Most motorcyclists that are into the competition side of our sport know that dirt track riders wear a steel shoe on their left boots. Run counterclockwise, dirt track racing on any length track calls for the use of the left foot to stabilize the broad-sliding bike. To minimize friction against the dirt and reduce boot wear, long ago riders started strapping on a “steel shoe.” The best known steel shoe maker is the late Ken Maely. Maely made steel shoes in his home shop but also traveled to races and hammered out and welded shoes on site, also repaired them for riders in the heat of a racing weekend. This week’s speedway bike is one Ken owned and tuned, so let’s look into Ken Maely, the speedway bike builder.
Primarily a European and British sport, most of the extremely purpose-designed speedway bikes ridden in America came from across the pond as well. For example, a Czechoslovakian company, Jawa, little known in America, is still one of the largest producers a speedway bikes. Small, short and lacking rear suspension they use single cylinder 500cc motors very low in the frame. Primary drives were exposed and lubrication was total loss. The engines and frames never really evolved much, until Maely came along.
Ken Maely was much more involved in dirt track racing than as a steel shoe fabricator. A California tuner, it is said that Maely engaged his most talented left coast friends to help create and manufacture an all new bike. Most of his focus was on the engine. The crankshaft was pressed together using a one piece connecting rod. Mains and big end were caged roller bearings. He borrowed the clutch from a Japanese bike and used a Hy-Vo chain off the crank to drive it. The primary, unlike many old designs, was enclosed, an oil bath for the clutch and chain. Maely designed his own oil pump as well. As in past designs, once oil was pumped through the bottom end, it went onto the ground; total loss lubrication. The cylinder head design and many components were adapted from a Honda XL350, a good match for the 88mm bore. The famed Jerry Branch flowed Ken’s heads, and most head parts could be bought at a Honda shop. Carburetion came from a 38mm Mikuni set up for alcohol, the fuel of speedway racing. The all important ignition was made by a buddy of Ken’s in the electronics business and mimicked a Krober.
Though we have been taught that frames need to be strong and rigid, even some MotoGP bikes have just the right amount of flex designed in. This improves traction and makes the bike and rider more in tune with track irregularities. Maely tested his Flexflyer design and through rider input found it worked. The trick design involved putting flex, allowance for some twist, into the top frame tube; Maely used a pair of tubes that could be clamped solid, or allowed to move a bit. Genius!
This speedway bike is graciously on loan from Joe Rzonka, a good friend of the National Motorcycle Museum and a Life Member. When you visit you can look over this speedway bike, board track racers, traditional dirt track machines of all types, BSA’s, Triumphs, Harleys, Indians and more. We hope to see you soon.
- Engine: Air-Cooled, Single
- Type: Overhead Cam, Four Valves / Cylinder
- Bore & Stroke: 88mm x 83mm
- Displacement: 495cc’s
- Compression Ratio: 12.5 : 1
- Carburetor: 38mm Mikuni
- Ignition: Magneto
- Horsepower: 60 @ 7500 RPMs, Approximate
- Primary: Chain
- Final Drive: Chain
- Frame: Tubular Steel
- Wheels/Tires: 2.75 x 23 Inch / 3.50 x 19 Inch
- Wheelbase: 52 Inches