottom end and made some great low-end power (for a 125).

Most of the 125 we were used to riding and racing were woefully deficient of any low-end power. The Hondas we had grown up racing had a sort of insistent, albeit weak, winding powerband that started off with literally nothing on bottom (the clutch was the prime motivator if you ever fell off the power), a noticable rush of power in the midrange and steadily ascending into what amounted to a shreik at the very top.

The Kawasakis were known for making good power at the lower reaches of the powerband. This style of power paid off for the brand for a few great years, and by 1984 or so they were competitive, if not dominant, players in 125 racing.

This particular 1986 Kawasaki entered my life during a long, non-current, and financially broke period of my young adult life. I believe at the time the only motorcycle I owned was my old 1978 Maico which was hopelessly outdated and, frankly, embarassing to be seen on. I had no money for more current iron, but I did have a desire—and was also ambitious and clever, having developed some keen motorcycle-acquiring skills that were honed over the years of dreaming from one bike to the next.

I was able to work out a trade for some design work with a man named John Maughan who's son Corky was the number 1 pro in 1986. I think this bike was given to Corky from some kind of shop sponsorship and since he was now on something newer and certainly better, this unloved, slightly dog-eared, and wrung-out machine was, at least to John, expendable. John owned the local motocross paper, Utah Cycle News, at the time and was looking to upgrade the look. I was looking to upgrade my mode of recreation, so a deal was struck.

Corky was a fast rider and had won the number 1 plate against the best Utah (and regional) competition at the time. The bike, as mentioned, was well-used but must have been well broken in because it seemed that all the parts, while loose and slapping against each other, all moved in an easy, slick and free revving manner. It was as if the moving parts all wore out at the same rate, creating a harmony of function that made a lot of noise but got that green bike moving in a hurry.

One thing that certainly contributed to the speed of the motor was the fact that John was a big engine tuner, and the cylinder on that bike contained some amazing boost ports that were cut into the cases at the induction. As I recall, the cylinder was ported to the extent that there was as much hole as cylinder wall, normally a recipe for disaster. I think the basic engine design was reliable, and also the Maughan's were sponsored by a shop, so replacement parts were plentiful, and since Corky was racing every weekend they had plenty of opportunity to break and replace parts. But nonetheless, this bike was well wrung out by the time I got it. In fact, every part moved in ways not originally intended.

I got many hours of riding this bike at tracks like "56" (shown) and one thing I remember was how insanely fast it was and that it handled very well if you knew how to ride it. The Kawasakis from 1986 were very advanced bikes at the time. The 1985 bike was a "factory works" replica that came to the public in a very advanced design, and the 1986 bikes had built on that design. I think the handling and steering were a little unorthodox, at lease as compared to the other 125s at that time. The Hondas and Suzukis had very quick steering and were a little busy at speed as a consequence. The Yamahas had always been "rear end" handlers that you would slide through the corners. The Kawasaki had a slightly "unhinged" feel to it in the corners with the bike able to turn a fairly tight line, but also posessed good stability on the fast sections. It was a little unusual to get used to, but actually worked very well once you forgot about it.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

1984 Suzuki RM125

The RM125s of the early 1980s had terrific rear suspension, cleverly named the Full Floater because the shock was isolated from solid connection to any hard frame parts by a linkage and a "dog bone" strut that was attached to the forward part of the swingarm. The strut pushed up on a pivot which transferred the forces down to the shock and toward the ground. This was one ground-hugging set up at a time when the motorcycle companies were still experimenting with different suspension systems.

I had been watching these bikes in races over the last couple of years, and even though their motors were not the fastest 125s at the time (I believe the Yamahas were king) the handling and suspension were great. I remember seeing Doug Dubach racing his 1981 Full Floater at Manning in a pro race. He was known for using his 1981 bike for several years after it was introduced, even though there were newer bikes out. Dubach was a journeyman pro paying his dues, and would go on to become a successful Yamaha factory rider, and would eventually reach the pinnacle of the sport with his win of an AMA supercross.

I had been admiring the Full Floaters from afar, and riding my Maico. I had a soft spot for the little yellow bikes, and wanted to get back to riding 125 after several years of riding 250s. So I went out and bought a new 1984 RM125 from Jack Overfield at State Sport. Excited for the maiden voyage on my new sled, I went up to one of my favorite tracks at point of the mountain, down below Widowmaker in the foothills. I was happy and pumped but I had no idea what I was in for with this bike.

It was trouble from the very beginning. I think it was the first ride, to be fair, that set the course for many mechanical problems that totally drove me crazy—riding was my thing, not wrenching.

What transpired on that first ride was I was just getting going around the rolling track and liking the killer rear suspension. Yes it worked with controlled precision just like I imagined. But, as I went through one particular G-out on the course, a dip with a small jump after, the back wheel suddenly stopped solid. Skidding to a stop, I saw that the chain had wrapped itself around the countershaft sprocket and doubled up in front, the dreaded chain suck. It was wedged tightly between the engine cases and the countershaft, so much that I had to pry it out with a large screwdriver, praying I would not crack the pretty magnesium cases.

Shortly after this first mechanical glitch, the transmission started acting up, missing gears and generally causing headaches and grief. I had the transmission rebuilt, but right after that work was done I experienced a heartbreaker of a blow up when I was going through the gears and suddenly the entire gearbox just completely lunched. I could feel the metal grinding and grating

between my feet... what a sad m

There were short periods where the bike would run fine, and tease me with the fun factor of slamming through whatever bumps might be on the track. I had some fun races on the bike, including racing at a cool track at Mt. Carmel Utah (shown). But the motor never ran well, and the bike was never fast. I have had some bikes that were just naturally good running and some that were faster than others of the same model and year, but I would say that this one was not happy from the start. Probably had something to do with the maiden voyage and that chain suck incident.

The last time I rode this bike was at the same track at Widowmaker I started the whole sad affair at. It was not running well and as I rode it just started to get slower and slower. I was having to use the clutch to keep it cooking enough to even make it up some of the small hills on the track, but I was having fun riding and I was disgusted at the same time. I should have had some mercy and stopped, but I just didn't care. Any amount of affection or pity I would usually feel for one of my beloved motorcycles was not there that day as I just rode her into the ground. The motor eventually lost all compression and I was forced to push it back to the truck. A sad ending to what was probably a better bike than it ever got credit for being.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

1981 Maico 250 Alpha 1

I got this bike in 1983, bought as a new stock leftover bike Don Gibbs had on his showroom floor. Since there were newer models at the time, I remember it was a pretty good deal. I always liked the 1981 Maicos. I had a good eye for what I thought worked on a bike, and the '81s looked balanced and strong.

The 1981 bike sits right between 2 models that were kind of funky in my opinion. The previous year's (1980) Maicos were radically redesigned, with a banana-shaped frame that was supposed to make the bike sit low, even with the long (12"-ish) suspension on front and back. I imagine some people loved the bike, but I thought it looked too hooptie to be any good. And the 1982 bikes were radically redesigned from my bike and featured a single shock design that was a disaster in terms of performance and reliability. The factory had spec'd a defective part in the linkage that made the shocks blow out, and the rising rate was so harsh the suspension never worked very well.

Anyway, my acquisition turned out to be a great bike that I kept around for many years and rode through a very long "non-current" stage in my life. I thought it was a good riding bike, with a passably fast motor and good long-travel suspension. Of course, we wouldn't dare say anything bad about the famous Maico forks. Even if they did not perform the best, we probably thought they did.

I set a personal best long jump record on this bike, up on a hillside at Widowmaker (Draper) of over 100'. My buddy Doug was there, and he had the same bike as me. We were "brothers of the non-current Maicos" campaigning our red sleds across the state for practice sessions and whatever came up. We never failed to draw attention from the Japanese bike riding fellows on more up-to-date machinery. We were the subjects of a few snide comments, no doubt about it.

I had a humiliating experience on this bike I will never forget. Doug and I, along with some other friends signed up for the Marty Smith Motocross School, given by none other than our boyhood hero Marty Smith. This was a big event for us as we all were star struck to the max. Marty was cool, and we were all trying to impress the poor guy, or at lease not totally suck in front of him. Marty put on a great class, working around the track obstacles one at a time and we eventually came to the quad jump section, something to be feared by us who should have known better.

There was a certain peer pressure in the group as one by one the riders—starting with the best ones—followed Marty over those peaks, taking all four at once. It was a jump of maybe 30' - a prodigious distance for a shaky amateur on a large, lurching "non-current" bright red Maico.

It soon came my turn to attempt the leap. I would say I was somewhere in the middle in the pecking order as far as ability, and in spite of my trepidation and desire for self-preservation I finally went for it. I sacked up, and found, after a few sucessful tries you could just hit the right side of the first jump (it was a little taller) in the fat part of third gear on that Maico and you would clear the precipice no problem. It was kind of fun. But knowing how things sometimes go, I wisely stopped the rampage after maybe five times.

Satisfied I had safely conquered the challenge, I shut my bike off and watched the others ride the section. Doug my "Maico brother" rode up on his identical Maico and sized up the leap. He had not witnessed my graceful execution of the jumps just a few moments earlier, in fact it seemed like he didn't believe me when I told him. I decided to give him a demonstration of what a well-ridden Maico could do on the quad.

I started the bike and lined up for a run at the jumps. When it was clear, I dropped the clutch and shifted up and got right in the fat part of third gear at just the right time, then... silence. A total flame out at the worst possible moment, totally committed. I just hung on, clinching the seat as the front end dropped and dropped, right into the base of the third jump. The impact slid me forward on the seat, past the tank, and nut first right into the triple clamps. I did the classic body flop into the dirt, throwing a huge cloud of dust and anguish into the air right at Marty's feet. The hero and teacher just shook his head slowly. I had forgotten to turn the gas tap back on when I started my bike.

It was an amazing thing, totally spoding out in front of my boyhood hero. Stuff like that builds character. More recently, I have come to appreciate those humiliating times because they make a really great story, much more memorable than if I was just clearing those four jumps all day. And I bet Marty Smith has never forgotten it either.

Diamond in the Rough

This was the second 1978 Maico 250 I owned, the same one that's in my garage right now. I resurrected this bike from a shed out behind the Maico dealership in around 1982. At the time, I was a poor college student and could not afford a new bike. Yes, I had fallen into "non current" status, an affliction that affects those who have fallen off the moto map.

But I still wanted a bike! Luckily for me, bikes of this era also fell off the moto map, and became devalued and unloved in just a matter of a couple of short years. When Don Gibbs unearthed this particular Maico from the confines of his storage, it was rusty, ridden hard and put away bent. It took a trained eye to see beneath the grime, but I knew what was there, and I liked it.

It had been used as a desert bike. For those in the know, desert bikes were usually somewhere South of the moto standard of sano. Duct tape, wire, dirt and a crazy set of super-wide "jack rabbit" handlebars adorned a sad looking carcass of a bike. I paid Gibbs $600 and took it home.

This bike gave me many hours of enjoyment, riding - but never racing - on a college student budget. Being "non current" meant being slightly embarrased when going riding with your more "current" buddies. Yes, I cared. I wished I had a more modern bike with which to roost, but alas...

The picture above was at the old Widowmaker track. Yes, there was an actual "official" motocross track on the site of the famous old-school hillclimb in the foothills of Draper. This had been the track I watched the Plumb brothers race back in 1972, the famous "Fire-O'Cross" race, the name coined by the incident where the grass parking lot caught on fire and almost burned up our little Ford truck. Quick action by my dad saved the day, he jumped into the truck as flames licked at the doors, started the hapless beast, and drove to safety.

I remember that Evel Kneivel was there that day to put on an exhibition. He did a cool wheelie right down the start straight to the delight of the crowd. There were some international stars there that day, too. I remember seeing Jimmy Weinert sitting by the side of the track, broken Kawasaki leaned over. When he took off his helmet, I could see the reality of the effort racing takes out in his red face and crusty residue.

These memories are faint but still there, as is the feeling I still get when I look over my old Maico. I am glad I looked deeper than the surface on this bike. It paid me back for my pity with some great memories and some red face and crust of my own, something I will always be thankful for.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Our Saddleback

Manning Cycle Park was one of the "big" tracks we raced on in the 1970s, and was actually the site of an Inter-Am race, I believe in or around 1972. I was there that day, a 12 year old kid, watching the international motocross stars like "Jammin" Jimmy Weinert and Dutch transplant Pierre Karsmakers, as well as Utah rider Bob Plumb, and it left an impression on me.

Manning hosted some other big races over the years and was the site of many battles on the local scene as well. We loved coming to this place and did so every chance we got, to sample the roller-coaster layout, varied terrain, time-worn blue groove, rocky straights, and the signature obstacle: the big dropoff. It went like this: you rounded the first turn, a sharp right, and then immediately a left hand sweeper that shot you out onto a straight with 2 small jumps (The picture shows me on the 2nd of them) that immediately preceeded a 20 ft. drop. The dropoff was basically a catapult for the next immediate obstacle, a plateau jump (tabletop) that was approximately 1/2 the height of the drop. A real slingshot if taken at speed.

Legend was that at one time a rider from Utah had jumped off the dropoff and landed right on the plateau, a feat we all considered crazy. Something like that would have scared the heck out of us, but what is motocross, after all, if not a series of scary incidents all strung together?

Manning was as close as it got to a real, pro motocross course, at least on our small racing circuit. It was, in other words, as close as it got to Saddleback—mecca to all that was motocross racing in the 1970s. My best memories were watching Plumb skip over the back straight, his bike just touching down maybe twice, then disappearing over the hill only to reappear in the next sweeper, his speed was amazing. The fast guys at Manning just kept the speed high, taking the outside lines and blue-groove with their tires skimming over the hardpack. Momentum was the key.

I guess in that way, it was a little like the real Saddleback. The proving grounds for the fast and tough, nobody ever won here that didn't deserve at lease one of those titles. Some guys I saw win or impress here: Stan Wynhof, Doug Dubach, Larry Jensen, Bob Plumb, Gary Neff, Randy Sargent, Dale Bohm, Steve Liedberg, Jim West, Johnny Greenway, to name a few. The first turn is where I witnessed a dude riding a brand new Husky 125 (Yellow tank) pull the holeshot, slide out in the first turn, and proceed to beat his pretty painted gas tank to a mangled pulp right there in front of spectators, his parents, and the almighty. Wow.

Another time I watched as the winner of the 125 amateur class stopped a lap early to grab a cigarette, light it up, and ride his last lap with the smoke dangling from his lip. Classy. I saw a crazy pit-racing incident that probably surpasses any I have seen since when a supercharged 125 Novice, name withheld, who was riding a tricked out Honda with every mod just ripping wheelies and throwing rocks right through the center of the pits. Then the same guy went all ballistic and ran my buddy Randy right off the track in their race, forever going down in our history as one to be targeted for revenge. Memories.

It is crazy how, I could never remember something like my (ex) wife's birthday, but I remember every rut, rock and bump on some old race track from 30 years ago. I could ride this track in my sleep then, and I bet if I could ride it now I still would remember the hot lines.

As Good as it Got

There is a great phrase I have seen on T-shirts that goes like this: "The older I get, the faster I was."

I think we all are guilty of embellishing our stories just a little. I decided when I started this blog to not make it about me, or how I did in races. That stuff is boring anyway, and what I really like talking about is the bikes and the great stories about my friends and fun or crazy experiences.

That said, please indulge me just once, because this picture brings up a special feeling I had that day it was taken at "56". I remember it very well because I had a flat tire (you can see the rear tire is flat) but just kept riding and riding. I was having an awesome day. One of those days where there is no effort, just flow. I was just doing lap after lap perfectly, putting my tires in the exact same spot, clutching to perfection, and flowing over the track like syrup. There was one little spot where I could just loft the front tire in a controlled wheelie and set it down right before a corner, tap the shifter and roost out with precision every time.

That was as good as it got. And I knew it that day as I rode, in fact it was on my mind and I knew I should appreciate and remember this day. The wave had crested. I was 19.

Bonneville Night Races

In the late 1970s (this picture is from 1979) we used to have a night race at Bonneville Raceways on the West side of the Salt Lake valley. This was, to us, like racing supercross at night, in front of a crowd, in what was basically a stadium with bleachers, concessions and paved pits. No wonder this was a popular place.

The track was relatively simple with limited space on the infield of the stock car oval to work with. There were lights, of course, and turns, jumps, whoops and some short straights to whip it up to speed before braking for the next turn as shown. I am squeezing the front drum brake on my 1979 RM125 with a 4-finger grip, such was the pre-disc brake braking performance of the time.


Back in the day we had some great tracks to ride. That is, before suburbia encroached. In the spring and fall we could jam at "56", the Gun Club or "Sweden", but when it got hot and dry, there was only one place to be - at the beach!

At the shore of the Great Salt Lake we had an awesome track with lots of turns, some small bumps and jumps, and tacky conditions even in the middle of the summer.

The 1978 Maico was a very solid bike, the source of it's great manners was a cromoly frame and swingarm, and stout 35mm forks. The shocks that came stock on that bike were just OK (Corte Cossa remote reservoir shocks) but it was the geometry and construction of the chassis that made that bike great.

Also the rocket motor. I had my cylinder ported, and with the stock Bing carb, that bike was fast. The explosive powerband combined with the ability to "speed shift" was a Maico bonus. This was a banner year for Maico, and watching their "factory" pro racers ride production bikes was amazing. Steve Stackable, Gaylon Mosier, Danny "Magoo" Chandler, Carlos Serrano, and the Europeans like Hans Maisch, Adolf Weil and Herbert Schmitz all rode the same basic bikes we did, albeit a lot faster. We emulated them in every way we could, all in pursuit of the motocross dream.

1978 Practice

Practicing on a loamy day at the Gun Club. My 1978 Maico was so badass, I felt like Hans Maisch.

The Veteran

By 1978 I was feeling like a Vet. I had been racing since 1973 and was 18 years old. I had this fantasy about doing stunts on my Maico, thank goodness I never attempted to: jump off the roof; ride over the top of the overpass on Wasatch Blvd and the freeway; ride up the side of a steep hill and do a 180; or ride alongside the freeway and jump the exit ramps. I had dreams about giant cliff jumps and wheelies down the hallways of my school.

Mix and Match

This is taken at one of my very first "pro" races, somewhere in Idaho. I was riding my 1977 RM125 and sporting Lancer leathers and a Jofa mouthguard (open-face helmets were the norm) that I trimmed for some reason, and had a Champion sticker on my visor and gas tank. I probably never used a Champion spark plug, at least that I noticed, of for that matter any of the products that were advertised all over my bike, helmet or van. Most of the stickers we chosen for looks or for their reference to something cool or pro.

Those RM125s from the late 1970s were really good bikes, having been developed by the actual professional racers and brought to market on a very short development cycle. The 1977 RMs were wel-balanced with some very good forks and remote-reservoir shocks that kept the ride smooth and controlled. The handling was very predictable, and the great thing about 125s was, you knew exactly how fast to go: wide open all the time.


We were lucky to have so many great places to ride within a reasonable distance. Most of the places we rode our dirt bikes were just fields where we and others had made natural-terrain tracks to practice. Within an hour's drive from home we had The Gun Club, Parleys Gulch, Manning, Widowmaker, Draper (we called it Sweden), Red Sands (North Salt Lake), Ogden, Saltair (the beach), Knolls (towards Wendover) and others.

But the staple of our riding and racing had to be "56" or Motoqua. Located on 5600 West and 2200 South, this sandy moto paradise was, at one time, a State recreational vehicle park. There was a motocross track, a flat track and lots of trails to wander. Many days were spent there riding, racing, practicing, breaking, wrenching and BSing. The sandy soil was shifty and dusty when it was hot, but when it rained, the corners turned to loam, the bumpy straights and jumps were a playground for speed and air time. Great fun.

This picture is taken from a 125 Amateur (intermediate) race in 1977 at "56". It was one of those tacky, moist days we lived for. Somebody on a Honda is pulling the holeshot (too fast to make the photo though). Right on his tail is Randy Wynhof (#188) on another Honda, and a Suzuki rider who I believe was from Tooele (not sure)... Others in this picture are Lance Lundgren, Bryan Haslam, Randy Thomas, Gary Groscost, Kelly Skeen and my brother, Scott Clawson. That's a packed field, a big crowd of spectators, perfect weather and fun track all in one image. Enjoy.

Crash and Burn Part 2

This is taken at "56" (Motoqua) in around 1976 in a 125 Novice race. My friend Kelly has just laid his bike down right in the path of Victor Archuleta who is doing his best not to loop out. Can't remember the outcome, be probably rode it out.

Victor Archuleta was the brother of another racing buddy, Johnny Archuleta, who was a top expert at the time. Johnny and Victor were (and are still, I'm sure) good guys. Victor was sort of our local racing scene's "Magoo", a wild rider with unbounded energy and enthusiasm for twisting the throttle. I remember him as always super pumped are ready to race, even in practice.

One time we were riding at the Gun Club (There were several tracks around the old Holladay Gun Club in Salt Lake) on the gravely pit down near the road on Wasatch Blvd., and we noticed Victor was practicing his jumping off a drop-off jump. This particular drop-off was short and steep, favoring a cautious approach. He was making runs at the jump, faster and faster. You could hear him scream his 125 on one approach making us all look up just to witness a giant case-out and a "Crash and Burn" of titanic proportions. He went over the bars in a giant cloud of dust, his bike cartwheeling. Poor Victor had to be carted away in an ambulance that day with a broken hip. I felt sorry for him as he was riding his brand-new YZ125 and had his Hallman goatskin leathers all shiny and pristine. I knew he was excited, as were we all, about racing, and a new bike has an intoxicating effect. Until you biff.

Crash and Burn

Back in 1975 my friends and I were high school kids, racing bikes and sluffing school to go riding, reading Dirt Bike Magazine in class, and generally living the life. Here is a picture we took up at the old Gun Club track and submitted to Dirt Bike's "Crash and Burn" special. It got published!

1970s Motocross Pix

It's great how old photos jog your memory. While scanning some bike pictures for this blog, I came across some old photos from the 1970s that include some of the older bikes previously listed. Here are some choice pictures and the memories they bring up.

The first one here is from the Widowmaker Hillclimb, circa early 70s. Must have been around 1972 or 1973. This is the old original funky hillclimb that was held every year on the hillsides of Draper, Utah. I remember this event being a "must attend" happening for all hippies and bikers (and hippy and biker wannabe's like me) at that time. Good times.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

1980 Yamaha YZ125

I found this image of a 1980 Yamaha YZ125 on the internet,
as I did not own this bike long enough to get any pictures of me on the bike. The bike I briefly owned was purchased from my friend, Steve sometime in 1980 after I had practically raced the wheels off my 1979 RM125. That bike served me well to say the least, but the times were marching along, and the 1980 Yamaha had a motor that could not be denied.

This was a very fast 125 as I found out in one of my last races on my Suzuki, and at the hands of a very fast Yamaha rider, the former mini pilot who dusted me at Roosevelt, Utah. The Roosevelt track was hard and blue-grooved, with an uphill start, sweeping corners, some long straights and one nasty off-camber straight that just went along the side of a ridge. I remember that I was wringing the throttle for all I was worth that day, trying to coax some more speed out of my trusty Suzuki.

The funny thing is, I felt like an old veteran racing against the next generation of 125 experts at that time. I was only 20 years old and had been racing since 1973, but nontheless after being trounced by one of the fast new kids coming up I was starting to feel not so young.

I had the opportunity to buy this bike from Steve, who had done some modifications to the motor and I was super pumped to get a faster bike. Unfortunately, the bike never ran right and I ended up returning it to Steve (blown up, I believe). I think it had an air leak somewhere in the cases or around the intake for the case reed valve induction. Steve, of Marty Smith replica fame, was a tinkerer by nature and he always had modified bikes, trick parts and super clean stuff. We all admired our friend, for even after the Marty Smith era ended, he still always was super stylish and classy with his shiny stuff and flashy riding style.

As with all things mechanical, things were ever evolving. Getting better, faster and more reliable. The 125 motocross bikes we raced in the 1970s and 1980s were special in that they were the result of a determined evolutionary push by the motorcycle manufacturers of the day to prove new technology and one-up each other in the arena that was the expanding motocross scene in the U.S.

It's hard to believe today, with the awesome bikes that are currently raced, just how eccentric and flawed these old 125s were. Those of us who sampled these racers, in the quest for trophies and bragging rights, faced the prospect of sorting through the pros and cons every year. And we chose every year, and raced, crashed, won, lost, broke and fixed as we went. A great time to have raced all things considered!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

1979 Suzuki RM125

The Japanese motorcycles you could buy back in the “dinosaur days” of motocross in the late 1970s were evolving at a fast rate, and works technology was being incorporated into the production bikes you could purchase at your local dealer. As mentioned earlier, every year there was one or two standout bikes that would dominate racing. Make the wrong choice and you would struggle all year with poor starts and poor finishes.

Pity the poor fools that bought off brands like Ammex (yikes) or Carabela. There was plenty of variety
through the 1970s, Husky and Maico mixed it up with bikes from Spain, Czechoslovakia, Sweden, and even Mexico. But the tide was turning on these old bikes and in their place in the winner's circle was, increasingly Japanese made.

The 1979 Suzukis were very similar in appearance, to the bitchen' factory race bikes of the dominant team on the world championship Grand Prix circuit, Suzuki. With great riders like the highly revered Belgian Roger DeCoster, dentist Gerrit Wolsink of Holland, Gaston Rahier and Andre Vromans, both from Belgium, and world championships, race wins, and the trickest bikes at the time, Suzuki was on a roll.

So how could you resist the 1979 RM125? Underneath the stock shovel-shaped fenders (the first thing I changed on my bike) was, for all intents and purposes, the same as Roger D. was slaying the world champs on. The entire bike was newly-redesigned and they nailed it. Punchy, solid, fast and balanced would describe this bike.

I left mine mostly stock, with the exception of the aforementioned fenders (Preston Petty “Mudder” on the front, and an aftermarket reproduction 1978 RM125 rear fender), some mild cylinder porting (exhaust ports raised slightly and the intake shaped and polished), the head milled for more compression, grippy Metzeler tires front and rear, some Oury waffle grips, and little else.

The suspension and everything else I just left alone. This was the beginning of bikes that did not need a lot of modifications to win races. And in 1979 the gates were full of these little yellow Suzukis. Yes, you could still win on other brands, but my memory tells me this was “the” bike to have that year.

We used to race on Thursday nights at the old Bonneville Raceways, west of Salt Lake City. They had made a small motocross track on the interior of the stock car oval, supplied lighting and the racers came in droves to race like crazy in front of family and friends. There were ample bleachers for the spectators, a refreshment stand, and enough dirt, turns, jumps and straightaways to keep us coming back for more every week. The black and white picture above is me, sometime in 1979, racing at Bonneville Raceways, wringing the throttle for all the juice—and fun—I could get. I was plate number 23 that year, a number that has stuck with me by choice (and sometimes providence) ever since.