It’s usually about this time of year that some race team or another issues a press release about their star racer spannering themselves on a motocross bike. Although you’ve quite often got to read between the lines to figure out exactly what went on. They’ll usually refer to it as a training incident and more often than not they’ll forget to mention the fact that they’ve just been rushed into theatre. Kawasaki WSBK rider Alex Lowes is one of the latest to join the preseason crash party. He jumped off a flat track bike and ‘damaged’ his shoulder (whatever that means). This year it’s Lowes, last year it was Dovizioso, and next year it could be anyone. It seems nobody’s immune. It even happened to the G.O.A.T. (Valentino Rossi) back in 2015. So why must they keep getting on off-road bikes in the off-season? Surely there’s too much at stake?
Imagine you are running a factory supported motorcycle race team in a world championship. Be it MotoGP, WSBK, whatever. And then imagine you get a phone call from one of your very well-paid riders saying they are going to have to sit the rest of the teams pre-season test schedule out. Oh and by the way, they don’t know if they’ll be fit enough for the first round of the year. Imagine trying to develop a superbike for Alex Lowes to win races on, without being able to sit him on it. It’d really piss you off, wouldn’t it? I’m not having a go at Lowes here; it’s just that he is the one in the news at the moment.
But missing half of your preseason testing has the potential to make a massive difference. Not only will you be dealing with daft setup issues that should have been long since sorted, you might have to get used to a whole new bike. In short, you won’t hit the first round running. But the rest of the grid will. Because they haven’t had a massive preseason crash.
And what if you’ve got to miss the first round or two? Well that might be the difference between you being a title contender and an also-ran. Your full-factory contract might demand a bit better than 10th in the championship.
So what do they really gain from it? Anything? Why do they bother putting so much at risk? Well if you ask me, not riding a motocross bike through winter is a much bigger risk. What do I mean by that? Well why do you think Alex Lowes is so fast on a bike (sorry to keep picking on him)? Is it just a god-given talent? Nah, I don’t think so. It’s because ever since he was a nipper, he’s been sure to ride bikes whenever he can. All kinds of bikes. And riding all these bikes, all of the time doesn’t just help to keep him ‘bike fit’, but they keep his mind and his skills sharp too. Whether it’s a flat track bike, a trials bike or a motocross bike, he’ll be honing his throttle control, balance and everything else to an absolute tee.
Look at Rossi. The bloke’s in his 40s and his still giving it big licks on a MotoGP bike week-in week-out. How has he managed to stay so fit, and so fast for so long? I’m in no doubt that that’s got a lot to do with the fact that he’s got a massive flat track arena in his back garden. And he’s always flying round the bastard thing.
If you took the MX bikes and such away from the Lowes’, the Rossis, and the other pro-racers of this world, I would put money on it having a detrimental effect on their performance when the season kicks off in earnest. Unless of course they do have a preseason crash and break themselves. But really the chances of that happening are reasonably slim. Although there is always one or two headline injuries, most go unscathed.
And this is how I see it. The race teams pay these lads top dollar to be in tip-top condition and as fast as fuck on a bike. And the best way to be in tip-top condition and as fast as fuck on a bike is to train every day and ride as often as you can. Yes there’s a bit of risk involved. But isn’t there just as big a risk involved in trying to go as fast as you can round a race track on a 1000cc superbike. Probably more, in fact.
So if you’re a professional bike racer, and your team manager tells you that enough is enough, and that it’s time to park the off-road bikes up, tell him to get fucked. Because you know what they say, you can’t make an omelette without braking a few (l)eggs… I’ll get my coat.