Rites of Spring

Rites of Spring

April 1, 2013 4:25pm

Racer X staffers weren't always stylish, fast, well-trained superstars. In fact, most of us still aren't. We know what it's like to be a weekend warrior waiting for that first ride of the year, though. Here are some tales.

David Pingree (Still the 2000 125 West SX Runner Up): There wasn’t much of an off-season in Arizona where I did most of my racing as an amateur. But where I got my start in Montana, well, that is another story. The racing season up there is short and usually dictated by when high school football starts at the end of summer and how much snow there is on the ground in spring. The first races of the year would always be freezing cold and sometimes they had to plow the snow off the track before practice or reroute the course to avoid drifts and mud. I’m not making that up. Anyway, I always loved when the weather finally broke and we got to do some riding in preparation for the season. After months of sub-zero and snow there was no better feeling that hopping on my KX60 and burning laps.

These are two of the opening rounds of the HCMA series in Montana. One is from Pablo, MT in 1983 and the other is Corvallis in 1984. Notice the massive drifts they plowed off the track. Good times. Anyway, I imagine there a plenty of people blowing the dust off their gear and getting ready to ride in the coming weeks. Be safe, have fun and always roost your buddies if you get the chance.

Ping is in here somewhere on the #60. Those are snow piles in the background!

Young Ping probably had to finish this sandwich before he was allowed to get ice cream.

Jeff Canfield (MX Sports Guy): Growing up in Upstate New York we had our fair share of snow during the winter months. But this in no way impacted the amount of riding we could do. Typically in November we would stud up the tires and go out trail riding. Square Deal Riders, a motorcycle club in Binghamton NY, has a “Winter Series” that runs from November to March so racing was always available (They still hold this series today).

I remember at some of the races having to leave my motorcycle inside the van with a Kerosene Heater on inside just to keep the bike warm and able to start (real safe, I know). My dad would give me those little heat packets that you would stick in your gloves to keep your hands warm, and I would get dressed in my snowmobile suite and go out and race. My feet were always cold I guess because motocross boots weren’t really designed for extreme cold weather. It didn’t really matter how cold it was, if there was a race, we would be there. There were days when it was below zero and the snow drifts would be waist high and the 80cc class would be the second race of the afternoon. It was days like this that we raced in survival mode. It was an accomplishment just to finish because most of the time the front wheel would freeze and not be able to turn (remember drum brakes?).

Once April rolled around and the snow was mostly gone, the trails were in prime condition. Gone were the studs in your tires, which gave you copious amount of traction, and now those tree roots were like ice when you hit them the first time. It was like you almost had to learn how to ride again. There would be a large group of us with our dads, and it was a great way to spend time with friends.

Scott Wallenberg (Publisher): Growing up in Chicago area, our last race was usually the first weekend of November and for three-plus months we would stare at our bikes and dream of riding them. The ground was frozen solid until spring. Motosports park in Byron, Illinois would run a Hare Scrambles event on their property in March as the ground was thawing. It was a muddy and snowy mess but we wanted to ride so bad that we went out anyway. I think they had to tow everyone out of the pits to get home.

Wallenberg still loves Monarks.

Steve Matthes (Editor at Large): Growing up in Canada, spring riding has a special meaning for me. Unlike most other places where you can sneak a ride in here or there, in Canada, you simply cannot ride for six months, as you’re literally looking out the window waiting for the snow to melt.

Generally speaking, we’d try to get out there in March and we’d usually hit the sand pits first. You’d have the new bike, you’ve prepped it all winter and just sat there waiting. The first ride was always so much fun. There’s a day in 1990 which I can still distinctly remember, riding my new 1990 CR125 and riding in these sand pits. We were out there all day and there were a few sections on this track we made that was one lined with snow built up on each side. Flannels, double layered gloves and richer jetting were the order of the day. Myself and some buddies had a track mapped out that went in and out of this pit and it was just epic. And of course, the wet sand and snow made your brand new bike look two years old in no time.

Some good times with a new bike and some buddies- doesn’t get much better than that.

Matthes during an early sand ride. Superb goggle placement.

Aaron Hansel: I live in Chico in Northern California, where the average annual high is 74 degrees and the closest thing we get to snow is when a garbage can full of shredded paper gets knocked over by a drunken college student, so my story differs slightly than the others here. Heck, it doesn’t even take place in the spring, it takes place immediately following the first rain when the summer starts drawing to a close. That’s when the Camelback, spark arrestor, mini toolsets and everything else needed for trail riding gets dragged out of the corner of the garage, where it was tossed and forgotten nine months prior.

The list: Shake the spider webs off the riding jacket, take inventory of trail tools (where does that damned 8mm wrench always disappear to?) check for black widows in the backpack before filling it with a few big Aquafina bottles topped off with gasoline (I’d rather get stranded than put a big tank on my motocross bike), get that half-stripped bolt on your spark arrestor tip as tight as possible (you’ll be sure to replace it next year), It’s a task that’s about as fun as untangling a heap of old dusty tie-downs, and it’s almost always carried out late the night before. But it’s always worth it, because to me, it’s hard to find many things that are better than smashing down a damp, secluded single track in the Sierra Nevada mountain range with a pack of riding buddies. Bonus points if you can sneak up behind one of them on a fire road and wheelie through a big puddle, drenching them with the splash.

These first trail rides of the year always produce a few scary moments too, which makes things even better once you’re all back in town unwinding with a few frosty beverages. One time I was clipping along on a fire road and a gigantic brown bear (the first time I told the story, it was a regular sized bear, now he’s grown to the size of a small SUV) exploded out of the brush right in front of me. It was so close I had to hit the brakes in order to keep from t-boning him! Then there are times where you stumble on, ahem, medicinal farms (the mountains in Northern California are full of them), which is even scarier when several minutes later you encounter a couple guys that could be extras from the movie Deliverance cruising along in a truck that looks like something from “Mad Max.” I guarantee you I’ve gotten out of those places faster than I’ve gotten to the first turn of any motocross race!

Says Hansel: Ready to rip. Look closely and you'll see I'm testing out a prototype set of low-top Alpinestar Vectors. They never made it into production though.

Dave Brozik (Pre Press Manager): I have to dig deep to unearth my first-ride of the year memories. It's been safer for me, and those in the immediate area, that I switched from enthusiast to participant in the last few years. Thank goodness I was never seriously hurt, and I plan to keep it that way. Also, I need all my digits to make a dollah these days.

My riding years were from about 10 years old to 17-ish. Our riding days, like most everyone else, were Sundays. I always went riding with my dad and my younger brother. Sometimes mom would join us for the day to cringe and keep us supplied with chipped-ham sandwiches and iced-tea.

The first half of my riding career, we would go to my uncle's house near Pittsburgh, PA and ride some of the trails in the nameless plot of land behind his house. Later, we rode in Hundred, WV. My dad's friend took a D9 dozer to his land behind his house and made a nice motocross track in the field.

On to the riding. The memories I have follow the same format:

1) Be tool-boy for my dad for the winter months while he put a new piston and rings in my bike.

2) Wait four months to try out the new and goggles and jersey that my brother and I got for Christmas.

3) Pack all my riding gear the night before, except the right glove.

4) Next day...dress warm and help load 3 bikes on the trailer. Sometimes forgetting the gas can and/or toolbox due to overexcitement.

5) Get to the riding area. Unload bikes. Put on gear. Remember the forgotten glove. Find work glove in back of truck.

6) Watch brother get dressed, kick bike once, and take off.

7) Commence starting sequence: Choke bike. Kick. Kick. Kick. More throttle. Kick. Kick. Kick. Less throttle. Kick. Kick. Kick. Pout. Kick. Pout. Put bike back on stand.

8) Wait for dad to kick bike to life. Let it warm up.

9) Watch dad kick the living hell out of his left-side kickstarted 1985 KTM 500 with compression release.

10) Learn new words.

11) Climb on warmed-up bike. Put in gear. Stall. Kick. Kick. Kick. Pout. Sit.

12) Watch dad sweat. Take break from kicking the Katoom.

13) Take notice of my brother somewhere zipping around in the distance.

14) Watch dad get new plug and install it in my bike. Kick. Start. Thumbs up!

15) Wait for dad to successfully start his bike.

16) Hear brother crying off in the distance.

17) Shut down both bikes. Run to his aid. Stop him from crying. Push bike with bent bars back to trailer. Give him a chipped-ham sandwich and iced-tea.

18) Kick bike. Smile 'cause it starts on third kick. Wait for dad.

19) Watch dad sweat as he now stands beside his bike and kicks the left-side kickstarted with his right foot.

20) Learn new words as his workboot slips off the kicker and thwaps him in the shin.

21) Feel uncomfortable. Put bike in gear to get away from uncomfortableness. Stall.

22) No throttle re-kick, gas-it and go!

23) Make two laps. Watch dad kick the KTM with his left foot again. Trickle-choke/compression release/top-dead center/full foot-swing works this time.

24) Enjoy one lap around D9ed track. Washout in turn. Bend bars.

25) Dad stops his bike to check on me.

26) I am fine. Bike unrideable.

27) Watch dad kick his bike. First on the jug. Then the number plate. Then swing arm.

28) Learn new words.

29) We both push out bikes back to the trailer. Join my brother and mother for chipped-ham sandwiches and iced-tea.

30) Load up bikes.

31) Make plans on way home to buy more spark plugs, ether, handlebars, and chipped ham for next weekend.

I'm thankful I have these family memories. Some weekends our bikes ran perfectly and we had a blast. Or, maybe over the years I've mentally created a successful weekend or two. Also, I parlayed my weak riding skills into a sweet desk job for 12 years.

Anyhoo, I thank mom and dad for doing all the things they did so my brother and I could have a first ride every year.


This style-y shot was taken probably in '87 or '88 at Holeshot racetrack near Fairmont, WV. It's actually a cell phone pic of a 18x24 poster my parents had made. Shown: 1984 CR 125. Custom DIY #1 plate on blue background. Sidi boots. O'Neal pants. AXO kidney belt. JT "Bones" jersey. AXO gloves. Davey Coombs' old Honda TX-10 chest pro. RJ signature Bell Moto 4. Scott rolloffs. BAMF!

Dave Langran (Creative Director): My fondest memories of Spring riding are from when I first started racing, back in England. I remember the cold mornings at the track when I used to head out for practice wearing my Life's A Beach, Bad Boy Club hoody to stay warm, thinking to myself that I looked like a badass. By the time the motos started, it had usually warmed up enough for me to lose the BBC hoody and show my rivals the new JT gear I had gotten for Christmas. I was all about JT gear back then and used to think guys like Ron Lechien and JMB just looked so damn cool. One of my best friends, Charlie, was also a JT fanatic and I remember being green with envy the year he got the dalmatian kit and an ALS2 helmet. I had the JT confetti gear that particular year, which although cool, didn't hold a candle to the dalmatian combo.

In England, you usually had to supply a flagger or "marshall" for half of the day, so I also have vivid memories of my poor Dad or Step Mum standing in a cold, muddy field holding out a yellow flag and drinking coffee to try and stay warm.

Whether the races went well or not, I can remember loving every minute of it, even when it was freezing cold and raining (which it often was). On the drive home my Dad and I would talk about the day, who looked fast, where I could be faster (everywhere), and usually how good my battle was with my arch rival, Lee Glasspool.

I can't thank my Dad enough for those days. He was always 110 percent supportive of my racing and always put it before anything he wanted to do. Those were some of my happiest days and I'll never forget them.

Langers (left) and Charlie circa 1989.

Mike Fisher (Assistant Designer): Living at the foot of the Rocky Mountains here in Colorado, Mother Nature never misses an opportunity to lure riders into pulling out the bikes early, and I've been no exception. You see, the weather changes fast here. Last weekend was a blizzard; today is 70 degrees and sunny; tomorrow it's supposed to snow again. When you mix these weather changes with cabin fever and an eagerness to ride, you forget that even though it may be sunny in the afternoon, there are still four-foot snow drifts in the shade.

On to the story. Having just bought my first KTM in the spring of 2011, I couldn't have been more eager to head to the hills and break it in. As luck would have it, my good buddy Alex is as blissfully optimistic about the weather as myself, and when I gave him a call about a last minute riding trip, we agreed that heading to 10,000ft in elevation and camping in a tent would be the most sensible decision. We wrapped up work, loaded the bikes, and arrived at our Taylor Park campsite three hours later—shortly before midnight. Pitching a tent in the dark, we realized I had completely forgotten a sleeping pad, and that Alex's sleeping pad was a punctured vintage model from the 80's, deflating itself in less than 10 seconds. The best solution, we concluded, was to drink a beer and head to bed.

When morning finally came, temperatures had plummeted to close to zero, and the mesh-screened tent wasn't providing as much insulation as one might think. We frantically grabbed our axes and saws and jogged several hundred yards to an area of downed trees, hacking away like mad men until we had a small bundle of firewood. For the next three hours, we took turns chopping wood and thawing our fingers over the fire. The KTMs merely chuckled at us when we tried in vain to start them, and so we pulled them over near the fire and spent another hour thawing out the engines.

The way cavemen would have gotten bikes to start.

We finally hit the trail around 11 a.m., and the next 70 miles were spent riding some of the most beautiful trails in the country. The trails looked more like creeks, and the drifts made for some challenging river crossings, but every mile of singletrack made the night before worth every sleepless minute. Looking outside now on this sunny and beautiful Easter afternoon, Mother Nature's lure is already tempting her riders. It might just be time to give Alex another call.

Nick McCabe (A List Contributor): The first spring ride meant riding with friends in the sandy New Jersey Pine Barrens.

While the ground at home in New York would still be frozen, it always seemed as though weather was a little warmer in the Pine Barrens, which makes sense given the proximity to the Atlantic Ocean.

My friends and I would load up the trucks the night before, and barnstorm down the Garden State Parkway (aka, the GSP), doing our best to avoid the tickets and the $.35 tolls. It was 123 miles (door to door) from my family’s house to the motocross dreamland of Exit 63.

Once off the exit, there was no shortage of tracks on either side of the GSP. At certain points in late February and early march, it was not uncommon to have 200+ riders from all over the east coast trying to get in a few laps and blow off the cobwebs at the various tracks. In fact, there were times where the parking in no-mans-land looked more like the pits at a big amateur race!

The only real kicker was that the tracks were brutal, whooped out, sandy, nasty affairs. The amount of guys riding them at that time of the year didn’t help. But the riding spots were epic. You could ride a few trails through the woods and suddenly find yourself at a new track. Some of the berms, which must have had at least 20 years worth of roosting to their credit, were just huge.

At one point, sometime around 1991 or so, I rode to a total of nine different tracks in one day, and burned through three tanks of gas. Of course, I was just sixteen years old and had the energy to do that!

A few years ago I pulled off at exit 63. Most of the tracks are long gone, and in their place are office buildings, golf courses and even a K Mart. But if take a closer look and walk down an overgrown trail, you can still see the remnants of the huge berms and whoops, though considerably worn down from the weather and lack of use.

Over the years, we had a ton of adventures, from watching my friend’s car catch on fire on the way down (we left it on the side of the road and grabbed it on the way home), to countless speeding tickets, crashes, big jumps, and the thousands of hours of riding. It was a great place and good times.

McCabe in the parts of New Jersey you never knew existed.

Jason Weigandt (Online Editor): I think the picture below says it all:

Sadly, Weigandt is 15 years old in this picture, so he can't even use the "I was a dumb kid" excuse.

Pete Martini (Sales Director): I’m a Southern California guy, born and raised. I have no clue what other people across the country deal with when it comes to riding Moto in the cold. Is it like sitting on the chairlift in Mammoth in a snow storm? Or like walking home from the Red Garter in Indy at 3 a.m. in February?

I can tell you that surfing in the winter in California is very cold and that you need a full wetsuit (4mm x 3mm, taped with glued seams) and booties most days in December – February. Those full suits make for some difficult paddling. The cold water makes your extremities numb and ice cream headaches are common when duck diving repeated set waves in the impact zone on the paddle out. Spring means day light savings and more time for longer afternoon sessions. Water temps in the mid 60’s and air temps in the mid to high 70’s. Way more girls in bikinis on the sand and I can start wearing my short sleeve /short leg wetsuit (spring suit) with no booties and enjoy a much easier paddle out to the lineup. My tan lines get a little funky that time of year, but I digress…

[Editor’s note: get it together here, Pete]

Riding MX in Southern California in the winter comes with its challenges. Some days in the heart of winter, I actually have to wear a hoodie over my gear in the morning! Later in the day, I usually use my Racer X EZ-UP to protect my skin from the harsh rays of the sun. I can wear lighter colorway gear, like white and light blue. I can also start wearing those badass-looking mirror lens goggles or those uridium ones as well. And with the extra day light, I have extra time to wash my bike. Man, spring is sweet.


Southern California life is tough.

Andrew Fredrickson (Managing Editor): I've been locked up for what feels like an eternity, my bike is more than ready to go and I’ve been chomping at the bit to finally hit the track. The weather calls for a mere 46 degree high and 30 degree low, but it's been since November 12th since I've thrown a leg over a dirt bike and it's going to happen at Tomahawk this weekend even if the snow flutters in. I'll be prepared though, long underwear, and a fleece turtle neck as my base under-layer. The handguards are staying on just for a bit of added finger protection, too. I need to get some track time, and try to keep it safe, but you never know with the adrenaline that has been backed up in my system.

That was the initial plan of attack before the weekend at Tomahawk, and I was prepared. What happened though, was that the skies opened up and the sun actually shined down upon us and made everything just that much better. No turtleneck needed this time, but I could feel the arm pump before getting out on the track. Two laps into the first practice and the braking bumps started eating me whole. Five months without riding, recovering from my broken tib/fib/ankle, and almost zero exercise all working against me at the same time. But, damn, was it worth it. I went out for a second practice session and it wasn’t any better, but that’s just part of getting back into it. At least I kept it out of the emergency room and that was my main goal. While Friday was spent riding, Saturday was spent being sore and photographing the Loretta Lynn Area Qualifier and getting my feet wet for the season outside that lays ahead.

Growing up in the Pacific Northwest, weather never seemed to put a damper on my riding though, it always seemed muddy and generally cold on the trails in Ravensdale, WA where I would take out my 1992 CR125 with my riding buddy Chris. Although I didn’t have to use my expertise from the past, maybe next year the first ride will be something I’m a little more familiar with. Cheers to the first ride of the season, keeping it on two wheels and out of the emergency room.

Our Morgantown boys hit the track over the weekend.

Chase Stallo (Online Content Manager): Ah…it seems like just yesterday when I called beautiful South Carolina home. There, riding took place year round. Being transplanted to frigid Morgantown, West Virginia (Racer X Headquarters), a little over two years ago, has left me, and my bike, in hibernation throughout the winter. Although my running mates Andrew Fredrickson (Really, turtle neck?) and Jordan Roberts tackled the cold temps (I could have sworn Punxsutawney Phil didn’t see his shadow) to ride Thomahawk this weekend, I hit the slopes, getting in those final snowboard runs of the year. There is an upside to a real winter!

Jordan Roberts (Marketing Assistant): Growing up in Michigan, my stepbrother and I were fortunate enough to live 15 minutes from RedBud and also have a decent track in our backyard. Wait a second... Why did I move to West Virginia?

Anyways, as Spring rolled in, the snow would slowly melt, giving us good 'ole dirt bike fever. The problem was, the last place that seemed to hold snow in the entire region was our track. Everywhere, I mean everywhere, had green grass growing except for our cursed plot of land. We'd normally say 'eff it' and go ride anyways. I've never owned a tried and true race weapon, so my bike would normally break the first or second time out. Most of the snow would be gone by the time it was fixed, so I guess the formula kind of worked.

Fast forward to this year and, well, some things remain the same. Here I am in a West Virginia Wal-Mart parking lot doing a Craigslist trade with some heavy fella that looked to have just crawled out of the coal mine. After we got buck wild doing some willies in the parking lot, we shook hands and I left with a YZ 250 2-smoker. Aside from the "Hillbilly Proud" swingarm sticker and red painted clutch cover, the bike seemed to be in surprisingly good condition. AFred and I loaded up our two-strokes and headed to Tomahawk MX for a Northeast Loretta’s Area Qualifier. I quickly noticed the throttle cable housing was stretched after the first practice session, mostly because my whiskey throttle occurrences had sky-rocketed. Two-strokes, baby!

Jordan Roberts picked up this bike a few days ago. Actual starting will take place at a later date.

For reasons unknown, the bike wouldn't even start in staging of second practice--or anytime afterwards for that matter. Time to go back to the drawing board. Fortunately, rain and snow are still in the forecast this week. The formula lives on.