Breakdown: Is Going Bigger Always Better?

Breakdown Is Going Bigger Always Better?

February 5, 2014 11:30am

Normally, jumping the most obstacles at a time is the best and fastest approach to a section. It requires more speed (good) and requires fewer landings and takeoffs (also good). Jumping over more stuff is almost always the recommended line—key word being almost. This weekend we saw how that theory doesn’t always play out.

The most intriguing section on the Anaheim 3 track layout was a series of seven jumps—all the same size and all the same distance between each other. During track walk, there were a few people who thought that tripling the first three and then grabbing a handful of throttle to jump the final four out of the section was possible. I don’t want to say I was one of these people, but Chad Reed’s mechanic Lars Lindstrom thought it wouldn’t happen, and since it did, I just want to make it clear that I guessed right. Sorry, Lars! In practice, five or six riders made this section into a triple-quad much to the delight of the early bird fans. I hassled Chad Reed about his lack of willingness to jump the triple-quad and he assured me he would do it when the time came. What neither of us really anticipated is how the track would break down, thus changing the fastest line.

"Although Stewart was able to jump the aforementioned triple-quad, he was sacrificing the time saved in said rhythm by coming to a stop in the turn." - JT Photo: Simon Cudby

To jump a triple out of such a tight turn, there are a few key elements: one is carrying momentum through the turn so there is enough speed to clear the obstacles. The tricky part here is to find that sweet spot where you are carrying speed but not so much that it would keep you from straightening out when leaving the obstacle. The idea is to carry momentum, straighten out just before the jump face and then accelerate hard at the last second while sitting into the seat. This “seat bounce” technique is used over and over in supercross and those who have it truly mastered can use it on tough combos such as this one. This was how those 5 or 6 riders were getting over both the triple and the quad after it.

Where it started to go wrong for this section was in the turn itself. As the night continued, the turn began to break down (pun intended). This deterioration of the berm led to less speed through the turn and less ability to accelerate out of it. It was a steady process, and in turn I could see the riders who were opting for the triple struggle to consistently execute the jump. This had a few side effects.

Firstly, James Stewart started what I would call “turning down early.” He missed the blown out berm and increased his straight line acceleration path. The downside of this is that he had to brake very hard and almost come to a stop to make such a sharp turn. Stopping in turns is a big no-no—although I was unfortunately a master of it. Okay, the important thing to remember here is that although Stewart was able to jump the aforementioned triple-quad, he was sacrificing the time saved in said rhythm by coming to a stop in the turn. It was invariably a wash as they cancelled each other out. A side note is that his “turn down” line may have directly attributed to leaving the door open for Ryan Dungey to blow it off the hinges. To quote Lawrence of Arabia, “Big things have small beginnings.” This seemingly insignificant line change brought him closer to Dungey’s path and ultimately into harm’s way.

Getting back to Reed: he never did jump the big 3-4. Instead, he chose to race through the turn. This method is used when most riders are wasting time setting up for a big rhythm section, racing through the turn can make up for some of that lost time. Since Reed wasn’t worried about jumping three out of the turn, he could carry much more momentum and hit the ramp at whatever angle he ended up in after the corner. He was trying to go faster through the turn knowing that he would lose that time later as the other riders jumped further, landed one less time, and carried more speed. Normally, being faster in the turn is a tradeoff and usually a losing one. The difference in this scenario was that the turn kept getting worse. Chad was able to fight through the deteriorated turn at a decent pace while those of a triple-quad persuasion were wasting valuable time preparing for their run. As I said, this scenario normally wouldn’t play into Reed’s favor but it did on Saturday night.

"Since Reed wasn’t worried about jumping three out of the turn, he could carry much more momentum..." - JT Photo: Simon Cudby

To even further drive home this fact, Ken Roczen was also not jumping the 3-4 and finished second. Ryan Villopoto, James Stewart, Ryan Dungey and Justin Brayton all finished behind these two and guess what … they were all tripling into the section as their main race line. In this case, bigger was not necessarily better.

This situation is a rare one for supercross. An overwhelming percentage of the time, jumping the biggest possible rhythm will be the fastest and most efficient. James Stewart is notorious for using jumps like that to his advantage and has 45 wins to show for it—and don’t forget he was able to pass Reed by jumping a quad last weekend in Oakland more consistently. Reed opted out of it completely this time and added his 44th career win.

Both of these riders will jump sections scary enough for most to need a change of shorts. Last weekend, however, winning wasn’t dependent on jumping out of the stadium. As the “GOAT” Ricky Carmichael always says, “jumps are for show but corners are for dough.”