Textbook Bob 'Hurricane' Hannah circa 1977

Textbook Bob 'Hurricane' Hannah circa 1977

Motoman

by / / 81 posts

Before Tomac and Ned, before LeMond and Big Mig, there was Bob Hannah. For a young lad obsessed with motorcycles as well as bicycles, the ‘Hurricane’ was the epitome of style on a bike. His bright yellow Yamaha YZs and matching head-to-toe kit set the bar and inspired me to emulate not only his style on the bike, but off it too. If only I could sport those long, flowing blonde locks now…

Motocross in the 70s and 80s was somewhat how mountain biking in the 90s was.  The technology stepped up rapidly, with suspension travel and shock design developments allowing the bikes to corner as well as go like a bat out of hell on the straights. From my first bike, a YZ80B (yellow of course) with its twin coil shocks, drum brakes and steel frame tank to my last one, a Kawasaki KDX250 with Uni-Trak suspension, alloy frame and disc brakes, the difference in performance was more night and day than the 10 or 15 years it actually was. The same could even be said with road bike technology from as recently as the late 90s/early 2000s.

Just as Tomac brought style, flair and function to mountain biking with his fast and flowy riding, skin suits, disc wheels and custom painted helmets, so too did Hannah with plastic boots, body armour and his own range of kit and products. And like Tomac, he could back it up on the track. Every photo in every mag I saw, he just looked fantastic; head always in the perfect position, leg extended in the berms, a bit of turn bar over the jumps. I’d try and ride my YZ and my 20″ Dragster the same way.

Today, there’s a lot of crossover between moto athletes and mountain biking and BMX. The moto helps develop confidence at speed and in the air for most of the top downhillers, and the fitness that comes from pedalling is embraced by many motocross stars. My formative years on two wheels were shaped by a healthy mix of the two, and while I haven’t kicked over a two-stroke for a long time, the skills learned and the parallels between infernal combustion power and legs and lungs still resonates. But mainly it’s just cool to look back at photos of a golden era.

How many here have a moto background, or still ride?

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// Awesome American Guys // Nostalgia // Racing // Reverence // Technology

  1. @ChrissyOne

    The whole “getting drivers to see me” thing is really a losing battle, BTW. You can’t depend on that. I don’t even think of drivers as sentient beings that can hear or see. When I’m riding in traffic, I imagine I’m rafting down whitewater rapids, surrounded by 2-ton logs that could roll over on me at any second. You have to do all their thinking for them because they’re all asleep or on their effing phones. If you ride with that in mind, you’ll do fine. If you depend on your ‘loud pipes’ or some other nonsense to make your presence known, then good luck to you.

    Great points.  I think bike advocacy is great, but until their are true fundamental changes in the way we drive (I doubt this ever happening)- those of us on two wheels need to accept the reality of thinking for them.

  2. Yep. Just repeat this as you ride in traffic:

    “Everyone is trying to kill me.”

    “Everyone is trying to kill me.”

    “Everyone is trying to kill me.”

    When approaching a stopped car at a cross street, expect the idiot to pull out in front of you. Have a hand on the brake and be ready to act. Have an exit strategy. Find your primary line, but look for alternatives to avoid danger.

    This is part of my (possibly flawed) logic of riding like a bat out of hell like I do on the street. If I’m going faster than everyone else, I’m in control. No one is going to surprise me from behind. I can execute a line around someone before they even know I’m there, alleviating any need for thought or action on their party. Riding aggressively like this has worked for me, and I’ve been commuting in downtown Seattle on moto (and bicycle) for over 20 years.
    The worst thing you can do sometimes is just go along with traffic. That’s when I always find myself getting boxed in.

  3. Never having ridden anything more powerful than a 49cc scooter, or being a passenger on a moto, I think I know how the non-sailers felt about the VMG article.

    @ChrissyOne

    Yep. Just repeat this as you ride in traffic:

    “Everyone is trying to kill me.”

    “Everyone is trying to kill me.”

    “Everyone is trying to kill me.”

    This is part of my (possibly flawed) logic of riding like a bat out of hell like I do on the street. If I’m going faster than everyone else, I’m in control. No one is going to surprise me from behind. I can execute a line around someone before they even know I’m there, alleviating any need for thought or action on their party. Riding aggressively like this has worked for me, and I’ve been commuting in downtown Seattle on moto (and bicycle) for over 20 years.
    The worst thing you can do sometimes is just go along with traffic. That’s when I always find myself getting boxed in.

    This.

    This was also my mantra and philosophy when I worked as a bike messenger.  That of course being the only time I was faster than traffic, or could be considered to ride anything like a bat out of hell.

    Of course, that aggression didn’t stop me from getting hit by some ——– turning right from the second (not curb) lane as I was going straight through the intersection.  Sometimes you’re just going too fast to react to stupidity/carelessness/inattention of drivers.

  4. @Chris

    I learn’t to ride motorbikes off road in the late 80s at school. We had a bunch of knackered old bikes a DT200, a Suzuki TS125, etc. The pride and joy was a Maico 500 (could have been a 490). I couldn’t reach the ground and reach the clutch lever (the front brake was a bit bent so that wasn’t so much of a problem). Absolutely fucking frightening evil bastard of a thing but I’d never turn down a chance to ride it.

    That off road stuff saved me a good few times when I left school and end up working as a motorbike courier in London.

    Every now and then there a little voice that tells me it’d be a good idea to get another one (a bit tamer maybe) but it isn’t too hard to remind myself that motos are responsible for a lot of the scar tissue in my left knee.

    Oh man, Maicos were the ‘want’ bike when we were kids… there was an old abandoned farm up the road from us, and the local hoons made a motocross track around it; it was like a scene from Mad Max (before it came out though) up there, dozens of bikes blasting around. For some kids on their ‘pushys’ it was a surreal, somewhat intimidating scene, but we loved it. A few guys had Maicos, and they were like exotica to us. Pity they were as reliable as an Alfa Romeo though.

    I hear you on the ‘frightening’ with those big 2 strokes… my favourite bike was also the most difficult to ride, and terrifying at speed. Mainly due to drum brakes though. My Yammy IT 490 was a true beast, to kickstart it I’d need to get the lever perfectly top-dead-centre and virtually jump down onto it. The kickback if you fucked it up was insane, and could buck you back off the seat (if you were lucky; sometimes I thought I’d broken my ankle!).

    It had an Answer ‘silencer’ that added about 4hp and 100Db… the bike didn’t sound like a typical 2 stroke ‘ping p-p-ping ping’ but a deep and menacing ‘bang b-b-bang bang’ while it was idling. It would frighten small children and no doubt annoy the neighbours while I was constantly tinkering with it. So physically big, so fast, so much fun!

    Like this one…

  5. @ChrissyOne

    Bad. Ass.

  6. Beautiful!!!

  7. Anyone remember Eddie Fiola circa the early Eighties. BMX freestyler that was getting the biggest ‘air’ than anyone else for a time, as I recall. Spent a while resplendent in yellow and nicknamed ‘the flying banana’. He was fucking class!

  8. @therealpeel

    @ChrissyOne

    The whole “getting drivers to see me” thing is really a losing battle, BTW. You can’t depend on that. I don’t even think of drivers as sentient beings that can hear or see. When I’m riding in traffic, I imagine I’m rafting down whitewater rapids, surrounded by 2-ton logs that could roll over on me at any second. You have to do all their thinking for them because they’re all asleep or on their effing phones. If you ride with that in mind, you’ll do fine. If you depend on your ‘loud pipes’ or some other nonsense to make your presence known, then good luck to you.

    Great points. I think bike advocacy is great, but until their are true fundamental changes in the way we drive (I doubt this ever happening)- those of us on two wheels need to accept the reality of thinking for them.

    Self drive cars are coming, they will change everything, for the better too.

  9. @brett The sound. The smell. Nothing like it. Keep posting pictures of shiny expansion cans like that and I’ll be in trouble. Vintage MX +1 looks cheaper than N+1. £1,200.

    I remember one of the lad flipping the Maico from a miss timed gear change going flat out across a field. (We never bothered clutching, just booted it but if your timing was off it would bite back, especially coming down through through the gears).  Anyway, we thought he was probably dead or would at the very least  lie around for a bit but he was up and running and had the bike up before it cut out, hopped on and took off on his back wheel. Turned out he was a bit concussed and didn’t remember the entire afternoon.

    Speaking of kickback, we also had an old East European trials bike, a 350 with a compression lever for starting. That hurt a lot when you got it wrong.

  10. Talking of freestyle and wheels……….

  11. @Teocalli

    That must take such massive balls that I’m struggling with the physics of flight on that one!

  12. Was a wanna be moto enduro rider for a bit in the early 80s, around the same time I started cycling with any seriousness. Hurricane was the man then, but as I recall, Johnny O’Mara was the original motocross-mountain bike crossover hero. At first he took up the mountain bike for fitness, but became a successful MTB racer. And he’s still at it as a 50+ Master.

    http://racerxonline.com/2006/11/24/where-are-they-now-johnny-omara

    http://www.usacycling.org/results/?compid=50872

  13. fabulous -BH was THE MAN during my formative years. Started with fragging Marty Smith (and everyone else) in Florida, then Nationals. Wouldnt say he was the most ‘elegant’ rider but certainly had buckets of panache. I remember seeing him WFO at the Coliseum approaching the ski jump thru the arches, legs flying and cross body blocked the pillar – ouch. Always 112% at the absolute limit of bike and body. For certain an example of how racing should be done :-)

  14. @Dave R The O-Show shows up regularly at SanDiego MTB races. I know this because whenever he wins, I lose (by a large margin)

  15. @Dave R

    @shano92107

    Yep, was a bit of a fan of the O Show back then, and when I started mountain biking I saw him in a mag and thought it was pretty cool that he pedalled too.

    Danny ‘Magoo’ Chandler seemed like the craziest mofo around when he hit the scene, just flat-out and on the ragged edge, but if he held it together he was the fastest out there (see his wins in the Motocross/Trophee Des Nations in 82). He was freestle before it was even a word. He came to Australia and rode some Supercrosses, which I was lucky enough to witness… was gutted to hear of his tragic accident a year or two later. And even more shocked to hear he died in 2010, just 50. RIP Magoo.

    Slideshow:

    Fullscreen:

  16. @brett

    @ChrissyOne

    Bad. Ass.

    And well padded elbows. I’ve heard of knees to the pavement but not of elbows. Impressive.

  17. @Bespoke

    @brett

    @ChrissyOne

    Bad. Ass.

    And well padded elbows. I’ve heard of knees to the pavement but not of elbows. Impressive.

    The pros get even lower. Here’s Bradl last weekend.

  18. Haven’t read the whole article, skimmed the posts. What is the interweb acronym for that? In English, I think we say, “Strong work, can’t be bothered.”

    Anyhow, I started riding a bike in order to get as close as I could to riding a motorcycle when I was too young to drive. I got hooked on Cycling and my father sold the motorbike he bought me when he saw the damage I could inflict on myself under my own power. No need for a motor, he said.

    That said, I think a moto – a proper off-road bike – would be the best way to explore gravel routes and I want one for my VMH and one for me. The sale to the VMH is easy on account of her having lived in Africa for two years with only a moto connecting her to the local village.

    And I probably wouldn’t kill myself any more quickly than I would otherwise.

    Its a statistics play, in the end.

  19. @brett

    @ChrissyOne

    Bad. Ass.

    NO. FUCKING. SHIT.

  20. @frank

    Yea, after starting to ride more gravel this season, I kind of want an offload moto again. They were used to great effect in the creation and marshaling of this awesome gravel race, which I expect will rival the Crusher in the Tushar as its reputation grows in coming years:

    http://lostandfoundbikeride.com/

  21. @ChrissyOne so blow my feeble brain some more, do you happen to know how fast Bradl is going round that bend? Your eyeball through your visor is ace.

  22. @meursault

    May I be the first to say, WTF is this?

    The Motominati have taken over the asylum.

  23. @Ron

    Love those photos. I’ve never been on a motorcycle of any sort, but definitely a cool story and set of pics.

    Same here – the only two-wheeled machines I’ve ever been on have been human-powered. (I.e. by what the Danes – charmingly, I think – refer to as a ‘rye-bread engine’)

  24. @frank

    Haven’t read the whole article, skimmed the posts. What is the interweb acronym for that? In English, I think we say, “Strong work, can’t be bothered.”

    tl;dr

  25. Moto – bah.  Never ridden a moto I haven’t crashed. Even crashed one taking it for a test ride with a view to purchase. Said no thanks but did pay up for the damage.  Then my son got a 65cc moto. And finally there was a moto I had ridden but not crashed. Then I did. He thinks it’s funny. Me, I just hate motos.

    Mind you, there also isn’t a MTB or road bike I have ridden and not crashed.

    Maybe it’s me.

  26. @ErikdR

    @meursault

    May I be the first to say, WTF is this?

    The Motominati have taken over the asylum.

    Indeed sir, I am still scratching my head (risking killing my only brain cell) continuing to think wtf is going on?

  27. @meursault

    @ErikdR

    @meursault

    May I be the first to say, WTF is this?

    The Motominati have taken over the asylum.

    Indeed sir, I am still scratching my head (risking killing my only brain cell) continuing to think wtf is going on?

    Ah, well, four wheels bad, two wheels good. Some moto skills transfer well to riding our steeds. It’s good to be magnanimous once in awhile, we’ll soon be back to blood, sweat, and gears.

  28. @meursault

    @ErikdR

    @meursault

    May I be the first to say, WTF is this?

    The Motominati have taken over the asylum.

    Indeed sir, I am still scratching my head (risking killing my only brain cell) continuing to think wtf is going on?

    We’ve had sailing, now motorbikes… I proposed a guest article on the overlap between cycling and the noble sport of farnarkling.

    http://mirror.uncyc.org/wiki/Farnarkling

  29. @G’phant I’m afraid I  have to agree with your son. That post made me laugh. Sorry ’bout that. Cheers, RC

  30. @ChrisO That just ruined my life.

  31. @ChrissyOne Oh man I never realized that these cats were laying the bikes down like that. Damn. They have to operate on some special slow mo time warp kinda mind set when racing ?? That’s wild.  And those have to be some special machines too. What a cool snapshot.

  32. @frank

    @brett

    @ChrissyOne

    Bad. Ass.

    NO. FUCKING. SHIT.

    I started into this article by thinking – “oh fuck. Another non-cycling, but akin-to-cycling article” and then @ChrissyOne shows up.

    I hope that photo is blown up 5’x7′ (that’s feet, not inches) and framed over your headboard because that is some serious – FUCK YEAH – goin’ on there.

  33. @ChrisO How about events in Brazil?

    Sorry, England.

  34. @Nate Yeah, well less said the better.

    Part of me (the Australian part) has a certain schadenfreude going on with England’s performance, although I’m also disappointed they did quite so badly.

    That’s the problem of having dual and rival nationalities.

    At least the Aussies exceeded expectations – Cahill’s was possibly the goal of the tournament. My favourite factoid is that Tim Cahill has scored more World Cup goals than Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney combined.

  35. @ChrisO Would love to see the Aussies beat Spain.  They ought to after the run they gave the Dutch.

  36. Hadda couple of early-mid ’70’s Honda CB750’s, but wadded them up with the help of some inattentive motorists.  There are definitely some transferable skills in terms of apexing corners, etc, and it can be a lot of fun.  However the ability to be going down the road at 120 km/h and accelerating quickly to 200 km/h with just the twisty wristy can be dangerous.

    I’ve since decided not to risk a 3rd accident and haven’t thrown my leg over a motorized cycle since.

  37. @ChrisO@Nate Enough with the round ball chat. Soccer is damaging cycling as we speak…

  38. @ChrissyOne

    And we mustn’t forget the man, the master, the patron saint of road racing, King Kenny.

    Whoa , hang on, two words – Barry Sheene.

  39. @Triathlete   Woah – much as I followed No 7,  Phil Read went before…………….

  40. @DeKerr

    I hope that photo is blown up 5″²x7″² (that’s feet, not inches) and framed over your headboard because that is some serious – FUCK YEAH – goin’ on there.

    Sadly no, but it does grace my phone lock screen…

    …and my track day company (the one I’m working for in these shots) did use another photo fopr their motorcycle show booth this year:

  41. @Teocalli

    @Triathlete Woah – much as I followed No 7, Phil Read went before…………….

    Too true!
    Kenny Roberts certainly wasn’t the first, just as Merckx wasn’t the first Hard Man. But Kenny is the reason we ride the way we do today, and a major reason that racing evolved the way it did. He’s the reason I’m dragging a knee and elbow in that pic. He’s also the reason I had to have that yellow R1. ;)

  42. @Teocalli

    @Triathlete Woah – much as I followed No 7, Phil Read went before…………….

    Fair response, ‘prince of speed’ takes it.

  43. Great one, Bretto. Moto riding was a natural progression for me from BMX as MTB hadn’t happened yet. I had a couple in high school and then moved on to street bikes. Then I put that shit down for a long time until I saw this baby in the classifieds a few years ago. ’85 XR35oR. 4 stroke thumper. My dream bike in high school. I picked it up for a song, rebuilt the top-end, new brakes, cogs, chain, repacked the supertrapp. I mostly use it for reconning graveur routes but will go ditch-bitchin’ sometimes with my redneck friends. It’s a hoot. I’d put it up there with that MAICO and the IT490. Anyone ever have a Husqvarna? Those give me serious motobone.

  44. There’s symmetry here, as Belgium is as integral to the history as motocross as it is to cycling.

    Saw this sign outside Gent the week before P-R last year.

  45. Sweet bike Marco!! A friend of mine had an XR like that. Loved the sound of it.

  46. @ChrissyOne

    @Teocalli

    @Triathlete Woah – much as I followed No 7, Phil Read went before…………….

    Too true!
    Kenny Roberts certainly wasn’t the first, just as Merckx wasn’t the first Hard Man. But Kenny is the reason we ride the way we do today, and a major reason that racing evolved the way it did. He’s the reason I’m dragging a knee and elbow in that pic. He’s also the reason I had to have that yellow R1. ;)

    Fair comment, and all the moto guys are hard men (and gals) along with the ProPeleton when it comes to riding when any sane person would be in hospital.  However, I love stories of PR such as changing gear by hand after breaking his foot pedal and still winning (if I remember correctly).  I did see him ride right at the end of his career but probably more of a guest appearance to be honest on the MV Agusta.

  47. Another firm of Motoman/men? Bordeaux-Paris riders.

  48. No motorcycle should make more noise in db than it displaces in cc.

    Little motorcycle just passed that couldn’t have been bigger than 40cc but sounded like a hurricane of angry gnats.

  49. @G’rilla

    No motorcycle should make more noise in db than it displaces in cc.

    Little motorcycle just passed that couldn’t have been bigger than 40cc but sounded like a hurricane of angry gnats.

    And Harleys are the worst offenders in this regard. Fucking dentists on big-bore fart cannons.

  50. @PeakInTwoYears

    @G’rilla

    No motorcycle should make more noise in db than it displaces in cc.

    Little motorcycle just passed that couldn’t have been bigger than 40cc but sounded like a hurricane of angry gnats.

    And Harleys are the worst offenders in this regard. Fucking dentists on big-bore fart cannons.

    Tell me about it! I live in SE Wisconsin –  home of HD. You know it’s getting nice out (I’ve been on the bike for months already) when the Harleys are brought out of hibernation. Some keep the pipes legal and quiet. Others ascribe to the “loud pipes save lives” credo. Seriously illegal decibel levels. Do the cops do anything about it? Fuck no. You can ride through Milwaukee or any town with as loud a set of pipes s you can illegally alter and nothing will happen. If you are black or Hispanic playing your car stereo at that volume you’ll get a ticket, not doubt about it. Selective policing? You bet your ass.

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