Last week, I touched on the shifting tide beneath the sport. The economy is back and people are spending money again, but not at their local motocross track racing motos every Sunday. The mountain bike, UTV, ATV, and off-road markets are booming, and practice tracks still do okay. But what about local motocross racing? Are you on your way to the track right now on this lovely Sunday morning?
I asked readers to write in. Here’s part one of some of the best letters, and some responses. More next week (and I think I have figured out THE reason. Stay tuned).
Hello. I raced from the mid 1970's until the early 1980's. Being from southern Michigan we raced quite often at Redbud. At the first race of the year their must have been almost 800 riders for all the classes.
We went to an amateur race at Redbud one year ago. Their were hardly any riders present. What happened to the 125 classes that made a nice transition from a minibike to a full size motorcycle?
Myself and my friends paid for our equipment. My first bike, a 1974 Suzuki TM 125 cost 750$ with a KRW helmet included. I worked at Krogers and could buy a new bike every year. How can a sixteen year old work at Krogers and buy a 6000-7000$ motorcycle ?
-- Terry 586
Great article! I managed our family owned race track in PA from 2006-2009 (Sleepy Hollow). During that time on our bigger days we would have 700-800 entrees on one day! Now, 300-400 is around the highest entree rate, at least for regular races in the Eastern/Central PA region. I remember the good old days in the early 2000's when 125 2 strokes were listed at the MSRP of $4899.00. Regardless, local MX racing attendance has certainly declined within the last 7-8 years. Good read guys!
Thanks, guys. For sure bikes seem more expensive, but I did some quick math on two popular machines.
2002 Kawasaki KX250 MSRP $5799
2002 price adjusted for inflation $7665
2016 Kawasaki KX450F MSRP $8799
1999 Honda CR125 MSRP $4899
1999 price adjusted for inflation $6992
2015 CRF250F MSRP $7599
There’s sticker shock with these new prices, but they’re hardly out of line. We’re talking merely $600 more for the 125/250F. If someone in a Honda box van had rolled up to your track in 1999, and presented the 2015 250F to anyone for $600 more, NO ONE would have said no. Even $1,100 for the 2016 450 against a 2002 KX250? People would have snapped them up.
So, today’s bikes are actually a much better value and don’t cost a ton more, dollar for dollar. Of course, with four-strokes all other costs rise. They’re pretty reliable these days, but if you go into engine work or big fixes, it will cost more.
I wonder if we’re looking the wrong direction here. Technology always gives you more for your inflation-adjusted money. But maybe instead of way better bikes for just a bit more money, we should have slightly better bikes for much less money? The 2016 YZ125 costs $6,399. It’s better than the 1999 CR125 and costs little less when adjusted for inflation.
The manufacturers aren’t dumb. They didn’t just double bike prices and expect people to buy them. As you can see, when adjusted for inflation, they’re only asking the same investment they always did.
Maybe we need to look at entry-level finances these days? We hear a lot about economic gains getting concentrated at the top. Do teenagers have the disposable income they used to have? Can they afford a YZ125 for the same dollars a YZ125 cost fifteen years ago?
To me, it’s not quite as simple as “bikes cost too much now,” but it does leave us a clue. Bikes are so, so, so good now, I wonder if they couldn’t be a little less serious and expensive, and still get the job done. But we’ll never know, because this is a competitive sport. Each brand wants to make the best bike, not the cheapest, and we all aspire to own the best bike, not the cheapest. We take our racing seriously, and saving a thousand bucks for a bike that’s slow compared to your competition doesn’t work. If it did, everyone would buy YZ125s.
Maybe we shouldn’t be that serious. Let’s keep going; stay with me on that thought.
Because of Loretta's, the contenders only travel to qualifiers, then spend the rest of the time practicing or at training facilities. The C class wizards don’t race because they don't want any move up points.
Also local tracks need to get sponsors to pay A class purses, let them race free if they preregister. Chillitown MX in Ohio does this and they have full gates. It works.
As background, I started racing a Honda MR50 back in 1974, and retired after the Washougal National in 1992. I got back in the sport in 2002 with my son, who started on a KTM Junior when he was six. At this point, my son is 19 and is a good, mid pack Intermediate rider while attending the local community college before he heads of for the last two years of school next September.
While I love the sport of motocross and have poured a lot of blood, sweat, tears, broken bones, and a sh*tload of money into it, I am so glad that this journey is nearly over. The sport has gotten ridiculously expensive. Complicating things is the new, fairly common pattern of these kids being “homeschooled” so they can ride more. It makes it very tough, if not nearly impossible, for a kid that is getting an education to compete. I held my son to a very high standard with school, and if he didn’t meet those expectations, he didn’t ride. It’s tough to compete against kids that not only don’t have high scholastic standards, many don’t even go to school!
At the local scene, at the “big” race today, it’s significantly smaller than it used to be. To illustrate, at my son’s very first race ever in June 2002, there were 775 riders, at the largest local race today, we’re lucky to get 550 now.
I never, ever thought I would say something like this, as I lived and breathed motocross from forty years. But it’s just gotten so out of hand that I look forward to the day that I get to put my stuff on Craigslist. I will never look back.
I've built my business supporting old, slow guys like myself who love to ride and have the disposable income to spend on set-up and tuning. But the guys I'm describing don't race much. They have jobs, families and things to do.
I grew up doing local MX, and it was part of my family's bi-monthly plan. My dad was an engineer my mother a University professor. They had no motorcycle experience but I wanted to do it and worked for it so they supported my efforts. We enjoyed it but we had limits. I went to college and started my business.
Sometimes when I go to a big amateur event, I really hate being there. The dream is crazy. We should be doing this because we love it and because we enjoy the challenge. The crazy motorhomes, and the efforts that people go to be a high-school drop out with no future is crazy.
It also reminds me of an important lesson. When we first started in 1985, we went to the track in a 1978 Toyota Corolla with a bumper carrier. I was so embarrassed to have my RM80 going to track that way.. All the others came in pick-up trucks…..but while I was embarassed back then, I'd give anything to go back to that moment once just to relive the time with Dad. Those where golden times. Somehow I guess this is lost…
Ouch. Thanks, guys. I think this is a huge point. Let’s face it, this sport—really any sport—is going to be top heavy with delusional folks thinking their kid will be the next millionaire super star. That’s not only a motocross thing. That mind set has been around forever, and big amateur races, like Loretta’s, have been around forever too. The fundamentals of Loretta’s have not changed since the event started in 1982. But I think we’ve seen the steady march toward the racers getting more serious, little by little, year by year, decade by decade. We didn’t have full-time training facilities at one time. Now it’s practically required if you want to win races. This is the evolution of it all. Sure makes it tough to do both school and racing, and that eliminates a lot of people.
What can be done to make amateur motocross racing more affordable for the middle class?
I suggest the following:
1.) Convincing racers to purchase Yamaha and KTM two-strokes in lieu of four-strokes
2.) Not charging racers admission fees at the races
3.) Offering racers the chance to enter as many classes as they are eligible for at a flat fee
4.) Offering discounts for entering multiple classes
5.) Offering racers a discount for an entire race series entry fee
6.) Offering racers discounted practice fees
7.) Offering parts and motorcycle discounts to racers at local dealerships
8.) Provide a forum to allow racers to meet online and organize carpooling to the races and practice days
9.) Having an area set aside in the pits to offer refurbished two-stroke bikes for sale with a local bank providing financing
10.) Provide affordable coaching and instruction to allow riders to develop skills
Good points, Brian. This asks for more sacrifice from track owners, though, and they’re surely hurting as it is. The track owner/promoter has probably felt the biggest brunt of our recent change, because, as I said last week, people are still spending money on OEM machines and parts at their local dealers. They’re just not racing. That’s a huge blow to your local motocross track, and if it dries up, everything else does along with it.
Motocross tracks are semi-independent parts. They do receive help from the industry in a way via sponsorships (chances are your local dealers pump up the local track, and a lot of that money comes from the ad budget, which is often seeded from the manufacturer right at the top). But there isn’t one guiding hand saying, “The better we make the local tracks, the better it is for the economy of the sport as a whole.” We’re talking mostly independent groups—a track owner here, a dealership owner there, a bike brand and aftermarket company there—loosely connected. No one, as a whole, is saying, “We need to make these places cool and common so people can ride and race again. So let’s pump some money into tracks and help these owners.” That’s not happening. Meanwhile, mountain bike clubs have people volunteering to help make local trails better for all. Speaking of…
I Switched to Mountain Bikes
Your article perfectly encapsulates what I have seen and experienced in the last decade. I began racing in 1995 and continued full on as a local pro until 2011. I have had so much fun and owe so much of my life experiences and friends to the sport. I still follow it doggedly, but a few years back, the magic was gone right along with all my friends who raced and rode for fun. The sport got more expensive, places to ride more exclusive, and my energies started feeling like they were better spent doing things on my own schedule and having more fun. I transitioned to riding and racing bicycles It feels great to still have the activity, exercise, and similar sense of community without dropping hundreds of dollars per weekend. No waiting all day in the sun to race for 30 minutes.
It makes me kind of sad, because I remember the golden era of my day in the late 90's when racing was popular, fun, and bit more reasonably priced. I suffered from the economic collapse, being in a construction related industry. Things are much better now, but it's more complicated than just how much money I have stashed in the bank account for fun. It's about how much fun I can pack into my free time and still share it with the wife and kids. I'm actually only 33 and have a lot left in the tank. Unfortunately, I don't see a day that I return to the local tracks with the family. I'll be somewhere in the trees quietly carving up pretty little trails....thanks so much for the article.
Yep, like I said, mountain bikes are too damned convenient. Mountain bikes have been around since the 1980s. But they started getting better, and the overall scene kept improving as far as more good places to ride, just at the time people had to cut their motocross expenses due to the economic downturn. Bad timing for motocross—there’s a viable alternative and once you try it, it’s hard to go back. Please, remember that dirt bikes are more fun! That’s all we’ve got!
That’s it for this week, kids, but I’ve got more letters covering two more reasons for next week’s ReduX. See you then. Oh, and have fun riding your dirt bike today! – Weege