Rick's Vintage Garage Queen

The Maico that's too pretty to ride

Oct. 12, 2009 By Rick Sieman

Vintage Maico 400For those who don’t know, a Garage Queen is a bike that’s not ridden, but instead shown off to friends.   I’ll have to admit that I own one.  Yep, among my stable of bikes is a 1976 Maico 400/5 that has been lovingly restored.

Not ridden, mind you.  Just made close-to-perfect.

I’ve also got a 490 Maico which is ridden and a pair of Project Bikes that get used a lot.  But the 400 Maico sits under a protective cover that’s only removed to proudly display the bike.

There isn’t much (if anything) you could do to this 400 Maico.  Fresh tires, Works Performance shocks, a virtually flawless aluminum gas tank, new rims and spokes, correct period stickers and fresh everything that you think of.  Every once in a while, I get the urge to fire this beast up and ride it around a bit.  But that would mean that dust would get on the parts and it would require a thorough cleaning to get it perfect again.

Sigh.  I guess it’s just doomed to remain a Garage Queen.


Front hub/brake works OK, but could be stronger.

There plenty of Maicos to choose for restoration.  You could go with a truly vintage square barrel, or opt for a 490.  Have you seen the prices on the 490s lately?  Clean  examples of the 1981 490 Maico go for over $10,000.   This particular bike represents the first of the “correct” long travel bikes and it has a great engine to go with the newer chassis.

Only Yamaha had anything different that worked at the time. Then, just about every other manufacturer copied the Maico rear end design in one fashion or another. Some of the more successful copiers got huge amounts of travel in the suspension by utilizing a combination of laydown and forward mounting. This has come to be known as the cantilever type of rear suspension.

Huge fins keep the motor running cool.

And, while everyone else was changing and experimenting, Maico stayed with the (by now) conservative forward mount, giving them only 6 to 7 inches of rear wheel travel. Some of their competitors were getting as much as nine inches of rear wheel travel. Maico apparently felt that the shock absorber longevity problem with forward mounting had never been satisfactorily cured and chose to work in that direction, rather than toward getting more travel.

The first sign of the "old system" not getting the job done, was when factory rider, Adolph Weil modified his chassis for even more travel. We talked to Adolph and he told us that it was not possible on the international level to give anything away to anyone. If another rider had two inches more usable travel than his close competitor, then he could simply outride the individual in the rough stuff. Why try to stuff it underneath a rider in a turn, when you can simply leave it on over the whoops and easily smoke by?

<>Works Performance shocks handle the rear suspension chores.

Therefore, the bike you see here is also known as an AW, for Adolph Weil.  It has about nine inches of travel at both ends;  good travel, we might add.

There's only one thing that takes the edge off: the Maico is most decidedly not for the average rider.  This is an expert's machine like few others that have come down the pike.

First, here's what the machine was like when we first tested it back in 1976.  Gas Girling shocks were on the rear end and we got them with too-light 110 pound springs. At first glance, one is tempted to assume that the suspension variation is the only significant change on this Maico, but a close examination shows a number of major changes.

One of them, the five speed gearbox, was expected. In fact, a number of older 400 and 450 Maicos were running around with the extra gear, but with the normal forward mount chassis.

New style kickstarter is a big improvement over the older units.

After taking the bike apart, we were amazed to find a whole bunch of changes that genuinely make the Maico a totally new and different bike from the model right before it.  In no particular order, here's a list of a few of the more important items of interest:   Needle   bearings   on   the swing  arm  pivot  instead  of  the   old fiber metal bushing setup. The swing-arm pivot point itself was moved an inch forward closer to the countershaft sprocket. This should be a big factor in reducing chain problems that accompany almost all of the long travel rear suspensions.

A chain tensioner comes on the bike and it's the best stock item we've ever seen. Much heavier tubing is used in several places on the chassis and additional gusseting can be found here and there. This is a very sturdy looking chassis.

A new head steady is now standard, eliminating the chronic problem of breakage that's been around for a long time. Bars were now excellent copies of the CZ bend. Brakes have been improved by making the actuating arms stronger. Inside, the gearbox now has needle bearings in places that used to have bushings. Foot pegs have also been beefed up at critical points. Other minor refinements are all over the bike, like a thicker, better shaped seat, improved brackets here and there and a general overall attention to details that we would expect on a Japanese motocrosser. They've really shaped their act up on the little things.

Utterly flawless aluminum coffin tank.

The big thing we've saved mentioning until last is the powerplant. It's pure Maico power all the way. Strong, torquey and no flat spots anywhere. Big changes are not made in the barrel, carb and exhaust. Everything you see here has been around for years.  But they now give you the excellent triple-row clutch standard. The good one—that small unit that riders have been paying big bucks for.

This new (?) clutch is excellent and doesn't cause any drag. In fact, you could start the bike up on a cold morning and immediately put the transmission in gear and not even feel any clunk. Clutch pull was still on the heavy side, but you only have to use the clutch when getting under way. The rest of the time, you merely slam through the gears without using the clutch. While this is harder on the gearbox, almost any rider can power shift the Maico after just a few practice passes up the starting line. When the bike is under a good rider, you can barely hear the shifts. This is one of the reasons you see so many Maicos in the first turn, first. 

Hefty bar clamps hold CZ bend bars.

One little piece of history about the triple row clutch is in order. Believe it or not, this excellent clutch used to come as standard equipment many years ago on Maicos in a two row version, but the American distributor felt that the heavy lever pull was a bad thing, so he ordered the big clutches on most of the machines.

While the big clutches did have an easy action, they often slipped and were very heavy, causing much vibration. Additionally, they contributed to much of the clutch bushing and primary chain problems that bothered the Maico. So, the old clutch is now new, but with the refinements, is one of the best around.


Page 2 - Riding the Bike


The late great Gaylon Mosier leans the '76 Maico 400 over to the max.

Lighting off the big 400 is fairly easy. Here's the drill: Both petcocks on. Depress the tickle button on the Bing carb until some gas slobbers over the cases. While you're depressing the button, crack the throttle open to allow some of the gas to dribble into the engine. Flip out the left side kickstarter, squeeze down on the handlebar-mounted compression release and give it about half-throttle. Kick. More often than not, our bike fired up on the very first stroke. When the motor is warm, you disregard the tickling part, and, if you give the bike a genuinely healthy stroke when kicking, you don't have to use the compression release. This is merely an aid to prevent the kickstarter from biting back and blowing your leg off. This is one motor that develops a lot of pressure.

Correct stickers for that era are found on the bike.

Here's a tip for cold weather starting. When the temperature plummets, instead of installing a huge pilot jet for cold weather starting ease, merely hold the tickle button down while blocking off the overflow tube with the tip of a finger. With the other hand, keep the throttle cracked and the raw gas will dump into the engine. We started Maicos on the first kick in really cold weather with this technique.

One thing you should do on any bike—and more so the Maico—is warm it up properly before you go riding. This is a huge engine with lottsa fins and takes a while to get up to a nice, warm operating temperature. When the fins are too hot to touch with a bare hand, the bike is ready to be ridden. And then, take it easy for two laps to get the gearbox oil flowing freely.

After starting and warming up the 400, it's time to take it for a ride. Here's where the fun starts. The first time you get on the gas hard, you are going to pull an unexpected giant wheelie. Probably right around 5000 rpm, just when the Maico is pulling hardest. Because of the new location of the swing-arm pivot and the slightly changed weight distribution, the front end comes up very easy. This year, the new generation Maicos have a 45/55 front and rear weight distribution.

Brake side of the gas tank.

It's best to find an open flat spot and spend a few minutes running through the gears and getting the feel of the bike before venturing out on the track. Seriously. This is one strong bike and the front end does like to wave in the sky. Once you get the feel of the power jolt, head out to the track and start working the lines.

At first, the sensation of the power dominates all other input. But after a half dozen laps, you start to find out what the bike feels like when it's pushed. In traditional Maico fashion, it bites well in the turns with the rear end gently breaking loose before the front end even gives a hint of washing out. Of course, the Maico—like any racing machine—corners best with the power on, but you can still turn the bike if you have to with the power off. And you don't have to hunt for berms, either. The front end sticks well enough to allow the rider to take the flat inside line, if he so chooses.

Front view is impeccable.

After we'd put about an hour on the Maico, we were convinced that there was a flaw in the handling on high speed sweepers. Several times, the front end started washing out and heading for the outside. Normally, when a front end starts to go, you give it more gas and the bike starts to steer properly again. When we did this on the Maico, the condition worsened. When the gas was rolled off, the front end would bite again, but the unloaded chassis would then tend to straighten up and wander to the outside of the turn.

We puzzled over this for some time until the answer hit us; the front end was lifting off the ground under power! Yeh, that's right. The engine was pulling so hard under certain conditions, that the front end got light enough to lose its side grip with the ground.

Big fins, two petcocks and a Bing carb.

At first, we didn't know how to deal with this phenomenon, but some experimenting showed us the answer. By going up a gear higher under most circumstances, the power delivery was more smoothed out and not quite so violent. We were still going through the section as fast as before, but now the engine was being forced to work harder at lower rpm. Still, though, there were times when we wanted the extreme drive.

Black triple clamps add a nice touch.

We settled for a slight modification in cornering techniques and started squaring off the sweepers early and getting the bike more vertical. This actually proved to be a time saver all the way around.  We never noticed this high-speed-sweeper-washing-out condition on courses where traction was good. Only on the dried out, rock-hard clay tracks of So Cal would you encounter this on a regular basis.

It's fair to say that the older (forward mount) chassis is a more accurate motorcycle than the new cantilever bike, but it's also fair to say that a rider can take the new bike through almost any given section faster than the old bike.

This is why we made the statement earlier that, more, now than ever, this is a machine for the skilled rider. Some of the demands placed on the rider to make the bike go fast are simply not within the capabilities of the beginning, or novice rider. This type of rider would probably be better off with the older chassis in terms of machine forgiveness qualities.

Brake pedal actuates directly over swingarm pivot.

Our gas cap leaked slightly during the duration of the test. Plenty of gas could be held in the all aluminum tank. Tank mounting is improved this year and the aluminum alloy tank is more pleasing to the eye and to the comfort of the rider than the plastic unit of the last model.

Two hefty petcocks with good flow are standard. We'd recommend that you install an AC filter on the gas line before the bike is ridden.

A Twin Air filter is standard equipment on the bike and the plastic air box is well designed and keeps water out without resorting to shrouds or huge quantities of tape.

You'll still find a down pipe on the Maicos, and even though the late pipes are tucked in as close as space permits, chances are you'll bang one in badly every now and then. It's a sad fact of life that low pipes and long travel suspensions don't mix well. Maico owners will get to know their local welder on a first name basis, sooner or later.

The factory recommends a lean mixture (40-1) of Bel-Ray MC-1 oil with high test gasoline 98+ octane.  Sadly, a Beru plug cap is standard on the Maico and it's highly vulnerable to water. Change it right away, if you're smart.

Good chain guide, straight pull brake rod and light rear hub.

During the test, we kept waiting for the Maico kill button to short out and make us lose fire. For some reason, it didn't die. But play it safe if you get a Maico; take the stock kill button off and replace it with a Japanese unit, like those on the Yamahas or the Suzukis.

Most nuts and bolts on the Maico are of high quality, but we feel that the base bolts and nuts are way too small. We'd rather see 12mm studs with 14mm nuts in such a critical area. You have to keep a close eye on the smallish fasteners on the Maico barrel. Failure to do so can result in a blown base gasket and possible engine damage in the cubic dollar vicinity.

All plastic on the Maico was nicely done and well mounted, mostly with rubber grommets in the critical areas.  You'll find a kick stand on the Maico, which should be taken off immediately. People tend to sit on the bike with the overly long stand down and put enormous amounts of strain on a critical area of the frame.

A seat at the office.

Improved gussets are on the swing-arm for the shock mounts and the long tapered arm gusset is on the bottom now, rather than on the top. This may seem like a small thing, but now the rider will not have to do any filing or modifications if he is experimenting with different shocks, with larger than normal bodies.

The rider should change his gearbox oil after every day of racing. Not only will this extend the life of the gearbox and primary chain, but it'll give early warning of possible primary chain failure.  There's a magnetic drain plug on the primary case. Whenever you find any bits of metal on this plug, then it's time to take the primary cover off and give a close check to that triple row chain.  If you let it get worn and loose enough to break, you might find yourself in for a stiff repair bill. Worn chains tend to break and take a walk right through the aluminum cover.

Brake actuation side.

One warning: over-tightening of the intake manifold will cause it to break, sure as hell. The neoprene rubber piece has grooved lips in it and snug-ness is all that's needed.

Jetting: Our bike was happy with a 185 main jet, a 280 needle jet and 35 pilot jet. We kept the needle in the middle position most of the time, except for one hot, dry day when we moved it one notch to get rid of a slight dingle.



As far as total effectiveness goes, the stock 400 Maico is a devastating motocross weapon; and immediately regains its customary slot at the top of the handling throne.

The Maico is a stone-pure motocrosser that'll require a lot of attention from the owner to live and perform well. Then again, the first time a Maico beats you in to the first turn, and you spin out on your RM 370, you may wish that you'd spent the extra money. It all depends how bad you want to win.

Or how good you want to win.       



The rims were powder-coated gloss black on our bike.  While this looks good when new, a few months of riding time will make the rims look a bit funky.  Also the fork legs got a flat-black coating, which looks OK.  Those Works Performance shocks are first rate and add a lot to the value of the bike.



I admit it, this bike is a Garage Queen.  But at the same time, I consider it an investment.  It’s much like having a ‘57 Chevy in the garage.  The Maico will go up in value every year.  You might call it a Garage Queen, but I look at it as money in the bank.

Page 3 - Specs



NAME AND MODEL … Maico MC 400/5
MOTOR  … Single cylinder, piston port, air cooled two stroke
BORE/STROKE … 77mm x 83mm
HORSEPOWER (ACTUAL)  … 38.7 at 7600 rpm
CARBURETION … 36mm Bing, type V54
MAIN JET  … 185
NEEDLE  JET  … 285
PILOT  JET  … 35
AIR  SCREW  (TURNS)  1 1/2
IGNITION  … Points with  internal rotor
RECOMMENDED   SPARK   PLUG  … Champion   N-2
TIMING  …. 3.5-4.00mm BTDC
PRIMARY DRIVE  … 3-row chain
FINAL  DRIVE  … 520 chain  Regina extra
1. 2.71—1
2. 1.97.1
3. 1.50—1
4. 1.20—1
5. 1.00—1

AIR FILTRATION SYSTEM  … Twin-Air in still air box
(FACTORY) … 98  +  octane—pemium
FRAME  (TYPE)  … Double cradle—chromoly
WHEELBASE  …2120 mm or 56 in.
STEERING HEAD ANGLE     … 60 degrees
GROUND   CLEARANCE   … 8.5  in.
SEAT   HEIGHT  … 33 1/2   in.
FRONT SUSPENSION  ....   Internal sprung, 8.5  in. travel axle forward
REAR SUSPENSION  …  Full cantilever, gas Girling, 8.5 in. travel
WHEELS:  … Shoulderless Akront
TIRES:  … 3.00x21  Metzeler / 4.50x18  Metzeler  
FRONT:  … Internal  expanding,  aluminum hub, cable operated
REAR:  … Internal expanding,  aluminum hub, rod operated
WEIGHT (ACTUAL)  … 100 kilos—220 Ibs.
SILENCER/SPARK ARRESTER  … Welded on muffler, rebuildable
STARTER (KICK, LOCATION)  …  Left   side
PRIMARY START .. Yes, but not too many know it
GUARANTEE … None, other than mfg. defects

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