Racing Dirtbikes: Reflections on Cross-Country Racing

  • 13 Hare Scrambles
  • 1 Enduro
  • 3 Racing Series
  • 4,300 miles of driving
  • 65 hours behind the wheel
  • 30 hours in the woods
  • Nearly 1,000 miles of off-road riding
  • 4 savage mudders
  • 2 Second places finishes
  • 4th Place finish for KXCR B Open Class
  • 22nd Overall PM Racer in the series

Humbled

I vividly remember my dad sitting me down as a kid and explaining to me, “there’s always someone better than you.” There’s always going to be some kid that hits a baseball better or runs faster, that’s just how life works. If you think you’re hot stuff. If you’re confident you can ride circles around everyone you know in town, sign up to race a local off-road riding series… and get humbled. 

Two years ago when I signed up to ride my first off-road race, I thought I knew how to ride a motorcycle. I rapidly discovered I didn’t know shit. Even racing in C class, there were lots of folks with superior skills to mine. Moving up to ride in the “PM class”, those A-class riders feel untouchable from where I’m at. Moreover, even if we’re all having a great day, a little moisture on the ground tends to bring us all to the edge of skill level and endurance. You may be racing other humans, but as I’ve written elsewhere, you’re racing nature and yourself more than anything. Along with that, show me the best racers in the world, given an unlimited amount of time, nature will always prevail. “Embracing the suck” is much easier said than done, but when it’s over, those moments are the most memorable.

Test Your Metal

For many of us, public failure is an experience we want to avoid. Wearing mismatched socks, getting toilet paper stuck to your shoes, and dumping your motorcycle in the parking lot tend to induce feelings of embarrassment. Unfortunately, that aspect of human nature can also prevent us from taking risks; which in turn tends to prevent us from experiencing life’s greatest “highs”.

Public ridicule, embarrassment and shame are obviously things we all want to avoid. What many of us don’t realize, is that much of those “expectations” are in our heads. Falling off your motorcycle off-road sucks, but you know what? We’ve all fallen off a motorcycle; we didn’t exit the womb as professional motorcycle riders. The vast majority of us had to practice to avoid public calamity… and like the fight against nature, if you follow the best riders long enough, you’ll witness their mistakes and discover they too are mortal.  

I say all of that to say, if you’re into motorcycling as a self-improvement project, you should give racing a try, regardless of your age. Yes, there are inherent risks to racing, as with all rewarding activities in life. That said, I’ve never learned so much, so fast, and found such a welcoming community as I’ve discovered in racing. 

Discover a New Family

I’ve spent no less than 24 months in a designated “combat zone”. If I’ve learned nothing else from my time in those places, I’ve learned that mutual suffering builds bonds. Why am I encouraging you to race if it involves suffering? “Suffering” is a matter of perspective; to the American teenager, the internet being down for two days is suffering. To GI Joe, digging a hole in the dirt to bury a wire in a 110°F heat, that might be suffering. To a motorcyclist, sitting on the starting line as the skies open up on a 50°F day is suffering. All of these things are “hard” but sufferable. What you don’t immediately realize is that there are others enduring misery with you.

Over time, the stories of this shared suffering builds relationships as you laugh about the struggles and absurdity. Together, we’re humbled by nature and competition each passing Sunday, and that mutual suffering builds unbreakable bonds and lasting relationships. Folks welcome newcomers with open arms because we’ve all realized, racing is “hard”, but “showing up”, knowing it’s cold, it may rain, and worse, you might not even finish, is actually the hardest part. 

Know Your Motorcycle

It’s one thing to have a motorcycle for a long time and know its character. It’s something else to push the motorcycle to its limits, know its capabilities, and spend hours keeping the machine running to the best of your ability. There’s nothing like riding a high-performance machine in the environment it was intended for. Unfortunately, performance comes at a cost, and in the world of off-road, it means hours dedicated to replacing and refurbishing parts and consumables that wear out. I’m of the mindset that this is arguably the worst part of racing. I enjoy wrenching on bikes, but it doesn’t hold a candle to riding bikes. Even when the weather stinks, riding is better than working, but waiting on a necessary part or breaking a bolt really drains the fun from riding. 

All that said, it’s incredibly rewarding knowing that you’ve invested the time in keeping your bike in working order when you cross that finish line on Sunday. You might be the last bike that finished that day, but it’s very likely, someone else is getting a DNF (did not finish) because of a mechanical failure. There’s a sense of accomplishment in that, moreover, you gain an understanding of what maintenance activities are critical and when they’re not. When can a chain go one more round, and when that sprocket needs replaced, less you get stranded on the trail with a derailed chain. It takes a lot of work to keep the bike going, but over time it’s one less worry in your mind when you’re sitting on the starting line. 

Believe in Yourself

There’s a famous line from Rocky Balboa that I absolutely love:

“It’s not about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward.” 

It’s a cliche movie line when you live in reality, but it goes through your mind when you’re picking your bike up for the fifth time. If you don’t try, you’ll never fail; but if you never try, you’ll never know what you’re capable of. It’s unlikely I will ever be a professional motorcycle racer at this stage in life. However, after two seasons of off-road racing, I have skills today I wouldn’t have gained if I didn’t try racing. After racing, I still find intimidating obstacles out on the trail, but I now know that I have tried and failed, and tried and succeeded in the past. This has made me more willing to tackle more difficult trails as the rewards are worth the effort and things feel achievable. Believe in yourself. We’ve all started from zero, we’ve all fallen over, many of us have thrown in the towel, but the reward is climbing back on the bike eventually and ultimately conquering our fears. 

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5 Responses to Racing Dirtbikes: Reflections on Cross-Country Racing

  1. Terrance Boyle says:

    Awesome, inspirational article.
    Thank you!

    Like

  2. Bud Bingham says:

    Good read as always. Well done.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Simon says:

    Hey man that is one great read, well done thanks!!! I have tried track racing and I was crap but it was a fantastic experience!!!! Thanks. Simon

    Like

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