While I was the editor of Dirt Bike magazine, I had the opportunity to go running with a bunch of European motocross stars. Guys like Adolph Weil and Ake Jonnson used to land at LAX, stop by the offices regularly and also join us in motorcycle testing. This was a great time my life as I got to meet and ride with some of the all-time legends.
One of the things that all of them wanted to do, was go riding in the American desert. They had all heard so much about it, but rarely if ever did they have the opportunity to go riding in it. One ride in particular stands out in my mind. I got to be good friends with the great Adolph Weil and spent numerous days with him testing and riding various bikes.
Once, after a day of testing and riding, he asked me if we could just take some time off and go riding in the desert. He didn’t know anything about it except what he had heard and was eager to experience it. I told him about the various places that we raced and rode and thought we would really enjoy the Ponderosa.
At the Ponderosa, they held races about twice a month, and you didn’t need any special cards or memberships to go out and race. You just showed up with your bike and had a good time. There were two classes: the trail bike class that covered bikes under 100cc, and the Open class that covered just about anything else. The course was all sandy desert located about 20 miles east of Palmdale on Highway J. The course varied from race to race, but not too much. A typical race lasted about 45 minutes to an hour, and three laps were covered. Each lap was anywhere from 10 to 12 miles in duration. Some 90 percent of the course was whoops, with two dry lakebeds thrown in.
The start area was mostly flat desert for a few hundred yards, then the deep whoops started appearing. About two miles later, the first of the dry lakes were in front of the riders. Here, the racers who were smart enough to gear way up took advantage of the situation. If your bike could pull a hundred miles an hour, here was a place to do it. Most people only showed up with one or two more teeth on a counter shaft and thought that was the way to go.
After the first dry lakebed, there were miles of whoop-de-dos that demanded the absolute most from your suspension. Then, at about three fourths of the way through, you ran into another smaller lakebed. The last few miles of each loop were seemingly bottomless whoops … and you had three loops of this to go through.
Adolph and I got our gear on and warmed up the bikes. I told him that we should take an easy loop at first and see what was facing him. We took that first loop at about 75% of our riding speed, then came in to the pits to clean our goggles and wipe a little bit of sweat off.
Then we went out and hit the throttles. I made sure that I was on one of my ultra-trick Maicos and Adolph was on it pretty much stock KX250 test bike. He was amazingly quick considering this was all new to him. We came in after three loops and took a break, then did three more.
It was now officially beer and burger time. While we had a few cold brews, I asked Adolph what he had thought about the desert. He absolutely loved it and told me there was nothing even close to that in Europe. He said there was nothing in the way of open land in Europe. Everything was owned by somebody. You just couldn’t hop on a bike and go to an open bit of land unless you knew the owner and had permission to ride there. Or if you had access to some sort of existing track.
He simply could not believe that free and open land actually existed. Only in America.