MotoUSA trades in leathers for motocross riding kit and hits the track with some of the world’s top motorcycle riders and Monster Energy athletes. Check it out in our Team Monster Energy Ride Day Video.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a motorcycle racer, stunt rider, or enthusiast reading this; we’re all here because of one thing: motorcycles. These dynamic creations transformed our lives making us dream of little else than twisting the wrist and inhaling the freedom of motorcycling. Never is this more evident after spending a couple days riding dirt bikes with some of the world’s top motorcycle riders and Monster Energy athletes.
For a professional rider downtime is few and far between. Between training, testing and all the other closed door preparation a successful campaign demands you could assume that time away from the bike would be coveted. But when you’re career is more than a hobby it’s something you do every chance you get—especially when vacationing in Southern California, the Mecca of motorsport and home of Monster Energy. So we loaded up a van load of equipment and spent a day flying off jumps at Pala Raceway followed by another afternoon getting sideways around Perris Raceway’s dirt oval—laughing and poking fun at each other like it was our very first-time riding.
“It’s wicked,” describes Ernie Vigil, 33, whose nine-to-five grind consists of pulling sideways, tire smoking maneuvers you wouldn’t think possible at the controls of Triumph street bikes. “I grew up riding dirt as a kid so it’s great to be able to take a break from stunt riding and come out here and charge. It’s crazy because when I rode dirt as a kid I learned a lot that helped my stunt riding. And now the stunt riding is helping my dirt skills.”
(Top) Freestyle sportbike rider, Ernie Vigil, enjoyed riding flat track so much that he ordered a set-up for his dirt bike on his way home from Perris Raceway (Centers) Two-time AMA Superbike champ, Josh Hayes, 36, is a modern day Renaissance man showing a high-level of skill and style at virtually all sports. Although Josh Hayes (right) has only been flat track riding for a short time note his veteran-like style as compared to retired AMA National Flat Tracker Johnny Murphree (left). Hayes could easily qualify for a Motorcycle-Superstore.com 450 Single main. (Bottom) For racers like Chaz Davies and Josh Hayes riding dirt bikes is a great way to kick back a little and relax during the short off-season.
Just like racing, the art of freestyle riding is all about finding the limit—that magic threshold between control and destruction. And whether you’re leaning into a rut or hacking it sideways into a turn there is a surprising amount of crossover between sports.
“When I was growing up I would push it so far but I didn’t really know my limits,” continues the Albuquerque, New Mexico native. “And now with the stunt riding and drifting, I’m just more comfortable with getting crazy and riding on the edge. Motorcycling’s just cool in general and I have a blast doing it—that’s why I’m here.”
While Ernie was fortunate enough to ride as a tike, two-time American SuperBike champ and Monster Graves Yamaha rider Josh Hayes, 36, never hopped on a dirt bike until later in life. Although he’s a late bloomer you’d never tell by the way he rips around the track. Whether it’s moto, flat track or, of course, on asphalt, Hayes is a motorized Renaissance man. Guess it’s one of the reasons why he’s the reigning Superbike champ.
“I think I always have,” reveals the factory Yamaha R1 Superbike racer when asked why he enjoys riding off-road. “Just the way things worked out I got into road racing first. I was probably 25-years-old before I ever got onto a motocross bike. I always wanted to before that, I just never had the chance. It’s so much damn fun.”
“I had to catch up,” the Mississippian explains, who also lives part-time in SoCal. “I started even road racing at a fairly late age. I had to catch up with everyone on experience and motocross is available anywhere and everywhere. I spend a lot of time at it, I really enjoy it… I just wish I was better. Maybe when I’m all done with road racing I’ll try out Loretta Lynn’s in one of the vet classes [laughs].”
The drive to push oneself and become better at your career or sport is a primary motivator for most folks and racers are no different, adds Hayes: “There are so many different obstacles. I’ve never come away saying ‘that’s as good as it gets’. There are days on a road race bike where I definitely thought no one could ride that thing better than me, and I’ve never felt that way on a motocross bike.”
Although he’s only 21, Josh Herrin has plenty of experience on two wheels. The Georgia resident grew up road racing at a young age, having competed aboard mini bikes and 125cc grand prix-style machines before he even had a driver’s license. After three seasons of competition in the AMA Daytona SportBike series (finished runner-up in ’09 and ’11) Herrin is graduating to the American SuperBike class for ’12, teaming with Hayes and the Monster Graves Yamaha squad.
Asked if there are similarities between riding moto and racing street bikes, Herrin answers: “I don’t have the cajones to ride dirt bikes like I do on the street. I chicken out on all the jumps [laughs]. You do learn a lot sliding around and riding dirt bikes is physically a lot harder than road bikes. To come out and ride motocross kind of gets me ready to race. Plus it’s a lot of fun.”
Considering the sunny, mild weather and plentitude of tracks, Californians sometimes take for granted the easy access to first-class riding spots. But for British riders Chaz Davies and Cal Crutchlow, training here during the off-season is a welcome reprise from the cold back home in the UK.
(Left) Cal Cruthlow, of Monster Tech3 Yamaha MotoGP fame enjoys riding in California so much he’s thinking about purchasing a place here. (Center) Reigning World Supersport champ, Chaz Davies, gears up in Alpinestars riding kit (available in Europe). (Right) Chaz Davies pounds out laps at Pala Raceway in Southern Cal.
Reigning World Supersport champ and current Aprilia World Superbike rider, Chaz Davies (pronounced Davis), 25, is a born and bred road racer having started his career when he was just eight years old. But it was only a few years ago, when staying in California with the Hayes family during his days in AMA road race competition, that he was first introduced to the world of moto.
(Top) Josh Herrin in action aboard a ’12 Yamaha YZ250F. (Center) Despite never having ridden flat track on a big bike Chaz Davies showed good speed right away. (Bottom) From left-to-right: Freestyle rider Ernie Vigil, AMA Superbike racer Josh Herrin, World Superbike rider Chaz Davies and MotoGP pilot Cal Crutchlow riding moto at Southern California’s Pala Raceway.
“I’ve pretty much rode everything two wheels,” discloses Davies who was surprisingly quick in his first-ever flat track stint on a big bike. “But I’ve never done flat track. It is unreal; I really enjoyed it. I thought I was going to struggle a bit because of the no front brake thing because the last time I did a little bit of indoor riding I hit the wall a few times. Today I was thinking ‘well, you’ve ridden motocross a bit more so it should be better’. We didn’t hit the wall today [smiles] and we were getting around pretty good in the end. There are some good riders to compare with—Hayes and [Jake] Zemke. Pretty much I never done flat track before but it’s something I want to have a go with at home.”
Fellow Brit, Crutchlow, 26, competes in MotoGP, considered the most elite motorcycle racing series. Like Davies, he has also taken a liking to not only dirt bikes but the California lifestyle too. Crutchlow is even contemplating taking up part-time residence in the southern quadrant of the Golden State to be more accessible to the tools he needs as a world-class racer.
“I come now and again,” says the Monster Tech3 Yamaha rider and ’09 World Supersport champ. “We race here twice a year [Laguna Seca and Indianapolis] so I tend to come out when I can. The weather is good the training is good. It’s a nice place to be.”
Given his high-flying GP gig, Crutchlow doesn’t get a lot of opportunities to play in the dirt. “Hardly ever, probably only once this year,” admits Crutchlow on his OHV seat time. “With 19 Grand Prixs it’s hard to come home and go motocross because you might get injured. I tend to keep it to cycling or running, but I definitely enjoying moto.”
After spending a few days chasing some of the road racing elite out in the dirt, it’s easy to see why they’re some of the best riders in the world. It also proves that riding and racing isn’t just a job—but a way of life. While their superhuman bike riding skills allow them to collect a paycheck on the race track, they’re still two-wheeled enthusiasts at heart – just like the rest of us.