Here's all you could ever want to know about getting stuck into the wet, wild and wacky world that is motocross
Off-road is the new on-road, mud the new tarmac, and matching pant-trouser ensembles are the new leathers. Yup, this season anyone who's anyone is taking to the dirt. Simply put, the sway towards off-roading in Blighty is growing by the nanosecond. It's hardly at the level that we'll see sportsbike sales dropping through the floor, the trackday business drying up and everyone commuting on KX125s, but there's no doubt muddy motorcycling is enjoying something of a renaissance right now.
But before we get carried away, let's get one thing straight. Off-roading falls into two main camps - motocross being one, and trail riding the other. Motocross is done on purpose-built dirt tracks with jumps and stuff while trail riding is done out in the wilds of nature's own playground, and although both are riding the crest of a boom, it's motocross we'll concern ourselves with here. Why? Because we are. Got it? Good, back to business then.
So why would anyone want to go motocrossing? First up it's a bargain compared to road riding. Crash your dirt bike (as you will many times) and the chances of damaging more than your pride are about a gazillion to one. Drop your gleaming GSZXR-RR at a standstill, however, and you're looking at a four-figure bill before you know it. And how about taking said GSZXR-RR on a trackday? Well you'll not see much change out of £400 once you've taken into account tyres, sign-on costs and fuel. And if you lob it? Oof, doesn't bear thinking about.
And while we're talking crashing, let's talk pain. Crash on tarmac and even if you don't break anything you're unlikely to feel like doing the funky chicken for a few days, but because crashing in the dirt happens at lower speeds and on to nice soft mud, injuries are less common.
You'll get fit too - you won't believe what a workout it is hanging onto a bouncing, slewing bike trying to go in at least three directions at once. Throw in the fact you'll be pulling the thing out of a ditch every half hour - if you're trying - and it soon adds up to a training regime Rocky would be proud of.
Finally, the most important ingredient. Fun. Motocross is an absolute gas. No matter how crap you are, in your head you can be a hero instantly. You can slide the back, lose the front, bounce through the air and even crash with every lap. Brilliant.
Although most of us road riders may be new to motocross, one group who've been aware of its benefits for years are the road racing fraternity who've always seen the value in muddy action, not only for building stamina and fitness but for honing all-important riding skills. Sliding a 180bhp superbike on slicks at a ton-plus is all very well, but it's not something you learn overnight. You have to do it in stages, and where better to start than at 15mph on the dirt? Exactly.
With all this in mind I felt I should see what this motocross lark was all about so I took up a certain Mr Paul Young on his kind offer of a day at the Mallory Park motocross centre, which he runs with one of his sponsors.
Possessing the off-road abilities of an earthworm, I needed all the help I could get. So I sourced a gleaming CR125 from Honda, and top-to-toe motocross gear from the benevolent fellows at Thor Motocross - at least I was going to look fast as I fell into the mud at 3mph.
Having never paid a great deal of attention to motocross bikes the CR was a revelation. Minimal and flyweight, it was a work of art. And once fired up the crisp, shrill bark of the diminutive highly-tuned two-stroke motor sent shivers down my spine.
Rolling up at Mallory I drove through the familiar gateway, but hooked a sharp left into a field instead of taking the usual route across the racetrack and into the pits and within seconds I was in another world. While 100 metres away racebikes caned around the super-fast Gerards bend on a practice day, all around me was mud, grass and the buzz of crossers leaping and slithering their way around the one-mile circuit.
Finding Youngy I signed on and asked how much it was. "Twelve quid for as long as you want," came the reply. He must have taken my bemused expression as concern, because he quickly pointed out that as a guest I wouldn't have to pay. In fact, I'd been taken aback - when you're used to £120-odd for a few sessions at a trackday, £12 for all-you-can-ride is a steal.
Struggling into my unfamiliar clobber, I noted the company I was in. As well as Youngy, BSB boys Glen Richards and Jon Kirkham had turned up for the crack, as had R6 Cup front-runner Peter Ward, our very own Niall Mac and even Chris Vermeulen, who had taken time out from leading the World Supersport championship to chew the fat, although a mangled thumb was keeping him off the bikes.
Noting Glen was looking seriously handy tearing his local track apart I collared him for advice on basic motocross technique. "Just get out there and enjoy it, mate," came the reply.
Even with my brain emptied of all thoughts technique-related I still felt a rising tide of nerves and seemed to have forgotten the basic principles of bike riding as I lurched my way to the track entrance. But before I could dwell on matters a clear spot in the traffic appeared and it was time to dive in.
The first berm bounced into view and took me that much by surprise I nearly rode right out the top of it, but I just managed to lay the bike down at the last second and skim the top edge, spraying a vast rooster tail into the sky, and then... Erm, okay, actually I put my foot down like a girl and then nearly ran it over. But I stayed on. At the tabletop I leapt inches in the air (no, really) and almost threw myself over the bars in the process, and on the main straight I ploughed into the deepest mud pool, slewed violently left and nearly hit a trackside post. Three corners later, having convinced myself I was a dirt-riding god (in my head), I lost the front and went down like a sack of spuds.
After five laps I had to pull in. I was sweating like Bertie in a pie shop, my forearms had pumped up that much getting my gloves off was a struggle, and I seemed to be wearing most of a field on top of my once-pristine kit. A glug of water and a Mars bar later however and I was ready for the off again. What a perfect way to spend a day.
Continue for the right gear for riding motocross
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