The NW Challenge Vintage Motocross

I had been waiting for this event for months, but when the day came, I almost decided to sleep in instead. I’m very glad I didn’t. After a weeks vacation, visiting family in Colorado, I had had just about enough of temperatures in the mid 90’s and thick smoke in the air. Now back in the NW for a few smoke free days, the weekend forecast for my long awaited races was temperatures near 100 degrees and more smokey air.

My plan was to get there early on Saturday morning, tour the pits to seek out some interesting vintage iron, and catch a few races before the weather becomes unbearable. Then head back to Portland.

The plan was a success. I got some great shots of the motorcycles I had spent my youth reading about in dozens of motorcycle magazines of the time. The “worst” part of the day was spent in an air conditioned room, editing my new photos and sipping on a cool adult beverage.

The official name of this event was the “NW Challenge Vintage MX” and it was held at the beautiful Washougal MX Park outside of Washougal Washington. The same track hosted an AMA National Pro Motocross race just a few weeks earlier. It has to be one of the nicest facilities in the country, and was in tip top shape for the day’s races.

When I arrived, the sun was still low in the sky, and smoke from the western forest fires gave the light a pleasant warm tone. I began the day with a tour of the pits and of course I found some beautiful dirt bikes from a much simpler time.

I parked my car, and this mid-70’s Montesa Cappra 250 VR was pitting right next to me. When I first got into dirt bikes, European machines like this were still considered state of the art. Simple air cooled two strokes with drum brakes and short travel suspension still ruled the day.

Not every interesting bike was a racer, as this little Yamaha 80cc scrambler shows. Even at almost 60 years old, this still looks like it would be a barrel of fun. It’s great to one in such nice shape, and still getting some regular exercise.

This looks to be a 1972 AJS 250 Stormer. It’s a motorcycle I had only seen in photos before now. Made in Wolverhampton England by A.J. Stevens and Co. Ltd. The British motocrosser is a rare sight in the USA these days, especially in this fantastic condition.

About the time I was getting into motorcycles as a teenager, the Japanese manufacturers were just beginning to dominate the motocross scene. Machines like these were usually bought cheap, raced hard, and minimally maintained. I can only imagine the abuse these two Kawasaki MX bikes have soaked up over the years, and yet, here they are, still putting grins on racer’s faces after all this time.

When the races finally began I got to see some interesting old motorcycles doing what they were designed to do all those years ago… to go as fast as they can around a motocross track. This is a Monark 125 from Sweden. I think I remember that racers used to machine those ridges in their front forks to save weight.

These Yamaha 125’s look absolutely tiny when compared to modern machines. You can see the suspension travel increase over just a few model years.

This Husqvarna 125 looks like it’s in a scene from “On Any Sunday” with Malcolm Smith at the controls.

On these vintage racers with limited suspension travel, this is about as much air as you want to get. These aren’t bikes you do double and triple jumps on. On the right is a modern Kawasaki that soars like a bird.

If you followed professional motocross in the 70’s you knew who Jim Pomeroy was, and he rode a Bultaco just like this one. He was from near-by Yakima Washington and became an early star of American motocross. Jim passed away a few years ago, but this photo reminds me of him in his prime.

This “coffin tank” CZ 250 from around 1975 is one of the first bikes that moved the rear shocks forward to increase suspension travel. The Czechoslovakian motorcycles that won world championships in the early 70’s were hopelessly outdated by the 80’s.

I remember when the Honda 250 Elsinore entered the scene. Before this bike, Japanese motocross bikes really couldn’t compete with the Europeans. To be competitive, Japanese bikes required many modifications. The Elsinore was to motocross bikes what the Accord was to cars. It was inexpensive, ready to race and win right out of the showroom, and had the quality of workmanship that Honda products were beginning to be famous for. Japan soon dominated the motocross market.

It wasn’t only the motorcycles that were vintage. There were race classes for riders that were older than the machines they were riding.

This Husky and Maico race in the “Evolution Class.” The bikes are still air cooled two strokes, but longer travel suspension makes this generation of bikes much faster than their predecessors. You gotta’ love those gold rims!

This Honda CR 125 was one of the most modern bikes I saw race this day. By the late 80’s motocrossers were still mostly two strokes, and had steel tube frames, but now most everything was liquid cooled and had disc brakes. Two rear shocks became mono-shocks and the bikes kept getting faster and lighter. It’s hard to imagine what motocross bikes will be like if they even exist 50 years from now. But if they do exist, I can only imagine how much they will have improved and how different they will be from the bikes I’ve shown you here.

On a sad note, I learned that one of the racers at this event suffered fatal injuries in a crash later in the day, after I had left. Even slower vintage bikes like these are still extremely dangerous when ridden at speed. It takes a special kind of person to passionately restore and race these machines. My thoughts and prayers go out to the family and friends of the as yet, publicly unidentified deceased rider.