Part 1 — Dirt Bikes
Words and photos suppled by Larry Mundell
Growing up in a Victorian country town during the late 1960s and early 70s, several mates had their own mini-bikes. This was the latest “hot ticket” craze, and it was always fantastic to receive an invite for a ride after school or over the “Endless“ long summer holidays. Garry had a Yamaha GT60 and Greg’s brother had a Hodaka Ace 100 – which we would ‘pinch’ for a ride whenever we could. Other school friends who lived on farms or on the edge of town would meet, and ride to their favourite trails in the surrounding hills on weekends – a great time for adventure.
In the mid 70s there were three motorcycle dealerships flourishing in town, and on our way home from school we would visit these shops, and dream of owning DT Yamahas, KS Kawasaki’s and XL Hondas. Fuelled on a diet of ‘Trail & Track’ & ‘Australian Dirt Bike’ magazines, I decided this was the hobby for me and worked on a local hop (as in beer) growing farm over the summer to save the required funds. The long working days and very hot weather near killed me – but the desire was strong. Brand loyalty was fierce back in the day, with each friend professing that their dream bike was the best, and with the ‘ultimate accessories’ their ideal bike would be the fastest. For me that was a KS 125 Kawasaki.
After searching the Melbourne Trading Post and convincing my Dad to hitch up the trailer, we headed off for the 6 hour return trip to Frankston, Melbourne. The bike in question was an older 1971 Kawasaki F6 125, ‘only road ridden’, and after paying $230 I finally had my first set of wheels; helmet included. WOW!!!
Throughout 1975 my friend John (Yamaha AT 125) and I had many great adventures in the nearby State Forest Reserve. We memorized all the fire trails, venturing further afield with each ride. Dad would drop us off in the morning with a spare jerry-can of fuel and pick us up exhausted late afternoon. Safety gear was extensive – an open faced helmet, desert boots & leather gloves. Over that year we taught ourselves the basics of backyard mechanics, borrowed our fathers’ tools and annoyed the local shop mechanics with endless questions and favours.
My school boy dream bike was a new Spanish made Montesa 250 Enduro – big dreams, but no money unfortunately. John, being older than I obtained his motorcycle licence mid-year; all the rest of us being envious of his new found mobility and freedom. He even rode it to school on several occasions and parked in the teacher’s car park; much to their annoyance. He would tow me around town on my push bike – up to 60 kph while I hung onto his Yammie’s pack rack for dear life, only releasing when a local police car appeared around the next bend. Finally at 17yrs and 9mths to the day, I fronted to the Police Station and paid the $14?? for my first licence. I was worried the Officer wouldn’t pass me, as the well worn Kawasaki now had knobby tyres, no indicators or baffle in the exhaust. He watched from the Station’s front door as I started the bike & rode around the block – and that was my test completed and passed. He probably thought it was better for me to have some TAC insurance, than be un-licensed terrorising the back blocks without.
Next year it was off to Uni, but the love affair with trail bikes continued and whenever we returned home for the weekend it was into the bush on our bikes. Finally the 125s had been ridden into the ground and cried ‘enough’. We began leap frogging each other with bigger, more powerful and exotic bikes – each time one rider got the advantage it was time for the other to trade up (still all modestly priced second hand and well used. We were poor Uni students after all.) There was a Bultaco Lobito 175, a Suzuki TS 185, a Kawasaki F5 350 ‘Big Horn’, Yamaha DT 360, an Ossa Super Pioneer, a Maico GS 250 Enduro, and a SWM 125 Enduro, followed by a Bultaco Frontera 370 Mk10 – resplendent in red & silver.
To us the European models, especially Spanish makes were still seen as ‘Ferraris’ compared to the ever advancing Japanese brands. The Frontera was a great bike and by now we were reasonably adept at keeping these sometimes temperamental beasts running, and had performed ‘open-heart surgery’ with Swiss Army knives on more than one occasion. The Frontera was the first bike I owned which had enough torque and compliant suspension to pull me up ‘Eternity’ – the local monster hill climb track (carved by a bulldozer descending a 2 km ridge, forming a one way fire escape track strewn with granite boulders and the skeletons of dead bikes. Even the feral goats would fall off this track; it was ‘sooo steep’.) What a sense of achievement to finally conquer that ”Everest” after several years of failure. Once at the Uni bus stop, I saw a brand new Bultaco Frontera 250 Mk11 – sky blue, for sale outside a local business. That bike seemed like the pinnacle of technology at the time. It had the lot – 260mm ‘long travel’ gas suspension, a blue painted frame, 6 speed gears, tool box on the tank, up pipe, centre stand as well as a side stand, plastic guards & full ADR road registration. One day I would have me one of those gems. Little did I know that it would be the last decent bike Bultaco would build before they went bust. Saturday mornings would sometimes include a quick trip to the ‘Bell Street Bike Shops’, with even more dreaming and a quick chat with local gurus Ken & Rex from ‘K & W’ or Keith Stacker at ‘Maico Heaven’ – sometimes an even more distant home-age to the Holy Grails of John Burrows or Bert Flood Motorcycles.
Finally full time employment beckoned, and the bikes became newer and more advanced. A Suzuki RM 400T (what a fantastic bike – great power and handled like a dream until the rear shocks spewed out their vital fluids) and a Kawasaki KDX 175. Then came road bikes – friends’ bikes included a Suzuki GT 380, Ducati GT860, BMW RS90, 750 ‘Bottle’, Honda 750 ‘four’ and of course a Z 900, and a memorable rocket ship – a Honda CBX 1000 with six cylinders no less. Eventually I bought a shiny new fuel injected Kawasaki GPZ 1100 B1…….but that’s another adventure.
The next chapter included buying houses, making babies, junior sport teams and so on. So motorcycles got pushed to the back of the garage …..for a while anyway. Once the two sons began to walk, it was time to look for a mini bike again, and re-live my youth; especially when we bought a 60 acre hobby farm in the same old forest (now a National Park) where the whole adventure started. A Honda QR 50 did nicely, follow by Yamaha PW 80. I even bought myself an old Yamaha TY 250 trials bike so I could play along, then a KX 60 and a KX 80 ‘Big Wheel’; a great all-round dirt bike enjoyed by the whole family. By now the teenage boys had become ‘feral on the farm’ and more serious adventures required a Kawasaki KX 125 and several Suzuki RMX 250 weapons where needed for me to keep pace with the boys. That was a great era, once a month we loaded the trailer with bikes and headed to our own property complete with cabin, old farm truck, MX track, private swimming hole, orchard, kangaroos….. & snakes!!! ‘Honey’ our Fox Terrier was in heaven.
Then a work place injury to my arm slowed down my riding pace somewhat, and I decided to find a garage based project to feed my motorcycle desires. After several phone calls, a bike arrived from NSW in a ’million bits’. After a year of hard slog and many $$$$$$, I finally bolted it all back together – there stood a gleaming, better than factory new ‘sky blue’ Bultaco Frontera 370 Mk11. WOW!!!!!!!! I finally had the bike of my dreams. Off to the hobby farm and National Park for that ultimate test ride. Sons with cameras in hand and commentary to match, away I went at full throttle; after having to stand on a milk crate to start the awkward left kick-start beast. Around the farm, past the dam, out the front gate and into the hills I loved from my youth. The faster I revved, the more the years fell away. Up the hills the Bultaco pulled eagerly, even the gears changed smoothly, unlike the past. The suspension was plush and the exhaust note roared. My favourite creek crossing fast approached. Whoever pulled the best wheelie and sprayed the others with water would be victorious…at el “On Any Sunday”. A hand full of revs and down a gear, up came the front wheel and over the water the Frontera sailed. I was 17 and back in 1975 again….but only for a second. As the front came down, I went cart wheeling over the bars and ended up in a cloud of dust on the opposite bank of the creek. My old body certainly felt 50+ all of a sudden, and my $7000 Bultaco was now covered in bruises. My life dream trophy bike…..No.No..No!!!! The shame of it all, and recorded on video by my sons to forever haunt me.
What to do now???? The solution was the same as it had always been….spend even more time and money to repair the wounded Frontera back to Trophy status….. & buy a Montesa 250 Enduro to go riding on.
The ‘Score’ so far – 60 not out & still riding.
The ‘Moral of the story’ – bikes are still fun, no matter your age: but keep that Trophy Bike inside your house & ‘keep on dreamin’.
“Bultaco – Built to Go”..”Viva Montesa”..”Kawasaki – Let the Good Times Roll”..”Suzuki- Way of Life”..”Maico : Breako!!!!”.. What???