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.
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.”
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.”
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.
1981 Maico 490 Mega 2 Specs
Type: Piston-port two-stroke
Bore x stroke: 86 x 83mm
Claimed power: 53 horsepower at crank
Compression ratio: 12.1:1
Fueling: 40mm Bing Type 54 carburetor
Lubrication: Premium premix, 50:1
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
Front tire: 3.00 x 21
Rear tire: 4.50 x 18
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
1981 Maico 490 Mega 2 Price: $2699 MSRP