David Knight - Interview

Twice World Enduro Champion David Knight on Teutonic over-engineering, going green, racing in the States and his boyhood dream of one day competing at the Isle of Man TT

The BMW ride didn’t work out how I thought it would
Testing went well and we had good people on the team but when it came to racing it was a complete disaster. We thought we could turn it around, and I thought that I was there to develop the bike, to turn it into a race winner. But when it came to the crunch, we weren’t allowed to do anything and it had to stay virtually identical to the production bike. The guy who designed it wouldn’t admit that it was no good as a racebike at the level we were at.

Too many bright ideas aren’t always a good thing
It’s all very well designing a system that keeps the chain at a constant tension but that caused the rear to lift and take weight off the rear tyre, losing grip. The crank spins backwards on the BMW too, and that makes it weird to ride in mud. I think they tried too many new ideas when they could have just built a good enduro bike and evolved it. I had ideas on how to improve it, but I just kept getting shot down. It got to the point where I wanted to try a normal steel frame to improve feel and because BMW wouldn’t let me I got Dave Molyneux to make me one – I was clutching at straws but I really wanted to make it work.

They told me I was riding it all wrong…
In the first few races I was faster than Juha Salminen (the most successful enduro rider ever with 17 world titles) but I lost all trust in the bike and my confidence took a bash. Certain people were saying it was just that I couldn’t get on with it and that I wasn’t riding it right. I’m not too bad at riding dirt bikes, so I tried to adapt but nothing seemed to work. We had a final meeting to discuss what could be done to improve things but there wasn’t anything we could do so I made the decision to quit. I’m not in the sport for the money, it’s winning that motivates me and if I can do that then the money usually follows anyway.

[#1.2]I bought myself a new Kawasaki to be different
I’d never had a Kawasaki before and fancied one! It was as simple as that. There was no one racing a Kawasaki in the world championships so I thought that maybe if I got some decent results it might create a bit of interest. I decided to go over to the States and do the GNCC, I won it and got a cheque for $20,000 so that was a good start. I wanted to do something for myself, to get the fun back into my racing.

After years of being a works rider, I’m working on my own bikes again!
Spannering your own bike also keeps your mind off the racing so you don’t stress about it so much. I’ve always been quite hands on with all the bikes I’ve raced – it’s always hard to get someone you can trust to do everything. When I was with KTM the engines were sent back to the factory after each round so that was great. At the top level being your own tech is not ideal, but I enjoy getting my hands dirty.

WSB’s Paul Bird is a good mate of mine
I’ve known Birdy for years and he comes over to the Isle of Man a lot to ride with us. I spoke to Steve Guttridge (Kawasaki Europe’s Racing Manager) about racing the KLX450R and he got pretty keen and said the simplest thing to do was to run something through Birdy. That’s what we’ve done and it’s been working pretty well. It’s a different thing for them, though we’re kind of a team within a team. I’m really keen to stay with Kawasaki; the bike’s good and we’re really getting there with developing it.

The ACU needs to move forward to bring on talent
It was great to win the British Championship this year, but I think the ACU need to make some changes if we’re going to get any young riders ready to race at world level. They’re quite old-fashioned events – long laps with not many special tests. A world away from the WEC.

It saddens me a little that the young riders abroad get great support while the ACU do very little to bring on or invest in talent in the UK. I often wonder where all the money goes.

Extreme races have brought enduro to the masses
Enduro in its purest form is still pretty popular with those in the know, but it’s the extreme races that have caught the television companies’ imagination and given enduro a stronger platform. In the States they haven’t even heard of the World Enduro championships but they go mad for events like Erzberg, Last Man Standing and Romaniacs.

I’ve tried my hand at most bike sports
I started off in trials but I knew I was never going to be World Champion. I won the British Experts and a few national trials but it was a big jump to go from that to world level. When I got an enduro bike it felt right. I’d done some motocross at British level and been in the top six a couple of times. I’ve won a few British Supermoto races. At the end of the day it’s all riding a bike and if you enjoy it then you’ll probably do alright at it.

I’d love to race the TT one day but my mother would probably murder me...
Road racing is the only sport I hadn’t really done until I was invited to take part in the Dunlop backed Moto One, multi-discipline event at Donington Park. I won the event overall and was well chuffed to be just half a second a lap off of Karl Harris on a similar CBR600RR. It was a dream for me really, because I’ve wanted to road race since I was a kid. Living on the Isle of Man, we used to race around on our BMX bikes pretending we were TT racers. I don’t fancy short circuit racing – I’m not really the right size – but I’d love to have a crack at the TT. To me it’s like a tarmac enduro, the obstacles are close and you need to be disciplined. I’ve got a feeling I’d be quite good at it.

I don’t ride bikes on the road any more, I go too daft
I did have a KTM Superduke on the road but I was too worried about losing my licence so it had to go in the end. I did a track day at Jurby a while ago on a bike I borrowed off Slick Bass – a ZX-10R in Superstock trim. Nigel Beattie was the Isle of Man champion at the time and at the start of the day I was running into corners too hot and making a bit of a mess of it. By the end of the day I was matching Beattie even though he was on slicks and I was on treaded tyres.

Bike racing is all the same really; you’re feeling for grip and it’s just the handlebars that are a different shape!

Bike racing is all the same really, you’re just feeling for grip. It’s only the handlebars that are a different shape