FINNISH SISU*

By Kenneth Olausson

He was the rider who won by strength and stubbornness, the famous Finnish sisu. Heikki Mikkola rode the long way to reach the top of the world. Reaching his lifelong ambition he was the very first rider to win both the 500cc and 250cc mx titles. Both championships were won on Husqvarna and it happened in 1974 and 1976.

In the Finnish motoring magazines of "Vauhdin Maailma" and "MP-Sport" of 1972, there was an advertisement from Champion spark plugs where Heikki Mikkola poses with his family, his van and his Husqvarna. Heikki has his daughter Hanna in his arms while his wife Kaija leans on the Swedish machine on which Heikki rode in the 500cc world championship that year. The Ford Transit was his means of transportation to the races with his family, hardly a luxurious way of travelling. The mechanical work was then done under the meagre protection of a tent roof, which was held in place with two poles attached to the side of the Mikkola vehicle. Just in case it would rain ...

Motocross riding, even with championship status, was not associated with fame & fortune in the heydays of the 70s. The factory riders were poorly salaried at this stage, but the situation would be changed some years later when the market for motocross grew to much larger proportions. Still, to compare the turnover with the money that is involved in professional racing today is definitely not an issue.

Heikki Mikkola started his mx career very early. He made his first results on home ground at Hyvinge, which is a legendary sand track considered to be one of the hardest ever, even by international standards. Sandy tracks are well-known for being exhausting to the riders and this is exactly why Mikkola has been so successful on this loose ground. He had a phenomenal physical stamina and could have been an outstanding athlete in any kind of sports. Mikkola's first international success on Husqvarna came in the Swedish 250cc Grand Prix at Hedemora in 1968. The Finnish rider came home second after Torsten Hallman who at this time was a four-time world champ on Husqvarna.

In 1971 Mikkola had a splendid start in the championship. After four rounds he was leading with one victory and two runner up places. But his continuation was less successful and he only came fourth in the championship. For 1972 Heikki Mikkola went from the 250 to the 500cc class, still on Husqvarna. Here he was competing against stars like Roger De Coster, Ake Jonsson and Bengt Aberg. Mikkola took bronze after the winning Belgian De Coster.

Husqvarna needed a star in the 250-class for the 1973 season where the factory considered to have a winning concept with their new machine. So Heikki Mikkola had to re-saddle once again and competed in the quarter litre class. He made a thoroughly even season and scored 143 points, which rendered him third sport in the 250 title chase.

After all the class changes Mikkola once again switched to the big bore machines. He was riding a 500cc Husqvarna in 1974 and now nobody could stop him from winning. Not even De Coster, although the two rivals had more than a few wheel-to-wheel contests during this exciting Grand Prix-season. Mikkola won the title eventually, taking nine more points than De Coster in 1974.

The physical training was the core to success according to the well-built Finn who had stamina like no one else on the grid. "I started towards the end of the year to build my strength in good time for the season opener in the spring (usually the Austrian GP in the 500cc class). In January I went on intensifying my training in order to find top shape ahead of the gruelling Grand Prix season. Some times I worked out three times a day, other days it was enough with two sessions..."

Running, gymnastics and riding were lapped in intense hours of hard work before the exacting demands of the Finn were satisfied. During his career he was also injured a couple of times, which takes strength from your body to recover.

1976. Class-change once again! Mikkola surprises the world by moving back to the 250cc machines, but remains ever faithful to the Swedish brand.

“I want to be the first in the world to win the title in both classes, said the sympathetic Finnish rider,”now full of confidence after his latest victories.

The season developed into a gigantic fight between two eager riders: Heikki Mikkola against Gennady Moiseev; the Soviet rider who turned up from nowhere and threatened the entire motocross world on his ultrafast KTM machine. After the deciding race, one single point kept the riders apart in the result sheets. Heikki Mikkola won and had now fulfilled his motocross dreams, winning his second world title. With this win Mikkola's Husqvarna era was also over for the Finn who had been faithful to the Swedish brand in almost a decade. 

Bob Hannah, the American 250cc champion in motocross compared Mikkola with De Coster:

“When raw strength was up for grabs, Mikkola always took the better part of the duel between these two MX icons.”

I am in great debt to my faithful mechanic Heikki Penttila from my home town of Hyvinkää. Without him, my success story would have been limited. He is definitely one of the best mechanics in the world, out of a hundred races, I managed to finish 96, which is unheard of in the field. Of course, it also had to do with the excellent bikes from Husqvarna,” said Heikki Mikkola, who would always go hunting (for anything from birds to a strong elk) as an interest besides motorcycles. “Walking in the woods on home turf always gave me extra strength…”

*Sisu is a Finnish word generally meaning determination, bravery, and resilience. Sisu is about taking action against the odds and displaying courage and resoluteness in the face of adversity. Deciding on a course of action and then sticking to that decision against repeated failures is Sisu.

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