Mark's Mini Obsession
For most men, having a mid-life crisis is inevitable. Some men drive around in a sportscar, while others pull fish out of the water and take photos. Mark Hooker, on the other hand, collects 80cc dirt bikes from the 1970s and 1980s. Owning the little pocket rockets gives him a flash into a past his parents could not afford to give him as a child.
During COVID, something strange happened. Where we draw the line to separate “cool and retro” from “old and daggy” got moved up another decade; in turn, those old ’70s mini bikes that have sat lonely in a shed became collectable. People are now restoring them, and some are even taking them racing.
The ‘1970s saw an explosion of mini-dirt bikes to satisfy a rapidly increasing demand from the youth market. No longer was zipping around on purpose-built dirtbikes the sole domain of adults; the Japanese saw potential in the minibike market and jumped onto it. When Yamaha burst onto the scene with its 1974 YZ80A, it caused an overwhelming amount of nagging from teenagers to their parents at Christmas time. The result was the mini motocross craze that is still going strong today.
That first YZ80 featured 14hp from its little air-cooled, two-stroke single-cylinder engine. The steel frame, drum brakes, and twin rear shocks were a far cry from what today’s kids have. But, back in the ’70s, these things were a real weapon and owning one elevated you to the king of the kids.
Of course, cutting-edge technology like a Yamaha YZ80A didn’t come cheap, and if you were a working-class family in the 1970s, it was unlikely one would appear under the Christmas tree. This was the situation for Mark Hooker. Growing up as one of five kids in a working-class family meant a YZ80 was out of reach. Lucky for him, his friends scored some and were happy to share. That’s when the addiction was formed.
“My parents could never afford to get me one when I was a kid,” Mark explains. “My parents had five kids to feed, and Dad was flat out trying to keep a roof over our head working as a builder. However, my best friend used to zip around on his YZ80, and I would tag along.
With five kids, We could never afford one
Fast forward nearly five decades, and Mark decided to revisit his childhood. At first, he only looked for a showpiece bike to put into the back of his Datsun Sunny ute. After buying a YZ80E, he found himself catapulted back to his childhood.
The collection that formed soon became more about reliving a youth he never had and less about a prop for his ute. “Even though I’m probably too old to be riding them, I do,” Mark reveals. “It’s not just about collecting; I love sampling these early two-strokes; they have that vicious powerband we all craved as kids. While later models got more power, they also smoothed out that power delivery. These early ones are like a light switch, all-or-nothing.”
Mark’s collection now consists of a 1979 Yamaha YZ80E, 1982 Yamaha YZ80J, 1979 Kawasaki KX80A, 1981 Suzuki RM80X, 1983 Honda CR80R, two 1976 Honda XR75s, and a 1970 Deckson Swinger (which Mark says has far too much power for the frame).
Picking a favourite out of that list may appear impossible, but Mark has a special connection to Yamaha’s YZ80. “The YZ was the must-have bike back in the 70s,” he explains. “Heading out to the local dirt track, you would always see a sea of white and red buzzing around. “The Yamaha was the must-have back in the day, especially when they came out with the cantilever Monocross suspension setup on the 80E. The YZ80E was the absolute must-have and my favourite out of the list.”
Finding these little retro crotch rockets these days is not as easy as some may think. As you can imagine, a teenager-owned bike has usually been thrashed to within an inch of its life - rightly so. Add to that the rapid acceleration in the development of motocross bikes during the 1970s and 1980s, and early 80cc machines quickly became worth no more than their weight in scrap - and that is where many ended up.
The search for these little rockets has become an obsession for Mark, and some gems are being uncovered. Collectors are mainly looking for full-size bikes from the sports golden era. Parents looking to get their kids onto a bike will gravitate to modern machinery. Mark managed to meet up with someone who had a hoard of them in Dubbo. “I called up this bloke in Dubbo, and when I went to pick out a few. I ended up with three Yamaha’s, a YZ80C, YZ80D, and YZ80J, as well as a Honda CR80. They were all ratty, but now I have all of the YZ80s I wanted as a kid.”
Mark claims he won’t be looking to expand his collection much more. He even claims a couple of his bikes are on the chopping block, but saying goodbye to any of them is proving a little more difficult than he expected.
If you’re considering following the same path as Mark, there’s still a surprising number of stores online that stock OEM parts. Seeing these little gems rot in a shed is depressing; restoring one will be an eye-opener for junior motocross racers to see just how good they have it now!