Interview: Sauli Markus – Finland’s MX bike restoration guru!

It is sometimes strange and always entirely pleasing how one conversation can spiral out and lead to entirely fascinating discoveries. And so it happened when tow longstanding friends from Finland and South Africa indulged in yet another long session of moto talk, international problem solving and general patter, that a pearl of information worthy of further exploration arose. The friend in question was Marko Valtonen, a long-time motocross addict, and enthusiastic father whose son, Roni, raced at advanced level until injury intervened.

Marko is the owner of an immaculately-restored Honda CR500, and if the admittedly liberal Finnish legislation had gone a tad further, it’s not beyond imagining that he would now be married to the bike. Marko is modest and deferential, though, and when the conversation one night again swerved to his pride and joy oozing mean power in his garage, he pivoted the conversation across to his good friend Sauli Markus. Sauli’s restoration efforts, said Marko, makes his pale in comparison, and so an online introduction was made so that this tidbit might be explored further and written up.

Sauli was happy to comply, and the first pictures he sent across of his collection immediately created the risk of keyboard damage from excessive drool. The English have a lovely crisp, descriptive word to describe something that is so beautiful you can almost taste it. That word is “mint”, and it may as well have been coined for Sauli’s bikes.

My fascination having duly been piqued, a wad of questions were internet-couriered Sauli’s way, and from there enough visual – and written material was collected for a passably entertaining article.

This article continues below

–  When did you become involve with motocross and did you race yourself?

– I got my first MX bike when I was four. I have ridden since then I had a  few years’ break and I was  less  active  for some years but basically I have had MX bikes for almost 40 years.I raced in Finland, but when I was 16, I  crashed and had a knee injury. After that I still raced actively for  few years, but my career ended too early. Now I have been participating in classic MX competitions for a few years. My dream is to be behind the gate in Farleigh Castle in the near future.

– Being in Finland, you must have been a fan of Heikki Mikkola- is he your favourite and what are current riders you follow?

 Mikkola is of course the most successful and highly appreciated Finnish MX rider ever. We also have other international riders from the 80s-90s here in Finland They were not as successful as Mikkola but were factory riders anyway. I have collected rare stuff from these years, the rarest item might be Tapani Pikkarainen’s  Arai helmet. It is  exactly the same helmet he used 1983 when he won the  GP in Ruskesanta . He personally authorised this and signed it for me as well. Nowadays is interesting to follow Cairoli – I’m interested to see whether he can win his tenth world championship. I am also interested in the AMA series in the USA, and particularly keen to see if Jett Lawrence can fulfill his potential and become a great champion.

– You have some lovely restored bikes. How did you first get involved in this hobby?

My dad was following classic MX earlier and in some way he managed to attract me to share this passion. Five years ago I bought my first 125cc Honda, I build it up from zero and then all this classic hobby got out of hand :-). I have collected some race shirts like all the others young MX fans, I think my first one was Kari Tiainen’s muddy shirt from the 1990 ISDE in Sweden.
This bikes are kind of continuum of that. (Note from the editor – the continuum also placed the hobby in another price category altogether).

– What bikes are currently in your collection?

– Honda ME125 CR 1989(Mugen , VRP kitted)
– Honda CR 125 1989 (my race bike)
– Honda CR 125 1997
– Honda CR 125 2007
– Honda CR 250 2005
– Yamaha YZ 250 1996 (Bought it as new, sold to my friend and bought it back).
– Yamaha YZ 80 1991 (My old bike that I found in some barn. The Finnish Yamaha importer arranged this for me from Europe with larger wheels, extended swingarm and WP suspension)
– Husqvarna WR 400 1987 (my dad’s bike)

– How do you go about finding the parts that you need to restore the bikes?

-All the common general parts can still be found OEM parts. I try to use OEM parts as much as I can. But then when you require special parts, it needs a lot of searching and it helps when you know the right people. I think I already have some good contacts all over the world, because I regularly get contacted and offered nice parts.

This article continues below

– Do you have particular favourite from among your collection?

– The Mugen bike is my favourite. It is not complete yet, I still need to get the original Mugen shock and Coke bottle swingarm at the very least. Also my CR125 race bike is another favourite, I have now tuned it and gotten it fast and it is nice to ride against 250cc and 500 cc bikes and be faster with smaller bike.

– Do you actually ride the bikes?

My race bike I ride regularly, of course. I rebuilt the Mugen Honda last winter. I have not ridden it and I don’t know whether I should. Maybe I should keep it just as a garage queen.

– Are there any future projects in the planning?

I am rebuilding a 1990 CR250 now, the frame and engine are now ready and the bike will be behind the gate for the 2021 season.
My 1991 YZ80 is the next project.

– Do you have much contact with other collectors and restorers?

Yes, I have contacts all over the world, I have just sent some parts to Australia. Most of the special parts are found outside of Finland but some things can be found in Finland also.

This article continues below

-Do you have much interest from people wanting to come and view your bikes?

The classic MX scene is very small in Finland, really the only visitors are my friends and other classic MX guys who also have their own bikes. Otherwise people think of me as kind of a village idiot whose garage is like a junkyard full of old bikes. They don’t understand what this hobby is all about :-). Someone once asked me, if that Honda engine from was from Ali Express because there are some Chinese letters on it? That tells you enough already..hahah.

For me the passion is about is building and keep old bikes alive and collecting nice items from the eighties and nineties. Racing is also part of it and that keeps me moving and pushing to keep myself in good condition. Even though the races are short, it’s much more fun and safer when you are better shape 🙂

There we have it – throughout our discussions, Sauli’s pure, unadulterated passion for his hobby is as clear as a Finnish lake in high summer. Of course having the latest and greatest racing machinery, but there is something to be said for the pop and crackle of a lovingly-restored two stroke, the striking visual impact and, of course, the heady, suffusing smell. The world needs many more Sauli Markuses to keep the legacy alive.

Interview: Tinus Nel