Seeing the photo of the '73 DT250 brought to mind something Peter Egan wrote maybe ten years ago. Fortunately, I had it tucked away in a handy .txt file:
Modern Dirt Bikes Are Ugly
BY PETER EGAN
Something was missing. I couldn't think what, exactly, but during those first few hours of circulating through the Chicago Bike Show last winter I realized I was looking, almost subliminally, for something that wasn't there.
Finally, as I gnawed on my $3 hot dog at lunchtime, it dawned on me that there is an entire category of bike virtually absent from our 1996 marketplace. It's a genre that once covered the Earth with heavy, ground-shaking footfalls, now extinct as diplodocus or the Sonny & Cher Fan Club. I speak, of course, of the tasteful, well-finished dirtbike for adults.
So happens I am looking for a dirtbike again. There's not much good recreational off-road riding in southern Wisconsin where I live, but the northern part of the state has good fireroads and snowmobile trails, and it is those I am thinking of exploring.
First, however, I need a bike. I sold my old XL500 when I left California and have not had one since. So I'm looking again, and a full day of gazing and brochure-collecting at the Chicago show left me somewhat nonplused and bemused.
Which is to say, I saw a lot of great bikes, functionally speaking, but almost none that set me on fire for their good looks or enduring garage appeal.
What seems to be missing is a dirtbike (or dual-purpose bike) whose aesthetics, materials and craftsmanship are aimed at the adult--not to say crusty and nearly senile--population.
So what, exactly, is a dirtbike for adults?
First, let me tell you what it is not.
It is not a machine whose tank or sidepanels contain the sort of splashy, graffiti-inspired script and graphics that have now become such a tiresome cliche in the rapid-fire imagery MTV hurls at the backsides of our eyeballs. If my bike must say "250" or "650" on the side, I would just as soon it did not appear to have been painted by a gang member with a runny paintbrush.
Wild graphics were fun for about 15 minutes, maybe 10 years ago, when everybody was bored by the constraints of symmetry. Now they are as interesting and fresh as another Michael Jackson interview, or the phrase "You don't have to be a rocket scientist..." Next phase, please. I am ready.
A dirtbike for adults probably should have an aluminum tank.
Old bastards my age remember when Husqvarnas, Bultacos, Montesas, Honda Elsinores, BSA 441s and Yamaha 500 Enduros had beautiful polished aluminum tanks that were works of art. If you didn't need them on your motorcycle, you would have put them on your bookshelf.
Yes, I know, they dented easily, but at least the dents had character. How can you love a gas tank that looks and feels exactly like the orange plastic bleach bottle you just threw into the recycling bin?
A dirtbike for adults should probably have more suspension travel than my Triumph T100-C, but not so much that a 6-foot-1-er like myself has to climb on a box to mount the thing. Or crashes if he puts his foot down in a shallow depression while coming to a stop.
Most dirtbikes now are absurdly tall for anyone who is not in direct racing competition with other dirtbikes that are absurdly tall. We are not racing here, nor doing double stadium jumps; we are exploring trails and trying to have fun. Bring it back down to earth just a bit.
Next, I think a dirtbike for adults should not have purple plastic fork gaiters, or green and yellow fenders from the monster-bile or brushed-banana-slug palette. In fact, it probably shouldn't have any parts painted in colors normally found in the vinyl upholstery of fast-food restaurants that serve perfectly square blocks of hash browns.
Essentially, the less a bike's colors remind me of an Easter Egg Hunt, the better.
A dirtbike for adults should have a frame that is an object of pride and admiration. The welds should not appear to have been done by a machine that almost missed.
Ideally, the frame would be nickel-plated, with welds that show good penetration, even puddling, a steady hand and a level of craftsmanship at least equal to the remarkably good welds the Midas guys recently did on my car muffler.
Also, a dirtbike for adults probably shouldn't have fake plastic scoops intended to make you think the bike has a radiator, nor should it have a radiator at all. Air cooling is fine; the simpler the better. Whenever I've had to fix a bike in the middle of nowhere (Baja, for instance), I've reflected upon the words of aircraft designer C.G. Taylor, who once said, "Any part you leave out can't break."
Except for a kickstart lever, of course. If you leave this off, the battery fails; it's a basic law of physics. Electric starters are okay, especially on dual-purpose models, but that lever is worth much peace of mind.
There, that's off my chest.
I won't find a motorcycle like this, of course, unless I build one from parts or restore some vintage enduro bike, so I will probably compromise and end up with a newer bike with as many good points as possible. To give them their due, new dirtbikes function so well it's hard to go backward in time.
One of the virtues of almost any off-road motorcycle (however ugly) is its natural resistance to useless styling flourishes and superfluous weight. It has to work well first and look good later. In that respect, it's almost the opposite of the modern cruiser.
Still, I wish someone made a dirtbike that looked like a Keeper, rather than a transitory piece of technology. Twenty years ago there were dozens, and I miss the type. Each year we seem to have more bikes that are all style, or none.
"A dirtbike for adults probably should have an aluminum tank." I love that line!