Check it out, 1987 style!
Check it out, 1987 style!
Ah 1987, what a glorious year. This was the year I graduated high school and I must have read every one of these issues thirty times (and I mean that literally) during study hall that year. For me, this was the heyday of MXA. They really hit their stride in the early eighties and kept the hammer down until the late nineties, when bar graphs and cranky editorials started replacing the witty and biting prose that had been the hallmark of their writing. During the eighties, MXA was THE motocross bible for thousands of riders like myself, who waited every month with baited breath for the mailman to bring us that glorious package. Sure, you could read Dirt Rider, or Dirt Bike (I did), and Super Motocross Magazine (a MX focused offshoot of Dirt Rider) was pretty rad, but if you were hardcore (and what 17-year-old boy isn’t) there was no substitute for Motocross Action. It was like crack to a teenage motohead, and I had to have my monthly MXA fix. Here is a look back at the awesome year of 1987, through the eyes of an only slightly less bitter Jody Weisel.
January kicks off with a really classic issue. On the cover, you have one of the all-time iconic images in motocross: Bailey, Johnson and the O’Show playing games with the Euros at the 1986 Motocross des Nations. This was from a practice track before they went over, but I have no doubt, if they had allowed all three of our boys to race at the same time this year, the finish would have looked just like this.
This was an amazing race, full of all kinds of drama. O’Mara was coming off a very solid year (in spite of a nasty knee injury) where he finished just behind his Honda teammates all season. Then just prior to the event, he found out Honda was letting him go after two titles and half a decade on the Big Red Machine. To say this did not sit well with the O’Show would be a massive understatement. The MXdN would be his last ride on a Honda and he was determined to go out with a bang.
Now, I’m sure anyone reading this is familiar with the story of the incredible ’86 MXdN, so I won’t go into a blow by blow, but needless to say if you have not seen it, you need to. It was an incredible race, with all three USA riders putting on an absolute clinic. O’Mara, in particular, rode the ride of his life on his CR125R and ran down the reigning 500 World champ on an incredibly hilly circuit to finish second behind Bailey. It was an incredible race and MXA nails it with an excellent article.
Besides the incredible drama in Maggiora, Italy, this issue includes several cool bike tests. Interestingly, the only bike of the three tested that is any good, is relegated to a tiny photo in the upper left corner. The Honda CR125R this year was head and shoulders better than the other 125’s and while MXA’s lead might be a bit of hyperbole,(“So fast it will blow away 250’s!!”) there is no doubt it was a fantastic machine.
The ’87 CR was a bit of a gamble for Honda, as the ’86 CR125R had been by far the best bike in class. The new bike was a complete overhaul with an all-new motor. In the body of the test, MXA gushes about everything on the bike. In regards to whether you should upgrade from your ’86, MXA states, “The 1987 Honda CR125R doesn’t just demand it-it simply knocks down your door, grabs you by the lapels, drags you out to a track and makes obsolete every 125 that came before. Should you but one? Heck, buy two. They’re that good”. In other words, I think they liked it.
The other two tests are not as rousing in their praise. The ’87 KX125 was a big step up from the troublesome ’86 model, but crummy suspension and so-so power hold it back from contention (I actually owned a ’87 CR125 and ’87 KX125 and trust me, the CR was way better. Plus, the plastic snapped off the KX every time you sneezed on it). They say it can be a contender, but you will need to do something about its crappy suspension.
The YZ80, likewise, gets a modestly positive review. The bike was all-new for ’86, and the ’87 is largely unchanged. The new bike is an improvement over the anemically slow ’86 model, but no world-beater. Like the KX125, better suspension is needed to make it a threat
Finally, we get some training tips from the stars, which include surfing (hard to see how this will benefit the 95% of the population who do not live in SoCal or Hawaii), Mountain biking (this will never catch on) and Hacky Sack (remember that?). Overall, this is a solid issue to start the year.
November brings with it a first look at the ’88 models, and man, are there big changes. Unlike today, where budgetary constraints mean the manufacturers have to squeeze more time out of each new design, in the eighties it was not uncommon to have complete redesigns every other year (and sometimes even every year, in cases like the ’84 CR500R). This meant that every one of the ’88 250’s were radically updated and in some cases, clean sheet redesigns.
While none of them are tested, history has taught us that Honda pulls a massive boner in ’88 and gives away its 250-class title to a much-improved competition. The new CR is radical in design, featuring a works-like “low boy” layout and Supercross inspired suspension, but the previously loved HPP motor is too mellow and suspension settings are all wrong. For ’88, the Kawasaki goes from the slimmest layout, to the porkiest, but it does finally get a cartridge fork and a rocket-fast motor. The Suzuki still looks like a ’82 model, but is hugely improved with a much more powerful motor and the best suspension in the class. The new YZ250 is the star of the field in ’88 and combines sexy YZM inspired looks, very good suspension (Finally a decent set of forks, Hallelujah!) great handling and a fast and punchy motor to win the class.
In race coverage, we get a look at the New Jersey State Championship from Englishtown (paging Jason Weigandt), as well as a breakdown of the 250 USGP from Hollister in CA (RJ Smokes them again). There is also coverage of the Dutch 500 GP (Jobe looks to have the title wrapped up) and Axton 125/500 National (RJ and Kehoe lay down the lay in Bailey’s back yard).
On page 40, we get our first test of a ’88 machine, the Honda CR125R. The new blood red CR appears little changed beside color, but runs very differently than the bike that was “so fast it will blow away 250’s!!” Like the CR250R, the new 125 has given up its hard-hitting ways and converted to a mellow and lethargic brand of horsepower. The bike is still fast, but feels slow and the Wrecking Crew wants their old powerband back. Thankfully, Honda does not screw up the suspension like they did on the 250, and the tiddler still craves the bumps. In the end, the CR is still a good bike, but it is a step back from the World beating ’87.
The other ’88 model tested is the Yamaha YZ80. The little Y-Zed is exactly the same bike it was in ’87 (and will remain so until ’93, when it will finally be put out to pasture) and remains firmly aimed at smaller and less advanced riders. The motor is easy to ride, but the suspension is undersized and too soft for faster or bigger riders. It makes a great novice mount, but little else.
On page 78, we get an interview with up-and-coming star Mike Fisher. In the interview, Bad Fish expresses his desire to someday holeshot the San Diego Supercross and then solidify his name by cartwheeling thirty feet over a bowl berm while dominating the race. He also unveils a secret plan to undermine Team Kawasaki by pitting long time sponsor Pro Circuit against upstart FMF in some kind of ridiculous power struggle. It all seems a little Dr. Evil to me, but hey, a kid can dream, right?
In just the sort of interesting piece that has made Jody lots of friends over the years, MXA rates the “Star Power” of the riders on page 96. Predictably, outgoing (and successful) riders like RJ and Micky Dymond top the list. The real surprise is MXA’s rating of guys like Jeff Stanton-high star power (in spite of having the personality of a Michigan tree-stand) and Jeff Ward- medium star power (WTF? The guy is the reigning SX Champ for God’s sake!). Guys with their star on the decline include Bob Hannah (ok, the dude is 90% retired at this point) and Johnny O’Mara (I blame Suzuki and their stupid platypus-mobile for this).
This issue wraps up with a recap of Ponca City. Emig and Antunez steal the 80cc glory, while LaRocco, Dubach and Matiasevich take home big bike trophies. The biggest disappointment of the event is for Doug Dubach, who is disqualified from the victory in the 250cc Stock class (handing the win to Chicken). Dubach’s Race Tech YZ250 is deemed illegal after a rider complains about the special Race Tech shift linkage the Doctor is using to get his recalcitrant YZ to shift (I had one of these on my ’88 YZ and oh boy did it make a HUGE difference). The other bummer is Bradshaw, who was expected to dominate, but has to pull out with a damaged wrist (oh well, its not like this kid is going to go anywhere anyway).
Thus ends my wrap up of 1987 through the eyes of MXA. It was the best of times (for Honda), it was the worst of times (for KTM), but most of all, it was a great time to be a motocross enthusiast. Catch you next time, as we once again go into the way back machine to look at another great year in motocross.