Zen and the Art of Classic Motocross

I’m just in the process of re-reading Robert Pirsig’s 1973 Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance for the umpteenth time. I first read it as part of a class given by Red Des (cant remember his full name) as a Science Technology and Society module at the Polytechnic of Wales in 1987. It’s the most publish philosophy book ever, mainly because it’s interesting, readable and makes some very relevant comments of the impact of technology on society. Some people comment that it’s content now seems dated; personally I feel its especially relevant as internet technology dominates all our lives.

What makes the book interesting for some in that it uses a road trip taken in 1968 from Minnesota to San Francisco in 17 days as it’s backdrop. Pirsig and his son, Chris, initially accompanied by friends John and Sylvia encounter good roads, bad roads, good weather and bad weather as they journey across the plains, Dakota’s and the Rockies.

Of particular interest is that neither pair were Harley mounted. Pirsig’s criticism of friends John’s approach to maintaining his BMW (he doesn’t and relies on the reputation of reliability) is very much in contrast to his regular servicing and understanding of his own bike, a Honda.

Whilst the main theme of the book explore the subject of quality and Pirsig’s own exploration of the subject that resulted in him receiving electric shock therapy in the early sixties, there is a sub-theme that touches on some recent discussions I’ve had those classic motocross events I’ve been to.

There should be sound logic and a good hypothesis for all questions and their solutions. There is always of course more than one hypothesis and this is what got Pirsig thinking.

What got me thinking was the British Classic Motocross Championship (okay this is a bit of leap, but hey anything is possible). I’ve a Zen approach to racing; it’s not about winning, its about participating, loving the bikes, working on them and participating in the society that surrounds it. The comments below shouldn’t be taken personally; criticism is the analysis of something, not having a go at something or someone.

This year, one of the British Championship classes changed from pre-1972 to pre-1974. What didn’t change was that it’s invite only and that if you want to ride a Japanese bike, you are not going to get an invite. Not that I’m going to win anything, but also I’m not going to do any harm and I know there are good riders who could win an event on a Japanese bike (all names withheld to protect the guilty). I guess I’m surprised by the Ecclestone-iansec approach to a national championship, having for a number of years particilated in the National Sammy Miller Trials Championship without ever troubling the podium, but enjoying the event, the people and the scene that saw me tackle great sections between Devon and Cumbria. You could ride any brand of bike, as long as it either met the age criteria or had twin shocks on the back. Trials was always the place to find the oldball, 118cc Alta Suzuki [[ Made in Wales, Neath I think, around 1970 during the ultralight era of trials that killed the HT5 and other British bikes.]]anyone ?

There’s plenty of discussion on online about the health of the sport and entries ( for example, this thead ). Japanese bikes are cheaper than British and in the main are cheaper than European two-strokes, so make them affordable to riders, both to purchase and run. They can be competitive in the right hands and a £400 bike can be a winner. Is that the problem ?

I know that there are other exclusions on Japanese bikes (and carburetors) at some clubs, and I’m glad that even people in Essex appreciate 1974 Japanese bikes (taking one over next week).

However, please don’t see these comments as personal criticisms. This is one view, may not be correct. I guess I’m arguing for the Darwinian evolution in classic motocross now, replicating what took place in the early 70’s.

I wrote an article for the Vintage Japanese Motorcycle Club’s journal, Tansha, last year. I took some photos and made some notes at Clyro. Whilst everyone knows that Japanese bikes had a big impact post 1975, it was surprising to see so many Japanese pre74 bikes including Elsinores, KX’s and TM Suzuki’s. Though my MX was the only Yamaha on the line a couple of seasons back, I’ve seen a lot more recently and not just MX’s, but some competitive DT1’s [[Theorectically you could race a pre68 Yamaha, maybe a project for the future]], RT2’s and DT2MX’s (the former available in the UK) as well as a couple of early (and quick) YZ125 and 250 A’s. It’s a healthy scene and maybe I’ll run my own pre74 Japanese-only series. Ah bollocks, I’ve just contradicted my own argument. Robert Pirsig wouldn’t approve.

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