KTM’S EnduroCross Experience
Brown and Blazusiak’s Free EX Advice
Story By Pete Peterson Photos By Drew Ruiz, Joe McKimmy And Pete Peterson
[Before you read this story you should know KTM is offering this same riding experience to amateur racers at the Vegas round this weekend... but it's already sold out. So be sure to check the sign-ups for next season at www.endurocross.com to see if and where KTM will be doing this in 2012.]
KTM is a cool company. They try new things, they continue to develop their two-strokes, they support off-road racing, they make a race car, and they give back to their customers. Sometimes this takes the form of a KTM-only ride day at a local track, other times it’s a demo ride day (yes, they really have dirt bike test rides!) for anyone who knows how to ride. But recently KTM took a step forward with a special opportunity for amateur EnduroCross riders to walk the track of the 2011 Ontario, Califonia round with Mike Brown and Taddy Blazusiak. This gave the racers a chance to see what they’d be racing a day early, get some line suggestions and warnings from two of the best EnduroCross racers, and then, best of all, take to the track for an hour with Taddy and Mike trackside to offer advice, encouragement, or more often just help them up.
Mike Brown used to sometimes appear like, and has the qualifications to be, an arrogant guy. That’s an assumption many people made watching him in interviews during his motocross racing career. But he’s actually incredibly nice, just a bit shy. But he wasn’t shy during the track walk where he did most of the talking as he and Taddy toured the collection of KTM racers around the course. Mike’s and Taddy’s lines and methods of attacking the obstacles weren’t necessarily the best choices for the lesser skilled riders, so they offered ‘paddle-through’ tips as well.
And when Mike and Taddy were done walking and talking, the KTMs fired up and the violent, awkward ballet of EnduroCross filled the stadium floor. I was semi-safely trackside hiding behind a camera, so I thought the Experience might be best told by those who actually experienced it. Here’s what the racers had to say before their KTMs had even cooled:
“I do desert racing and this is insane even compared to the National Hare & Hound… I didn’t think the wood pile was going to be that hard… It definitely helped a lot to have [Brown and Blazusiak] here. They gave great advice through the rocks. The first few laps I was just bouncing all over the place and by the last lap I had it dialed through the rocks… They just told me to hold my line, ease in and just lean back and be smooth through it. Don’t just try to grab a big handful of throttle. It’ll just wheelie on you and you’ll get stuck. Ease on, lean back, and just go for it. That made it a lot easier for me… If I’d gone into tomorrow without doing any of this I’d be screwed. These guys gave great advice and I’m feeling a lot better than I was this morning.” Ben Meza
“[The track walk] was awesome. They basically stopped at each obstacle and talked about how they would go through it. They realize how they go through it is different than how most of us go through it, but they gave us some tips about positioning on the bike, when to have weight in the back, when to have the front wheel up, each different section they spent about two to three minutes talking about each one and taking questions. It really gave us a strategy and an ability to visualize how we’re going to go through it. And that was probably the best thing out there, them taking the time on each one of them and giving us the insight… This is a huge advantage [for tomorrow's race]. If I just came out here and did it dry my first time around I don’t even know if I’d finish the evening, to be honest. But with their tips and everything, I’m not expecting the make it through the entire course quite clean, but at least I know I can make it through now. This is a valuable, KTM stepping up and doing this was greatly appreciated. It was definitely worth the price of entry.” Darren Moen
” ‘More’ is the best advice I got. When I was practicing the firewood section, I came around the second time and crashed and Mike Brown said, ‘you did it right, just give it more.’ So that’s what I did and I made it through the next time. I did it the same way each time and I went through the same way each time, so it helps… It definitely helps [coinfidence], because one of the biggest things you worry about before is, ‘what does the track look like?’ and it was wonderful that we got to get a little bit of help from the KTM riders and we got to see it.” Levi Jones
“I wasn’t even going to do it, actually, but I just decided last-minute I’d give it a shot because it would give me an advantage to ride the track. It’s a good way to get out there and get a little time in… I asked Taddy on the Matrix how he was going to ride it and it’s definitely a lot different than how most of the amateur riders are going to ride it. I actually tried the way he’s going to ride it and I got mostly through it, except the last double-out was hard for me to time it right. But any information that he can give you is good.” Mike Damm
“I was having a little trouble in the Matrix, I was getting my linkage caught on the logs and he just gave me a couple tips, ‘keep your front end higher up and just try to ride light over the logs’ and that’s what I did and it works a bit better now… Now I know what to expect, I know how hard each lap’s going to be, I what gears to be in, I practiced a couple starts – it helps a lot.” Max Gerston
“I was running up front and got stuck in the rock section and was stuck for the whole race in Vegas last year… It was really good to get out on the track and get a few practice laps for sure and get some expertise from them obviously… Mainly, off the big logs going into the firewood section, just keep your front end up and jump into it instead of rolling and then go. Definitely jump in and keep your weight back. And they were talking about going into the water, just jumping over that log, which obviously is kinda sketch but I think I could do it.” Gavin McCarthy
I also spoke with the stars themselves. Here’s what Mike Brown had to say after watching the racers attack the course and try to apply the advice he was giving -
PP: When you were back racing motocross, were you doing off-road or strictly track stuff?
MB: All track stuff. I still do a lot of track stuff. If I’m doing EnduroCross I’ll practice a couple weeks before the race but for WORCS stuff I’m still doing mostly motocross practice… EnduroCross is like Supercross. If you don’t practice that you aren’t going anywhere. It’s the hardest thing I’ve tried to do on a motorcycle and compete in it. It’s fun to go ride it, but when you get ten people on the track it’s totally different. You’ve gotta have your lines and you’ve gotta know where you’re going.
PP: When you were converting from motocross champion to EnduroCross racer, did you have someone come out and help you like you’re doing today?
MB: No, I learned it myself. Same as I did in supercross. I never had a supercross track when I was growing up. I got on the Pro Circuit Honda team back then and was straight to California on a supercross track, I’d never ridden one and it was, ‘What am I doing here?!’ and this is the same way. When I was asking about it, wanting to do it, I was thinking, ‘You do six laps, that’s easy. Eight laps for the main, that’s nothing.’ Six laps here feels like a 25 lap main in supercross. I learned (EX) myself, and being with Taddy, you can’t ask for a better teammate. He helps me a lot, and just watching him, being at practice tracks with him, that’s helped me more than anything. And just riding it as much as you can, that’s how you get better at this stuff here.
PP: Before you teamed up with Taddy did you have somebody that was helping you get through these tricky obstacles?
MB: Not really. When I first did it I was on a 450, too. I was on a big bike because I didn’t know any different. KTM said you can go do it because Taddy was hurt at the time. I went and did two races filling in for him. I thought everybody was riding 450s and just went straight to the race in South Carolina. I’d never been on a (EX) track in my life and went straight out there and did it. After two laps I was, ‘This is the hardest thing I’ve ever done.’ You can’t breathe, there’s always something in front of you, it gets tough, it gets tiring, it gets frustrating. You get people on the track getting in your lines, getting stuck, you gotta take a different line, it makes it different everywhere. In supercross or motocross you can go anywhere on the track and keep your speed going. Here if they get stuck in front of you in a good line you can lose a couple seconds or places.
PP: Is there any general advice you can give amateurs trying to get better at EnduroCross?
MB: Even for me, I don’t know if I slowed my speed, but I slowed my actions. I was getting too aggressive, trying too hard in certain areas, and it doesn’t work in this stuff. Some areas you can go fast down the straightaways, but in the rocks, in the logs, you’ve got to take your time, get through there, not get stuck. Before I was just hitting it fast and getting stuck and making mistakes. Just take you time, be patient, get through the stuff, even if you’re just creeping through it, don’t get stuck. That’s what I was telling these guys here about The Matrix for tomorrow. Get through it the best you can. If you get stuck, get off the bike as quick as you can and get it going. You don’t want to waste time sitting there spinning the wheel. You’re not going anywhere. Just be patient and make sure you get through everything. It doesn’t matter how fast, just make it through it.
I spoke with Taddy just after the amateur racers finished their track practice time.
PP: What did you think about these riders and what’s the best advice you can give guys at this level?
TB: To be honest I was really surprised at the riders. They are amateurs, right, but they improved a lot with that hour we had on the track. The most important thing is the track walk. Walk the track to figure out some lines, and if you don’t feel comfortable with something you have the see what to do if something [goes wrong] and not be uncomfortable with all the obstacles. And then it’s important to keep as much speed as you can and let the bike roll as much as you can. Sometimes it doesn’t feel right, but that’s the way to do it. You’ve just got to keep the momentum going.
PP: So on the track walk, you pick more than one way through each section?
TB: Oh yeah, for sure. When I do a track walk I’ll walk every single section and at least I gotta pick three lines. Because when we race there’s lots of people around so you’ve got to be prepared to change lines and go not according to your plan. You’ve got to have a plan B and C.
PP: For the average guy that doesn’t have an EnduroCross track in his back yard, what can he do to get ready for this type of race?
TB: If he’s from around Murietta, he should be riding the [EX] track at Glen Helen, it’s a pretty good practice track. If not, for sure just trail riding and finding stuff like that, like loose rocks and some log crossings, for sure it helps, but at the end of the day if you want to be good at EnduroCross, you have to be riding an EnduroCross track which is different than trail riding. If you can spend some time on a track, that’s ideal. If not… improvise. (laughs)
PP: Do you advise getting a trials bike? How much does that help?
TB: I don’t know… For sure trials is good, it’s all about control and throttle control and clutch control and it helps a lot but I think right now EnduroCross has developed its own technique so if you want to be good at EnduroCross you’ve got to be riding EnduroCross tracks and that’s it. It’s not about having that trials bike and riding it, because it’s not going to help you be fast on an EnduroCross track. It might help you understand how to get over some obstacles, but if you want to be fast at EnduroCross, ride an EnduroCross track for sure.
PP: So when you went from trials, to extreme enduro, to EnduroCross, did you have people that were coaching you and giving you advice?
TB: No, no. Not really. I was always riding by myself and trying to figure out stuff. Trying to go faster and faster and all I thought of was to have a better bike, a faster bike, to be more fit, to be faster, and that’s how it goes. It’s hard to get any tips from other guys because we’re competing against the other guys. So it’s just about trying to be a better rider.
PP: Tonight was about you making the amateur riders better. Let’s say that guy has a regular job. On a Wednesday night, is there anything that guy can do in his living room, gym or at work to help this?
TB: Yeah, for sure. The first and the most important thing is to do something every day. If you’re an amateur and if you like to play tennis, [then] play tennis, because it’s going to help you with your endurance. If you like to play squash or whatever you like, it’s good. If you want to do something really good for dirt bike riding, it’s cycling, but I know if you have a regular job it’s hard to do. But maybe you can do it on the stationary bicycle at home. Cycling 30-40 minutes a day, every day, makes such a big difference for amateur riders. They’re going to feel it after three or four weeks, like they went three steps forward.
If you’re going to be at the EnduroCross watch for Taddy to attempt two wrap up a perfect season in the two-main-event evening, and watch for Mike Brown to try to stop that win streak with a victory of his own. Who knows, maybe they’ll be stealing lines and ideas from one another the Friday night before the race when they help another group of amateur KTM racers.