In Preparation: Elevation

In Preparation Elevation

June 22, 2011 4:15pm

“It’s one of those things, it might not feel like you’re getting worn out but it could really kick your ass if you’re not paying attention.”   - Chris Bach

In the Lucas Oil AMA Pro Motocross Championship, bikes are prepared specifically to endure 30 minutes plus 2 laps and anything more is merely pushing the limit.  Cross-country racing warrants a slightly different approach as the Premier XC1 and Lites XC2 racers are on the course for a minimum of three hours at a time.  Let’s delve into the world of endurance-based racing, as the Can-Am Grand National Cross Country Series sets up for round 8 of racing at the Snowshoe Mountain Resort in the heart of West Virginia.

The Snowshoe GNCC, held on the highest peak of the Allegheny Mountains, presents a whole new atmosphere when it comes to racing motorcycles.  In motocross terms, Snowshoe’s elevation change is equivalent to this weekend’s race in Lakewood, Colorado, with the Snowshoe ski resort, host site of the race, sitting nearly a mile high in elevation. Furthermore, just as motocross teams struggle with bike setup and athlete preparation, the same goes for the off-road crew as well. 

Chris Bach has made the BETA a household name in GNCC racing this year.
Photo: Shan Moore

In a world where EFI (electronic fuel injection) is becoming the norm, there are still machines that run a carburetor-based system, either because the OEM doesn’t manufacture an EFI or the rider chooses to run a different model.  Nearly all of the newer 450 models come fuel injected, with the exception of KTM’s 450 model (although the new 350 is EFI) and the newest addition to the GNCC podium this year - the Beta.  What is a Beta, you ask?  Well, until Indiana native Chris Bach landed a podium finish this year in Florida, many others were asking that very question.

Beta and their 450 RR is one of the most unique brands on the GNCC circuit, fielding only one factory-backed rider in 2011.  Ben Weathers, the man responsible for keeping Chris Bach’s factory Beta running strong, says that this weekend’s race will bring about a few minor changes in bike preparation. “If we change anything, it’ll be a needle adjustment. We may make some changes to the airscrew and fuel screw but we’ll have to wait until we get there to see what the air is like,” Weathers said, which is something that teams with EFI machines don’t have to deal with pre-race.  “The elevation at Snowshoe is different, but the humidity and things like that will play a big role too. If the air is thick, that will definitely warrant a change,” Weathers added.  

Not only is bike setup crucial at a place like Snowshoe, but rider preparation is also key in putting together a flawless weekend in the woods.  Bach trains a little differently for the “toughest race on the circuit” than he would at a normal GNCC.   “Instead of doing our normal routine during the week with cardio and riding moto, we mostly focus on riding trails.  We do sprint motos for about 2 hours in the morning, and then go back out for a 40-mile loop in the afternoon,” Bach claims.

Just a glimpse of the challenges that lay ahead this weekend.
Photo: Shan Moore

“The elevation at Snowshoe takes more out of you than normal.  Last year I was riding just fine until I fell all the way back down the mountain and by the time I got going again I was dying and it wasn’t even a big crash.  When I got to the top of the hill, I felt like I was fried. It took me a minute to get back my composure,” Bach said about his second place finish at the race in 2010.

“We usually go for cycling ride on Saturday.  Normally we wouldn’t be conscious about it, but at Snowshoe we’re definitely taking it easy because we’re not used to riding at that elevation on bicycles and we all have to remember that even though we might feel okay, to take it easy so we don’t wear ourselves out on Saturday,” Bach said.  “It’s one of those things, it might not feel like you’re getting worn out but it could really kick your ass if you’re not paying attention.”     

The tricky part about racing through the mountains is the constant change in elevation and terrain.  “Half the mountain is different from the other half, so you have to be ready. The trail is so long that you’re not memorizing it until the second loop and by the time you start to hammer down, people really start to fall off,” Bach added.

Once the rider is prepped to handle the changes in the air, it’s a must that they feel comfortable on their machine.  “It’s amazing what one adjustment will make on the bike,” Ben said. “Like on a 4-stroke, if you have a lean pop, that means it’s lean on acceleration and it’s really easy to take out.  If it’s too rich, the bike is kind of blubbery when you accelerate and you just want to clean that out,” he added.  “I think for the most part, it’s going to come down to the humidity - is it going to be humid or is the air going to be thin?”

Making adjustments to the bike will be crucial this weekend to prepare for the altitude.
Photo: Shan Moore

In a three-hour race, obstacles are bound to get in the way of racing.  In addition to the necessary gas stops, it’s not unusual for GNCC Racers to stop in for a minor tweak to the bike or to grab a clean pair of goggles.  But when it comes to pitting, strategy is key.  “Fuel mileage is the biggest difference in the machines.  The EFI gets better mileage just because it’s a cleaner running system.  So if the bike is poorly jetted, we are then forced to pit more often,” Weathers added.  

Racing on one of the most coveted Ski Resorts on the East coast clearly has its ups and downs - literally.  Although the altitude of Snowshoe Mountain doesn’t pose a life changing setback, there is a great deal of preparation as well as execution that goes into both man and machine in order to pull off three hours of high intensity racing.