Friday, January 2, 2009
1977 Suzuki RM125
One of the unique things about racing 125s in the 1970s, was that choosing the right bike for that year was a lot more critical than it is nowadays. Witness the poor louts that stubbornly held onto their Honda CR125s too long. It was bad enough in 1976 when the RMs came into their own, but 1977 was Suzuki's time to grab another gear while the competition was fumbling.
Those of us who had jumped on the yellow bandwagon in 1976 snapped up the new 1977 models and never looked back. There was still a faction of Honda loyalists who had modified their bikes to the max, all sorts of innovations arose from the need to keep up. There were engine and suspension kits all over the place that summer (remember the "Skunk Works" suspension?), other makes toeing the line, pumped-up kids and their dads with trophies on their minds, and there was us, moving up the ladder of local Utah racing and living in a world of pre-mix, Metzelers, adrenaline and dust.
The 1977 RM125s were fast bikes in stock form, had evolved rear suspension with revised remote reservoirs, and a beefy front end that featured a well-damped leading axle KYB fork. This new front end created a more balanced ride and predictable handling, which combined with the solid mid-range motor and decent reliability, was a tough package to beat. We were loving it to the tune of trophies and upward mobility, moving up to Amateur and then Expert. Applying black numbers to white backgrounds was the first sign you had made it to the Experts.
The 125 Expert class at that time was loaded with talent, with some riders specializing in the little bikes, and other established pros racing 2 classes. It was not an easy time to be coming into the class with riders like John Greenway, Stan Wynhof, Jim East, R.S., Mike O'Driscoll, Johnny Archuleta, Dave Meacham, Cody Lewis, Greg Madsen, Randy Yates, Eldon Copier, and the infamous Danny Lechtenberg. This was the generation of disciples that followed in the boot steps of the pioneers of Utah pro racing like Bob Plumb and Gary Neff.
The established riders were not about to make room the the front for newcomers, as I found out in one of my first Expert races at Brigham City. The Brigham City track featured a fast start straight that was slightly downhill, sweeping into a scary-fast left up a gravelly hill. Since I had a fast bike, I was right at the front with Wynhof and Lechtenberg on either side of me. We came into that sweeper 3 abreast and 2 came out, you do the math. I ended up at the bottom of the pile-up (pictured at top) having learned a lesson about the top guys. I spent the rest of the race playing catch up (never did).
In the top picture you can see a stunned Johnny Archuleta (back, left), his Yamaha YZ125 is underneath Robert Borg's modified Honda CR125 (check out his cool Fox air shocks and aluminum swingarm)... we are all wondering what hit us. My bike was mostly stock, but had the head milled for more compression, stock pipe, and white fenders. I had Metzeler tires on most of my bikes, they were more expensive but worth it as they gave good predictable traction even when slightly worn. We are all sporting leather pants and open-face helmets.
That was a fun summer of racing, not too many responsibilities, good friends and sweet bikes. The rivalries we had with other riders added to the intensity, and we learned to respect the competition, at the same time figuring out ways to beat them. We learned to enhance our strengths and exploit their weaknesses—prepare, show up, ride wide-open and do it all over again next week.