Friday, 26 September 2014
Minibike conquers Pikes Peak
Here's a blast from the past. I just got my new issue of Sideburn magazine with a cover story about Guy Martin and the Pikes Peak Hillclimb, and there was also a minibike picture posted on FB by a friend that caused me to look around for these pictures and maybe put together the little minibike basketcase that fell into my lap last week. Serendipity.
In the fall of 1971, I was enlisted to help another student in high school get a motorcycle license endorsement so he could ride a minibike up the famous Pikes Peak mountain as a promotion for a new Mercury brand centrifugal clutch. Centrifugal clutches were a weak point for minibikes back then, as kids would thrash them, slipping them unmercifully, making expensive replacement necessary. Unfortunately, a week prior to going their rider gets mono, so at the last minute, I'm drafted to fill in. The advertising account manager, a mechanic and I are packed into a station wagon and drive out to Colorado, right before the road closes for the winter.
We had three days out there to make it to the top, and back then, only the first five miles were paved. The rest was an exceptionally well cared for, wide dirt road that could be navigated safely by tourists in their automobiles. There was no real skill required to ride the road, just twist the throttle and endure the cold.
The first day we had great weather, but despite preparation beforehand, the bike was still jetted too rich for the altitude and ran out of breath about a couple thousand feet from the summit. Overnight in the hotel room, the carb was rejetted, but the next day the weather turned bad and we were stopped at the cabin at the end of the pavement due too snow and wind at higher elevations.
We had one day remaining and it was do or die. The weather was clear but cold, and we made it without incident. The bike was still hampered by a lack of power as I got closer to the summit, and I was consciously taking wide lines to conserve momentum in order to make it. By the time I got to the top, my speed was down under 10mph and the motor was struggling, but that clutch never faltered, even after miles of hard work over the three days on the mountain.
The publicity was very successful, and the ad manager ghost wrote my account for Mini Cycle magazine, and the story also appeared in the AMA magazine and several local newspapers. The attached pictures are b/w promo shots taken on our way down for the ad campaign. It really was a cool little minibike, despite the lights, horn and mirror tacked on to make it quasi street legal..