1978 Harley-Davidson MX 250
When Harley went motocross racing
That about sums it up for Harley-Davidson’s brief foray into the world of motocross.
The project started in the late 1970s, when Harley, under the control of leisure-products conglomerate AMF, decided to test the market with its first-ever motocrosser. As with its other lightweight machines of the era, the company looked to its Italian-based subsidiary, Aermacchi, to produce the bike.
The end result was a one-of-a-kind machine that, unfortunately, lasted just a year in the Harley lineup.
The MX250 sported an Italian-made 250cc two-stroke motor and steel frame. An international mix of components rounded out the package: Japanese Kayaba suspension, Spanish Akront rims, Japanese ignition and an Italian Dell’Orto carb.
By most accounts, it was the engine that shined in the MX250. According to magazine tests of the day, the MX250 motor was good for just over 32 horsepower, second only to the Can-Am 250. That should come as no surprise, since it had been developed on the racetrack with a factory team that included Rex Staten and Marty Tripes.
That power required caution, though, since it came on explosively, a trait that wasn’t helped by the stiff stock rear suspension. Also hurting the overall handling was the bike’s weight, which, at 250 pounds, was about 25 pounds heavier than the competition.
Still, the magazines of the time agreed that the MX250 was a great first effort that merely needed some refining.
That’s consistent with what the owner of this restored MX250, now on display in the Motorcycle Hall of Fame Museum at AMA headquarters in Pickerington, Ohio, discovered when he took the machine apart.
“It’s a nice little bike,” says Jeff Willis of South Point, Ohio. “But there were a lot of things that even I could have done to make it lighter. Probably if someone had spent another year or two developing it, it could have really turned into something.”
Unfortunately, that never happened. Although Staten managed to put a Harley on the podium of an AMA motocross National in ’77, the factory team was disbanded for ’78, and the production model lasted just one year in the company’s lineup.
Then it was gone. And so was Harley’s involvement in motocross racing.