Rokon Vs. The World
Mother Nature has met her match
Reprinted from Dirt Bike Magazine, 1993
The year, 1963. The world is in color but your TV is black and white. You want rock 'n' roll but the radio stations keep playing Frank Sinatra. After spending half a day hiking up a mountain, you have reached your favorite backwoods hunting spot to commune with nature and ponder the disappointing state of the world. A noise, a bit like a cement saw, starts coming from the woods. Seconds later a man on a bizarre-looking machine rides into view, crosses the stream and continues up the mountainside without difficulty. You know your '63 dirt bike couldn't do that. It's nothing more than a street bike with fenders removed. Well, maybe the age of technology has produced something that really works. You have seen a Rokon for the first time.
Now it's 1993. Most dirt bikes have evolved to work better for dirt bike racing of one kind or another. Their designers look at other race bikes and the race courses the bikes will have to negotiate, and they prepare the machines accordingly. It's almost an insult to the basic purpose of a dirt bike, carrying its rider over whatever stands in his path. Only one motorcycle still appears to approach its fundamental purpose seriously. Like a space probe or deep-sea exploration submarine, the Rokon "Mototractor" is designed to go where no course exists. That's why it floats, has two-wheel drive and looks a little like a space probe or exploration submarine. It's not made to challenge other bikes. It's made to take on the world.
Regular dirt bikes have gotten pretty good at the Rokon's game, however. Does this bizarre bulldozer-like trail bike still let you go where other dirt bikes can't? To find out, we had to go hiking - on wheels.
Rokon's Trail-Breaker hasn't changed much since the early '60s when it first appeared. Why should it? The earth hasn't changed in thousands of years. A typical conventional dirt bike, like Honda's '93 XR600, bears almost no resemblance to their earlier off-road offerings, like the step-through Trail 90 - steady development or confusion?
Our test Rokon was the most lavishly appointed model the company offers. It has lights, a passenger seat and wheels that can be used as fuel or water tanks. You will need that extra seat. The sleek, sexy Rokon attracts the ladies like a magnet! The automatic transmission linked to the 146cc Chrysler two-stroke engine has three speed ranges. Top speed in low is about 10mph but the bike feels capable of yanking a railroad bridge off its moorings in this range. Medium gives you good pulling and climbing power and a 20mph top speed. The Rokon can reach 35mph in high, but because of the bike's handling at speed you have to have a Wallenda-like desire for thrills to want to do this in the rough. Two-wheel drive, no suspension and tires nearly seven inches wide aren't features we expect to see the other manufacturers pick up for the machines they sell for high-speed cross-country travel.
At first, the Rokon's distaste for speed is a little unsettling. Speed is such a handy tool for conquering trail obstacles we felt pretty defenseless riding into challenging terrain without it. We soon learned that the Rokon doesn't need speed or careful body positioning or delicate clutch and throttle coordination to handle the gnarly parts of the trail that call on the rider to pin it or die on a regular bike. The automatic transmission lets it pull out and stop without making its rider work a clutch or gearbox. If Rokon and rider become separated and both go tumbling to the bottom of whatever they were trying to go over, the Rokon continues running, even upside down, thanks to its all-position carburetor. Extra steering input is required to overcome the effects of the driving front wheel, and the bike bounces when it hits bumps and rocks, but that means nothing when the trail conditions change from "How fast can we make it?" to "Can we make it?" In nasty situations, you notice that the Rokon is lighter and shorter than modern full-size dirt bikes. Though it is spacious for an adult rider, the bike is about the same size as a Honda XR100, so the ground is always reassuringly nearby, and you never have to compete with the bike for control.
The Rokon can get beginner-level riders through sections of trail that would make them give up motorcycling otherwise, but don't expect to hop on one and climb cliffs like Bob Hannah. It will never happen. Two-wheel drive doesn't make riding skill, horsepower and long-travel suspension obsolete. Oddly enough, modern dirt bike technology still hasn't made the 30-year-old Rokon design obsolete. Most dirt bikers find regular dirt bikes more appealing, but the Rokon has a rare and useful combination of qualities. It's friendly to beginners, its transmission, large racks and tow bar let it do most of the jobs four-wheel utility ATVs do, and it lets you do your hiking on wheels.
For a reprint of this article, please email firstname.lastname@example.org