A perpetual motion racing ‘game’ made by Japanese toy geniuses Tomy, in which little bicycles race around a track forever. There used to be lots of these motorized track games in the 70s and 80s – perhaps you had something similar?
Remember life before video games? Of course you do.
Or maybe you don’t. Video games have been with us since the late 1970s, and in most of our homes since the early 1980s. But there are people alive now, and in their 20s, to whom the notion of a world without digital gaming is a world that existed over 15 years before they were even born. Ancient history – to them.
But before digital gaming occupied so much of so many people’s recreation time, the only ‘games’ you could play were physical ones – either something outside, or (if you were trapped inside by the weather) something consisting of physical pieces, boards, toys, or whatever else was required. This necessity, as the old saying goes, led to quite a lot of invention.
Sometimes I get the impression that half of the really cool, innovative toys of the 1980s were made by Tomy Corporation, of Japan. I’ve already profiled two other entirely different, yet cool toys created by Tomy (the air-powered Air Jammer Road Rammer and the ‘mechanical video game’ Digital Derby Auto Raceway. Can you imagine what a hotbed of creative ideas the Tomy headquarters must have been, in the 1970s and 1980s?
And now, here’s another unusual toy – Moto-cross Racing Bicycles.
Sold and branded by Kmart in this instance (the example shown here was actually purchased from Coles New World in Australia in the early 1980s for the princely sum of $12.98), the game has “Tomy” embossed on it and carries the following on the side of the box:
Manufactured by Tomy Kogyo Co. Inc Exclusively For K Mart (Australia) Limited. Made In Japan.
The “1980” year I have stated is just an approximate based on when I think we got it, as unfortunately there is no year anywhere on the box or parts.
Moto-cross Racing Bicycles is one of those perpetual motion type toys in which objects travel around a course, rolling downhill, before being elevated back to the top of the course again. And – repeat.
Growing up in the 1980s, I seem to remember quite a few of these kinds of games. From ones with tracks suited to Matchbox cars, to others that had courses designed simply for marbles – there was something about the colour and movement of seeing things rolling down a course, over and over, that always caught my attention. I remember seeing these contraptions running in toy stores (or the toy section of a department store) – always on a shelf just out of the reach of my small hands. And I wanted them.
I guess I loved the idea of watching little things racing by themselves, wondering which one would win – as if the toys were ‘alive’ and each competitor was actually propelling itself to victory.
After unpacking all the pieces, here’s what the game looks like when fully assembled – a plastic track that locks together, supported by pillars.
Given that Moto-cross Racing Bicycles was sold at Coles and Kmart back in those days, you might assume it couldn’t have been “set up and running” in the store – because those stores simply stack their toys on shelves, right?
But on the contrary – while Kmart in Australia today is (like most department stores) little more than a clearing-house for stock (in which you simply rush in, grab what you want, and rush out), as recently as the 1980s they were still making an effort to actually display products and impress visitors. Can anyone remember when Kmart stores used to have a whole aisle of Lego, with clear glass display cases occupying the top shelf filled with Lego scenes of Town, Space, Pirates and Trains? I can even remember seeing electric Lego trains running at Kmart.
They used to do the same for other toys too, and it wasn’t uncommon to see some toys unpacked and on display – maybe even being demonstrated by staff. Apparently my Dad noticed Moto-cross Racing Bicycles one day in a Coles supermarket and decided to buy it. It’s even more strange to imagine it unpacked and running at a Coles store (which was more of a supermarket back then, just as it is today), but the proof is in the price sticker!
The objective of the game is simple – it’s not really a game at all. You just watch the bicycles going around. Each bicycle consists of a plastic rider with legs that move, and heavy metal wheels that spin freely. Each wheel actually has a little tab on it that makes the rider’s legs move up and down too – giving the impression that it’s the rider doing all the pedal work.
When riders reach the bottom of the course, they are carried back to the top by a motorized conveyor belt, with rubber tracks.
Without further ado, here’s a video of the whole thing in action…
As you can see, they move pretty quickly – thanks to high quality metal wheels. The conveyor belt is also quite noisy, and because of the steep slope, the rubber fins that grab each bike to carry back to the top sometimes slip – causing the bike to fall back a bit. But this only adds to the fun – as any bike can experience a bit of bad luck and slip down the order.
A lap counter at the top keeps track of everything, and this can sometimes hold a bike up for a moment if it doesn’t go through the gate quickly enough. There’s also a colour chart to show which bike colour has each lane…
A boom gate holds the riders at the start as well.
Down below, the figure 8 layout and bridge overpass was something I always loved as a kid – there was always something fun about watching toys travel under-and-over one another…
The final turn is where everything hits tops speed, before slapping into the base of the conveyor belt again. Fortunately the bikes never seem to pop out of their lanes even with the sharp turn…
The conveyor belt is powered by a single D size battery, and will pretty much run for hours – until you can’t stand the noise anymore! It’s activated via a simple switch on the side.
There are also some plastic flags and trees that you attach to the track along the way.
And here’s a close-up of one of the bicycles. The sticker numbers came on a sheet and had to be applied.
As I mentioned earlier, this was probably just one of a number of similar toys available in the 1970s and 1980s – but one that I had a lot of fun with! I was a bit of a nerdy kid, so naturally I’d have a series of races and write down the winners – as if it were a championships points table. Ah, the days when we had endless time and no responsibilities 🙂
If you had a similar racing game to this one, feel free to post in the comment section below.
As for the rarity and value of games like this – well, this one is certainly rare as I’ve only seen a couple of examples in the past decade. But as it was probably a fairly obscure toy, it doesn’t have huge demand from collectors either. Something that would probably change if only more toy collectors were aware of great little games like this one, and of the quality and kitsch value of so many toys made by Tomy.
|At a glance…|
|Batteries: 1 x D|
|Original price in Australia circa 1980: AU$12.98|
|What this would equate to, in 2013 money: AU$50.98 (calculated using this)|