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

RIDING STYLE

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

ENGINE

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

CHASSIS

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

DIMENSIONS and CAPACITIES

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 Williamshttp://www.ultimatemotorcycling.com
With 50 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 Kawasaki Ninja 1000SX Review (21 Fast Facts)

Anyone notice how the sport-touring class of motorcycles has nearly vanished? At one time, even niche manufacturers such as Ducati and Aprilia proffered appealing...

2021 BMW K 1600 GTL First Look (7 Fast Facts from European Sources)

The flagship of BMW tourers—the 2021 BMW K 1600 GTL—has a few deviations from last year. There’s nothing huge, though there are new colors,...

2021 Jack Daniel’s Limited Edition Indian Roadmaster Dark Horse [Debut]

The partnership between Jack Daniel Distillery and Indian Motorcycle continues with the 2021 Jack Daniel’s Limited Edition Roadmaster Dark Horse. As has been done...

Suzuki MX-Tuner 2.0 First Look: Aggressive, Smoother, Richer, and Leaner

Owners of late-model RM-Z motocrossers will rejoice the news of the all-new Suzuki MX-Tuner 2.0 tuning system for their motorcycles. The new system features...

2021 BMW S 1000 XR First Look (5 Fast Facts From Europe)

We just got through testing the BMW S 1000 XR, and now we’re looking at the 2021. Our European sources tell us that there...

Yamaha YDX-Moro and YDX-Moro Pro First Looks (13 Fast Facts)

Yamaha continues to expand its pedal-assist electric bicycle range with the new YDX-Moro and YDX-Moro Pro. Both are designed as off-road capable two-wheelers that...