historians agree that the last year of the vintage bike era - and its
greatest year - was 1974. Bikes built after 1974 are not considered
vintage. In fact, all Vintage Racing classes end at 1974 models.
Anything built after that year is considered Evolution machinery.
Why? Because the
long suspension travel revolution started in 1975. Actually, testing on
long travel started in the fall of 1974, and I was fortunate to have
been there during the development. At that time, we marveled over bikes
with 6 ½ inches of rear suspension travel, considering it
world-shaking! Little did we realize that more than twice that number
would become the norm over the years.
WHAT THIS GUIDE
Since 1974 was
considered the peak of the dirt bike boom and the end of the vintage
era, all bikes built then (and before) have a certain intrinsic value.
Historic value, if nothing else, in some cases.
Make no doubt,
many of the bikes built "back then" were real stinkers. Some
were absolute junk, pieced together from left-over parts from various
suppliers, given a fancy name, and sold to a market with more buyers
than available product.
In fact, the
overwhelming majority of the street-legal trail bikes of that period
were simply awful. Without exception, they had wretched suspension
systems and used out-of-date engines nestled in frames that were little
more than after-thoughts.
Of course, no bike
of this period was perfect. Far from it. In fact, even the famed
European motocross bikes came with less than stellar detailing and many
of them had marginal shocks. At that time, it was assumed that if you
bought a motocross bike, you would take the basic package and "fix
it up" properly for competition.
So don't just
blindly go off and buy a bike just because it was built before 1975.
Some bikes are certainly much more desirable than others, but getting
parts to complete a restoration can be very expensive and difficult at
HOW TO USE THIS
I've assigned a
rating system of 1 to 10 stars, or *.
One (*) means that the
bike is not desirable at all, unless you're some kind of hard-core
collector of a particular marque. Ten (**********)
means this is a top-of-the-line machine well worth the time and money.
Some of the bikes
had extremely limited production runs, and chances are you might never
have seen one, or even heard of it. This does not mean you should buy
one. The rarity means that getting parts to complete or repair your
project might be on the unobtainable list.
There are also
bikes that were inherently flawed to the point where their collecting
value as a rideable bike is questionable. One example comes to mind: The
405 American Eagle. This turkey was introduced as an American-built
bike, when in fact, it was hashed together in England from a bunch of
below-average aftermarket parts, stuffed into a decent frame. The
biggest problem was that the engine was a rip-off copy of a 400 Husky.
In fact, you could put an entire Husqvarna gearbox in the cases, but not
one individual gear. The distribution network was chaotic, parts
supplies were sheer lunacy and the quality control was the worst Britain
had to offer.
Should you buy an
American Eagle 405? Maybe, if you just gotta have one. But if you want
to buy one and go vintage racing, you're starting a lost cause and
heading downhill from there. That's why we didn't give a bunch of *****
to the big Eagle.
As you look at the
rating system, please understand that I know these bikes, and grew up
with them. I've taken all sorts of things into consideration, such as
cost, machine desirability, resale value, prestige factor, parts
availability and the ever-important fun factor of ownership. Then, and
only then, did I assign the rating system.
If you don't agree
with my rating system, you are certainly welcome to disagree. Not that
it will change my mind, but it might make you feel better. And if you
feel like you absolutely must have something like that American Eagle to
complete your life, then by all means, knock yourself out. Just don't
come whining to me when you can't find a part for that turkey.
Last notes: The
list of bikes does not include mini-bikes, mostly because I simply don't
care about them. If you do, well then, make your own list. Also, the
list is broken down via displacement and alphabetically within the