Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Walt Axthelm an Off-road Rider

. Via the AMA Motorcycle hall of fame museum

Walt Axthelm was an influential off-road rider of the 1950s and ‘60s. He was one of the first Americans to compete in the prestigious International Six Day Trials (now called the International Six Day Enduro). Axthelm won numerous off-road events in Southern California during his racing career, including a class in the popular Catalina Grand Prix. He rode with backing from several factories during his career and was one of the first riders in the America to race factory-backed Suzukis in off-road races.

Axthelm was born in Upland, Pennsylvania, in 1933. His family moved to Southern California when he was 14 years old and shortly afterwards Walt got a junior motor license and his first motorbike, a Schwinn-bicycle-framed Whizzer. He later got a more advanced Whizzer with springer suspension, a two-speed gearbox with chain drive. He raced against his buddies who had Cushman, Powell and other brands of scooters. He lived in Compton and in the afternoons he would go down to the Los Angeles riverbed and practice riding until dark. By the time Walt was 17 he began racing his first true motorcycle, a rigid-framed Royal Enfield, which had no rear suspension and all of two inches of front fork travel.

He began racing in Scrambles events on an AJS in Palos Verdes. Gradually, he worked his way up to become one of the leading off-road racers in Southern California. His first sponsored ride came in 1954 when he was backed by Louie Thomas’ BSA shop in East Los Angeles.

Axthelm was sponsored indirectly by BSA, through Thomas’ shop. "Hap Alzina (BSA’s western states distributor) was supplying the bikes to Louie and they built them there," Walt explained. "Off-road riding didn’t pay anything back then so I never got any money from BSA. No one was making money from that type of racing back then."

By 1980, Axthelm was in his late 40s and he decided to retire after getting hit by a big rock thrown up by a racing pick-up truck in one of the long-distance desert races.

"I decided that it wasn’t fun anymore," he said. "I had a small sailboat at Dana Point and just packed it up and went sailing and that was it."

No comments:

Post a Comment