Bikes I’ve Owned and Loved (a lot or a little): 1975-76 OSSA dirt bikes

ossphantomFor two years in the mid-70’s, I ran a microscopic dirt bike shop out of my garage, code name “Dirt Shop.” My wife hated the name because she was constantly receiving packages at our home addressed to the Dirt Shop.  She thought the UPS guy might think the name reflected on her housekeeping. I didn’t see the problem. We had two insanely active little girls, a house full of toys (the kids’ and mine), and my wife is a sculptor and artist. There was never a shortage of dirt in our household.

$(KGrHqRHJBoE9qTR)2y6BPcpU uuRQ~~60_35I, mostly, fixed other guy’s bikes to earn enough extra cash to support my own habit. On occasion, I found a sucker/customer for a line of Spanish motorcycles, OSSA, for which I had a wholesale deal from the Kansas City distributor. Most of the likely OSSA riders lived in Omaha or Lincoln, where there was already an OSSA dealer, but most dealerships actually needed to make money to maintain inventory. I found a few customers out in the sticks who would take that inventory off of the big city dealers’ hands.  I didn’t expect much out of my “dealership.” I just wanted to get to fool with cool, new bikes and spend as little money as possible for the privilege.

I snagged the two pictures above from the net. Sorry, I lost the original links and haven’t been able to reproduce the search since, so I can’t give proper credit for the pictures. These are the two bikes I sold and enjoyed the most. I sold a couple, each, of the 125 and 250 Phantom motocrossers, a pair of Mick Andrews Replica Plonker trials bikes, and one 250 Pioneer enduro. I really thought I was doing my customers a favor, at the time. There was still some residual anti-Japanese Euro-arrogance still left in dirt biking and OSSA’s were good, general purpose dirt bikes. The Phantoms were moderate suspension technology (canted and moved slightly forward) and a great rider could still hang in with the front of the pack. The Plonkers were not so easy to sell. They were under-powered, heavy, and hard to maintain. The Amal carbs were a detriment to all of the OSSA bikes, but the Plonker suffered the most from that primitive and unreliable hardware.  And trials was a sport that never caught on in the States.  The Pioneer was a really pointless motorcycle.  It wasn’t a competitive hard-core enduro bike and it was not reliable enough to be considered a useful dual purpose bike.  To this day, I don’t know why anyone would buy one.  But someone did.

I rode almost every bike I sold, at least a few miles, before I found a buyer. Except for the 250 Phantoms, I usually had a bite before I placed my order but no money down. So, I got to play with the bikes like they were my own, because they were, until a buyer with cash appeared. I especially loved the Phantom 125, but never found the motivation to own one myself. The worst I ever did on an OSSA deal was break-even, including shipping, interest, and my setup labor. I thought that was as good as I could expect, considering the sloppy circumstances under which I operated.

I’m afraid that I probably left the Central Nebraska area and dirt biking about the time my customers were due to need serious dealer support. I moved about 120 miles from where my shop had been and, over the course of the next three months, sold my own dirt bikes and stopped attending events. I have no idea what became of the bikes I sold. I know that OSSA bit the dust not that many years later, leaving some resentment among the few riders who’d stuck it out over the years. I still see OSSA fanatics and bikes at the vintage events, so I guess they didn’t all explode into Hollywood flames when I abandoned ship.  I don’t think anyone buying a bike out of my one car garage, behind my obviously low-income house, could have seriously thought I was FDIC insured.  On the other hand, nobody ever went broke underestimating the American consumer. 

That was a weird period in motorcycle history. The Boomers were at their peak, physically and culturally. We were riding a lot of motorcycles back then, on and off-road. Unless you’ve been to a 1970s event, it’s hard to imagine how popular, well-attended, and disorganized those events were. It was the beginning of the end for an aspect of individual freedom in the United States, mostly due to overpopulation. A half-dozen years later, the boom crashed. We quit buying, riding, and caring about motorcycles, especially off-road motorcycles in the quantities that manufacturers enjoyed during those years. The world shed itself of a dozen motorcycle manufacturers and Japan ended up owning what was left of the market.

Ossa was a crappy company with non-existent customer or dealer support, but their bikes were interesting, competitive, and distinctive. Parts were hard to come by, bikes were delivered in non-functional condition, but there was something cool about being a dealer, even at the marginal level I experienced. Uncrating a new motorcycle, with an expectant customer either calling every couple of hours or breathing down my neck, is a lot of fun.

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