1985 Husqvarna CR500 2-Stroke. It took seven years but I finally got round to actually racing it ! How many times have you heard a grandparent say that it`s nice to look after the grand children for an hour or two on a Sunday but are really glad when their parents come & collect them. This is exactly the same situation regarding mid 1980s 2-stroke 500cc motocross machines, they are fine when you borrow one for a few playful practice laps but once your curiosity has been satisfied you are really glad to hand it back to the owner & return to your quite life on a 250 or 125 machine.
They came along during a period on the motocross time line when manufactures were striving to produce ever more powerful engines but gave little thought to how any normal rider could actually control one. The official reason we were all given at the time as to why manufactures started to develop water cooled motors was that they ran cooler thus the BHP didn’t tail off so much when engine components started to warm up like they did with less efficient air-cooled motors. This all seemed quite plausible & for the pro 40 minutes plus 2 laps GP racer it was a very good evolutionary step forward but all a bit wasted on your average 10 minutes plus a lap Steady Eddie clubman rider. You can picture the scene at Husqvarna can`t you, an angry company accountant rushing into the design office waving bits of paper about & saying “What the bloody hell is all this, have you seen how much money you lot have spent on radiators, bits of rubber hose & new water cooled barrels, what was wrong with the old motor you played with, the one with the sticky out fins on top ?” Two or three years later the same angry accountant was back in the same office but waving different bits of paper & shouting ” What the bloody hell is all this, have you lot looked at the sales figures, no body wants to buy a new sodding 500 2-stroke anymore, every one has realised you can`t control the bloody things, the second hand classifieds are full of nearly new & cheap Honda, Kawasaki & now Husqvarna 500cc 2-strokes ! You lot are a right load of knobs, I told Sebastian we should have spent the money on building more sewing machines !” O dear, one can only hope that the angry company accountant who knew lots of naughty words, got into his company Volvo & drove to the pub for a small mineral water & a calm down. NOTE, in an effort to be historically correct I think by the end of 1987 production had ended in Sweden & manufacturing had been moved to Italy as the company became part of Cagiva who I think is now part of MV Agusta so our accountant would possibly be shouting at people in Italian but for the sake of comic effect we will gloss over this, Mr J.
Unfortunately the imaginary company accountant above was quite right, the average clubman rider usually found his lap times got slower when racing a 500, the bikes were harder to start, could vibrate like mad plus chomped through chains, sprockets & back tyres at an alarming rate. The only saving grace was you could get away with doing two or possibly three seasons on the same piston, mainly due to the fact that you never dared open the throttle more than half way. Sadly the massive amount of money you were saving on pistons wasn’t enough to make you want to keep the bike for very long & just like every one else who had sampled the delights of 500cc 2-stroke ownership you sold it on to some other poor fool who thought it was going to be their key to motocross success, you then bought yourself a sane & sensible 250. We ended up with the whole motocross world loving to watch the blue ribbon 500cc GP events & reading about their favourite riders but very few people actually went in to a dealers showroom & bought a new 2-stroke 500cc machine. Only a mad man, total nut job or maybe a fool would want to own & race one today……
So I bought one ! Yes it`s about seven years ago now & even though I had sampled one back in the day & knew all the problems as mentioned before I still found myself traveling hundreds of miles one summer to hand over good money for a mid 80s 500cc 2-stroke, what a wally ! To be totally honest if a RM465, RM500, YZ490, CR480, CR500 or KX500 had come along in a similar condition & at the same sort of price I would have opted for one of those especially the RM or YZ as I prefer the simpler air-cooled motors when it comes to maintenance but as they say beggars can`t be choosers so the object of my long road trip was to go & collect a 1985 Husqvarna CR500. The bike seems to be quite a rare sight here in the UK, how many were actually made & how many were officially imported into this country when they were new I don`t know although now I have written this I will probably be bombarded with e-mails from people who own one or even two & no doubt somebody somewhere will tell me they have a brand new never been started example on display in their downstairs loo ! I was told at some point over the years that the motor is basically a 250 bottom half with a bigger 500 barrel, head & piston bolted on top, no doubt there is a bit more to it than that but you can imagine it`s basically correct, looking at the parts manual the whole machine appears to be peppered with bits it shares with the smaller motocross & enduro bikes from the same year. Those clever lads from Sweden seem to have a habit of getting the most out of things, as far as I understand those extremely light & incredibly powerful early Husaberg four-strokes used a 2-stroke type of bottom end mated to a four-stroke top. One recent source of amusement was a picture posted up on facebook of a very tidy looking 85 Husky CR500 with a caption that said when new they were the slimmest 500 on the market. That statement might well be true but I can`t help feeling that all the effort put in by the design engineers to create such a slim line machine is totally wasted when a big sack of potatoes like me jumps on board !
Over the years the bike has always brought on a touch of “Déjà Vu” when I tell people about it, the conversation pretty much always starts & goes like this….. “I have a 85 CR500 Husky, O yes I remember them a twinshocker with a dark red petrol tank. No they came earlier. O yes, yours must be the one with a white tank right ? Yes a white tank but not a twinshocker, 1985 was the first year the Husky CR500 went water-cooled & had a mono-shock rear end.” At this point in the conversation there is a pause & a look of very deep thought appears on the face of the person I am talking to, then I get this reply “O yes I remember them, had upside down front forks didn’t they. No, that version came out later in 87, my model has conventional front forks pretty much identical to the ones as used on the earlier twinshockers but the 85 has a front disk brake“. The conversation usually rumbles on for while longer but very few people seem to exactly remember the 1985 model. After all these years you would have thought I had learned to carry a photo of the bike in my wallet.
We all know what it`s like when you go shopping for an old dirtbike, you have to take what the seller is saying to you about it`s condition & maintenance record with not so much of a pinch of salt but more like a shovel full, so after a few weeks & a check over with the spanners to make sure nothing too serious would drop off, the bike was given a spin around a practice track. It generally started, sounded, went & stopped ok, the gear box & clutch seemed to work just fine & it looked like I had a sound base to work from. By this time winter was setting in but it didn’t really matter as the bike needed stripping down on the bench & going through properly, although my plan was to leave the motor alone for now & take a chance on what the seller had said about it to be true, recent new piston etc. Apart from an oil weep from one of the crank case bolts it did indeed seem to be running well. During winter it was just a case of checking, cleaning & tidying things up, popping on new service items like cables, chain, sprockets, air filter, fork seals, oil & tyres. There was no plan to mint the thing up in to a show stopper, all I was aiming for was a tidy, safe & reliable machine. I thought I would do a proper job & have the original Ohlins rear shock serviced as well as having a brand new Ohlins spring put on to suite my immense weight. Job Done ! or so I thought.
Six months later when summer was back in town I took my now very well fettled machine out for a blast around the practice track again. All was well, while I was there I bumped into a guy & his son who I knew from old, his lad raced a modern four-stroke & was pretty handy on it so I asked if he wanted a spin on the big 500, he had never ridden one before so was keen to have a go. I was being a bit crafty as I wanted to listen to & watch the bike in full flow, generally see how it handled the very bumpy track that we were all playing on. The lad raced round for a dozen laps or more & when he finally stopped we couldn’t get the big grin of his face, I think he liked it. The adrenalin rush of a full on 500cc 2-stroke motocross bike is something the younger generation appears to be missing out on & it`s a real shame. A few weeks later there was an event with an Evo class being held not too far away so after another couple of days of cleaning, checking & generally making sure every nut, bolt & spoke was tight off to the races we did go.
Fuelled up & kitted up I made my way through the paddock & over to the holding area ready to go out for practice. Sitting there with only a minute or two to go before being let out to play I thought “That`s funny, the back end suddenly seems all springy or loose, I wonder if the rear axel nut has become loose again & is letting the wheel wobble all over the place” so I hopped off & took a look. The real wheel was ok so I started to push & pull at the swing arm looking for serious play in the bearings & bushes but nothing so my attention moved to the rear shock & I instantly saw something was seriously wrong here. So before I had even put a wheel on the track I had no other choice but to head back to the van & break out the spanners. Sadly there is no spanner in the world that could have fixed the problem, the main shock rod on my freshly serviced & re sprung Ohlins, the one that had only been used for no more than an hour had snapped, right at the bottom where it goes into the lower mounting bracket.
A very unhappy bunny loaded up & headed home. A few days later I took the shock back to the company who serviced it, I couldn’t really blame them, on the outside the rod had looked shinny & new & I can`t see what else you can do when you service a unit but to look at it & see if it`s straight or if there is any visible damage, wear or rust etc. We just had to put it down to old age or metal fatigue, the shock was almost 25 years old after all & I doubt if it had seen much sympathy over the years. But I now had a problem, because of its age Ohlins no longer used or made the size of shock rod we needed to rebuild the unit but the man said leave it with me & I will see what we can do. A day or so later he rang me up & said good news, he had spoken to the Ohlins factory & they said that if they still had all the necessary info & dimensions on file they would machine a new one up from scratch & send it over to the UK, so happy days. A month later & another £120 poorer the shock was in one piece again & back with me but by now I was getting a bit cheesed off with the bike so the shock sat in the office store cupboard & the rest of the bike was sent to sit on the naughty step & there it stayed for two or more years. A contributing factor to this lack of interest in the machine was the suggestion that the shock may have failed due to other problems within the rear suspension linkage set-up. Was it worn, were all the suspension components the correct ones for the machine, was the actual shock the right one for the bike ? Old motocross bikes do have a habit of being patched up with anything that seems to fit, especially when they go through that grey period in there lives when they are considered no longer new enough to be competitive but not old enough to take on classic status & end up as rough old field bikes in the hands of penniless youths. During this period of inactivity the husky occasionally crossed my mind & I began to think well if every thing seems ok with no considerable amounts of play in any of the bearings or bushes & if all the various components seem to match up with the exploded parts diagram then all I could do was pop the shock back on the bike minus the spring & move the swing arm up & down by hand through the full arc of travel & see if anything is rubbing or looks like it`s going something strange. After much deliberation & experimenting everything seemed to check out but by this time my main attention had moved on to Twinshock racing so the bike remained unused & buried in storage across the other side of town.
Then out of the blue a club I was in said that they were organising a bit of a play day for members, so I though I know I will get that big bag of trouble CR500 out of hibernation & give it another go. Again the bike started, stopped & sounded ok plus this time the track I was playing on had a decent jump to have a run at, the test track I mentioned earlier was little more than a farmers field that was at one time used by various clubs to hold race meeting on but today looks more like the face of the moon due to people being allowed to just ride where they want to. After an hour I got crafty again & offered the bike to another club member so I could observe how it was behaving. The good news was the bike did not break down, fall apart or generally kill test pilot number 2. If the bike thought that this was the start of it seeing some real racing action then sadly it was mistaken, it was returned to its tome of doom & left for another few years but my confidence in the machine had started to return, it wasn’t a case of it being dangerous to ride or the shock collapsing during a race, no it was a case of me being too tight fisted to risk good money on entry fees & traveling costs only for the thing to go wrong again ! So I carried on twiddling & fiddling with the Twinshock.
It was September 2016 & the last round of the National Twinshock series was due to take place, a two day meeting at the fantastic Pontrilas track that would also host a round of the WME PRE85 Evo series. A plan was hatched to drive down on Saturday afternoon then camp over & race on Sunday, yes I was finally going to race the 500 at an organised event. We drove down in lovely sunshine, we set up camp & ate our evening meal in lovely sunshine, we went to bed, it rained a lot, we woke up Sunday morning to lovely sunshine, the meeting was cancelled due to track conditions, we packed up & drove home in you’ve guests it, lovely sunshine. It was a unanimous decision, we all agreed that the Husky 5OO was jinxed !
Fast forward to beginning of March 2017, I was boxing clever this year & decided to get stuck in early so with 5 or 6 weeks to go until round 1 at Polesworth the old race transporter was given the once over, its M.O.T test was due a week after the event so lets get it sorted now I thought. Pen & paper in hand I make a list, top side ok apart from needing one new wiper blade, crawl underneath, couple of small patches need welding up but nothing too serious, rubber bump stop gone missing again & O yes the exhaust needs replacing doesn’t it, I had welded on a straight through section last year when I noticed a part had suddenly disappeared, where & when It fell off I never knew but the M.O.T inspector wouldn’t like the rusty remains & my quickly welded on repair section. Then I remembered that for the last 2 or 3 years every time we loaded up, the back end was squatting down like a toddler on a potty so new rear springs & shocks needed to go on before the boys in blue spotted me & decided to have a chat. It took three full weekends & many hours in-between to get everything done. Parts that turned up a day late or not at all slowed proceedings right down then just as everything on the list had been ticked off I thought lets have a quick look at the front metal brake pipes while the wheels are off, it`s always a good idea to clean them up with a wire brush & pop a little grease on to help keep corrosion at bay. Not good news, the pipes still looked brand new until you got to the last 3 inches next to each brake caliper at that point they started to resemble rusty flaky pastry. Further inspection reviled that they had rusted solid to the rubber flexi hoses so not only were four metal brake pipes required but four new flexi hoses as well. Once received through the post fitting wouldn’t be a problem but I knew from past experience that bleeding the brake system on the old bus would be a right royal pain in the bum.
The old truck was finally finished with only a week to go before the event was due to take place, with one thing & another it had taken 3 weeks longer to sort out than first anticipated. This is exactly the type of situation that over the years has scuppered many an idea to go racing. Work, money, family commitments, events being too far away or local ones that don`t cater for your class of machine plus a racing season that is quite short if you only want to venture out during the summer months all combine & before you know it another season / year has gone by. (I can imagine there are quite a lot of people nodding in agreement after reading those last couple of sentences). I hadn`t clapped eyes on the bike for almost 6 months but seeing as the old Husky had been set up for Pontrilas last September but not actually used what could possibly have gone wrong with it while sat motionless in the lock-up. I should have known better, on the Wednesday before the event I went to check on the bike, I was greeted with a puddle of oil under each fork leg. This seemed very strange as both fork seals had been changed last September but on closer inspection the oil had leaked out past the alloy washer & bolt at the bottom of each fork leg, not the small oil drain bolts but the ones underneath that hold the inside damping spindle & pretty much the whole fork leg together. The set up has always seemed a bit weird to me, neither bolt has ever had a copper washer or something like an O-ring gasket to help keep the fluid in, I remember checking the exploded diagram book on several occasions to see if there should be but no, nothing listed. The leaks looked a bit too serious to just top the fluid back up so best take them off & get it sorted properly I thought. Problem number 2, on removing the front wheel the nut that’s welded to the end of the axel / spindle sheered off, when I finally got the rest of it out I noticed other cracks had started to form so it was deemed to be scrap & as far as Polesworth was considered, GAME OVER.
Knowing my luck a replacement front axel will probably need to be ordered in from the USA or Australia & that’s going to take a week or three I think BUT NO ! Two days later thanks to the boys at D & K Motorcycles I have a very clean & tidy looking second hand replacement in my oily fist, GAME BACK ON. But what about the oil leak ? I made up a couple of small copper washers for the bolts but what about the large alloy two stage stepped washers, they look like a squashed top hat from the side and are about 25mm across, were they the main reason for the leak ? Two things fell to hand, a sheet of proper Gasket paper & a set of Wad punches, if you have never seen any you basically hit them with a hammer & can cut out perfect circles in soft material. Using two different size punches I made thin gaskets that would sit on the outer edge of the big alloy washers. With a tiny smear of grease on each side of the paper washers to help seal the joint & a copper washer fitted to each retaining bolt the whole lot was put back together & tightened up. Thankfully this time the fork oil stayed inside each fork leg where it belonged, whether it will provide a permanent cure & still be holding tight in six months time we will have to see but for now it meant we could go and have a play at Polesworth.
So there I was, Easter Sunday April 16th 2017 round 1 of the National Twinshock Championship at Polesworth that also included round 2 of the WME PRE85 Evo series. I opted to join in with the WME Evo 500 2-stroke / Four-stroke class boys, the club was specially set up a few years back to cater for Evo bikes made before & including 1985. Again I found myself sitting in the holding pen waiting to go out for practice, this time the rear shock was behaving itself. I had stopped off to say hello to Paul Lippitt on the way down to the holding pen & it was a good thing I did, I mentioned to him that the rear shock still didn’t feel very good but after a few clicks on the compression & rebound adjusters Paul made it feel an awful lot better. While I sat there in the holding pen I couldn’t help noticing a strong smell of petrol, I looked down & saw a steady stream of fuel coming from one of the carburettor overfull pipes, ignore it I thought, it`s just the carb being a bit gummed up & the float sticking from not being used. I only hoped no one walked past with a fag on the go, visions of a re-enactment of the famous Husky / Desert rescue bonfire scene from the film ON ANY SUNDAY filled my mind. As I waited & tried not to think too much about the possibility of my trousers suddenly bursting into flames I soon saw that the previous group of riders were starting to leave the track, I knew in a few moments the rope would drop & we would be waved out onto the circuit for our practise session but just then the motor started to die, I opened the throttle, the revs picked up but quickly started to drop off again it sounded like the bike was running out of fuel. I desperately checked that the fuel tap was on & that the choke was off, there was no way that little stream of fuel had emptied all of the petrol out of the tank so what to do ? Should I got back to the pits & check things over ? A decision was quickly made, rev the nuts off it & get out on the track, hopefully it will clear itself by the time I hit the first turn & thankfully that’s exactly what happened. The problem of the erratic fuel supply was immediately replaced by the small matter of the bike not wanting to go round corners, it really did feel like the front wheel was pushing against an invisible force field every time you tried to move the bars. All I could think was if I survive practise & make it back to the pits in one piece the only thing I can do is see if the forks can be slid further up through the clamps to alter the steering angle, luckily it worked & the extra 5mm of adjustment transformed the handling no end. On the subject of the front end I messed up big time, after fixing the Leakey forks I had replaced the oil with new stuff but instead of putting in say a medium or heavy weight oil I filled them up with a very light weight grade by mistake. I didn’t realise what I had done until several days later, no wonder it felt like i was crashing head first into every bump on the track !
All in all it was a nice way to spend an Easter Sunday, the meeting was very well attended with a record figure of around 270 riders taking part so I hear. I managed not to fall off & tried my very best to keep out of the way of the fast lads as they lapped me although one did come past shouting something because I had held him up for 3 or 4 seconds, I don’t know what he said but I don`t think it would have been very complimentary, the WME PRE85 Evo motto of FUN, FUN, FUN must have momentarily escaped him. Hopefully I didn’t cost him the win but hey if us old slow coaches didn’t turn out to help fill the start line the race would look pretty boring with only five fast riders going round would it not. As for when the Husky CR500 will make it`s next appearance I don`t know it could be next month it could be next year, what damage it`s done to itself this time out I can`t say until I run a spanner over everything. Don`t mention starting it the compression & the way it kicks back is crazy, the way the thing vibrates & the noise when you do finally get it going is bonkers. It did take 7 years or so to actually get the thing to hang together long enough to finish a whole days racing at a proper organised event & onlookers must have thought I was a bit crackers when I celebrated crossing the line in almost last position but it did at times seem like the bike & everything else connected to trying to race it was jinxed but I am glad I finally made the effort.
O yes, I nearly forgot to tell you about my close encounter with the religious kind. I was busy checking the bike over just before my 3rd & last race of the day. Petrol, coolant level, chain & tyres. Minding my own business, crouching down next to the front wheel making sure I hadn’t picked up a puncture last time out, all of a sudden out of nowhere in a strong Irish accent I hear “Do you believe in God & will you except him into your life ?” Crikey I thought, him upstairs has sent someone down in person because last year I wrote how it`s impossible to escape BBC Radio God early on Sunday mornings no matter what county in the country you are in driving through on your way to a race meeting. I spin round, stand up & find a little old lady with grey hair has appeared from nowhere. She then repeats her well rehearsed question complete with plenty of dramatic tone & some very scary eyes. Isn’t life funny, one second all you hope for is 14psi in your front tyre the next you are being asked to make a life changing decision. After rubbing my chin & giving it a moment or twos thought I replied “Well motocross is a dangerous game, I wouldn’t say no to a bit of heavenly protection, bikes are a bit like horses, great fun until you fall off ” “O they ride them on the roads round here” she says “What motocross bikes ?” “No, horses” came the reply. The next question was “Well don`t you guys wear protection” “ O yes, full body armour under our race shirts” then with out warning she punches me in the chest to see if I am telling the truth “O yes, so you are“. Winded & dazed from this vicious ( could have been a fatal blow you know, she did have that armed & dangerous little old lady look about her ) & unprovoked attack I say “you better get along if you want to watch some racing, there are only about five races left to run” and with that she hurried away down the hill, no doubt looking for some other poor soul who she can save from a life of motocross sin. You may think this is all fiction but strangely it`s not. Mr J.