DeCoster wasn’t the only rider who believed in linkage
forks. During the 1960s and early ’70s, many motorcycles
came with leading-link forks, often called Earles forks.
Unlike the typical telescopic fork, leading links had the
uncanny ability to climb over bumps and obstacles by
folding their shock-absorber-suspended front link up and
back with the force of the bump. Greeves, DKW, DOT,
Cotton, Sachs and even BMW were big supporters of
Leading links were lighter than telescopic forks,
although they looked heavier. They could climb over
obstacles without the fork tubes bending backwards.
They had minimal stiction because of the leverage of the
backwards-folding arm. If they had a flaw, it was that
some early leading-link forks would stiffen and rise up
under hard braking, but this problem was easily solved
by making the front brake float.
If your bike didn’t come with leading links, you could
buy aftermarket versions from Swenco or Van Tech.
A young Jody Weisel started out racing a leading-link-equipped Sachs 125 in the late 1960s, and when
he switched to Hodaka 100s and 125s, he ran aftermarket
Rich Thorwaldson was a factory Suzuki racer whose
post-race career centered on building swingarms for
1970–’ 80 motocross bikes. Rich was a former desert racer
DECEMBER 2014 / MOTOCROSS ACTION 85
THAT TIME FORGOT
who believed that leading links could be updated to
work on modern bikes. His 1979 Thorks were very good,
very inexpensive and very light.
In the early 1990s, ATK/AMP inventor Horst Leitner
developed a prototype set of leading-link forks that
merged the ideas of Earles and Ribi into one fork
design. Leitner hoped to make the forks an option on
his ATK 406 and 604 motocross bikes. Four-time 250
Champion Gary Jones was the test rider on the project,
but Leitner sold ATK, and when he left, the project was
shelved, although Horst revised it later on the popular
AMP link mountain bike fork.
One factory team even experimented with putting
small leading-link forks on the bottom of a set of
telescopic forks. The idea was for the leading-link
arms to absorb small bumps, while the telescopics
absorbed the big stuff. It never saw the light of day
(outside of the factory).
So, what happened to leading-link forks? Back in the
1970s, the improvement of telescopic forks made the
leading links look old fashioned—and, as often happens,
the riders of the era deserted leading links for the next
big thing. Honda built several exotic, CNC-machined,
ultra-light versions of the Ribi design but decided
that the motorcycle market wasn’t ready for such a