The Ramp

Surely there's never been a more insane idea than freestyle motocross

Motorcycling has always had its truly psychotic niches, but surely there has never been anything more insane than freestyle motocross. Jumping 40ft high the air, freestylers twist their arms and legs into impossible contortions in lunatic bids to out-trick each other. So, naturally enough, we thought we'd have a go...

JOHNNY'S STORY...

Um, it's just possible that this wasn't infact my best idea to date. I'm not entirely sure what triggered this particular spot of genius, but I do know it was all my doing. Alex and myself have done any number of off-road features in the past for various bike mags - it's something we've both always loved - but this is different. Freestyle motocross. Nac-nacs. Heel Clickers. Candy Bars. Confused? Don't be - all we need to know is that this has the potential to hurt like hell.

So here's what's happening. We've enlisted the help of one of the UK's top freestylers, Frazer Swanson, to teach Alex and myself at least one proper freestyle move over the next couple of months. We'll run probably three features over the next few issues on our progress. This will culminate in a jump-off between myself and Alex and (perhaps) a guest appearance at a freestyle show. But hopefully not.

Why do this? We're both far too old and frail to be doing this at our age. But every time I watch one of the Crusty videos or a supercross round on Eurosport, it just looks sooooo cool. So I want to give I a go. And the way I figure it, if we can learn to do some basic freestyle moves, then so could you. Not suggesting that you should actually give it a go or anything, especially if you have kids or a happy home-life, but Alex is 33, I'm 31, and if pottering dinosaurs like us can kick out mean moves on a motocross bike 20ft up in the air, then anyone can. Besides, I've always had a deep desire to know what both my femurs look like on the outside. Of my legs.

First of all, some suitable iron. Alex spoke to the lads at Yamaha and chose a YZ125 as his weapon of choice. Yamaha's blue motocrossers are always right up the front, and after terrifying experiences with a Kawasaki KX250 a few years back, Alex quite correctly went for the easier-to-handle 125cc option. Which is what I should have done, except my ego got in the way and I persuaded my mates at Honda UK to loan me the freestyler's weapon of choice - the awesome CR250R. 56bhp delivered instantly through a chassis weighing just 95kg is an appetite for destruction, as I'm sure I'll be finding out the hard way. A call through to Alpinestars in Italy netted us matching motocross gear - one set red, one set blue - and there we were. All dressed-up in colour-matched outfits, looking like the Bill and Ben of freestyle motocross. All the gear, no flamin' idea. At all.

Frazer's brother owns Milton Malsor moto parc in Northampton. It's no coincidence that behind every great motocrosser is a motocross track that they have unlimited access to. The track is perfect for learning on, heaps of monstrous jumps with both easy and tough landings, three big table-top ramps, a triple (for when we get really cocky and need a good slapping-down) and an excellent surface. After three weeks of perfect weather in April, obviously we picked the one Friday when the heavens opened for our first session. Frazer rocks up with his freestyle CR250 on a trailer. It's a 2002 model just like mine, but unlike mine it reeks of hard use and bad-ass attitude. I expect Frazer to be the same, but he's dead down-to-earth. No big tattoos, no dustbin-lid piercings, no enormous ego. Just a 25 year-old bloke who happens to do impossible things on motorcycles.

"First-up, I want you guys to just ride round for 15 minutes so I can get an idea of how you ride." Off we set, and both come back in after two laps, dry-gagging for water and exhausted. I had forgotten how physically monstrous motocross tracks are. "Alex, your body position is all wrong but the way you hit the jumps is right. John, your body positioning is good but you're attacking the jumps without carrying any speed." Frazer sets off to show us how it's done, and the learning is under way.

In this first session, all we want to do is nail a 50-foot table top (50ft long jump with an up-ramp, a plateau and then a down-ramp) to teach us the basics. After that we can move on to headier things, like taking feet and hands off the bars. There's nothing really scary about a table-top jump, because when you under-jump - land short - you just land on the raised plateau, and not into the up-face of another jump. So off Alex and myself set, under-jumping to our heart's content. The CR250 can't even be bothered to laugh at my pathetic efforts, although it's running very rich which actually makes it easier to ride in the midrange without disturbing its ferocious top-end too much. It's all about confidence-building. At the moment I'm hitting the ramp in third gear with the bike just coming into its proper powerband, which is making the bike a bit frisky to control. Frazer suggests hitting the ramp in fourth gear and maintaining a steady throttle all the way, rather than accelerating suddenly at the base of the jump. A few attempts and bosh! I nail it, landing softly on the down-slope of the landing ramp. It's amazing how A) good it feels when you do this and B) how much easier it is on the body and bike when you land where you're supposed to land.

So, that's the first hurdle crossed and no injuries as yet. I banged my head a bit and bent the bars on one small crash, but no big horrors. Next time, we'll be frying far more serious fish. I promise to hurt myself then. Here's Alex's version of events...

ALEX'S TALE

It's a tragic irony that I've got sucked into this freestyle have-a-go jamboree. Like Johnny, I love dirt bikes and as a relatively recent convert to nosing head-first into the mud I'm still at the bottom of a very steep learning curve. However, if there's one thing you wouldn't - until recently - find me at the bottom of it's a jump. Simply put, I'm scared of 'em. More precisely, I'm scared of heights (I get the shits at an altitude of more than six feet) and, as I've got older, scared of breaking any more bones thanks to stupidity (mine) and motorcycling.

So having stated the above, why oh why then did I rock up at a wet and windy MX track with a shiny new Yamaha YZ125 clutched in my sweaty mitts? And spend half an hour eyeing up what looked to me like a precipitous wall of clag, with a 'landing' ramp equally as suspicious 50 feet (yes, 50) after?

Actually I asked why a lot that morning, but the simple answer is desire. A desire to do something with a motorcycle that, in my mind, is undo-able. Well, I've seen it done, on countless slick-filmed US vids - the Crusties, Children Of A Metal God, Seth, The Hard Way - and every time, every frame and slo-mo I'm blown away by what the Metal Mulitia can do with an airborne motocross bike. Me want! Me want to even just scratch the surface of where those guys are at.

Click to continue reading Alex's tale.

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