God bless The American motocross magazine Britain, a dim & dismal place at times, back in the day your average working class motocross racer spent their week toiling away in a factory or doing some other sort of mundane job. Their daily grind would occasionally be eased by the thought of what Sunday would bring, a day when you could break free & loose yourself among a sea of other like minded souls as you all tried to get around a ribbon of muddy track quicker than anyone else, it would usually be raining but it really was a case of living for the weekend. From around mid 1977 you could read the weekly news paper publication of “Trials & Motocross News” or TMX for short to help while away those unwanted days between each Sunday.
Luckily for most of us we made a life changing discovery & our dimly lit lives became brightly illuminated by the heavenly light of American dirt bike magazines, amen, hallelujah, praise the lord. We were exposed to a world of sunshine, colour & motocross variety, a place where they race bikes not only outside but inside stadiums as well. You found that Enduro & Trail riders had miles & miles of deserts, tracks & fire roads to play on. The fact that America didn’t seem to embraced the feet-up Trials riding game suggested that they were a nation with a serious need for speed ! It certainly was a far cry from the black & white British world that TMX wrote about each week.
For my money when it comes to specialist off road publications of the 70s & 80s the American magazines “MOTOCROSS ACTION” & “DIRTBIKE” are the clear winners here. Between them they took an under the microscope look at pretty much every serious production motocross & enduro bike produced as well as quite a lot of one off specials they even got up close & personal with exotic works machinery as well. For todays vintage racers & restorers if you need technical information about a particular machine or want to know how it stacked up against the competition then they are the best place to start, the period clothing & tuning accessory adverts make interesting reading as well. With out doubt they really do combine to create the definitive guide to the Twinshock & Evo period.
I remember as a kid wondering why the testers seemed to be totally obsessed with carb settings in particular “the jetting” only years later did I begin to understand the importance of such things, back then if a bike started & stopped it was deemed good to go. The mystery for a young Mr J didn’t stop there, the reader was informed about fork oil weights & how they increased or decreased the amount in each fork leg by say 10cc at a time until it was just right but only for one type of track apparently. Then it was on to the rear & setting the ride height or spring rates, what about swapping out the front & rear sprockets for bigger or smaller sizes, gas & oil pre mix ratios, or chuck away the brand new tyres the bike came with & fit different ones that “hooked up” better but only on a certain type of terrain.
The long term tests they carried out were even more outrageous from the point of view of a penniless working class lad who could only ever dream of one day being able to purchase a spanking new machine. Brand new exhaust pipes, end cans, complete rear shock units, handle bars, carburettors, air filters, tyres, chains, sprockets & god knows what else were all thrown away with gay abandonment & replaced with “Better Stuff“. Next stop was usually the barrel & cylinder head where the reader was exposed to the secret world of “Porting”, all the extra expense & modifications were carried out for the benefit of that often referred to character “The Serious Racer“. This some how had the effect of convincing myself & all my friends that absolutely every amateur Sunday rider in the US must be super serious & super quick, visions of their beginners class being filled with riders that were just as fast as our local clubman expert guys swept through our young minds.
Of course all this intensive testing didn’t stop at just bikes did it, O NO, boots, gloves, helmets, race pants, body armour, goggles & any other accessory aimed at the motocross market came in for the same close scrutiny & were often gathered together in groups to be put through one of those famous “shoot out” tests. Once you had taken their advice on what was the best bike to purchase, how to tune it & what clothing to wear, you could then settle down & read how best to ride your pride & joy. We were blinded by the science & technique of articles telling you “How To“ Hole Shot The Start, Brake, Clutch, Rail a Berm, Double Jump & Tackle Those Whoop-De-Doo`s. Other interesting things to read included articles such as “How to train properly & get race fit” or “How to get sponsorship” & who can forget articles such as “How to juggle racing & girls” i kid you not. Yes folks it was all there for the taking, just put your money down on the newsagents counter & go read.
One can only image the sleepless nights that the guys at companies such as Yamaha, Honda, Kawasaki, Suzuki, Maico, KTM, Husqvarna & all the others must have had, & probably still do, when they knew the guys at “DIRTBIKE” or “MOTOCROSS ACTION” had been let loose on their latest offerings, waiting for the shoot out reports to be published must have been a worrying time indeed. The power that these two magazines must have had over what was & probably still is the worlds biggest off-road market place must have been huge. It`s also fair to say that these two publications must have had a massive impact on all the other off road motorcycle magazines of the world & surly affected the way in which they were produced, although you got the feeling other magazines were allways playing catch up. As far as young Mr J was concerned the boys from the US blew the rest of the mags off the news agents shelves, to be fair I did buy the equivalent British publications & TMX but the two magazines from across the pond were my number one choice. Even their photographic style broke new & exciting ground, all those full page colour images of sparkly new bikes with riders dressed in the latest riding gear blasting out of huge berms & sending a shower of dirt & dust up into a clear blue sky certainly did brightened our dark & dismal British wintery days. So to all those guys & girls behind both “DIRTBIKE” & “MOTOCROSS ACTION” I solute you & thank you for the memories…..Mr J 2017
A NOTE FOR TODAYS COLLECTORS…… While I very much enjoyed reading & looking at these two publications back in the day & I still have some of my original purchases & I do buy in old copies from time to time, it must be said that a lot of the magazine pages were taken up by adverts & although interesting to some degree it`s a point worth remembering if you are tempted to purchase used period copies off the internet. By the time you take away adverts, the interviews with lower league riders who were never really know to us here in the UK & all the shoot out test reports on those 80cc school boy machines that for most hold little interest today, your magazine can start to look quite thin indeed. This is ok if you are only spending £2 or £3 per copy but a £20.00 purchase plus shipping from somewhere like the US or Australia because it`s an edition that contains a 4 page report on something like a KTM 495 can start to look pretty steep to say the least when you realise there isn`t much more to interest you inside, so have a close look at what else the mag contains before you click that “BUY NOW” button. One more point to mention is because the full page colour photos were so good quite a lot were pulled out & stuck up on the wall, so check that all said pages are in place before handing over your money, quite often the reverse side had half the test report printed on it !