BEST OF JODY’S BOX: BACK TO THE DAYS WHEN MOTOCROSS WAS REBELLION-SQUARED

By Jody Weisel

I’m not sure that modern teenagers feel the same way about motocross as the original generation did. In the 1970s, we absorbed the culture of motocross and carried it with us everywhere we went. There was no well-established cultural history to guide us. In short, there were no “Good Old Days.” The oldest racer I knew back then was 25 years old, and I thought he was a relic of the past.

When I told my father that I planned to be a professional motocross racer, he said, “That’s not a sport.” And he was right. At that time, motocross was not a sport that anyone in America had ever heard of. Motorcycles to mid-America circa-1970 could be summed up in these popular song lyrics, “He wore black denim trousers and motorcycle boots and a black leather jacket with an eagle on the back. He had a hopped-up ‘sicle that took off like a gun. That fool was the terror of Highway 101.”

Today’s racers give little thought to the roots of our sport. Why sugarcoat it! They care little about anything that came before iPhones, Instagram, SnapChat, TikTok and earrings. No shame. No sweat. No worries. They know what they know—and nothing more. Motocross, as they know it, is as it is—fully grown and developed. Good for them.

But, it was that original generation who developed the sport into what it is today. They had to, because it didn’t exist before them. For most 1970’s racers, motocross was rebellion-squared. It offered what was unobtainable to that era’s teenagers—a sense of motion, speed, gravity-defying lunges, and catapulting crashes. It belonged to a very select group of American youth. There were no old people in motocross in the formative days. There were no Vet classes, no old timers, no grizzled old hands, no adults. We were young, and we could make motocross whatever we wanted—because no one came before. And, no risk sport was as readily available to teenagers before 1968.

The strange thing is that a motocrosser from today wouldn’t be accepted into the motocross world of the late ’60s and early ’70s. He’d be rejected for his materialism, greed, professionalism, mechanical ineptitude and haughty ways.

For the first three decades of the sport (1968-1998), motocross racers had a love affair with their sport and its bikes. It was a world populated by gearheads, tinkerers, inventors and young rebels, who needed each other in a symbiotic way that doesn’t exist today. We bought second-hand bikes, rebuilt them with rudimentary tools and, if we couldn’t afford a part, we tried to build it ourselves. We had no choice. There wasn’t a giant infrastructure pumping out maintenance-free motorcycles—nay, make that maintenance-resistant motorcycles. Everybody who raced back in the 1970s worked on their own bikes because they had no choice—plus, the bikes could still be worked on.

Strangely, all these years later, the economic engine of the motocross business is still fueled by the undying devotion of these same men who are now past their middle-aged. Our sport does not depend on high-paid factory riders. It depends on 40-, 50- and 60-year-olds. Why is the graying of motocross so significant and, at the same time, dangerous? Because it is obvious that the motorcycles produced in the modern era don’t engender the emotional attachment of the earlier era. They are soulless. And without that essence of oneness, the digital, electronic and fleeting experiences of today will lack the lasting intensity of the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. That’s a shame.

 

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