Friday, December 26, 2008
1975 Honda CR125 Elsinore
Sometime in early 1975, I became the proud owner of a shiny new Honda 125. It was around this time the Japanese motorcycle manufacturers were ascending to the top of the motocross world, leaving the "old guard" European bikes like Husky, Maico, CZ, Bultaco (and any number of cottage industry makes) in the dust.
It seems that I had shown enough resolve in my pursuit of this racing thing that my dad decided to help me get a more capable bike. The LT100 I started on was a good beginner bike, but its performance was limited, not only in a lack of horsepower, but the soft suspension and wallowy handling was holding me back.
The big heroes of the day were riding Hondas, and some of my friends had already taken the plunge. The CR125 Elsinore had been around since 1973 and was clearly the bike to have in the super-competitive 125 class in motocross. A whole industry had sprung up, providing hop-up parts for these screaming 2-strokes. The starting lines were loaded with modified Hondas, from mild to wild, which usually won the race.
It was not unusual to have 3 full gates of 125 novices racing at any given event in the Utah summers at tracks like the aforementioned "56" and Widowmaker, Manning Cycle Park, Brigham City, Hyrum, Price, Green River, and others. The 125 class was the most popular in racing at that time and besides the dominant Hondas, there were Suzuki TM125s, Yamaha YZ125s, Kawasaki KX125s, and even rare and somewhat over-matched Hodaka Combat Wombats (seriously). It was in these scrambling hordes that my friends and I cut our teeth in the sport, dreaming of success, and emulating our all-time hero Marty Smith.
Marty Smith was the 125 national champion in the early '70s, a Honda factory rider and the embodiment of the stylish Southern California motocross star. We all wanted to be like him. We copied Marty's style in everything we could reasonably afford on a teenager's budget, from the factory-replica jersey, Jofa mouth-guard, Hallman goatskin leathers and Carerra goggles to the fire engine red paint scheme on the little Honda's gas tank. Some people, of course, could afford to be more Marty than others. My friend Steve was a Marty replica in nearly every aspect—up to and including actually looking like Marty himself. My other buddy Kelly, and myself, on the other hand, were slightly less Marty—though not for lack of desire to be so.
Kelly was an awesome factory replica dude, full of enthusiasm for all things Marty but on a slightly tighter budget than Steve. His personal CR125 was Marty-ed out with the requisite red paint—but everything else was dog-eared, worn out, bent, resprayed and coated with dirt and grime ready for another wide-open attempt at chasing the dream in the 125 novices. It was in this milieu of bikes and bodies, red paint, modified shocks and teenage optimism we happily mixed in with riders from Tooele, Price, Ogden, and Provo chasing the dream. Battles were fought over plastic trophies and bragging rights, every pass a grand story to tell, every rivalry fuel for the fire.
It was a fun time to be involved. Exciting things were happening with the bikes: shocks were layed down and moved up on the swingarm, seats were built up high with foam, hand-welded exhaust pipes of every configuration increased power, radial or "porcupine" heads were installed for better cooling, front and rear Metzeler tires for increased traction. The 125 class was the breeding ground for desire and ambition, and the notion that with modifications and ingenuity, a donkey might be made into a thoroughbred. Exciting possibilities were shared and passed around, implemented with varying success, and tried out on the grand stage that was racing in the 1970s.