By Jody Weisel
As with most people, my most important discoveries have been preceded by my biggest failures. And I know a thing or two about failure. I am an inveterate tinker. I build things, often destroying things in the process. My creative modus operandi starts in the middle of the night when an idea pops into my head. I jump out of bed and hurriedly make notes and sketches (I learned long ago that if I didn’t get up right away, I would forget the idea by the time my alarm clock went off).
I must admit that even if I had a brilliant idea to end world hunger, eliminate poverty or turn grass clippings into wearable clothes, I would forget it in five minutes if I didn’t write it down. Sadly, I often have moments of Gyro Gearloose genius while driving. In these cases, I quickly write the idea down on an In-and-Out receipt while weaving in-and-out of traffic, only to discover later that I can’t read my own handwriting.
Once I have an idea written down, the next step is to build a 3D model, often using paper, paper clips or restaurant napkins. I like working with paper, because when the idea doesn’t pan out, I can just wad it up and throw it away. I’m proud enough to say that some of my ideas have become products that sell in the millions and I’m humble enough not to tell you what they are. Suffice it to say that the biggest corporations in the world use my patents, and you might well own one of my paper clip-proven products—and for sure you’ve see one.
My tinkering has made me an aficionado of creative people, especially motorcycle inventors who toil in backyard garages, small town dealerships and rustic workshops. Motocross has always been a petri dish of innovation, and unlike many motocross fans, who idolize the factory star of the moment, I admire the men who make things better for common folk. Most of the inventors who have set benchmarks for our sport live in relative obscurity. There is rarely a cheering section set aside for inventors. I’d like to rectify that— at least in this space — by listing the men I admire.
Preston Petty. It’s no big deal to design a fender for a motocross bike. It’s an easy task for every designer. Preston Petty may be most famous for his fender, but few know that his real claim to fame is designing the machines that spit out fenders, skid plates, front number plates in an efficient, unique, inexpensive and practical way. And he wrote his own computer code to make his machines work. Just like Dustin Hoffman in “The Graduate,” plastic had a future in motocross because of Preston.
Eyvind Boyesen. No single motorcycle inventor spent so much time fiddling with one single aspect of a motorcycle engine. Eyvind was fixated on air flow, its corollary effects on fuel flow and its byproduct — horsepower. From reed valves to accelerator pumps to float bowls to transfer ports to cylinder head designs to intake boots, Boyesen’s empire is built on getting more air in and more power out. In his spare time, he designed car engines, suspension systems and water pumps.
Joe Bolger. I never met the man, but as far back as 1974 I admired him. His linkage-suspended Ossa BLT was a precursor to the modern rising-rate linkage bikes that are in use today.
Bob Fox. It would be easy to think that Bob Fox has lived in the shadow of his Fox Racing brother Geoff — but not in the world of inventors. Bob Fox’s most famous suspension design, the Fox Shox, graced literally every works bike in the ‘70s. And today it’s on Ford Raptors.
Lucien Tilkens. Nothing powers an inventor more than love of his son. Tilkens’ son Guy raced and crashed and raced and crashed. Lucien believed that he could build a rear suspension system that would keep Guy on two wheels. The result? The Yamaha Monoshock system—which brought single-shock bikes to the forefront.
Yoshiharu Nakayama. One man and one man alone is responsible for the four-stroke revolution of the last 25 years. Yoshiharu Nakayama designed and built the first Yamaha YZ400F on a bare bones budget. Even wilder, he designed the Yamaha YZ250F engine on his kitchen table in his own time. Without Nakayama, there would be no four-stroke race bikes today.
Mike Goodwin. Not all inventions are made of steel and aluminum. Some are the result of the collision of ideas. Mike Goodwin’s hobby was riding motorcycles, but his business was promoting rock concerts. Call it kismet, but Supercross only exists today because of Goodwin’s Barnum & Bailey personality and his bright idea to combine his vocation and avocation. Supercross became big because of Mike Goodwin’s promotions. I always liked Mike Goodwin — not because he was likable, but because he was so transparently a huckster. I find it hard to think that someone I dealt with regularly could be in prison for allegedly hiring gunman to kill Mickey Thompson.
Don & Derek Rickman. The Rickman brothers invented the works bike. Tired of the poor quality of bikes available to race in the early ‘60s, Don and Derek began building their own nickel-plated frame kits. Motocross bikes would never be same again.
Horst Leitner. Horst is a true believer. The four-time ISDT Gold medalist believed in four-stroke motocross bikes when no one else did; so much so that he made ATK the fifth largest offroad motorcycle company in the USA in the ‘80s. Horst believed in anti-chain torque suspension designs so much that he developed the ATK and AMP systems for motorcycles and his much-heralded Horst Link for mountain bikes. Horst put his whole heart and soul into motocross.
When we speak of motocross heroes, it is common to think of the man on the machine. In truth, the real hero is the man behind the machine.