That ‘70s Show
Michael Mahanay’s home is little different from others lining Herndon, Virginia’s many streets – its clean, contemporary lines are well-matched to a nicely maintained lawn and, not incidentally, the Honda pickup on the drive. As many homeowners without basements know, the garage is often given to what might otherwise be in that basement, or consigned to commercial storage. Mike, however, has a better reason to keep the Honda outside: two vintage motocross bikes, along with a small collection of more contemporary two-wheelers, are on the inside.
A decade after Honda (and, to a lesser extent, Yamaha, Kawasaki and Suzuki) had reshaped the motorcycle market in the U.S., Mike’s grandfather, Joe Mahanay, bought a new Bultaco Matador Mk4 for riding trails in and around Joe’s home in Lake Mille Lacs, Minnesota, roughly 75 miles north of Minneapolis. Given Minnesota’s short riding season, and that Joe would have been sharing the area trails with snowmobiles(!), the Bultaco’s 345 miles some 50 years later is regrettable, but certainly understandable.
Later, Mike’s dad Kevin would buy a used Montesa King Scorpion for riding those same trails, and either Kevin or the Montesa’s first owner got out more, as the Montesa has just under 1,000 miles. Both bikes speak to a time when the Japanese were dominating the U.S. market on the nation’s highways (Honda’s CB750 four was but a few years old, and had reset the definition of a performance motorcycle) and byways. But the Europeans still held the reins in offroad competition, and few brands spoke to that better than Bultaco, founded in 1958 by Francesco Bulto. This was after Bulto left Montesa, which he had co-founded with Pedro Permanyer in 1944. Facing economic headwinds in the late ‘50s Permanyer wanted Montesa to withdraw from competition, at which point Bulto withdrew from Montesa, forming Bultaco Motorcycles – and subsequently winning a wall of trophies in international competition.
Today, Montesa continues to build trials bikes as a subsidiary of Honda, while Bultaco has been revived – some 30 years after ceasing production in 1983 – as a maker of electric motorcycles and e-bikes.
It’s the bikes, however, owned by his grandfather and father that are now curated by Mike. He’s had them since 2016, and in that they’re unrestored, both wear their ‘patina’ with pride. Dirt bikes are, almost by definition, minimal – no windscreens, fairings or bags needed for offroad, and certainly not needed for competition. But bikes of 50 years ago are the essence of minimalistic design: the simplicity of a 2-stroke single mounted in a tubular frame that does little more than connect the bike’s front fork to its rear swingarm. On top sits a small gas tank and minimal (that word again…) instrumentation. And while hailing from two different factories, you could easily see the bikes on the same showroom during, if you’ll remember, Nixon’s first term.
Mike has other bikes to ride, in combination with a full-time gig and the demands of being thirtysomething. But it’s nice to know that in the garage of his home he has a better story, written – and ridden – by his father and grandfather. It’s, you know, that ‘70s show.