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Tougher than Leather - 80's MXers

In the 1980s the hardest Grand Prix racers in the world were the works motocross riders. Their 500cc open-class bikes were savage and virtually uncontrollable by normal people, while the riders themselves were a breed apart

Submitted by Racer59 on Thu, 06/05/2010 - 15:06

Tougher than Leather - 80's MXers

Certain sports are derived not only from man’s competitive spirit, but from a necessity to feel scared. Really scared. And in the early 1980s, there was no machine more terrifying than an open-class motocross bike. Trapped between a need for maximum speed on one side and brutally unsophisticated engine and suspension technology on the other, the bikes had two-stroke motors as vicious as napalm and frames unable to contain such explosive power.

The motocross tracks of the time like Manor Farm in the UK and Namur in Belgium were intimidating natural amphitheatres that sent racers hurtling past trees, rocks and each other at over 90mph, and for a full 50 minutes at a time. By the end of a race some of the riders, their hands blistered and bleeding from hanging on, were so exhausted they had to be helped off their bikes.

It was a time of change, as professional motocross emerged from the gentlemanly scrambles of the decade before. The last of the four-stroke thumpers were being phased out and a new generation of first aircooled, then watercooled 500cc two-strokes stood in their place. At any given Grand Prix, 40 enormous men lined up in the hope of winning the race. Factory riders still had an edge, but back then privateer riders had a chance of glory in a world where physical strength, bravery, an element of skill and a leaning towards madness counted for far more than a fancy piston kit.

The Japanese factories were using the sport as a test-bed for new technologies and competed fiercely to have the most power, the fastest bike or the latest development. And the crowds at an international event regularly exceeded 100,000. Suddenly motocross was turning very professional, very fast. And in doing so it had also become one of the most competitive sports on earth.

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