Some of the most popular competition events for classic and vintage machines are MX, or as they were originally known, Scrambles. From the US to Europe to Australasia, events take place every weekend throughout the summer months.
When dirt bike riding and competition took off in the 70s, almost every manufacturer produced a machine, sometimes a full range of machines: 50s, 80s, 100s, 125s, 250s and open class. This level of support by the manufacturers makes finding a suitable machine today that much easier. However, for anyone not used to riding early MX bikes or entering into this type of competition for the first time, riding these bikes must be approached with caution.
Compared to modern MX machines, 70s era bikes had short suspension travel, flexible forks and swing arms, and peaky but powerful engines (generally 2-strokes).
As with all motorcycle riding, safety must be the first consideration. For example, the rider should use the latest safety riding gear (it may not look period correct, but racing often involves crashes and there is no substitute for well designed up-to-date riding gear).
Getting any motorcycle into a race ready state (race prep) will include ensuring all mechanical parts are in top working order. With a competition machine this preparation must include all safety aspects, and on a MX bike this will apply in particular to:
- Handlebar security and condition
- Lever security and condition
- All cables moving freely and in good condition
- Brakes adjusted and in top condition
- Fenders secured (no sharp edges)
- Tires in good condition and inflated correctly
Riding a competition bike requires the use of specialized clothing. Riding in period correct riding gear is an option (most of the clothes are still available) but should be avoided for safety reasons.
Open face helmets with ski goggles were the rigor for most of the early years in Scrambling and MX, but these helmets were offered no protection to the face or teeth. In the early 70s, manufacturers offered a chin guard and followed this soon after with a face guard. Development continued into the 80s when MX helmets were offered with a built-in chin protector and resembled the full face helmets used in road racing.
For the beginner to vintage and classic MX, a good quality modern helmet is highly recommended. The rider must try the helmet for size and feel (it must be comfortable) remembering that helmets get slightly looser after being worn a few times—this is particularly so with MX helmets because of the head movement when riding.
To protect the body from stones or other debris thrown up by a motorcycle you may be following, or in the event of a fall, manufacturers developed various pieces of body armor.
Early riders used a heavy duty pull over with a kidney belt, but this style was replaced in the late 70s and early 80s by chest protectors, shoulder pads (similar to those worn by American football players) and elbow protectors.
Today, body armor or protectors are available to protect most parts of the rider’s upper torso.
Pants or Trousers
In the early days, riders wore leather jeans to protect the legs and lower body. Again, during the late 70s and early 80s manufacturers developed a range of specialized riding pants (America) or trousers (UK) which were made from synthetic materials and incorporated knee, thigh and hip protectors.
MX boots come in many different materials (from leather to plastic). Early riding boots were typically ex military or firemen’s leather knee high boots. Modern boots offer greater protection at vulnerable areas such as the shin, ankle and toes and are a must have for any competition event.
With the bike in track ready condition and the rider wearing the proper riding gear, the first time rider should find a venue that offers him or her few riding challenges (a flat field for example). The machine should be accelerated through the gears and brought to a stop a number of times to familiarize the rider with the power band and the braking efficiency.
During these early runs the rider should note how his sitting position (rider weight distribution) affects the bike. For example, sitting as far back as possible will add weight over the rear wheel which will force the rear tire onto the ground for traction. However, placing the rider’s weight toward the rear will make the motorcycles front end light which typically promotes wheelies—something that may be desired to lift the front for large bumps or whoops.
Having ridden a few times in a sitting position (weight back then forward, for example), the rider should stand and repeat accelerating and stopping, again experimenting with moving his weight around.
Note: The rider may find the handlebar control levers are not well placed when he stands up; this often requires a compromise lever position depending on the track layout.