Community Classic and Custom Motorcycles 1981 Maico 490 Mega 2 Vintage Motocross Racer

1981 Maico 490 Mega 2 Vintage Motocross Racer

1981 Maico 490 Mega 2:

Legendary Motocross Motorcycle

One day when the final history of motocross is written, there will be a chapter on the 1981 Maico 490 Mega 2. It was an important motorcycle for three reasons.

The 1981 Maico 490 Mega 2 was the last gasp for the European motorcycle manufacturers, who struggled against the onslaught of outstanding motocross bikes from the Japanese in the latter half of the 1970s.

It was also the apogee for the revered German marque—Maico would never again make a motorcycle so near perfect. Finally, it signaled the end of the twin-shock era, as linkage-assisted single shock designs were the future—1981 was the first year of the Suzuki RM250 Full Floater rear end.1981 Maico 490 Mega 2 - Justin Young

As legendarily hard-to-please motojournalist Rick “Super Hunky” Sieman wrote at the time: “It has all the subtlety of a safe falling on a cricket. All the finesse of a cannon being fired in a handball court. The bike leaves you stunned, rocked, wide-eyed and weak-kneed. In other words, it does what every other machine has been promising, but has never delivered.”

Justin Young has been riding and racing since 1972 when he was just 10 years old attending races put on by the Sioux Valley Cycle Club in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. “Our local club was very active and held large events regularly,” Young remembers. “When I went to the races, I would see the older guys racing the Japanese and European brands. At the time, the European brands dominated and the Japanese were getting involved and improving their bikes. I’ll never forget how cool those machines sounded and looked.”

“Having been exposed to the brand got me interested in Maico when I was still racing my Honda XR75 and CR125,” Young says. “The Maicos and Huskys were for the ‘big guys’ at the time, but after a flat track race, an older guy asked if I’d like to ride his ’81 Maico 490. I took him up on the offer and remember being able to wheelie down the straightaways with ease. I guess it left a mark.”

That imprint has proved indelible—Young is a die-hard Maico aficionado. “I have restored two other Maicos—a ’76 AW440 and an ’82 490,” Young explains. “I raced the ’82 in District 37 Grand Prix at the encouragement of my friend, Vinnie Mandzak who brought back the Catalina in 2010. It was a blast. There are some great clubs putting on those events in So Cal. The ’81 Maico 490 Mega 2 was always a bucket list bike for me. When I moved to Texas, I started looking. It took about three months to find one that fit the bill.”1981 Maico 490 Mega 2 - left side profile

A fully restored 1981 Maico 490 Mega 2 can run into five figures at an auction. At the Mecum Auctions’ Las Vegas Motorcycle 2018 event in January, a perfect example went for $16,500.

Instead, Young took a hands-on approach. “Part of the enjoyment for me in doing restorations is the work,” he says. “I love a good day in the garage. With that said, I’m not set up to do engine rebuilds, so I send my motors to the experts. In this case, John Caldwell of Canadian Maico built this engine. I also outsource paint and powdercoating.”

Rather than build a museum piece, Young’s goal was competition for his 1981 Maico 490 Mega 2. “This one was built as a race bike for me,” Young says, “but I wanted to retain the essence and appearance of the original. Half of the fun in restoring and racing these machines is giving the younger guys the chance to experience these great machines. It was impactful for me as a young man, and I’d like to give others the opportunity.”1981 Maico 490 Mega 2 - Vintage motorcycle racing

Young has no expectations of eventually retiring the 1981 Maico 490 Mega 2 to a display case. Although he says “having owned Maicos in the past, you do need to spend more time on maintenance than some Japanese brands,” when he talks about his collectible racer, it’s all checkered flags and trophies.

Still photography by Alonzo Chappelle Jr., Al Chappelle Media

Racing photography by Kenny Lau, Awesome Shots


Helmet: Shoei VFX

Goggles: Oakley O-Frame MX Sand

Jersey: Fasthouse Original Air-Cooled

Gloves: MSR System 6

Pants: Fasthouse Speed Style

Boots: Gaerne (vintage)

1981 Maico 490 Mega 2 Specs


Type: Piston-port two-stroke

Displacement: 488cc

Bore x stroke: 86 x 83mm

Claimed power: 53 horsepower at crank

Compression ratio: 12.1:1

Fueling: 40mm Bing Type 54 carburetor

Ignition: Motoplat

Starting: Kick

Lubrication: Premium premix, 50:1

Transmission: 5-speed

Clutch: Web multiplate

Final drive: Chain


Frame: Double loop w/ chromoly tubing

Front suspension; travel: Air-assisted 42mm fork; 12.2 inches

Rear suspension: Corte & Cosso shocks; 12.2 inches

Tires: Metzeler

Front tire: 3.00 x 21

Rear tire: 4.50 x 18

Brakes: Drum


Wheelbase: 60.2 inches

Rake: 28.5 degrees

Trail: 5.0 inches

Seat height: 37.7 inches

Ground clearance: 14.6 inches

Fuel capacity: 2.5 gallons

Curb weight: 245 pounds

Color: Red

1981 Maico 490 Mega 2 Price: $2699 MSRP

1981 Maico 490 Mega 2 Photo Gallery

Don Williams
Don Williams
With 45 years of riding experience, Don Williams is a fan of all kinds of motorcycles. He enjoys sport bikes, cruisers, dirt bikes, touring bikes, adventure bikes, dual sport bikes, and rideable customs. Ask Don what his favorite bike is and he will tell you, "Whatever bike I'm on."

2020 Salt Lake City 1 Supercross Preview: Racing Returns May 31

After a long break from racing due to the government response to the COVID-19 virus, the 2020 Monster Energy Supercross Championship Series is back....

2021 Beta RR 2-Stroke Off-Road Line-Up First Look

For 2021, Beta is continuing to offer four two-stroke off-road RR models ranging from the agile 125 RR to the torquey 300 RR. There...

2020 Ducati Custom Rumble Winner Crowned: Scrambler 1100 FT

The third Ducati Custom Rumble competition between builders of custom Ducati Scramblers has a winner—Marco Graziani of CC-Racing Garage. Entered in the Bully category,...

Ducati Team Signs Jack Miller for MotoGP in 2021

Before a MotoGP race has been run in 2020, the Ducati Team has signed Jack Miller for its 2021 MotoGP factory squad. Miller, 25,...

Lieback’s Lounge: Rookie Mistakes & Homemade Gaskets

There was a vague smell of gas, but I thought nothing of it. That changed quickly about 50 miles into a 200-mile ride after fueling...

Emula Concept First Look: With 2electron McFly Technology

One of the prime complaints many motorcyclists have about electric motorcycles is that they don’t deliver the visceral experience that comes from an internal...