Harry Klemm’s “The DG Years, 1975-1976” – Episode 6: Building the Team Bikes

While our pits looked more and more professional as time went on, that professional look meant nothing if the team bikes weren’t fast. At the time (1975-‘76), Yamaha was strongly supporting DG with bikes and parts (mostly 125s), but there was no denying that the Honda CR125 was still the “pay dirt” bike for most aftermarket manufacturers like DG. With that, I set about building prototype test parts at a breakneck pace for both the 1975 Yamaha and Honda 125s. DG had a huge batch of spare parts for both machines, so the only obstacle was finding the time to do all the testing, and the riders to do the evaluation. Sadly, finding good test riders would become the biggest problem because professional “test riders” did not exist yet either.

Harry in 1979 with the first YZ racer test bike. “I had high hopes for the Shinobi heads, but short supplied made them unsellable.”

As any pro mechanic will tell you, top pro racers are often the worst evaluation test riders. Racers, back then (and still today), lived in a world of “I like it” or “I don’t like it.” The development of a great race bike often happens in baby steps, and pro racers of the ‘70s were not interested in baby steps. They all wanted a “works bike,” and they wanted it now. The hardest part of development testing in the ‘70s was teaching a racer the vocabulary and the process of race bike evaluation. Not all of them got it. However, the few pro racers that did “get it”, found themselves quickly rewarded with a race bike that grew a lot faster each weekend. Over the winter months of 1975, we made big horsepower gains with both the Yamaha and Honda 125s. The majority of those gains made their way to the products we sold to the public. However, by contrast, the suspension part of our race development equation was falling farther and farther behind.

The suspension thinking of that era was to just install longer-travel forks or longer-travel shock setups, and we did plenty of that, but that approach never got perfect results. Before too long, I realized that racing suspension components would require constant fine-tuning in exactly the same way that racing engines did. I was convinced that there had to be a guy out there somewhere who was as passionate about suspension tuning as I was about engine tuning. I was convinced that if I found that guy, he would be the key to privateer bikes that could run with the factory bikes. During my five years at DG, I looked constantly to find that guy, but it never happened. During that time, there were many advances in the suspension market. Twin shocks from Poppy, Girling, Fox, KYB and others, as well as forks from Marzocchi, Ceriani and KYB, but there was never an experienced suspension-tuning guru behind any of them. The now legendary Works Performance shocks was in its infancy and not focused on the mono-shock Yamahas I was struggling with. Today’s well-known Paul Thede (founder of Race Tech Suspension) was a Saddleback racing regular at the time, but he would not found his suspension tuning company for another few years. Too late for the DG team that I ran. Simons forks and Ohlins shocks would be almost too late for the air-cooled era I was working in.

Story Index (Click on any title to read the episode)
Episode 1: Understanding The 70s SoCal Motocross Atmosphere
Episode 2: My Road Into Motocross
Episode 3: Getting a Foot in the Door
Episode 4: Reality in the Race Shop
Episode 5: Building a Race Team
Episode 6: Building the Team Bikes
Episode 7: Understanding the Goals of a Racing Business
Episode 8: The DG Front Office
Episode 9: The Competition
Episode 10: Painting the SoCal Racer’s Atmosphere
Episode 11: From Mechanic to I.T. Before There Was I.T.
Episode 12: A Few Words About Engine “Formulas”
Episode 13: Mechanic Buddies
Episode 14: 1976 Turning Points at DG
Episode 15: Facing the “Race-Gas” Era
Episode 16: The Retail Chamber Birthplace
Episode 17: The Mammoth Motocross Classic
Episode 18: The DG/Saddleback Launching Pad


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