by Shawn Downey
High above the crowd, we sit in anticipation among the lingering clouds of noxious fumes known to every EPA zealot as CO2. Our cognitive powers begin to distort from the lack of oxygen as the two-stroke engines belch additional exhaust gases into the air from the pit below.
The gate drops as the Supercross stars, and duds, roost dirt–heading towards the deathtrap known as the first corner. Survivors of the perilous crashes are launched hundreds of feet into the air along with incongruous dirt mounds. Okay, maybe it was not hundreds of feet but hey, like I said, our brains were oxygen starved and I think the nacho cheese was laced with peyote.
Twisting and turning in the Metrodome’s regulation blue torture device known to very small midgets as chairs, I suddenly find myself face to face with a stumbling drunkard who appears to be doing pushups on the steps next to my seat.
“Hi there,” he slurs through the stench of cheap beer.
“Hi,” I reply while offering him a breath mint as prescribed under the Good Samaritan Law.
“I, I, I used to jumps bikes too.”
“That’s nice. Do you actually have a seat here or are you planning on using your pants to soak up all the discarded beer on the steps?”
“I used to hafta jump my Norton over cars, I mean trucks, I mean the whole damn Metrodome because they didn’t have no motocross bikes in 1970. How come I didn’t git no money like these guys?”
“Well, for starters, you probably sucked. And of course you do lack the prerequisite earrings in each orifice, multi-colored hair, baggy pants, fresh ink, and lots of 1-800-Collect stickers.”
“Are you being a smart-ass?”
“Oh come on now, don’t kid yourself. You suck. And Norton did make motocross bikes in the 1970’s. They labeled them under the fabled AJS marquee.”
“My names not Marky.”
“Of course not. The motorcycle was called the AJS Y4. Get it? The Y4.”
“No, I don’t gets it whaddya mean?”
“Spell it out tough guy. The Y4, as in w-h-y-f-o-r. You know, kind of a play on words. A factory joke.”
“Are you making fun of me?”
“Absolutely, but hey, I think I see your wife over there across the dome. There she is, see her with the beer helmet and multiple drinking straws?”
“I gotta go.”
Back in the bad old days, when lung cancer was only 25 cents, Norton-Villers was hell bent on introducing a spine shattering two-stroke 250 cc motocrosser. The engineers realized the need to spin as many rpms as possible so contrary to standard British practice, they incorporated a square bore/stroke, versus the typical small bore/long stroke, using an odd-for-the-period piston support system which relied on a bronze bushing versus the standard needle bearings. This combination was to prove much more reliable at high rpms.
Traversing log jumps and dirt mounds had a tendency to jar the ignition timing so the engineers incorporated the points and condenser onto the outside of the magneto flywheel cover. This architecture alleviated the rider from having to peer into a small flywheel slot to check the points gap. Nothing like racing around for a few laps and stopping for a Gatorade and points check. Oh yeah.
Magazine testers often marveled at the all metal clutch plates. It seems that if the rider disengaged the clutch for any length of time, i.e. ten seconds, the plates would heat and swell. This in turn would create havoc when searching for neutral or the next gear. A minor inconvenience at best considering that while using the clutch in the manner it was intended–to shift between gears–the rider should not encounter any “major dilemmas” to quote a tester.
The truly amazing component was the frame. Guess which frame they used from their box of spares? It was the Commando. Yes, the designers in their infinite wisdom grabbed a 1970 Norton Commando and bolted a wigged out screaming 250 cc two-stroke motor into a the frame and called it a motocrosser. In order to test the concept, they gave the bike to the road racing team and campaigned it in several club racing events before turning it loose on the American public.
Suspension modifications were made to the road racing prototype and proved to be quite successful. Testers claimed that it was the first motocrosser that did not exhibit the trademarked clunk when the forks rebounded. The rear suspension was found to be quite pliable even with the minor annoyance of the fender rubbing on the tire after landing from a mid-air excursion. Many testers complained of above average tire wear, I wonder why?
Several riders also noted a rather precarious characteristic of the AJS–the gas cap had a tendency to pop off and allow copious amounts of fuel to splash on the rider’s crotch and thighs. Shiskabob anyone? No wonder the majority of riders gave seat of the pants impressions of the AJS 250.
Between motos I caught glimpses of the stumbling pork sausage encased in a leather snowmobile jacket with a hot pink stripe emblazoned across the back as he teeter-tottered down the steps towards a fictitious beer guzzling female version of himself. All I could think was, No wonder they make motocross racers wear helmets.