Dirt Cheap | Cat Tales

By Brian Catterson, Photography by Joe Neric

"Super clean runs great bought it from a friend that needed money about three months ago still in the garage needed room newborn on the way.”

So read the Craigslist ad for the 2003 KTM 125 SX I bought recently. Never mind the lack of punctuation (EE Cummings didn’t use any either), the fact that a newborn can’t be “on the way” or the Metal Mulisha stickers on its radiator shrouds, I got the thing for just $1200, which is a steal. A brand-new 2012 model retails for $6299.

Why was I in the market for a 125cc motocrosser? Good question. In the interest of keeping two-strokes alive, and racing affordable, REM recently started a 125 A (for Adult) class with discounted entry fees. “Bring out your trusty-but-rusty 125s,” read the announcement. And while I do own a rusty (though not particularly trusty) 1983 Cagiva WMX125, that’s about 15 years older than the next eldest bike out there. So I needed to get something newer.

But which 125 to buy? Poring over old road tests, I learned that 2003 KTMs had two qualities I desired: power and durability. Moreover, because that was the first year of the current-generation engine, they can be updated or—should I find myself getting my butt kicked and resolve to cheat—punched out to 144, 170 or even 200cc by mixing and matching parts from other models.

From the moment I spied the framed Kat von D poster on the garage wall, I knew I was in trouble. A macho Latino who apparently didn’t believe in birth control, the seller rolled his ATV, a mini-bike and four or five bicycles (some with training wheels) out of the way, and there stood the KTM. It didn’t look too bad from across the room, much as it had in the low-resolution images on the Internet. As I looked closer, however, I wished I hadn’t…

From the pretzeled radiators and broken pipe mount to the flattened rear rim with its spokes as loose as bass guitar strings, there were a bunch of problems that needed fixing. The trouble with 125s is they’re typically ridden by teenagers who crash a lot, can’t afford to make repairs and neglect basic maintenance.

I checked to see if the pipe was warm (it wasn’t), then asked if I could take the bike for a spin. It started on the first kick, and while it smoked like a mosquito fogger on its stale gas/oil mix, the obligatory blast up and down the street revealed that it ran fine.

I thumbed the kill button, hopped off the bike, took a long, hard look at it and told the seller I didn’t think he could get much more than $1200 for it.

“Cash? Now?”

I knew I should have said a grand.

I handed him a dozen Benjamins and he handed me a title signed by his friend nearly a year prior—so much for having bought the bike three months ago. The DMV will ding me for that extra year’s registration, on top of sales tax, which will likely cost more than the $300 I talked him down. But who cares? I’ve got a 125 now, and gave an obviously abused motorcycle a good home!

What’s my point? Just this: If you’ve ever wanted to buy a dirtbike—or really, any motorcycle—there’s never been a better time than now. With nearly one in 10 Americans unemployed, people are reevaluating their priorities and selling those “toys” they don’t absolutely need dirt cheap. You could feel bad about taking advantage of them, but by giving them money for their motorcycle you’re actually helping them.

If you can’t deal with the guilt, offer to sell it back to them once they get back on their feet…

By Brian Catterson
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