Motorcycles of the Past
1981 Suzuki TS100
Year purchased: 1983
Year sold: N/A
In the Spring of 1983, I was a 75-lb 6th grader with a love for
motorcycles. I didn't have one, but my dad and older brother
did and I wanted a dirt bike in the worst way. At that time my
motorcycling experience could be summed up in 2 or 3 rides
on my cousin Randy Wilcox's Honda Z50. That didn't stop me
from nearly fainting the day my dad came home and offered
up the opportunity to own a brand new 1981 TS100, a
leftover model the local Suzuki dealer had picked up from
another dealer that went out of business. It was far from a
serious dirt bike and much bigger and heavier than anything I
should have been riding at that point in my life, but I didn't
care. All I had to was pay for half the cost of the bike, which
was as simple as withdrawing about $350 from my savings
account.

Suzuki's TS line in 1981 was the last of the full-size 2-stroke
dual sport motorcycles sold in the U.S. market. With a 100cc
engine, the TS100 was the smallest in the lineup, which also
included a 125, 185 and 250. The engines were air cooled
and possessed as tame a powerband as any oil-burner I've
ever ridden. These were popular bikes where I grew up,
probably because of their moderate cost, relatively light
weight and decent 2-stroke power. The engine was
oil-injected, which was great when filling up with gas but not
so good if you forgot to keep the 2-cycle oil reservoir full (the
oil site gauge is visible next to "TS100" on the side panel).
Like many of Suzuki's dual sport bikes in the 1980's, the seat
was mounted on hinges and could be opened to reveal the
2-cycle oil reservoir, a tool kit and a battery.

These bikes did not like to get wet - the front wheel would
kick up water and throw it directly onto the spark plug. I'd
sometimes ride my TS in the barn lot in the wintertime and do
endless power slides in the snow, but the only way to keep
the bike running was to wrap a towel around the top of the
engine. My brother Jim had an identical TS100, as did Uncle
George (he bought his the same time as mine and I always
thought it was cool that our license plates were only one digit
apart) and even my cousin Dan had one for awhile. Dan's TS
was later owned by my childhood friend Mark Langellier, who
suffered the same fate as many who let the 2-cycle oil
reservoir run empty: death of the engine.

The "Twin TS100's" my brother and I rode endlessly on the
farm are still there - to this day my dad occasionally rides at
least one of them to look at crops and scout for tile holes.
The engines were durable - I'm not sure if the transmission oil
has ever been changed in either one of them, and the most
extensive maintenance over the years has been a tire change
or a rare cleaning of the air filter.
1987 Suzuki SP200
Year purchased: 1987
Year sold: 1998
What a great little bike for a high school kid. This was the first
motorcycle I bought with entirely my own money, and the first
several years of its life were spent riding the back roads of
Illinois and Indiana. I doubt there was a country road within
30 miles of my house that me and my SP didn't explore at
some point. It saw a fair amount of dirt, too, up and down the
ditches beside the Kankakee, Beaverville & Southern (KBS)
shortline railroad. Actually, any railroad sufficed for
exploration. I was a big fan of railroad bridges and once rode
between the tracks over a highway overpass on the KBS
between Iroquois and Donovan, Illinois. The suspension was
not entirely suitable for jumping, which I discovered while
launching it endlessly over an old, abandoned field crossing
that at one time linked two land parcels on the home farm.
When I go back there now, even my racing bikes bottom out
solidly over that jump. On the SP, sometimes my ankles
would hurt afterwards.

In high school, I so loathed taking the bus to school that I'd
ride the SP into town (9 miles) on any day the morning
temperature was above 40 degrees. If I was lucky, I'd find a
semi-truck to draft behind. The engine was just large enough
to cruise comfortably at 55 mph, but with no wind protection
whatsoever, those were some cold mornings.
Loved those gold rims...
The Early Years
Apparently this was a relatively warm morning (Fall 1988),
preparing to ride to school. I hadn't yet discovered the
wonderful world of backpacks, so sports bags and bungee
cords were my best friends. The band geek that I was, some
days I would strap a saxophone case to the seat. If you're
wondering why Suzuki built these bikes with a European
flavor (exhaust on the left; drive chain on the right), note the
lettering on the graphics. The photos were developed with
the negatives reversed. Yes kids, these pictures were taken
in the old days, when we waited patiently for photos to be
developed, only to discover half of them were taken without
removing the lens cap.

The top photo was taken in 1997 during a trip to Montana,
where my faithful SP200 saw the last of its best riding days.
The bike was perfect for the wide open spaces of Eastern
Montana, as its range on a single tank of gas was over 200
miles. Later in that same trip I took the SP to the Black Hills
region of South Dakota, where its lean street jetting and
stifled airbox were no match for the thin air at 6,000 feet
above sea level. The small blue tool bag on the rear fender
was the perfect size to store the airbox and the mild-toned
exhaust note suddenly became a roar heard all throughout
the mountains (those 4-strokes do have a bit of intake noise).

The next Spring I sold the SP to Dennis Richard, one of my
farm customers where I was employed, during the end of my
time in Kankakee, Illinois. I had plans to return to the Black
Hills and do some dual sporting in Wyoming the following
summer and knew the SP wouldn't cut it. Plus, the bike had
traveled more than 10,000 miles in its 10 years and was
beginning to show its age. It was a sad day, driving away
from Dennis' house without my trusty SP200.
1994 Suzuki RMX250
Year purchased: 1993
Year sold: 1995
Throughout most of high school and college, I had my mind
set on eventually trying my hand at racing hare scrambles
and enduros. To do this, two things had to happen: 1) I
needed to be living on my own, away from my disapproving
mother;  2) I needed a race-worthy motorcycle. In the early
1990's Suzuki had developed an RM250-based off-road racer
designated as the RMX250. It was an overly EPA-friendly
2-stroke, which meant in stock form the bikes were terribly
tame in the woods. However, a few modifications, mostly to
the exhaust and airbox, could turn them in to very capable
racers. My Suzuki theme continued with the purchase of a
new 1994 RMX250.

The RMX was a great bike on which to learn the art of woods
riding. As a rider's abilities grew, so could the engine's power
output. The first modifications most racers performed were
removing the heavily restricting airbox cover and snorkel,
which channeled a very small path for air to enter the
carburetor. Next came an aftermarket pipe and silencer to
shed some weight and uncork the exhaust flow. From there it
was a few minor jetting changes and, like magic, the RMX
could be competitive in any woods racing environment. All it
took was a decent rider, which I was not. I was also not a
good mechanic, so the bike served as a learning tool for
basic repairs and maintenance of a dirt bike. As shown in the
photo above, I hadn't figured out how to properly mount hand
guards.

My first hare scramble was on this bike in 1994, as was my
first trip to Michigan and my first attempt at an enduro. Just
before I traded the RMX for a newer version, the shock blew a
seal and I rode half the Turkey Creek Enduro with no
damping whatsoever. Naturally, I had no idea. My focus was
on keeping the wheels connected with the trail - what went
on with the motorcycle underneath me was very secondary at
that point.
1996 Suzuki RMX250
Year purchased: 1995
Year sold: 1998
The 1996 version of the RMX250 finally received some
much-needed updates, most notably the conventional forks.
The rest of the chassis was mostly unchanged, but the
engine was given a few minor updates that resulted in a bit
more power out of the crate. Even so, it was still
under-powered and needed the same exhaust, airbox and
jetting modifications. The suspension was a huge
improvement, front and rear, with the forks super plush and
the rear end stiffened somewhat. One thing I always enjoyed
about the RMX's was grease zerks on the shock linkage and
a buttery-smooth clutch. To this day, I've never owned a bike
with a cable-operated clutch that had a lighter pull than
either of those two bikes. The transmissions were also
exceptionally smooth in shifting.

The '96 RMX was another good "learner" bike, especially
when I seized up the engine at a mud race in Canton, Illinois
early in 1996. The local Suzuki dealer sent the engine to be
re-sleeved with an iron bore, which I later discovered is not
the preferred method for fixing an electro-plated cylinder.
Even after sending the engine away a second time to install
an aluminum bore and new electro-plating, I never could get
the jetting sorted out. It became someone else's problem
when I traded it for a KTM 300EXC.
1993 Kawasaki KLX650-C
Year purchased: 1998
Year sold: 2001
I picked up this bike in 1998 after selling the SP200. What a
large, heavy motorcycle. The dual sport version of the KLX
was apparently supposed to be a more dirt-worthy version of
Kawasaki's KRL650, as it was loosely based on the dirt-only
KLX650R. With a 650cc single cylinder engine, it made
decent power for street and dirt road use. Despite its
long-travel suspension, you didn't want to let the wheels
leave the ground. Fully loaded, this was a 375-lb motorcycle
with very soft springs - especially the rear. And despite its
appearance, the shock was not adjustable. Kawasaki
engineers devised a creative use for the empty space left
where the nitrogen reservoir was located on the dirt-only
KLX650R: a fake plastic nitrogen reservoir, hollow in the
center and a perfect size for a tool kit.

In 1998 I took the KLX to Wyoming and had a great time in
the mountains. The engine barely missed a beat in the
altitude and the smooth ride was good for dirt and gravel
roads. I probably would have kept this bike longer, but city
living was less than suitable for a dual sport motorcycle.
Bikes like this deserve to live in the country.
1999 KTM 300EXC
Year purchased: 1998
Year sold: 2003
In 1998, I'd moved to St. Louis and was experiencing the
offroad scene in Missouri. With that, I stepped into the
serious world of racing with the KTM 300EXC. And within 6
months of owning it, I'd broken about everything on it except
the engine, transmission and suspension. You name it, I
broke it. Notice the difference between the above photo, on
the day I brought it home, and the picture below when I sold
it:
Let see, where do I begin...bent both brake rotors, cracked
the rear hub (note the shiny gold Talon hub), bent both triple
clamps, bent handlebars, smashed pipe, and that horrible
lower shock bearing.... Once all those parts were replaced
with aftermarket equivalents (except the lower shock
bearing), I had very few additional breakages. The engine
never let me down, the power delivery was exceptional and
the massive 50mm WP forks were the plushest on earth. The
linkage-less shock wasn't quite as good as the Suzuki's I'd
owned prior, but its virtual maintenance-free operation almost
made up for it

After 4 years and more than 250 hours of riding and racing, I
sold the 300EXC and bought a 2002 KTM 300MXC.
2003 Kawasaki KX250
Year purchased: 2003
Year sold: 2006
The 2003 KX250 was a host of "firsts" for me: first
pure-motocross bike, first bike ever
received in a crate, first
conversion of a
motocross bike into a woods bike. The latter
"first" was the most challenging, but absolutely necessary,
for a motocross bike in the woods is not my version of
nirvana. By this time in my offroading "career", my
mechanical skills and knowledge were adequate to get the
woods conversion done, but it was still a bit of an adventure
and plenty of work. The aftermarket is full of everything
needed to make a motocross bike work well in the woods, but
it seemed that every modification required some
massaging to
fit and/or work correctly. Once it was all done, the KX worked
pretty well in the woods.

In comparison to the woods-designated KTM's and RMX's,
the KX250 was a different breed. Even with extra
flywheel
weight, a motocross bike still has a different powerband. I
had to learn to ride more aggressively, keep the rear wheel
spinning and charge into the trails. After
W.E.R. Racing
reworked the suspension, it was as good as anything I've
owned. After 2 years of hard riding, I sold the '03 KX250 and
bought another KX250, this time a
2004 model.
Here's the motorcycle responsible for my passion: my dad's
mid-1950's Cushman scooter. This photo was taken in the early
1980's. At the time, it still ran, albeit without its original engine. The
passenger seat was an old inner tube - note the twine holding it to the
frame. The Cushman
still survives on the farm.
Here's another one from the distant past. This was my cousin
Rhoda's minibike back in the late 1970's. The Roadster with the Rupp
engine will see new life in 2007, as another generation of kids will get
to ride it around the farm and burn their legs on the exhaust pipe.
2002 KTM 300MXC
Year purchased: 2002
Year sold: 2008
The KTM 300MXC was the first of several new bikes sourced
from the Internet. This one came from Fay Myers in Denver,
with help from eBay. I was living in St. Louis at the time and
made the long drive across I-70 to pick up the bike in July
2002. Thanks in part to smaller forks, the 300MXC lost some
weight in comparison to the 300EXC. Wheelies were a
breeze. The MXC was my first bike with motocross-style
transmission gearing, which I came to prefer for woods riding.
Top speed was a bit lower and I often had difficulty in
keeping up with bikes having wide-ratio transmissions, but
overall the bike was a pretty good woods weapon.
2003 Gas Gas 300EC
Year purchased: 2007
Year sold: 2010
The Gas Gas came to me in the form of a
too-good-to-pass-up offer from an old Missouri riding buddy,
who gave me a chance to own a bike I planned to use
exclusively for enduros. At the time, I still had my 300MXC for
this purpose, but it was showing its age and I knew the
300EC had considerably less use. Plus, the 'Gassers were
always intriguing to me, with their high quality parts and
smooth power bands.

This remains the only racing dirt bike I've ever been able to
obtain a street license plate for. Having that plate made it a
little easier to pass enduro inspections. Oddly enough, the
front forks were the same WP 43mm versions as the
300MXC, but they were tuned remarkably plush. Why KTM
chose to set up their forks so harshly, I'll never understand. I
sold this bike after my 2009 KTM 250XC proved to be the
ultimate all-around machine. I no longer felt the need to have
specific bikes for hare scrambles and enduros.
2004 Kawasaki KX250
Year purchased: 2005
Year sold: 2010
As the motocross world embraced 4-stroke dirt bikes, the
2-strokers received less and less R&D, and could thus be
bought fairly reasonably. I picked up this '04 version of the
KX250 by way of eBay, from a dealer in Fort Dodge, Iowa.
The bike was a new, leftover on the showroom floor in 2005.
The conversion from MX to off-road was a lot easier this time,
since the '03 and '04 models shared mostly the same parts.
Other than a different rear wheel, different cable routing to
the front brake caliper, and some minor tweaking to the
power valve, this was about the same bike as the '03 version.

This bike saw probably the largest diversity in racing
geography and terrain, with trips to New York, Tennessee,
and most of the states contiguous to Illinois.
2009 KTM 250XC
Year purchased: 2009
Year sold: 2018
When all but one of the Japanese manufacturers dropped
their 250cc two-stroke models, I didn't have too many options
when it came time for a new bike. I was still loving on the
2-strokes. Yamaha had the YZ250, but wasn't putting much
effort into it. KTM had stepped up their game and was putting
out some very specific purpose-built machines. I had been
told the XC line would be closest to the KX-style power I had
grown to love. Also, KTM had just started putting electric
starting on their 2-stroke models. This was enough to
convince me to give KTM a try again.

I was amazed at the refinement of this bike. What had been
lacking in the previous two KTM's I'd owned was totally fixed
in the 250XC. Great brakes, perfect jetting, and quality
components. I had one minor mechanical issue with the
power valve, and years later the electric starter had to be
rebuilt. That was it. Of course, the seat was still rock-hard,
and the suspension was quite a bit stiffer than I had been
used to. But the seat was easily fixable, and I got used to the
suspension pretty quickly. It was actually a nice on the
motocross track - a true do-it-all bike. After a few months of
riding, I knew there'd be no reason to have any other bikes in
the garage.

I did just about every kind of riding on this bike. I even bought
a set of studded tires and rode a few hundred miles in the
snow one winter. Eventually, age caught up with the bike,
and I just didn't have the time to maintain it like it needed.
But this was a great bike.