There used to be a pseudo-underground racing league for mini bikes in Detroit. When I found out about it the very first thing I did was run out and buy the first cheapo Craigslist mini bike I could find, so did my buddy Jer. That year Jer won the big race, so that winter my motor got some work… The next year I won. Both our bikes were pretty similar: Baja MB200’s: centrifugal clutch, rigid rear end, totally inadequate front suspension, basically no brakes and 200cc of horizontal shaft, agricultural, menace. They were sketchy as hell, and more than fast enough to hurt yourself. Not “fast” in an objective sense, but fast in a relative sense. Going 40mph on a sport bike is not fast, but going 40mph on a milk crate full of gasoline is really haulin’ ass. A plane at 2000ft is not at all high, but a ladder at 2000ft is terrifying. I still have that bike- given that I made it essentially unrideable, it’s also essentially unsaleable. But I’m glad I have it. Everyone loves it. It’s called “The Sarge” because the primary chaincase is a repurposed ammo box and the rear fender is made from an entrenchment shovel. The Sarge is stupid, hilarious, and gets up to speed faster than a Grom. It’s awful in virtually every conceivable way, but also awesome. People shake their heads, but smile. This is mini bikes in a nutshell. Not just mini bikes, though, all small bikes. Honda monkey bikes, YSR-80’s, and the tractor store specials, all inspire the same the basic response: “You look like a moron. Now get off, it’s my turn!”. I think that half the reason some people go racing is to justify having a pit bike, or at least build a case for owning one. Everyone has an inner hooligan and releasing it requires the appropriate catalyst. Mini bikes, I have found, are extremely effective at this.
They’re also a great coolness filter: those who just don’t get it, probably aren’t going to be much fun. I bring all this up because I recently came across a purchase I just couldn’t say no to. A Honda CRF-50 in very good shape for very few dollars. Of course I bought it. I brought it home in my trusty old pick-up (aptly known as “Patches”) in a rain storm in November. The gas in the tank was fully converted to varnish, and the oil in the crankcase was fully converted to “Goil”; which is that detestable mixture of nasty gas and motor oil that can be produced by combining an open petcock with 6 months of neglect. My plan was to unload the little guy, and just tuck it away until I could find the time to get to the maintenance issues, and make sure it ran. Weirdly, I found the time about 5 seconds after getting into the garage. Out with the Goil and varnish, and in with the 10w30 and 91 Octane. Two hilariously light kicks later and the little soldier was sitting there idling happily. Chug-chug-chug- let’s go. So, like the responsible adult I am, I dug out a flashlight and prepared for a test drive. In the rain. At night. On a Thursday. Unfortunately, the rear tire was completely flat and wouldn’t hold any air (punctured tube, I suspect) so I was unable to venture out. Probably a good thing, if I’m honest. I therefore had to appease myself with an accidental wheelie in the garage. I haven’t even ridden the thing and I already love it. I’ve already started referring to it as “Fiddy”. It got a name in record time. These things are so utterly useless, but so endearing one can’t help it. They are the perfect combination of being approachable and extremely dangerous. Mini bikes are the living embodiment of something that is intrinsically great, like a child’s giggle, or a sun setting over still waters. Only the most miserable bastard can possibly find fault in such things.
Update: I replaced the punctured rear tube, and actually took Fiddy out for a test ride. Sketchiness was what I expected, and boy, I was not disappointed. There’s no clutch lever, so to shift, you just throttle-off and give a good yank on the shift pedal. Shockingly, the pedal appears to have been positioned for somebody shorter than me. When I rode it, I could not get my toes under the lever while keeping my left foot on the peg, so I had to contort my foot around and heave up on the level with my whole leg, rather than just flicking my ankle. The combined action of this jerky leg lift, with the throttle off-on, and the fact that my center of gravity is somewhere behind the rear wheel, produced an initially startling, but very repeatable wheelie. The first time I may have panicked a little bit, and perhaps gotten into the stupidest tank slapper in all of history. It’s hard to say, but I have to imagine the sight of a 175lb imbecile, in a winter coat, with a miner’s headlight, screaming like a girl, while slapping the bars of a teensy motorcycle, on a residential street, at night, in the snow, may have been amusing for my neighbours. I would have laughed. I did laugh- and I was the one in mortal peril. I had that moment that occurs during every crash where we are faced with the decision of trying to hold on to it, or picking the “best” place to crash. My mind immediately assessed the humiliation of splitting my chin open in this scenario and appointed my hands with the task of preventing that from happening. My hands delivered on their task. This is actually a bit of a teachable moment here, friends: When you think you might be crashing, don’t give up, not for a millisecond, and not until you’re already sliding into the grass. One of the many valuable life lessons we can learn from mini bikes.