Friday, November 28, 2008

1973 Yamaha LT100

Sometime in
Junior High, around 1973 when I was 13, I caught the motocross bug. This was the age of DeCoster and Lackey, the cross-up and peace sign wheelie. I was hopelessly hooked.

One of my Junior High buddies had a big brother that raced, so one weekend we went to the famous Widowmaker motocross to watch he and some other amateur heroes do battle. Local pro Bob Plumb and his brother were there that day racing, Bob on his big Maico and little brother Rick on a modified Hodaka Super Rat (with a burly leading-link fork) in the 100 class.

The main memory I took from that day was standing by the finish line as the riders exited the track after the race. These guys were larger than life to me, with their white Bell open-face helmets, Jofa mouthguards and Carrera goggles. They had their flat visors duct taped on, Champion spark plug stickers on their gas tanks, cotton jerseys under goatskin chest protectors, and the requisite leather pants and heavy boots. As I watched the last riders roll by, I remember being in awe of them, the thought that if I could someday be out there, even as the last-placed rider in a race, that would be a huge achievement.

The gears were churning. I went in search of the dream, picking the brains of every Junior High kid that was so lucky to own a mini bike. Every time I saw someone riding a dirt bike I would study every nuance, the sleek simple shape of a CZ gas tank, the graceful down pipe on a Maico, the raspy crackle of a 2-stroke exhaust, the smell of castor oil in the air. Some of my contemporaries at school also had the bug, and since many of them already had motorcycles of some shape or form I had to get one.

Enter the 1973 Yamaha LT100 MX, an early version of the developing japanese motocross bike, basically an enduro bike with the lights removed. It was a 2-stroke, 100cc lightweight "racer" with oil injection (a leftover from the enduro model), steel fenders, a cool downpipe that looked the part, and rubber footpegs (not cool). The grips had hard rubber "fins" covering them, the source of many blisters to come. I purchased this fine bike from a classmate named Matt Finley who I have come to know as an adult, he is a very fine guy. He is my car mechanic to this day, but that's a story for another time.

I spent many hours in the fields riding this bike, experienced many slide outs and bloody knees. My first semi-panic-ridden mechanical thrashes were on this thing, wire and tape repairs so that I could get back to my passionate scrambling.

I had a great battle one day after school in the small field just to the South of our Junior High Seminary building, a lumpy oval dirt track with a some gravelly corners and 2 fast straights. My rival that day was my great friend Kelly who was mounted on a sweet Bultaco trials bike. Pride was at stake here and both of us raced it out, skidding around and bottoming out suspension, until one of us gave up. I think Kelly won, he being faster and with steely resolve borne of the fear of losing to a punk beginner like me. After we finished our race, we were treated to the spectacle of another kid blitzing around the track on his cool Honda CR125, all style, wheelies and speed! This turned out to be another lifelong friend, Steve.

I used to ride this bike, ninja style, through the neighborhoods in search of terrain. One of my favorite memories is flying around the cinder running track that was right next to the aforementioned Seminary building. I descended on this field with engine screaming, cut 2 or 3 dusty laps and beat it home before the startled teacher and students knew what hit them. Good times.

My first race was on this bike, sometime in 1973. The race was at 5600 West, a track named "Motoqua" which we simply knew as "'56". I had practiced enough that I felt I was ready to race, and nervousness notwithstanding, had lined up behind a rubber band in the 100 Novice class with 20-30 other racer hopefuls. As the start approached, I started the bike several times just to test it, being anxious and also a little worried. But when the time came to kick the engine to life for real, it refused to start. I kicked and kicked. The race referee held the start for me. I kicked the lever until it fell off! Some friends pushed me in an attempt to compression start it, and still it refused to light. Dejected (and a little relieved) I pushed my bike back to the pits and watched my class race around without me.

I was finally able to get it going again in the several hours between motos, the culprit being a fouled spark plug. After replacing the oily part with a clean one, while riding around the pits I saw a strange sight. Several guys were standing around watching as this dude would start his bike, put it into gear and let out the clutch, wereupon the bike would move... backward! Good for some laughs at the time, I am sure he did not think it was that cool.

The second moto went off, and I took the start with the others and raced — the details which do not come readily to mind — except that I took last place. My dad had gotten off work to come see me race, and he joked later that he didn't know if I was far ahead or far behind, but there I was, circulating by myself, living the motocross dream at last.

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