Imagine flying through the air at speeds in excess of 60 mph within inches of the guy next to you; blasting through a series of whoops so deep that most folks would have a hard time simply walking through them; leaning the bike over so far in a turn that the only thing from keeping you from falling over is the momentum generated by a generous twist of your right wrist. These are just some of the scenarios that occur during the course of a motocross race—a sport where balance, muscle coordination and the ability to think and act quickly are paramount. However, training for this demanding sport is neither easy nor safe, as the consequences for even a tiny mistake can have disastrous after-effects. That’s why some professional motocross athletes, including Tyla Rattray and Dean Wilson, look to the water for a fun, safer way to cross-train during the hot summer months. How do they do that? Aboard their Kawasaki Jet Skis.
Recently MotorcycleUSA visited San Diego, California’s Fiesta Island along with eight-time Jet Ski World Champion Victor Sheldon and Lucas Oils AMA Pro Motocross racers Rattray and Wilson. The pair of ultra-fast 250-class racers ride for the Monster Pro Circuit Kawasaki team aboard highly-tuned KX250Fs. After spending a few hours sliding, splashing and crashing in the cool, blue water of the Pacific Ocean, we discovered just how comparable the two sports are.
Similar to the dirt bikes many of us grew up riding, the 800 SX-R uses a simple yet reliable 2-stroke engine, which is cooled via inducted water. However, the SX-R’s powerplant is substantially more powerful, employing a 781cc twin-cylinder design that pumps out around 80 horsepower. The extra power is needed to propel the nearly 400-pound ski through water at speeds up to 40 mph. The mechanical force generated by the engine is transferred to an inboard impeller that sucks in water before blowing it out the jet pump nozzle at the rear of the ski.
As opposed to a dirt bike, the SX-R only features two controls. The steering handpole and a forefinger-actuated throttle trigger. There are no brakes or gears to shift, and given the water’s high level of drag, stopping is as simple as releasing the throttle. Also, unlike a motorcycle the Jet Ski changes direction without counter steering, instead relying on the rider to lean while pulling on the handlebar in the direction of travel while maintaining constant pressure on the throttle trigger.
“They’re a blast to ride,” says series rookie Wilson, who currently lies third in the 250 MX championship, one position ahead of Rattray. “Obviously I’m not too used to it as this is only my second time Jet Skiing. But the more I ride the more fun it is because I’m getting better. I’m learning every time I get on it. The way it turns and reacts is a lot like a dirt bike. Right now I’m kind of winging it, but there does feel like there are some similarities between sports.”
Here Monster Pro Circuit Kawasaki motorcross racer, Tyla Rattray demonstrates how to submarine a Kawasaki 800 SX-R Jet Ski.
Even though Wilson doesn’t have a whole lot of experience riding on the water, the 800 SX-R’s smooth powerband,
wide rider footwell and fiberglass hull design make it easier to ride for people that are relatively new to Jet Skiing. It steers with precision and offers a high level of stability when leaned over in a turn. The engine offers a plenty of propulsion to get the rider up and out of the water and when you eventually fall off, there’s little chance of injury due to the forgiving nature of the water.
“The sports are quite similar,” comments Sheldon, who has years of competition on land and sea. “You’re bending your legs and using your upper body strength. The stance is kind of similar – you’re crouched down and squatting. I think it’s one of the closet sports between one and another. It’s really good cross-training aid for moto guys because it’s safe and you don’t have to be as focused as you would be on a dirt bike. You can ride a little bit looser because you don’t have to worry as much about getting hurt.”
(Above) Long-time Kawasaki Jet Ski racer, Victor Sheldon uses his left leg as a counterweight during aggressive turning maneuvers. (Below) As you can see jet skiing is not fun in anyway shape or form—even when your buddy is riding within six inches of you at speed… Yahoo!
Some of the techniques used while dirt biking include body positioning and weight transfer as well as looking ahead through the upcoming corners are shared between sports. To prove this, Sheldon set up a racetrack with turns marked by floating plastic buoys. Watching Sheldon and some of his racing buddies get around the makeshift course was pretty crazy. You could see how they had to use their bodies to help the ski dig into the water through the corner and then how they would make sure to keep their weight low and toward the rear of the ski so it could get “traction” as they accelerated through the apex. Additionally many conventional racing principles like entering a corner with a wide high corner speed arch as well as nailing your apex is the same on water is it is on the dirt.
“Mentally it’s the same,” continues Sheldon in reference to the similarities between racing Jet Skis and motocross. “The physical prep is also quite similar because both sports take strength and endurance. Sure you use a little bit different muscles, but they’re really comparable.”
“I really enjoy riding these things,” adds Rattray. “I don’t know about racing them as I’m not fast enough to ride at a top level yet [laughs]. But to come here and ride Jet Skis with my buddies is a lot of fun. I want to do it a lot more this summer—it’s really awesome. I gave them a try for the first time last year and this year so far I’ve been riding a lot. For me it’s a good way to get some exercise and have some fun away from the track.”
After spending an afternoon playing in the ocean it’s easily apparent how effective these “water motorcycles” are as part of a rider’s cross-training program. In addition to helping the rider improve their balance and hone their coordination skills they’re an absolute blast to ride and an excellent way to enjoy some motorized entertainment away from the track. Even better is the relatively low chance of injury, reasonable price tag, and abundant spots to ride.