By Ron Lawson
There’s nothing more boring than old-motorcycle talk. Unless, that is, I’m doing the taking and it’s about my
old bikes. There are bikes I owned, rode or wanted, and
then there are all the other bikes. My list is completely different from Mark’s list, which is completely different from
For instance, I really don’t care about Can-Ams or CZs. I
apologize to 90 percent of the vintage bike world up front.
If Tom starts talking about those makes, I have a well-practiced facial expression that says, “Go on, please,”on the
outside while I’m internally watching “America’s Got Talent”
or something I saw on Netflix last night. But if I’m talking
Swedish Husqvarnas, everyone gathers around me with the
most fascinated looks. My real problem is that I still want to
ride all those old bikes. I somehow never learn my lesson.
No bike that’s older than 10 years ever runs like it did when
it was new, and when it was new, it wasn’t all that great. So,
I have to give myself a pop quiz before I even think about
riding or racing an old bike. There are about eight hurdles a
bike should clear first.
1) Is it ugly enough? I like pretty bikes as much as the
next guy, but most bikes in the old days would initiate a
self-destruct sequence any time they were running. Riding
anything manufactured before the ’90s is like trying to eat
a triple scoop of ice cream on the hottest day in August.
Enjoy quickly; it won’t last. Beautifully restored bikes are
just that much more tragic when the melt-down occurs.
2) Can I start it? Actually, a more appropriate question
is, do I want to start it? I was recently drawn to a Honda
CR480 online. I remember this being an excellent bike from
the era before
open-class two-strokes became
too big and powerful. I looked
at the picture
for a good 10
minutes before I
realized that the
kickstarter was on the left side. How had I forgotten that?
You had to stand beside the bike with your right leg high in
the air and build up the courage to kick. Your foot had to
be coming down hard and fast before it even made contact
with the starter. If you missed, the steel lever could actually
tear through the side of a motocross boot. That’s a whole
chapter in the history of dirt bikes that I don’t need to relive.
3) Are parts readily available? I’ve learned that you can
find any part you want if you wait long enough and check
eBay on a regular basis, but sometimes it’s a painful,
expensive process. Plastic parts are the worst. For most
modern bikes the aftermarket has high-quality, inexpensive
fenders, shrouds and number plates that are easy to find.
Not so with stuff from the ’80s and ’90s. I recently had
to find an airbox cover for an old KDX. When one finally
appeared, it was ventilated with a dozen drunken holes,
drilled by some butcher 30 years ago. Let that be a lesson:
the evidence of your mechanical misdeeds might live for a
very long time.
4) Can I stop it? Face it, the greatest advancement of the
last 30 years isn’t suspension. It isn’t fuel injection, aluminum
frames or hydraulic clutches. It’s good brakes. I’m not going
to say disc brakes, because even those were crummy for a
long time. Until the last decade brakes weren’t designed to
stop you. They were designed to slow you so it would hurt a
little less when you hit
5) Is it a fire haz-
ard? It took years, but
I have finally come to
ed bikes. All it took
was the combination
of a fuel petcock that
wouldn’t seal and a
float bowl that leaked. This is an especially bad combination
if you own a van. When you have to drive with your head
outside the window to breathe, you might consider going
back to modern bikes.
6) Does it need race gas? Aside from the circumstances
described above, there are a number of reasons to avoid a
bike that needs $20-a-gallon race fuel (at least 20 of them).
Unfortunately, old bikes were made to run on leaded gas
that came from good Middle Eastern crude, not distilled
7) Does it interfere with my vision? Most older dirt bikes
vibrate so badly that my eyes can’t focus. How did we not
notice this in 1985?
8) Will it be fun? This is where my whole quiz breaks
down. The answer to the final question is always yes.
Somehow that supersedes all the previous answers. It’s a
dirt bike, after all. ❑
“I looked at the picture on Craigslist for a good 10 minutes before I realized
that the kickstarter was on the left side.
How had I forgotten that?”