Don’t Ask: Rick Sieman Answers Your Dirtbike Questions

This month’s Don’t Ask is heavy with questions about vintage dirtbikes. The genuine article, Rick Sieman, talks about the good, the bad and the ugly.

I’m Rick Sieman, and Sieman says, Don’t Ask!

SiemanGo ahead, but if your question is stupid, you’ve been warned…

If you choose to email a question to this forum, then you must conduct yourself accordingly. Therefore, the following rules are in order:

1. Do not write your email to me IN CAPS. If you do so, I will print out your question and do terrible things to it.

2. Do not request a personal e-mail response. Since I get thousands of questions each month, trying to answer them all would cut deeply into my leisure time, which I value more than your current state of confusion.

3. Try to spell at least in a semi-correct fashion. If you choose to mangle the English language, expect no mercy from this quarter. You might be mocked severely.

4. Do not ask for me to send you copies of my many manuals and literature. I am not in the library business, nor do I want to spend the bulk of my day at the copy machine just because you’re too lazy to ask your dealer, or look around a bit.

5. Don’t bother me with truly stupid questions, like how to get 50 more horsepower for a buck and a half

6. Now that you know the rules, think carefully and have at it!


Hey Rick, how are you. Just purchased a showroom condition Rickman Zundapp “1974.” Call me crazy, but I intend to race this bike this season. Looking for porting specs and pipe specs to make this Zundapp a bit snappier.

I’ve been through the 125 Husky craze, and been racing GS Pro Monarks for years in AHRMA. I sold my collection of pros, and keep trying to exit vintage MX. Can’t seem to make the break from vintage.

Between vintage racing, and sailboat racing, life’s good.

Anyways thank you for your time.

Dirk Williams
Klamath Falls Oregon

I did a very complete search for shops that specialized in hopping up Zundapps and came up with a blank. However, this should not stop you from going into a good hop-up shop and having them go through the bike for you. This would mean that they would expand the exhaust ports, as well as doing a normal porting job on the entire barrel. A slightly larger carburetor, probably a Mikuni, would also help the overall performance.–Rick Sieman



Hi Rick,

I recently came back into possession of a 1972 Carabela 125 Caliente MX that I originally owned when I was 16 (I’m 59 now). Go ahead, have your yucks about this bike, butI’ve got history with it and I’m looking for a few parts and a manual. Any leads would be appreciated!

I also have a friend with a 1975 CZ Enduro that he would probably sell cheap. It seems to be in decent shape, and someone swapped out the Jikov carb for a Mikuni. The lights and stuff were taken off, too. Any opinions on this rascal? Any potential for vintage MX or forget it?

Finally, how much for your new book and how do I order it?

Thanks and Best Regards,
Tom Buchko (yes I’m Slovak)


Can’t help you much on the Caliente, except to say that it was quite quick, all things considered. I did find a few on eBay, including a couple of bikes that were going cheap; they would be good parts donors. As to the CZ enduro, stay away from that pig. The bike was so bad that was part of the reason that CZ effectively went out of business. It was slow, had a badly spaced gearbox, heavy and had a marginal suspension. Also, it wasn’t cheap.–Rick Sieman



Hello, Rick,

I hope all is well with you. I am writing to you to say how much I have enjoyed your writing for these past 40+ years. Literally hundreds of laughs. I am lucky to have enjoyed the dirt bike culture from 1974 to present day. Thanks to my parents and friends who were enthusiasts as well. The first time I read a Back in the Saddle was about 1975. So the Modern Cycle era? A great story about testing a Kawasaki Big Horn and somehow getting your boot caught in the handlebar on scary downhill? I just love that self-deprecating humor.

Anyhow, that was the first time I actually laughed out loud while reading a story. The first of many. In those days we would have many riders from all over come to the cross country and MX races. I live in central British Columbia, so the pine trees, hilly terrain and vast spaces were a dream for a dirtbiker. I’m still riding, and I still reference your tech articles from my old library of magazines. Simple fixes that still apply today. Oh, and I hope big Jim is well, too. That must have been a scary experience when he got “pooled” out on that dry lake…

Al Cole

Sadly, I must report that big Jim has passed on. He is missed. Much of the reason you see a lot of humor in my writing is that dirtbikes are a lot of fun. We try to share this with you and consider all the people who like what we do, friends.–Rick Sieman



Hey, Rick,

I sure remember Saddleback Park, and I raced there a whole lot when it was open. One thing: I got into an argument with a friend of mine and told him about the hill climb at Saddleback Park. There was a small billboard at the top, and it had a list of the names of people who had climbed it. I remember the hill, and so does my buddy, but he don’t remember the sign. Can you shed any light on this? There’s a tenner riding on this.

Name witheld…apparently due to previous unpaid gambling debts.


It looks like you got 10 bucks more in your pocket than you had before. Here is the actual sign and a bunch of people who climbed that miserable hill. I don’t know anyone who climbed it on a 250 or less. It definitely was a big bike hill.–Rick Sieman



I read your list of the 10 worst bikes ever built and while I agree with most of them, I’ve got to question your sanity when it comes to picking the 73 Husqvarna 450 as one of the lemons. Now, I’ve never ridden that particular Husky, but how can you put any Husky in a group of bikes like that? You must have something against Huskies to do that.



The 73 Husky 450 Desert Master was a genuine lemon. First, let’s set the ground rules for our worst dirtbikes list: A truly bad bike will have few–if–any-redeeming values. There have been great-handling bikes with fragile engines and transmissions. There have been powerful machines with less than stellar handling, and then machines with a bit of both. The real losers, though, are those with more faults than virtues. Machines that will spit you off for no apparent reason. Or bikes that are so dull and listless that you’d rather be riding in a Buick station wagon with the windows rolled up. Then you have dirt bikes that have all the reliability of a candle in a windstorm.

The head engineer, Reuben Helmen, designed this initial entry of our worst dirtbikes list at the urging of his cousin–who he promptly disowned. This bike was 35 pounds heavier than previous Huskies, worlds slower, had an awkwardly spaced gearbox and a stupid power curve. It also had ancient Girling shocks that loved to puke seals and forks that had more metal shavings than fork oil in each leg. The exhaust burned your leg, brakes were gruesome, and shifting was ugly. It also seeped mung and drool out of every gasket surface. Handling was best described as spooky. The engine pinged like it was running on kerosene, and items fell off the bike like they were held on with Scotch tape.–Rick Sieman


Hey, Rick,

I am definitely going to get a vintage bike. I been saving my money up, and should be able to afford what I want. The only problem I have is which bike should I get? I know the Maicos are the handlers and probably have the most horsepower. But I also have heard that the CZ’s are much more reliable. I don’t want to spend all my time working on my vintage bikes, so which one is the one for me? I consider myself no more than an average rider, so I can use all the help I can get. What do you think?

Tom H.
Reno, Nevada


You called it right on the CZs. They are probably the most reliable vintage dirtbike you can get. They have a few flaws like the spokes in the rear wheels and a marginal clutch at times, but the motor itself is close to indestructible. The Maico definitely handled better than any vintage bike you can get. No question about that. However, you’re going to have to work a lot on the Maico to keep it running properly. Personally, I would go with the Maico, as that handling is one of the most important things you could possibly ask for in a vintage dirtbike.–Rick Sieman



Confusion over here. Hope you can help.

I got a good friend at work who wants to start racing vintage bikes. That’s all well and good, but the guy doesn’t even know how to ride a dirtbike. He’s in his mid-40s and in pretty good shape, and rides a bicycle a lot, mostly to and from work. He’s never been on a dirtbike in his life.

I’ve got a YZ, but I think it’s too powerful for him to even start to ride on. Where in the hell would I start with this guy?


If he never rode a dirt bike before, I would consider getting a mild-mannered 125. The last thing you want is a ferocious vintage bike for someone to learn on. You can always move up to another bike after he learned how to ride.–Rick Sieman




I hear this stuff all the time on why the European bikes were so great. Well, if they’re so great how come the Japanese bikes are ruling the whole scene right now? I have two Hondas–a two-stroke and a four-stroke, and I think they’re great. So explain to me why the European bikes are not much anymore.

Mitchell P.


First of all, motocross as we know it was started in Europe. Many years had gone by, and Husqvarna, CZ and Maico became the dominant brands. The reason they were so good is they were light, quick and handled well. Sure, there were other brands around at the time, mostly British units like Greeves and BSAs, but after a few years the former three brands ruled.

At this time, the Japanese manufacturers made little trail bikes and concentrated on selling large numbers, not in racing. But before too many years went by, the Japanese came on strong with Suzukis and Yamahas. With some checkered flags under their belt, the Japanese saw an increase in sales of the regular bikes. Remember that old phrase, “Win on Sunday sell on Monday?”


The Japanese put together an enormous program and bought the best riders in the world to handle their machines. The results were more than obvious. World championships were going the way of the Japanese. Husqvarna, Maico and CZ kept racing, but they never really pumped a huge amount of money into the sport. They kept a presence in motocross, but not like the Japanese. By the 1980s, the Japanese dominated the sport and did so for decades to come.

At this point in time, however, we’re seeing something strange happen. KTM is now ruling the sport of motocross. This Austrian company has a grip on racing that’s amazing. Will they remain on top? Or will the Japanese respond as they did years ago?–Rick Sieman



SiemanMy new book, THE LAST RIDE, is at now out. It’s fiction and starts in 1969, when an 18-year-old kid just out of high school gets a chance to ride his Yamaha 250 DT1 from Pennsylvania to Los Angeles … all off-road. His adventures are truly amazing. The book then jumps 40+ years where the same person, now in his 60s, wants to get that old Yamaha back in his possession and return it home by riding it all off-road across the country again. The book is $15 plus $2.75 for mail anywhere in the US and for more information.–Rick Sieman

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