Brian Catterson:1974 Honda CR125 Elsinore - Homecoming

Who Says You Can't Go Home Again?

By Brian Catterson, Photography by Tom Riles, Dick Miller

Two years passed before I ever raced. I still have the AMA slip showing the date as September 24, 1978 (and the entry fee as $7!). The Long Island Sports Committee put on an annual race at Long Beach-picture a sandy supercross track, though not as jumpy-and you didn't have to be a member. I signed up and was issued #Z-the last letter of the alphabet and roughly indicative of where I finished. I'd never ridden on beach sand and didn't know to lower the tire pressures. I recall winding the poor little engine out in each gear, shooting a roostertail with my overinflated rear knobby and bogging the engine each time I tried to upshift. I fell a few times, and called it quits in both motos when the leaders came around to lap me.

Fast forward three decades and I'm looking at Greg Bastek's Elsinore in the Broome-Tioga pits and wondering how I ever fit on one. My original idea for this story was to ride my first bike where I first rode it, but the Commack sand pits are a movie theater now, Bridgehampton Raceway is a golf course and the Long Beach city fathers would no doubt frown on me terrorizing beach-goers. Turns out there aren't any motocross tracks on Long Island anymore, so I was going to have to ride elsewhere. When I mentioned my dilemma to Metro Racing proprietor Don Miller, he suggested I enter the American Historic Racing Motorcycle Association (AHRMA) National at Broome-Tioga, and even knew where I could borrow a bike.

Thing is, AHRMA vintage rules state that bikes must have no more than 4 inches of rear wheel travel. And it didn't occur to me until I sat on Greg's bike that I'd never actually ridden an Elsinore with stock rear travel. Fortunately, we wouldn't be racing on the jump-infested national motocross track, but on an old-school grass track adjacent to it.

Practice was enlightening. The grass was wet and slippery, which required exacting throttle control and scooting far up on the gas tank in corners. Throttle control I'd acquired since I'd last ridden an Elsinore, but scooting forward proved problematic as I had a tough time getting my knees under the handlebars. The fact that the 30-year-old seat foam was packed down helped in this regard, even if I could feel the seat rails by moto's end.

The races went pretty much as I expected. I signed up for the Sportsman 125 Expert class and ended up going 4-4 for-you guessed it-fourth overall. Conditions were perfect in the first moto, and I was able to keep the leaders in sight, even trading third place with a Yamaha YZ125 rider a couple times. The second moto was dusty and slick, and I let the leaders go as I busied myself trying to avoid losing the front end.

Of course I'd gotten more or less accustomed to the bike by then, and riding around by myself like that, my thoughts drifted back and forth between the present and the past. When I was a kid, the CR125 was more motorcycle than I could handle, and it was a steep learning curve trying to tame it. But now, it felt like a mini-bike-in fact, at 180 pounds it's the only motorcycle I've ever raced that I've outweighed! The suspension felt primitive at best, the rear end kicking up over square-edged bumps, and the drum front brake required a strong pull to achieve anything remotely resembling stopping power. Fortunately the track was mostly fast and flowing, and with such a low center of gravity, the little Elsie slid really well on the gas.

The funny thing about racing is, as soon as you get the green flag you just want to see the checkered-especially when you're winning! But this one time, I was genuinely sorry to see the race end. Riding dirtbikes always makes me feel young, but for those 15 or 20 minutes I really did feel like a teenager again.

The day after I got home to L.A., I got an email from Greg: "Great meeting you and hanging out at the races last weekend. Hope your trip home was smooth. Make sure to stay in touch if you're ever Back East again.

"By the way, the left-side numberplate is missing off the 125. Any idea where it could have gone?"

I don't think he believed me when I told him I didn't take it as a memento.

By Brian Catterson
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