It’s the 1970s. Your a kid…part of the baby-boomer generation. Chances are, the prospect of riding a minibike was as powerful as any desire you’d yet experienced, although puberty might soon deliver some next-level desires.
If you were lucky, you had a parent or uncle who compiled a double-downtube frame, a working 4-cycle horizontal shaft Briggs or Tecumseh engine (with a centrifugal clutch), a couple wheels and the necessary parts to complete the package. No brakes. Crappy seat. Small-diameter tires that delivered a ride so rough that the poorly-welded frames cracked nearly as frequently as the bike was ridden.
In the four-block-by-four-block neighborhood of the suburb I grew up near Minneapolis, there were three kids who had a such a homemade minibike. I was one of them, thanks to an uncle who cobbled together one for me out of parts I’d paid for by mowing lawns and delivering newspaper coupon flyers to houses all summer long. That minibike delivered a gasoline-powered bliss that I can feel today, 40-some-years after the fact.
If you were REALLY lucky, you had a complete minibike, perhaps a store-bought unit from Sears or Wards (or even a Rupp!), that had a brake and large diameter knobby tires. And if you were one of the lottery winners, you had a Honda Trail 70.
There was one kid in our neighborhood who had one of these, and he was revered as the luckiest kid in the world. Kick-starting, functional brakes (front and rear), headlight, speedo, and resplendent in candy colors that would capture your eye from blocks away. Thinking back on it now, I’m struck by how little that kid seemed to ride his Honda. Interesting.
Arctic Cat dabbled in the minibike craze from 1970-1972.
By mid-teens, the desire switched to real dirt bikes. Honda CRs, Suzuki RMs and Yamaha YZs. A year or two later, the desire switched to cars for most of the neighborhood kids. And then it was gone, at least for most people.
The only desire that matched that of minibikes/dirt bikes, at least that I remember, was the desire for snowmobiles.
Thinking about it now, it seems to me that most of my snowmobiling buddies shared a passion for minibikes and motorcycles. Still do, actually.
I’ve been told by the so-called experts that kids of today don’t fall in love with minibikes and snowmobiles like those of us who grew up in the 1970s, 80s and even the 90s; that the ubiquitous smart phone has replaced the desire for internal combustion-powered adventure.
If it’s true, the smart phone is only a symptom and not the problem. The actual problem is more nuanced than that. I think the difference between then and now includes busier lives; an overabundance of entertainment options; a few generations who didn’t/don’t allow Little Johnny or Jilly to leave the house unless there was parental supervision (and who drove/drive their kids everywhere they want to go); the increased time commitment needed to participate in sports; and a few other societal differences.
There are still kids who are spending their waking hours dreaming of riding snowmobiles, minibikes, ATVs and more. These are the kids I’m thinking about right now…wishing and hoping they get a chance to take a friend’s machine for a few laps around a field; that they can occasionally spend an hour at a dealership sitting on machines.
Because when it comes to fun and adventure, there’s nun like it.
Thanks for reading.