Friday, January 7, 2011

Roosting Down Memory Lane

Over the last few weeks, I've been reminiscing about my former dirt bike days quite a bit. Even though those days were over thirty years ago, many memories remain burned into my aging mug. Rides, races, people, trails, practice tracks, various bikes, magazine articles and photos - all stored in my defective head, like some sort of crazed mental filing cabinet. Sometimes while falling asleep, I'll retrace various riding areas like a movie, with me behind the handlebars of my Suzuki RM125 on New Jersey trails I've haven't rolled on since 1981. Yup, call me loopy.

The memory machine has been revved up more then usual lately, with old friends posting photos from that era on Facebook, along with a few phone calls this week laughing about old times. On top of that, I connected with a vintage motocross site on Facebook with a treasure trove of photos from our era of the action. Through that, some comments sharing with new people as well, including one rider from New Jersey who rode the same areas as me, back in the day. I don't know this person, but we may have ridden at these places at the same time. Pretty wild.

Sounds corny, but I treasure those old photos now, since we didn't take many shots back then. We just never bothered to carry a camera. So rediscovering 'em now is very cool, for a historical view of the sport, plus a look back when we were basically kids. Teenage years into our early twenties.

Crank up the time machine. Here's a few people oriented shots from back in the day...

This be me, circa 1980 or so. I owned a succession of dirt bikes, this was the last and best of the bunch - my 1979 Suzuki RM125N. Two stroke motors were the norm, as was twin shock rear suspension and drum brakes. Long travel suspension was in full swing by then however, with close to 12 inches of travel front and rear. My plastic Scott boots and bolt on "Iron Jaw" face guard, trick at the time - also now scream vintage. I did race some motocross and hare scrambles events back then, hence my official District 6 race number of 267. I received a royal ass kicking in actual races, but still glad I participated. You haven't lived until you experience a motocross start with the mad drag race to the first turn, in a sea of noise and roosted dirt.

This picture was taken at Stanhope Pits, as we called it, near Stanhope, New Jersey. It was one of the many practice motocross tracks we had in the area - all linked together via a network of railroad tracks and wooded trails. I could leave from my driveway and ride for miles to connect various riding areas together - all on dirt. Considering this was densely populated New Jersey, mind boggling to me (now) that this all existed. We were damn lucky. Later, when cars and motorcycle trailers were part of the scene - we'd drive to some of the spots, park and then ride - with no hassle from anyone. An amazing open era of land access. Well, up until '81 or so, then things began to change and the police would arrive to chase riders off. It was the beginning of the end.

Stanhope Pits has since been covered by a huge office park. The people now sitting in their cubicles have no clue of the fun that once took place on that acreage.

My old friend Don roosting his 1975 Husqvarna CR250, circa 1978, through a sandy turn at Mine Hill Pits - another riding area for us. Mine Hill Pits was located in Kenvil and bordered Mine Hill, New Jersey. And it was just that - a mine hill. The area was previously mined many years earlier, leaving various levels of elevation changes, laced with sandy trails through new growth trees. This was our home spot and we spent many weekends roosting around it. At times it was too popular, with many riders sharing the fun - and occasionally crashing into each other. From when I discovered it in the mid '70s, and I'm sure earlier then that, through '81 or so - this was a free-for-all with no hassles. That began to change with gates being put up and police patrolling the area. The end of an era. My New Jersey pals tell me a large recycling center now sits on the spot.

I've known Don since high school and we're still in contact with 3000 miles separating us. His dirt bike days were over by '81 or so. Later, he picked up the bicycle bug and road raced for a few years - toss in some mountain bike racing as well. After a back injury sidelined his road race "career", he become the hard core commuter on a recumbent. How's that for the culture shock change? His back now in order, he rides normal bikes once again, including a new 29er mountain bike. He's also the kayak and ski nut, and a family man as well. Super nice guy.

Here's Frank sitting on Kevin's crashed Maico after a failed test ride. Note the completely twisted handlebars. It was a pretty healthy crash following a tank slapping session down one of Mine Hill Pits whooped out sections. I've lost contact with Frank since the dirt bike days, but hear about him via other New Jersey friends. I remember him being a good rider with a really fluid style and having a sense of humor. One of the many cast of characters from those days. I hear Frank races mountain bikes now in the Expert class. That doesn't surprise me.

Old pal Kevin on his '75 Maico 400, complete with new handlebars courtesy of Frank. Same era of Mine Hill Pits action. Puch jersey reflects his previous bike, a '75 Puch 175, that the Maico replaced. Later, a spanking new '79 Maico 450 was added to the mix. After that, the '81 Suzuki RM125 - plus modern bikes to this day.

I've known Kevin since elementary school and we're still in contact, even though I'm in Seattle and he's rooted to New Jersey. Kevin has remained the gear head with piles of motorcycle, cars, snowmobiles and other forms of fun in his many garages. He also rides mountain bikes, including 24 hour races solo. His wife Beth has raced mountain bikes as well. They have a young daughter now, who's already riding around the yard aboard a Yamaha PW50 with training wheels. Super cool old friends.

Another old New Jersey pal, Todd - here launching off a snow covered hill on a borrowed Maico, circa 1980 at Mine Hill Pits. Out of all of us, Todd was the most talented rider by far. Back in the day; Kevin, Todd and I would travel to races together and race the 500, 250 and 125 classes respectively. The full day of motocross action. Todd always had a few bikes in the garage, all purchased himself as a teenager, thanks to cutting lawns and a huge paper route. Early Yamaha TY80, '74 Suzuki TM125, '76 Suzuki RM125A, '74 Suzuki RL250 and the '78 Maico 250 to fill out the impressive list. Let's see a kid try to recreate that today, don't think it's possible.

Todd now lives in Connecticut with his wife and collection of sport motorcycles - the dirt days are over. He also does some serious mountain climbing. There was a gap of at least 10 years since I heard from Todd, but I'd hear about him via other friends. About a year ago we chatted on the phone. The 10 years felt like 2 weeks - the sign of a true friend. I've also known Todd since our school days, many many years ago.

My dirt bike days were over in 1981, though I owned a string of sport motorcycles right up to 2006, so did a fair amount of street riding. At times I daydream about riding dirt bikes again, something modern like a KTM 150, or getting involved with the vintage motocross scene. With my current state of time and money, being family guy - that remains a pipe dream. When it comes down to it though, in today's world, bit of a hassle to ride dirt bikes now. Need to drive out to specific areas, which dwindle down every year, plus it's become insanely expensive. Add in the environmental aspect, though I feel certain areas should be set aside for this type of activity, and compared to the millions of cars idling in traffic everyday, the amount of pollution from dirt bikes is minuscule.

Lucky for me, my obsession with bicycles parallels my obsession with motorcycles. Mountain bikes have replaced dirt motorcycles - since 1984. Looking deep, I dig the bicycles more for many reasons. Bit of a different culture that matches my style and interest. Add in the fitness and health factors as well. No contest. In ways it reminds me of my dirt bike days - cast of characters get together and ride around the woods, lots of laughs involved and being outside. There's the shared spark and camaraderie of doing something a little out of the mainstream with a crowd that gets it. Two wheels, moto or pedal powered are the ultimate catalyst for that.

Still fun to look back however, so I'll enjoy my little trip down memory lane awhile longer.


  1. That's awesome, love those pics, 'those were the days my friend, we'd thought they'd never end' yeap I was riding motorcross bikes before I had a driver's license,

  2. Nothing better than re-visiting the past and old photos are often a good trigger for those memories.

  3. So I'm getting ready to move. Everything we can live without is getting thrown out or donated. I'm about to move my 1982 Yamaha RD350LC, that I smuggled across the border from Canada when it was new and I was in high school, from our shed across the state to my dad's barn. My (soon to be ex) wife is baffled why I would hold on to a relic like this. They are so much more than just old motorcycles; they are a 2 stroke parts of our youth.

  4. @Zenbicyclist - I owned a '73 and '75 Yamaha RD350. One stock, the other with expansion chambers, rearsets, low bars, etc. This was around 1983 or so. When I arrive on Fantasy Island, I'll dig up and restore one of these, along with suitable vintage MX bike to race.

    I came very close to buying a '84 RZ350 (US version) new in '84, then used in 1992. Didn't do it, wish I did. Hang on to yours, very cool bikes.

    The two stroke bikes were massive fun to ride. Fast, light and easy to maintain.

  5. My friend in Canada lived by a dealer that couldn't give away their stock of RZ500s in 1985, they had like 12 of them. I went to buy one but backed out at the last minute. Damn.

  6. Don't just dream. Mountain bikes are cool but... in my view dont come close to the feel of a motocross bike. I say do both. I am from your era been riding and racing since I was 10 years old. I am 51 now and still ride dirt bikes.As well as street. All be it a little slower and not a willing to do the doubles and triples that in my younger days I might have at least attempted. Just ride within your means and I gaurentee you will love it. Jim

  7. @Jim. Thanks for checking out the blog post. I know for a fact I'd totally dig it. I hit a AHRMA motocross race over the summer to watch - looked like huge fun.

    Closest area for dirt motorcycles is about an hour from me. Being a family guy with an 8 and 12 year at home, time is tight, as well as money. I will dabble with this stuff once again, just not really possible at the moment.

    As mentioned, I'm also a bicycle nut. Can ride from my driveway to a few hundred acres of single track (open to bikes, not motos). My 12 year old son and I ride quite a bit. He's also become the fairly experienced racer. It's all good.

    With any luck, over the next few years, I'll score a vintage motocrosser to play with. Play ride/practice maybe twice a month, then hit some local vintage races. I'd be 110% happy with that.

  8. Cool pics. Glad someone had a camera when you guys rode. Brings me back to easier times. I and all my buddies grew up riding in the Shanhope and Kenvil pits in the 70's and 80's. Lived in Hopatcong, where you could get anywhere by a trail or the old rail bed. I know the pain when they starting patrolling Kenvil and excavated the Trade Zone to ruin another prime spot. Still ride when I can. Used to ride up the old Lackawanna Cutoff to Portland PA. Not the same, but still a good day out. Times have certanly changed. Bet there are still kids who know the hidden spots that are still around. Good for them. It was a great time.

  9. @Anonymous. Thanks for checking out my blog and riding down memory lane. Sounds like we rode the same areas during the same era. Do we know each other?

    That area and era were really fun, amazing amounts of places to ride with no issues, and part of the dirt bike boom of the '70s. Never to be recreated - glad I was part of it.

    1. Maybe... Name is Joe Dachisen. Lived in the Hopatcong from 1979 til 2000. Lived earlier in Rockaway and moved back there after leaving Hopatcong. Rode in the Kenvil pits all while living in both places. Still get around on my DR650SE to investigate the old fun spots. Still have a mint 2001 CR250R that doesn't get ridden as much as it should these days.

    2. Joe - your name doesn't ring a bell at the moment. Friends and I rode Mine Hill Pits a lot, from 1976 to 1980 or so. Were probably there at the same time at some point. I basically grew up in Randolph, then family moved to Mount Arlington in '77, while I was in high school.

      From Mount Arlington - could ride to Mine Hill Pits, Stanhope pits, and other areas - via woods and railroad tracks. Pretty cool era, long gone, never to return.

      My last dirt bike sold in 1984 or so. Owned a few modern sport bikes, up until 2006. Now nada. Two wheeled thrills via bicycle remain.

    3. Had a bunch of sport bikes too. Have come full circle I guess. Best times had on a dual sport in the beginning. Started with a 1983 XL600R that I would ride up the track to PA and home on Route 80. Now do the same on my DR650SE. In between at least a dozen dirt bikes that found their way to all the cool spots we both rode at. Did you ever ride at Mark Pillion's track in Randolph? He always had a great track intertwined with the backyard powerlines. And all the visiting MX pros to NJ would hang out and ride there.

    4. Whenever I do score another motorcycle, will be a dual sport. I'd also dig doing the vintage motocross AHRMA scene.

      Mark Pillion's track? Plus in Randolph - interesting - but never heard of it. Might be a bit out of my era. Traded my '79 Suzuki RM125 for a '73 Yamaha RD 350 in 1981. Dirt bike daze pretty much over for me. Owned a '78 Yamaha DT175 for a short time in '84, buzzed some local trails with with it - and seized it on Route 80...

    5. Probably missed it by a few years. I rode there with a buddy who was friends with him in the late 80's and early 90's. Pretty sure the track was there for quite some time beforehand. We would ride quads on Route 80 in the snow. That was scary. Banshees and snow do not mix. Hope you get a dual sport. They are still a blast for doing a little bit of everything.

  10. Cool post! I too grew up in the area (Netcong) and rode dirt in the 70s and 80s and have been looking for pics of the Stanhope sand pits forever! Those pits were magical on a Sunday back in the day with so many strange and killer bikes. My main hangout was Port Morris and the Cutoff or blasting through downtown Netcong on the tracks through the Graveyard and Dynapak pits to the Big Pits. I would love to see more pics!. What was the giant gulch called in the Pits like Deadman's V or something? I miss that place.

  11. @Jim. Wow - pretty cool you're from the same era and place. Thanks for checking out the post and leaving a comment. I have very few photos from that time, we rarely lugged a camera around - too bad - would be great to view 'em now.

    Our main spot was Mine Hill Pits. I started riding there around 1976, while in high school and living in Randolph. Friends and I would push - and yeah, ride a bit - our dirt bikes over there, cutting through Mine Hill. Railroad tracks then connecting to another pit area in Roxbury, as well as easy dirt riding access to Kenvil for pizza, the Dairy Queen, or D+H Suzuki.

    Family moved to Hopatcong area in '77. From there, I could hit woods right down the street, fun riding on its own, plus connect to Mine Hill Pits via woods and railroad tracks. I could also ride over to Stanhope Pits and Allaumuchy from the house. A killer set up of woods, practice motocross tracks, connected via railroad tracks - including blasting through Netcong on the tracks - as I did the same.

    I remember the gulch in Stanhope Pits, though we had no official name for it. I also remember getting chased off Stanhope pits in 1980 (or so) by the local police. They just politely asked us to leave, but I knew that was the beginning of the end.

    When I think back on it, an amazing set up for riding. It was a cool era for dirt bikes in general, never to be recreated. I'm glad I was part of it.

  12. I'm also from Mt. Arlington during the same time and used to ride with a pack of guys afterschool and weekends : Billy Perhacs Billy Fields the Seilers Wayne Gutwein Bob Nock all come to mind. I Had an yellow RM 125. Rode so much without sitting thatt my knees are shot. Used to ride from Mt. A to Allamuchy & Berkshire Valley & the pits. I remember a kid named Chris Hussney? getting killed by a wire across the track near Cliffs ice cream. Man those were good times. I don't remember many other girls riding do any of you? eally wish that I had some photos- still have a helmut also yellow. Thanks for the great photos that are here!
    Leanne Keefer Bechdel

  13. Leanne - thanks for the comment. None of those names ring a bell and I don't remember any girls riding back then. Sorry! I may have met some of the folks mentioned, but they weren't in my riding/friends circle.

    My main riding pals were Kevin McGatha, Todd Mazzola (from Randolph), Don Harrower, Bob Frantz (Mount Arlington), Dave Sweeny (Roxbury) - and other folks as well - many who we'd see at Mine Hill pits (etc), but their names escape me now. Many folks rode back then.

    I do remember reading about the kid killed by the wire off Route 10. Ouch, not good.

    I used to ride from Mount Arlington to many places: Berkshire valley woods, Mine Hill Pits, Roxbury pits, Stanhope pits and surrounding woods in Allumuchy. An incredible set up at the time. We also rode a killer nice practice MX track in some field in Hackettstown. It was a land access free-for-all back then, no one seemed to care. An era never to be recreated.

    I did a ton of riding in the area from '77 to '81 or so. From '76 to '77 rode Mine Hill pits from Randolph - where we lived before Mount Arlington. Over those years, rode a '74 Suzuki TM125, '76 Honda CR125, '79 Suzuki RM125. Fun times and good memories.

    1. Dan, The picture of Todd in the air on the 1978 Maico 250 Magnum is the bike I purchased from him. Great fun bike sold it to purchase a used Honda CR500 from someone living in Netcong he wouldn't sit on the bike again because he crashed it and was never getting on it again. I test drove it like I stole it. Sold! Sold! Sold!
      Bruce G. from Randolph

  14. Hey Bruce - great to hear from you. I didn't realize you purchased that '78 Maico 250 from Todd. I don't remember the history of that '78, thought it was borrowed from someone. Todd also bought a new Maico 250 in '79 if I remember correctly. All of us scoring a new bikes that year. Me, a '79 Suzuki RM125. Kevin, a '79 Maico 450 and Todd the 250. Good times. Cool to see your comment on here!

  15. Nice to know there is a whole lot of nostalgia associated with dirt bikes and bikers who frequented the off-road sites they knew as Mine Hill pits, Stanhope pits, etc. Their memories were focused on dirt bikes, whereas my memories are about the sandy outwash plains and deep sand deposits known as kames. The Lakeland Area of Northern New Jersey was heavily glaciated and much of the deposited sands were dumped there after the glaciers receded about 25,000 years ago. Sand and gravel extraction companies knew that and opened up "sand pits" long before most of us were born. By the way, I was raised in Netcong and spent plenty of time in the places that are mentioned.

  16. I remember the building in the first pic was at Stanhope, near the front on the other side of the tracks. That was the main motocross. I used to ride from Pershing Estates down to a friends house on Waterloo Dr. We took a trail that ran along Waterloo to some back road - all down hill - past the junkyard, across the tracks and along on what's now International Dr. until we got to the pits. The cops left you alone unless you rode on the main roads. You inly got busted if you didn't take off into the woods. I road all back in there. There were more trails than you could count. There were two challenging hills there: "Deadman's V" and "by Monster Hill". Monster hill wasn't as steep as the 'V' but very sandy and difficult to get up. There wasn't a lot of room to get a head start. The 'V' was straight down and straight up the other side. You had to carry enough speed to make but to the top but after you did, it was a sharp turn to the right or you smacked a tree :) Thanks for the memories.