Written by Peter Fox
It’s a cold Monday morning on the campus of The University of Wisconsin. The year is 1965, Lyndon Johnson is in the White House and Cold War with Russia is in high gear. A young physics graduate student rides his motorcycle onto the university parking lot. He’s on his way to his first class of the day. As he slows into a vacant stall, he notices the bike parked next to his. He’s never seen one like it before. It’s a lot like his twin-cylinder Honda CL 175, but with one major difference: it’s covered with mud. “That looks like fun” he thinks, “I’ve got to talk to the guy who owns it”. Weeks go by before he finally meets the muddy motorcycle’s owner. Excited, he pulls up alongside and introduces himself. “Hi, my name is Geoff Fox and I’d love to go riding with you”.
The history of Geoff Fox and Fox Racing is also in part a history of the sport of motocross in America. He was there when it was all new. No one knew the questions, let alone the answers. Along with people like Jody Weisel, Jim O’neal, Dave Coombs Dr., Malcolm Smith, Eddie Cole, Preston Petty and a handful of others, he was a part of the first generation of American riders that went on to make motocross their lives, and their liveliness.
Geoff’s first competitive motorcycle race was the 80-mile Muddy Lane Enduro. His Honda’s rear axle fell off during the event. Also broken before the end were the brake and clutch levers. He finished, but was over the time limit by more than an hour. To avoid pushing his bike to the finish line, he had figured out how to start and shift a motorcycle without a clutch… a revelation in those days. The next day he went to his local Honda dealer and ordered a new nut, so he could put his rear axle back on. Two months later, he still had no nut. In frustration, Geoff went to the machine shop at school and machined a new axle and nut. Now he could ride again.
The local races were attracting 400 rider turnouts and legends were beginning to emerge. One hero was John Penton (Penton Motorcycle fame) and Geoff remembers the first time he saw him. “I recognized him riding from about 100 yards away and was just impressed as hell!” Geoff’s next motorcycle was a used 1968 2-stroke Bultaco “Matador”. On it, he installed what was the hot setup for the first time: A compression release. A rider in Redwood City, CA invented the compression release. This lever-action device allowed you to manually create engine braking on a 2-stroke, slowing you down. This was a big advantage because the brakes on those old bikes weren’t sealed and would become useless every time they got wet. Geoff later learned that keeping the brakes applied through water helped keep them dry. The biggest challenge for riders in those days was to just keep your motorcycle running. Typically a rider would not finish 25% of the races he started because the bike would break. You spent more time working on the bike than actually riding it. Today you can go an entire year on the same spark plug, but you couldn’t go a whole day on one back then. In the first motocross event that Geoff entered, it had rained so much that the promoters had to build wooden bridges on sections of the track so riders wouldn’t drown. In the first moto, Geoff made it ¾ of a lap before the bike quit for good.
In 1969, Geoff and his family moved from Wisconsin to Northern California to teach physics at the University of Santa Clara. Luckily, Northern California was a hot bed for motocross talent in those days, with the likes of Brad Lackey, Bob Grossi and others. In Europe, motocross racer Roger Decoster had yet to win his first World Championship. Geoff and other hardcore American moto fanatics were reading Cycle News every week to get the latest information on the hot European riders and their MX fashion. Geoff recalls, “I was reading Cycle News regularly back then to find out about the Grand Prix races in Europe. I remember one race where there was just a black and white photo of this guy who had on a pair of gloves that I had never seen before. It had a little “V” shape on the back of the hand. They were from Europe and that made them trick! We figured that Europeans knew everything and we didn’t know anything. I needed to find out where in the hell those were from. I called around to a bunch of places until I finally found a pair. I’d say that right from the beginning, this sport had been very fashion conscious. Even more so now, but back then you watched what everyone was doing because you wanted to look trick”.
Geoff remembers, “I had a pair of custom leather pants that cost me $100. I also bought a leather motorcycle jacket at a Harley Davidson shop”. A company under the name Hercules introduced the first ready-made leathers. They retailed for $49.95 and sold like crazy. The hot fashion statement was to have a “Buffalo Breath” brand jersey. They were super heavy weight, striped rugby-style jerseys complete with a button-up collar. The only goggle to have was made by Carrera (worn with the strap under the helmet). “We were all wearing lace-up boots on our feet, with no shin protection. Gary Jones made them famous. Full Bore was the first brand-name boot that replaced lace up work boots as the hip fashion statement in moto. It also marked the first time that mail order came onto the scene. There was a place back in Ohio, a retail store, that specialized in Full Bore boots and they would ship them to you anywhere. My brother Bob bought a pair and had them shipped blue label. Two days after he called them, he had the boots. I was blown away”.
Before they had today’s modern starting gate, there was the rubber band start, and before that was the flag start. The rider had to put his left clutch hand on his helmet, with his bike in neutral until the starter waved the flag. Geoff calls it the “begging you to cheat” start. CZ riders would cram it into gear without using the clutch. CZs also had steel fenders that would eventually crack simply due to engine vibrations. Cycle Craft in Santa Cruz, CA made replacement fenders from fiberglass. It was Preston Petty who made one of the big advances in the sport when he invented plastic fenders.
If the rider was good, a local pro could basically make his living by racing every weekend. Many of the early pro riders also worked as carpenters during the week, which made their hands and forearms strong. Bob Grossi also rode his bicycle to work everyday in order to get in better shape. In the early 70s Swedish doctors released a study saying that motocross was the second most physically demanding sport in the world behind soccer. Everyone that raced MX learned of the Swedish study and it made them proud to be a part of this tough new sport called motocross.
Geoff and his family are still living in Santa Clara, California. He is still teaching physics and riding motocross in his spare time. He bought a new Yamaha at the local dealership and got to know the parts department manager. The two became riding partners, going to races together and later became great friends. About six months later, his friend said he wanted to open his own motorcycle store. He asked Geoff for any financial help, but Geoff didn’t really have a lot of money. He managed to save a few thousand dollars and because he loved the sport so much, he started flooring motorcycles at his friend’s dealership. Flooring meant that Geoff would put up the money for a motorcycle, and when it sold he would collect a percentage. At the time, American Eagle, Ducati and Puch were big sellers. By big sellers, that meant 2 bikes were being sold a month. The dealership was called “Grand Prix Cycles” and its main source of income was on repair work. Parts, repairs and engine modification were the bread and butter of the business. As Geoff became more involved, the attention began to focus on accessories. Geoff eventually became a 49% partner in Grand Prix Cycles.
One summer he worked full-time behind the counter, enjoying the direct contact with customers, many of whom were also local racing buddies. “Spark plugs sold like crazy,” recalls Geoff. “Some of those bikes would burn through a six-pack of plugs a week! Those days were great. The whole scene was like one big family. I was totally into motocross, constantly keeping my eyes open to what was going on, so I was considered the local expert on what was trick. My knowledge helped make me a great salesperson. If a customer came in and asked for something, I had a strong opinion and told them what was trick. I would find out where to get the latest stuff, and we’d get it and stock it in our store,” says Geoff. As time went on, the dealership expanded to carry two of the hottest motocross bikes in that day; Maico and CZ. “It was tough for us to make any money selling CZ motorcycles in our area, because there were a couple of guys in Santa Cruz who sold them out of their garage at cost, making no profit. They each had full time jobs at Lockheed. They sponsored their own race team of about 20 guys, and did the whole thing for fun, not money”.
In 1971, the movie “ On Any Sunday” was released. It played in a theatre right down the street from Geoff’s’ dealership. He remembers how excited everyone who rode motorcycles were when they first saw that movie. “I don’t think it brought new people into our sport, but it sure pumped up everyone who was already in it. It’s a great movie about the fun of motorcycling-no question about it”. The same director also filmed the all-time classic surf movie “ Endless Summer”.
“The most creative thing I did at our old dealership was putting together my CZ shop manual,” says Geoff. “At the time one didn’t exist. All you got when you bought a CZ was exactly that. A CZ in a box, and that was it. Most dealers had parts manuals, but there was nothing for customers, and nothing for CZ parts, let alone anything explaining how to work on the thing! You had to figure it out for yourself, one bolt at a time. I decided that I was going to fill this need, continues Geoff. I wrote my own CZ shop manual. To do it, I took the motorcycle completely apart, photographed every part, identified the part number and explained how to do each repair. The manual ended up being ½ inch thick and about 150 pages long. We printed 1,000 copies and ran an ad for it in Cycle News. We ended up selling 5,000 copies of that shop manual.
Around this time, Geoff also started a mail order catalog through the dealership. He wanted to call it “Super Trick Shit” but magazines refused to run his ad, so he named it “Super Trick Stuff” instead. “My original idea for the catalog was to only sell to retail customers, says Geoff. I was shocked at all dealers who called up wanting to buy from me. They could have bought things from the same places I was getting it, but they didn’t know where to get it. It was unbelievable how not on top of it they were. The industry was in its infant stage”. There was a strong rivalry between riders from Northern California and Southern California, and a few times a year there were North vs. South races. Bob Grossi and Brad lackey were the top dogs from the north, and from the south there was “The Flyin’ Hawaiian” John DeSoto and a guy named Jim Wilson. In those days, Northern California riders would always win in the mud, and for the most part were better overall riders. In the coming years, Southern California would produce some of the fastest riders the sport had ever seen. Marty Tripes, Jeff Ward, Broc Glover, Rick Johnson, Johnny O’Mara, Ron Lechein and Jeremy Mcgrath to name a few.
By 1972 Geoff’s mail order part of the business was the most profitable part of the dealership. His partner wanted to open more dealer locations, but Geoff could see that the future was in mail order. “I was supplying the capital, I was making the money in mail order and yet he still wanted to do things his way” says Geoff. The disagreement continued until the following year, when Geoff finally had enough. He left Grand Prix Cycles in the Winter of 1973 and started his own company in February of 1974.
He called it Moto-X Fox.