Ken Roczen is back! Yesterday Honda held a media day to spend some time with their HRC Honda and GEICO Honda teams. After 11 surgeries and a hell of a long road, Ken is ready to race again. He’s been keeping a low profile as of late—not because he isn’t ready, but because he’s been too busy getting ready for 2018. Ken has put in the work, doing absolutely everything in his power to prepare. We spent some time talking to him about his status and where he expects to be at the start of the season. Whether you believe he can win races and a championship again doesn’t matter; Ken believes he can, and that’s what it takes to be a champion.
Racer X: How does the arm feel?
Ken Roczen: The arm feels pretty good. I go back and forth between soreness, like if I do a lot or ride a lot. I’ve been doing push-ups on my arm and everything. It’ll get sore every once in a while. But other than that, obviously I have a lot of restrictions in movement, but I’ve gotten used to it now to where I don’t really feel like it bothers me too much riding. So, I should say all in all, my arm will never be the same, but I’ve adjusted it so well that I kind of ride just the way that I rode before the crash. I’m very fortunate to be in this position. I feel like I recover, I heal pretty quick. Actually, the doctor says that he has never seen anybody that heals that quick from an injury like that. So, I think in the position we’re in right now, we have a good shot at winning races and hopefully a championship toward the end.
For me, going to Anaheim, I’m just going to enjoy myself. I’m so glad to be back in the spotlight with people and get to race again. That’s what I miss the most. Sitting on the couch was the most miserable thing ever, especially for that long. I’m getting paid and I’m not in use for anything. I’m not racing. I’m trying everything. Obviously not bumming around, but I’m trying everything I can to get this arm back going, but at the same time, there was such a long healing process. I was just kind of waiting and waiting and I didn’t see anything getting better for a long time. It took a long time to get a little bit, and then at one point it started getting a little bit better. All in all, though, my arm feels pretty solid. I have very small movements, so I have to do push-ups on my fist, for example. I’m very limited to the things I can do. I’m a lefty, actually, but I can’t throw a ball and things like that. But as long as it’s good enough for riding, then I’m fine with it.
You’ve been training at Castillo Ranch. How’s that been going?
Yeah. I was up there for about four weeks. After that, I went back to Florida. A couple days ago, I came back from Florida. I was only there for about ten days, but it was a good change. The tracks and the dirt are so good up in Florida. This is probably by far the best boot camp I’ve ever had. We mixed things up a little bit. I think that’s the great part about Peter [Park, trainer]. The knowledge that he has is pretty incredible and we learn things every single year. So, we changed a few things up and made it that much better. I absorbed everything very well. Obviously, you get tired and whatnot, but I never had a day where I felt like, okay, now I have to really take it easy because I’m getting super tired. It was the perfect amount of training really hard, but not to the edge to where your nervous system gets trashed and you don’t recover and things like that. Like I said, this is probably the best boot camp I’ve ever had. I absorbed everything. I feel super fit. I feel strong. We’ve still got a few weeks to go to Anaheim. I’m kind of on and off. I’ve been having some hard days of training and work in general mixed together with traveling. It will be good over the weekend to kind of take it easy a little bit on the riding side, because today will be my fourth day in a row, actually. So, next week I think I’m going to have another hard week. As we’re getting closer, kind of backing it down a little bit until we slowly start peaking at Anaheim.
The last time I spoke to you, you were complaining your shoulder was kind of bothering you as a side effect in the limitations of your elbow and wrist. Is that still bothering you?
So, when you’re for a long time in a sling or whatever and your arm is internally rotated and you hold it, all the stabilizer muscles that are around the shoulder blade, your rotator cuff muscle, all that stuff is really getting super weak. I didn’t move the arm around very much until later on. That actually took a long time. Never mind weight training. I was using some super simple Thera-Bands with simple exercises and whatnot to get that strengthened. You have to start really slow. I had huge problems with my shoulder for a long time. The humerus was kind of bunching up in here in my shoulder and that gave me big problems, mostly when I was riding. I still have pain every once in a while, but all in all, whether it’s in the gym or riding I’m pretty much pain-free. That shoulder problem has pretty much just been solved for the last couple weeks. I struggled with it throughout boot camp a little bit, but I just really had to make sure that my posture and my shoulder is locked in at all times. As soon as I have a little bit of lack of right positioning, then it can go the other way. That’s what we focus a lot on, having the right posture.
What was the total number of surgeries? Do you anticipate any more?
Total number surgeries is 11 up until now. I know that there is a possible surgery in the end of the year, this year, just to get some scar tissue removed and maybe hopefully get the wrist moving a little bit more. But for right now, I’m really happy with where I’m at. I don’t think anybody could have done a better job than Dr. Viola. I have to pretty much give all the credit to him. My scaphoid and everything was pretty much sandpaper, so they took bone out of my leg to kind of bits and piece that back together. Considering how bad everything was, the focus that he had and the procedure that he followed was amazing. I think he did everything right. Together with my will of coming back and doing the right rehab, (it) was just a recipe for success. I really can’t complain.
We lost you for basically an entire year with your injury happening at the third round of supercross. Do you feel like an X-factor at all, coming back into this? Is that something that maybe you can make work to your advantage?
I don’t think it’s an advantage by any means when it comes to racing time, but I’m totally fine with it. I’m coming back in Anaheim battling for wins, I know that. I wouldn’t say it’s an advantage not racing, but it’s also not necessarily a disadvantage because I did have some time off. I go on the track every day that I ride and I have a blast. So, I think it really recharged my batteries. I think a lot of people could struggle with it. I’m just not the struggling-type person when it comes to getting mentally ready for racing. So, I’ll go to Anaheim and do my normal thing as if I never left.
Is your arm ready to race? Do you anticipate maybe having to adjust to your limitations?
No, my arm is plenty ready to race. The racing part work-wise is the easy part. I’ve gone through boot camp and I have put so much stress on my arm to get it used to it. To strengthen it, you have to put some extra stress on it. I think the racing part will definitely be the easier part. I go work out in the morning. I go ride. I go to the gym. I do my warmups and whatnot during race time and then we race, and it’s on and off. So overall, race time throughout the day, it’s not really that much for racing. I don’t expect too many problems.
You wrote on Instagram that it doesn’t matter who wins a few months before Anaheim. Do you think the mind games already started with Marvin and those guys?
No, it was not toward Marvin [Musquin]. It was toward the people that think that whoever won eight months ago or whatever, who won during outdoors, who won a year ago during supercross, it doesn’t matter. Things can turn around a lot. I’ve won Monster Cup before. I was ready. I was fast. I won Anaheim, but it didn’t work out to win the championship. It was nothing against Marvin. It was nothing against [Eli] Tomac. Marvin’s going good. It looks like he’s really going good right now. He’s winning a lot, almost everything. So, it’s going to be very tough. I just disagree with the fans that make assumptions. Tomac won 11 months ago during supercross. Well, that doesn’t always mean that he’s going to win the next championship or anything like that. So, it was nothing against any other riders. No names were mentioned. If I would have had a problem with a rider, I would have mentioned their name. That’s for sure. It’s towards the people that think that everything’s laid out, as in like a schedule. In racing, you can see with my arm, there’s no schedule. Things can turn around. Nobody knows what’s going to happen.
Some people don’t believe that you can come back. Does it bother you?
It doesn’t bother me. I’m not surprised. I don’t think anybody can just come back from an injury like that and be race-ready and be mentally prepared to win. So, it doesn’t bother me. I’m not really surprised. But in my mind, I’m just like, you guys are silly if you don’t think that I’m going to be able to win again.
What do you think the big limiting factor at Anaheim would be, the lack of mobility or the fact that it’s been so long since you’ve raced?
If anything, I haven’t raced in a long time so I’m sure it’ll get some getting used to. That’s why I said whether I win or whether I’m fifth or third, I’m going to be walking out of there with a big smile on my face just being behind the gate and racing again with my team, working together with Oscar, being on the gate. He’s been waiting for me this whole year to finally come back racing. We’re a great team together. Whether it’s a win, like I said, if it’s a podium, it doesn’t really matter to me. I’m just happy to be back there. I’m practicing here. To me I’ve adjusted everything very well, so I don’t really go into Anaheim thinking that I have limitations. If I already think that I have a disadvantage because of my arm, then I might as well not race. So, I’m going to Anaheim thinking that I do not have a disadvantage.
How about your bar setup? Have you changed your bar bend or anything like that? Anything on the bike changed because of this?
No, because bar bend wouldn’t have done anything. There’s no need to. I have a lot of people around me that if there were any problems or continuous problems…actually, the only thing we’ve worked on is my grips. My left grip is actually a little bit thicker. I’ve been riding with that for a while now. It’s actually a little bit thicker than your standard, average grip. I’m riding a pretty soft compound, too. Other than that, though, if I were to have any problems, I have a lot of smart people around me that know what to do. I didn’t really have to change anything with my bar position or anything.
What’s the mindset going into the season? Are you going to start slow? Are you telling yourself, “I have to win?”
I don’t have to do anything. I want to win. I want to go out there. If I win, amazing. If not, amazing too. I’m racing. That’s the absolute most important [thing]. There’s 17 rounds, and we’ve seen riders before legit struggling in the first few rounds and then Eli clicked off wins towards the end and almost got the championship. It’s really just getting some race time under my belt. Like I said, I think I’m good at going back, even though I haven’t raced in a while. I am going to be on the gate feeling very, very familiar. I’m going to do my thing. I am not one bit worried. Obviously, it’s going to be a lot of media and a lot of talking before that whole thing, but I’m really good at throwing things out of my mind. I have a happy life and I have a great fiancé and a great dog. We have plenty of time together to take the mind off of racing, which helps a lot.
What kind of suit are we going to see you in at A1?
[Laughs] That’s a surprise. I looked at something, but it was pretty much almost impossible to get, so I kind of had to switch things around a little bit. But we’re going to look sharp no matter what.
Are you afraid of failing?
No, because I don’t fail. I’m not afraid of failing. Absolutely not. A fail would have been me not trying to come back and jump on a bike again. That would have been a fail to me. But even if I tried and it wouldn’t have happened, that wouldn’t have been a fail to me, because I did everything in my power to. But I’m riding and I’m riding well. You never know what’s going to happen. You can crash quick, whatever, it doesn’t matter. I’m riding and I’ve basically reached my goal. I’ve been back on the bike. It’s not a fail.
You mentioned Tomac and you mentioned Musquin. All that time off gives you a chance to observe the progress of other guys as they’re going through the season. Is there anybody else that made an impression on you, good or bad, in the 450 class? Anybody that you looked at and went, “Wow, he stepped it up a lot too”?
It’s really tough. Me not racing, I don’t know, because I feel like there have been certain things where people are going good and you come back and there’s always a lot of good riders, how it was in the previous years, and in the end, it’s two riders up in the front again. You always think there’s eight riders that can win a race, that can win, that can be good, but in the end from first to fourth, fifth place sometimes there’s 30 seconds, 40 seconds. In a supercross, that’s a lot. There’s a lot of people that are riding great at the moment, I’m sure, that had a good outdoor season. It will be interesting to kind of get used to things again.
I do believe that there are a couple of people that will mix it up a little bit more in the front. On a consistent note, I don’t know. That’s something that I kind of just have to feel out and get back riding again and see where everybody’s at. It’s very hard to say that far ahead of time how things are going to turn out. I kind of like the gamble or the thought of things. Not new riders, but there’s riders that are going to be good, and then I’m coming back. I haven’t raced all of those guys in a long time. It will be a fun little test.
Do you have anybody specific on your radar besides the two top guys?
No. I just focus on myself really. I think the reason why people always have Eli and Marvin in mind is because they lately have been the fastest guys. Especially Marvin, him winning a lot, it would be stupid to not acknowledge that. But other than that, I don’t focus on other people hardly ever for the simple reason I could be worrying about somebody three weeks ahead of time and then it’s not even going to be a problem. So, why would I waste energy, and mentally, why would I drain myself because of that?
Let’s talk about the bike real quick. The 2017 transitioned to the 2018 model now. Big changes for you guys testing or not so much?
I was with KYB last year [Showa this year]. Other than that, there hasn’t really been any changes. We had the electric start last year, too. So, I don’t even think there have been too many changes that I’ve noticed or that they’ve talked about. They’ve done a very small amount of testing. I definitely made the bike better than last year, motor-wise. I think we’ve improved suspension. Other than that, it just feels very familiar.
Where’s the Showa working for you that KYB didn’t?
It was kind of like a personal preference. Showa really stepped their game up. We’ve done multiple tests. We’ve tested in outdoors where I really liked it. You go to one track, one test or whatever and something is really good, that doesn’t mean you go to a different track and it’s the same. We did test it on supercross. I’m very happy with the decision that I made. The KYB guys are great guys. I know them well and they’re good people, but this was just simple personal preference. It kind of fits our fork together a little differently. I’ve gotten a lot smarter because of Oscar. We worked so close together throughout the last couple years. I think he fits our fork together with pieces and what I want and what I didn’t want, and it worked out great. Simple reason is that it was just personal preference.
What should we wish you for Christmas?
I’m not a present person. I like to buy things myself. All I want is I want to be happy, which I am, and healthy. We take things for granted. Sometimes you’re healthy for quite a while and you kind of start overlooking things. Once you’re hurt, you realize how shitty it is to be on the sidelines, possibly losing an arm. Whether it’s an arm or other people with other problems. I don’t really have a wish like something that somebody could buy me. I just want for people especially to be happy. I feel like 2017 was a shit year for a lot of people, not just for me. There were a lot of things happening wrong, I should say, too, in the world in general. I feel like I noticed it this year more than ever. Maybe it’s because I had more time, but I feel like there were a lot of things that went wrong and people getting hurt and this person dies. It’s like every month there’s something else going on. So, I just want a happier world living.