Maico—“Maisch and Company”—was founded by Ulrich Maisch in Poltringen, Germany in 1926. Ulrich first operated the business as a 24-hour automobile service center, and sold bicycle and motorcycle parts as well. When Ulrich’s sons Wilhelm and Otto joined the business, they soon began assembling complete bicycles for sale, and by 1935 produced their first motorized two-wheeler. Maico was nationalized by the German government during World War II and made to manufacture airplane parts and other war materiel. Following the war, Maico found itself fortunate to be in Allied-controlled West Germany, and again began producing motorcycles.
The company thrived during the 1950s, and began to earn a reputation for producing motorcycles that “were just a little bit better” than the BMWs, Adlers, Kreidlers, NSUs, and other German machines then available, according to German engineer and racer Eric Bley. Maico helped pioneer the production of high-performance two-stroke engines, and mated their power-plants with well-designed, high-quality chassis. It was also during the 1950s that Maico gravitated towards the manufacture of off-road motorcycles, rather then street bikes.
As the 1960s began, Maico was well-positioned to supply sporting motorcycles for the growing world of off-road motorcycling. Maico continued to be recognized as an elite brand for enthusiasts. Maico’s design for leading-axle front forks, with the upper tubes mounted in the triple-tree, nearly in-line with the steering stem, lessened the mechanical advantage of the front wheel in favor of the rider’s strength, and created the only “front-steering” dirt bike in the world for the next two decades. In America in the mid-to-late sixties, with distributors Frank Cooper in place on the west coast and Dennie Moore on the east coast, Maico took off as the elite machine for the newly-imported sport of “moto-cross.” Likewise, in Europe in 1972, the word on the international motocross circuit was that if you wanted to win, you needed to be on a Maico.
Maico in 1973 was at the center of the introduction of the biggest innovation to ever hit off-road motorcycles: long-travel suspension. Clearly aware of Yamaha’s mono-shock efforts, but also acting independently, Maico race-team engineer Reinhold Weiher introduced the twin-shock long-travel rear suspension at the Czech Grand Prix of that year. Maico immediately realized the importance of their discovery, and were quick to share it with every other Maico rider. The company put their long-travel machine into production in early 1974, the famous “1974 ½” model.
Maico engineers were responsible for a litany of industry accomplishments. Among them were the iconic Maico 501; the bullet-fast but fragile 125s—both road-racing and off-road versions; the amazingly-competent MC400 and MC440 machines; and the motorcycle often regarded as “the best motocross bike, for its time, ever made:” the 1981 Maico 490. As former Maico employee—and now KTM vice-president—Selvaraj Narayana points out, Maico engineers produced the basic geometry and layout for every modern dirt bike, with the introduction of the great 490. Maico’s pre-eminence in off-road motorcycles ended with the company’s sudden—and for years, baffling and mysterious—bankruptcy in 1983.
Riders associated with the Maico name include Swedish legend Ake Jonsson. Jonsson’s perfect riding, paired with his Maico 400 in the 1972 European and American series, made every other man and machine combination appear inferior. German stars Adolf Weil, Willi Bauer, and Hans Maisch were extremely loyal Maico riders. American champions often associated with Maico include Tim Hart, Gary Chaplin, Rex Staten, Rich Eirstedt, Steve Stackable, Gaylon Mosier, Denny Swartz, and Danny “Magoo” Chandler. Designer/fabricator Greg Smith (founder of Wheelsmith Engineering) and Rick “Super Hunky” Sieman (founder and editor of DIRT BIKE Magazine) are also closely associated with Maico.
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