A team mechanic told me the secret to succeeding at this type of adventure riding was to go fast, stay atop the motorcycle and finish in front.
“If it’s a real adventure motorcycle ride, then it has to include off-pavement, dirt riding.” So contends one of my acquaintances who hosted adventure riding events.
I disagreed on his opinion about dirt. I suggested that if he wanted a real taste of adventure riding, he should try the Old Quarter Hanoi, which is all paved streets. Another adventure, I suggested, is Interstate 405 during rush hour from Los Angeles to Irvine, California, again all paved. Or Mexico City, or Cairo, or Phnom Penh.
“You need to take one of the adventure riding courses Dr. G. You’ll see they are all off-pavement, in the dirt. They know something you do not.”
Not wanting to be ignorant in the growing sector of adventure riding, I decided to expand my seemingly limited horizons, and inspect what real dirt riding was all about. To do so I attended the 2014 MXGP in Thailand, an international racing series that has arguably the best dirt riding motorcyclists on the planet.
This was the second year Thailand hosted a round of the FIM Motocross series (www.thaimxgp.com). Organized by the Motorcycle Sports Authority of Thailand, the Thai organizers added their special Thai spice and flavor to MXGP racing, making it a tasty and high-class event worthy of worldwide media coverage.
FIM MXGP racing roughly correlated to the AMA Motocross series. The largest displacement in both is 450-cc four-stroke engines.
The race track at Sriracha, Thailand made use of man-made obstacles and the natural landscape, giving the track a unique personality. It was the second year for the track that incorporated the side of cleared jungle hills for elevation changes. During the construction of the site river mud was used to mix with the local ground for track composition.
In the pits it was obvious the big boys in the motocross world were at the Thai event as serious players. KTM, Kawasaki, Honda, Suzuki, Yamaha and Husqvarna colors flew from flag poles and team members and mechanics wearing corporate colors were professionally tending to their riders and motorcycles.
I asked one rider whether there was adventure in riding in the dirt, and he smiled when replying, “The adventure is in the money.”
Seven-time FIM World Motocross Champion Antonio “Tony” Cairoli showed me the way the best in the world rides dirt by winning both MXGP Race 1 and 2. Jeffrey Herlings, also on a KTM, bagged dual wins in the MX2 class.
The sole American rider, Thomas Covington, on a Kawasaki and riding for the Monster Energy Kawasaki Racing Team, graciously took time out between races to share a few thoughts. Covington had impressed me during practice by being able to bang handlebars and ride with the best in the world. I was even more impressed when he told me he just celebrated his 18th birthday. I thought, “18 years-old, half-a-world-away from home, in a country where he doesn’t speak the language and he’s showing the same talent and professionalism as the world champions.” I wished him a good race and told him I would be waving the American flag for him trackside.
When a Rockstar Energy Suzuki team mechanic was asked what secret advice he had yelled into his rider’s face just before the start of a race, he laughed and said, “I told him to go FAST!”
GRASSHOPPERS AND ADVENTURE TEACHINGS
During one practice session I saw a chopped step-through Honda on the track. Behind it was another modified scooter or small displacement motorcycle. I went looking for these strange racing motorcycles in the pits, but could not find them. When I asked about them at the Media Center I was told they were in the Grasshoppers Class and could find them in the Thailand National MX Series pit area located outside the main pit area.
When I found the Thailand National MX pit area I discovered an entirely different group or riders and teams than I had found earlier in the pit area for the MXGP racers. One major difference, they were all Thai, except for one team from Poland. The second difference is they seemed to be having far more fun than the big boy teams. In the pits where the big players were tending the factory sponsored race teams it was all business. In the local Thai pits the racers and their support personnel were trading jokes, laughing and clearly having fun.
(Above) This Thai team was having fun and laughing, seemingly a required element of the Thai MX series. (Below) While exploring the pits for the Thailand MX series I was welcomed with smiles and even an invitation to share some cold water.
I asked several racers about their unique machines and got mixed responses, because my Thai language was as limited as their English. However, we each could understand motorhead talk. I would point at a suspension system and they would show me how it was modified or what brand of shock absorber they were using. Once while a rider and I were talking about modifications to Grasshoppers’ wheels his wife offered me a glass of cold water.
The inclusion of the Thailand National MX Series during the FIM MXGP weekend was the idea of Thai MXGP CEO, Kratios Wongsawan. He had found a way the local Thai MX racer could ride on the same track as the FIM riders could during the same weekend. Then he massaged the classes to allow younger riders (as young as 10 years) to experience racing.
According to the Thai MXGP Head of Media, Barry Russell, Kratios Wongsawan saw the Grasshoppers class as a “way to bring the sport to local people who can have fun and improve their riding skills.” Russell said, “The Grasshoppers has an open class for the underbone bikes. These are the bikes most popularly used as motorcycle taxis and ‘two-wheeled tractors’ that you see all over Thailand, such as the Honda Sonic. They must keep the original chassis, but can modify the engine and suspension. Engines in these bikes are 100cc, 110cc and 115cc and the riders can compete from the age of 15.”
Congratulations were said to the Thai MXGP organizers for finding a way the average enthusiast could relate to the dirt riding being done on the track. While I was no dirt racer, I had ridden many of these small Grasshopper style motorcycles and could appreciate how the racers had torn away the bodywork, changed the suspension and modified the engines to go fast skillfully, off pavement and in the dirt.
(Above) Winners of the Grasshoppers Class were afforded the same stage and ceremony, including the popping of champagne, same as the world FIM MXGP racers. (Below) The AWYGIRLS greatly added to my search for adventure off pavement in the Fair Zone, or display area for vendors, by providing directions for wandering adventurists like me who claimed to be looking to expand my limited horizons.
Two days of MXGP racing, asking questions about riding motorcycles in the dirt and looking at a wide range of motorcycles found me noting the following:
1. Going fast like the MXGP riders did merely meant I was going to fly further over the handlebars when I went down than I would if driving slower.
2. The dirt riders standing on the pegs while going fast did so to lower the center of gravity as well as let their legs absorb some of the incredible hits their bodies took bouncing or landing. After a race they stood on the pegs to loosen knotted muscles.
3. The “adventure riding” motorcycles I saw at the off-pavement weekend were better suited for pavement riding, being far too heavy and awkward for serious off-pavement riding.
4. Weight was one of the biggest enemies of off-pavement riding. Rather than bling and farkle my adventure motorcycle if taking to the dirt, I should be getting rid of weight.
5. There were no older and belt stretching guys going fast off-pavement.
6. The beer vendor I observed over the two-day period sold very little beer, and none to dirt riders.
7. I will never be more than a novice dirt riding adventurist, the skill level needed to advance was beyond my reach.
Sign me up for another weekend at Thailand’s MXGP. The racing was world class, the Thai touches like the pretty Promotion Ladies, tuk-tuk racing, and letting Grasshoppers on the track made the finished product a weekend of fun and adventure.
As for my acquaintance that claimed dirt has to be included in a “real motorcycle adventure ride,” I will continue to disagree. I can have has much adventure and fun on a motorcycle ride on either dirt or pavement.