Down and Dirty in Arizona

A vintage AHRMA racing weekend with two of the cruelest and most medieval bikes ever devised: the OSSA Stiletto and Yamaha MX125.


In the smash documentary, Free Solo, about climber Alex Honnold, researchers performed an MRI on Honnold’s brain to see how his hippocampus alighted when Alex viewed stressful imagery. The minimal activation revealed why he might free climb Yosemite’s 3,600-foot vertical El Capitan alone, and without ropes: Some people just need more stimulus to feel fully alive. Coupled with nostalgia for the golden era of motorsports, this surely drives many vintage racers — car and motorcycle alike. Myself included.

There’s no comparing a 1970s Porsche 911 and a modern Carrera, or a solid-axle Corvette and a C7. They carry the same nameplates, but are worlds apart in character and capability. The same is true with vintage motocross bikes and their modern fuel-injected counterparts; the former often derived from period street bikes, while the latter are bespoke, CAD-CAM honed, competition dirt machines. Around my garage lurk both, including various vintage race bikes built up over recent years for events. And with several of them nearly race-ready, I decided to take a shot at the season-opening American Historic Racing Motorcycle Association (AHRMA) Vintage Motocross national in Buckeye, Arizona.

Vintage race cars have numerous fluid systems that require careful maintenance, namely hydraulic brakes and clutches, fuel pumps and cooling systems. Vintage bikes (generally regarded as 1974 and earlier) blissfully escape this, allowing even a long-moldering bike to be put right with a change of gearbox and fork oil, fresh fuel and tires, carb and air-cleaner service, some spot lubrication (e.g., cables and brake cams), and fresh rubber. It’s a genial day’s work if nothing goes wrong and no oddball parts are required.

On track aboard the OSSA (left), Unloading bikes in the pits at Arizona Cycle Park.

The bikes

Three bikes were prime candidates, including a 1971 OSSA Stiletto TT, a 250cc 2-stroke Spanish racer built in Barcelona by the projector company, Orpheo Sincronic Sociedad Anónima (OSSA). Featuring shapely but frail fiberglass bodywork and a powerful — but likewise frail — engine, it is fun to ride and had previously been rebuilt in 2011. Dunlop’s latest MX33 soft- and intermediate-terrain knobby tires fit perfectly (dirt bike tire sizes haven’t changed much over the decades), and after modest attention paid to other mechanicals the bike was ready. Incidentally, compared to modern bikes, machines like the OSSA provide an interesting glimpse of postwar national processes. Doubtless much machining, fabrication, assembly and details were done by hand, including the pinstriping on the lovely fiberglass bodywork. Sure, the OSSA has foibles; but it also has soul.

6/13/2019 7:04:06 AM

Very well written and captured the gestalt of vintage bikes. Perfect phrase that describes my own situation to a tee: "By observation, it's majorly Boomers imprinted during the 1970s by the excitement, machinery and popularity of the sport."

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