Cycle News Archives
This Cycle News Archives Column is reprinted from issue #30, August 3, 2005. CN has hundreds of past Archives columns in our files, too many destined to be archives themselves. So, to prevent that from happening, in the future, we will be revisiting past Archives articles while still planning to keep fresh ones coming down the road -Editor.
By Scott Rousseau
Former Six Days hero Carl Cranke says he can’t recall ever riding an AMA National Enduro.
“When I started out, I started riding short track,” Cranke said. “I liked to go fast. Enduros, having to keep time, just didn’t do it for me, whereas in Six Days you could just ride your pace and always be on time or early. You never had to look at the clock. I wasn’t a timekeeper. Truthfully, I never even had a wristwatch!”
Cranke started riding amateur flat track in Northern California when he was 16 years old.
“My first race was at a little place called Three Star Raceway near Sacramento, and I loved it,” Cranke said. “I loved short track. I lived in Orangevale, and Dan Haaby lived there. Some of the top Northern California guys were like Bugs [Dick Mann] and Mert [Lawwill]. That was my time. I rode short track and scrambles, and then when I turned 18, I started riding Class C stuff.”
If Cranke had stayed with flat track, then his might be another name made legendary in Bruce Brown’s iconic film, On Any Sunday. Instead, Cranke chose a different path, ultimately one that was more single tracked of purpose.
“I was high-point novice short tracker in the nation in 1968, but what happened was that in 1969 I had to make a decision, because to move up we had to switch from [two-stroke] 250cc to 500cc [four-stroke] bikes,” Cranke says. “I was doing all my own engines at the time, and I couldn’t afford that and didn’t have the interest in pursuing it. So, I bought a little 73cc Hercules and started riding desert races, and anything and everything.”
That included motocross, which was developing into a big sport in America in 1972.
“I rode CZs mostly,” Cranke said. “I raced against Brad Lackey. Brad had a brother named Randy, who was fast, and there was another guy, Bob Grossi. Northern California was very competitive.”
An opportunity to ride a two-day trial then changed his life forever.
“Penton had moved its distributorship from Oregon down to Sacramento,” Cranke said. “They talked me into going up to one of these two-day qualifiers up in Trask [Oregon], so I went up there and rode it like a motocross. My score said that I won, but nobody could believe that I won, so they adjusted my score so that I ended up second [laughs]. I was okay with that—I was just a hippie, and everyone else was real serious about it. But I just loved it. I mean, here you were out in the woods, and I was from California and had always done a lot of trail riding anyway. It just kind of grabbed me.”
Cranke soon found himself absorbing all the information he could about the International Six Days Trial (later renamed the International Six Days Enduro).
”I’d read all the magazines,” Cranke says. “What I really liked was the little bikes, the little 50cc 8- and 10-speed bikes. I thought, ‘God, I’d just love to do that someday.’
“So, after I got back, the guy that was running Penton West, John Penton, and told him, ‘I told you this guy was good,’ but John Penton believed that anyone from the West Coast had only ever ridden in the desert. So, he said, ‘If he’s so good, then send him back here to Ohio for the last qualifier.”’
Once Cranke got there, Penton didn’t hesitate stacking the deck against him just a little bit.
“Penton gave me and [Dick] Burleson and some guy named [Bob] Grodzinski 175cc Puchs, and they were just pieces of shit,” Cranke remembers. “Penton was playing with the Puchs because he was thinking about importing them. Of course, he had two Penton teams there, with all the boys. So, I took my die grinder back there and reworked [ported] Burleson’s and my Puchs so that at least they would run with a good 125. The event was just a mud bath, and I ended up being second overall to Carl Berggren on a 250cc Husky, and only the two of us got gold medals. And the Puch team won the team trophy, which just humiliated everyone.”
Penton had seen enough, and Cranke says that the next thing he knew, he was offered the chance to ride a Penton on the trophy team for the ISDT in Czechoslovakia in 1972.
“I rode in the 125cc class,” Cranke recalled, “and that’s how it started.”
Cranke went on to earn a gold medal at every ISDT from ’72 through ’76, an incredible string that was broken when the ISDT returned to Czecho in 1977, where he earned a silver medal. All of these were earned aboard Penton motorcycles, the brand to which Cranke is closely linked.
“Then in ’78 I didn’t finish,” Cranke remembered. “I was riding a Yamaha, and I punched a hole in the primary case on the first day. That was the only time I didn’t finish.”
Cranke returned to form in ’79, however, landing a gold in the 500cc class aboard an SWM in West Germany. Ultimately, he earned seven golds and two silvers in 10 attempts.
“Then I was just done,” Cranke says. “I’d had a long and wonderful career.”
Now  living in Washington, Cranke manages a tooling manufacturing plant. He still rides often with his two teenage sons, and he says he still does it for the same reason that he always did—and gold medals have nothing to do with it.
“My whole thing was that I love riding motorcycles,” Cranke said. “If you ask Dick Mann what he really liked about racing, he would tell you that he loves to ride motorcycles. Malcolm Smith loves to ride motorcycles. For me, I never cared if anybody ever recognized me or talked to me as long I got to ride motorcycles. That’s what I did.” CN
Carle Cranke was inducted into the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 2000. He passed away in 2020 at the age of 71.