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!