Five Rules for Starting VMX
by Terry Frazier #71E
One of the (few) drawbacks to becoming an expert is the tendency to forget what it’s like to be a beginner. You don’t completely forget, and you don’t feel like you’ve forgotten, but after a few years it’s just impossible to recall how the blatantly obvious can be totally invisible to a newbie.
I know this because I am an expert at some things – but vintage motocross isn’t one of them. In the vintage game I am a newbie (or noob) even though I’ve been wobbling through the startup stage for more than two years. And I have been reminded more than a few times just how hard it can be to get going after 20+ years of having nothing to do with motors, motorcycles, racing, or anything mechanical. Shoot, I didn’t even change the oil in my own cars. So what follows are the five rules I’ve found most helpful in getting started and having fun in VMX.
Rule 1: Find a friend
This rule is first for a reason. More than any other single thing you do, finding a friend who has experience in the hobby will spare you countless hours of breaking things, spending too much, going down the wrong path, and general backtracking.
An experienced friend will guide you through uncharted territory, answer your panicked late night phone calls when you’ve stripped that exhaust stud or spark plug hole, and help you stay away from lousy deals on eBay. It’s even a good idea to start out with the same make/model of bikes that your friend rides. This often gives you an instant source of in-depth mechanical knowledge, spare/extra parts, and helpful advice specific to your bike. It also gives you someone to share a few brews at the races when you’re first getting started and don’t know anyone.
I’m luckier than most in that one of my childhood friends has been in VMX since the early ‘90s and has saved every single motorcycle-related thing he ever owned. I have been the benefactor of his pack-rat mentality, and it’s the greatest advantage any newbie can have.
Rule 2: Find a racing organization
Vintage racing isn’t like racing when you were young, when the Vince Lombardi slogan – “Winning isn’t everything. It’s the only thing.” – drove every action. Vintage is much more laid back, and is much more about riding and having a good time. Sure, the experts still cut some pretty fast laps, and everyone enjoys a good race. But the kind of cutthroat, do-or-die attitude of youth has pretty much disappeared.
But what if you really don’t want to race at all, you just want to ride? Unfortunately, racing meets are about the only way to get together with other vintage enthusiasts. Taking your vintage bike out on the trails alone – competing with modern bikes, ATVs, and 4x4s – is just no fun. The good news is that most vintage meets have a variety of events, allowing almost anyone to get some seat time in an enjoyable, stress-free way.
You’ll want to find a compatible group, either the national group AHRMA or a state or regional vintage club. Depending on where you live, you may have a lot of choice or very little. The Pacific Northwest, west coast, Midwest, Atlantic seaboard, Florida, Texas, and Arizona all have very active vintage scenes with lots of choice. The rest of us have more limited options. But either way, getting involved with your local scene is critical to having a good time and getting the most out of your hobby.
Rule 3: Learn the rules
After you’ve selected a racing club spend some time studying the rules. There are two reasons for this. First, showing up at your first meet to discover your bike isn’t eligible, or must run against a more modern class, really stinks. Second, arguing with the tech crew that just told you your bike isn’t eligible, or must run in a different class, makes you a jerk. Neither is a good way to start your vintage career.
Club rules vary widely, and inspire strong feelings, so you can’t assume what’s legal in one will be legal in another. You need to know what is and isn’t ok. Read the rules. Ask questions before race day. And then make sure your bike complies. Don’t show up on race day with an illegal bike and get your knickers in a twist when you don’t pass tech. The saying “Rules are made to be broken” doesn’t fit in vintage competition. If you violate the rules then you’re violating the spirit of the sport, and that’s half the fun.
If you just don’t like the rules then find another organization. As I said earlier, rules vary widely and there are lots of clubs. There’s probably one that fits your needs. Or you can always start your own.
Rule 4: Find a support group
Not all of us are lucky enough to have a good friend who can serve as our mentor. That’s where the Internet and newsgroups come in. There’s a limitless supply of online chatter, advice, how-to, technical info, camaraderie, argument, support, and bickering. Like racing clubs, online groups all have their own rules, structure, and personality.
This is the second most useful thing I’ve done. The online friends I’ve made, and their willingness to help me with everything from inside info to parts and bikes, has been amazing. I’ve never met most of them in person, but I hope to someday.
Spend some time trying different groups. Yahoo! Is a good place to start. You can search Yahoo! Groups or Google for your favorite brand name or for “vintage motocross” and turn up dozens, maybe hundreds, of hits. The only tip I have is mind your manners. I’ve been online since the mid-‘80s, when BBS systems became popular. For some reason normally pleasant people tend to forget common courtesy when they get online, cloaked by a pseudonym. This isn’t any worse in vintage groups than elsewhere, but it isn’t any better, either. Patience and a little investigation will help you make the right choice and find a group that meets your needs.
Rule 5: Be patient
Vintage bikes are old. As riders, we are even older. We’ve got no reason to be in a hurry about anything. Take your time and enjoy the ride. Parts can be hard to find, even if you have a good friends and help in the hobby. Some stuff is just impossible to get. If you get impatient you could be in for lots of frustration. But patience is often rewarded with the hidden jewel or primo part stored in a shed or barn somewhere.
When we were young the race was the thing. It was all about that destination. Vintage is not like that. It’s truly about the journey – about the time and care and effort it takes to find the right bike, find the right parts, put it all back right and bring it to life again. Once you’ve built it you get to ride it. Enjoy the experience. We’re lucky to be getting a second time around.
See you at the races!