Am I too old and fat for: a full-blown dirtbike?

Amateur idiot pictured on in-the-dark farmer's land
Amateur idiot pictured on in-the-dark farmer's land Picture: Elle Henderey

On the face of it, four days shy of 43, and with a couple more kilos of Dairy Milk around than the middle than is entirely necessary, the sane answer should be yes, I am too old and fat to even attempt riding a full-blown, competition-ready Kawasaki KX250F.

Motocrossers of the past have been vicious, evil things that have turned hard-as-nails magazine road-testers to jelly, Trevor, and they still now damage even the best that circuit racing has to offer – sometimes at entirely inappropriate times.

This year’s MXGP injury list resembles a Saturday night at Moss Side A&E with twisted arms, dislocated hips, broken fingers, blown knees… and these are the finest motocross riders on the planet.

So what chance does Billy Normal have of a) staying injury-free and b) actually having some fun on one? A pretty good one, as it turns out. First, a confession. This is not my first rodeo. I had an ex-British Championship KTM 125 (complete with WP upside-downies) when I was 13 – but was never allowed to race. I also had a two-stroke KX250 in my mid-20s (too scared to race, preferred Guinness and Marlboro) and that thing was a bastard of a handful.

But the blender-like power delivery of the ring-ding maniacs are a now a distant memory as only KTM and Husqvarna now make two-stroke crossers, with the Japanese big four changing to lumpy, four-stroke power some years back on the pretext of assisting polar bears or something.

As with the change from 500GP to MotoGP, four-stroke motocrossers are, for a man of a certain age, simply not cricket. Having only had one interface with a four-stroke KX (a specced-450, belonging to J. Rea Esq. on a sand track – which lasted minutes and hurt), taking delivery of a KX250F was met with anticipation and trepidation in equal measure.

They look bigger than they used to be – which is odd as the last time I owned one, I was much smaller; a concept known as the reverse Curly-Wurly. Another thing that new motocrossers do that old ones did not is start first kick. Gone are the days of burning off many, many Curly-Wurlys just to get the things going. Four-strokes even tick over at idle, which is a godsend to the hard-of-patience.

Some bribery and blackmail of a local farmer had secured me the use of a field and adjoining access track. I saw no point in going to an MX track because I had no desire to hurt myself or to have my pants pulled down by some five-year-old herbert on a PW50, and I couldn’t get it there anyway. So being resourceful, a deal with a landowner was struck, and never shall those New Year 2007 pictures again see the light of day.

With the surprisingly easy starting procedure of kick it and it fires up, the light clutch is fed out, a minimum of revs are required to roll and the first foray begins. It pulls from nothing, and the power is easy; linear and controllable. No horrible surprises anywhere, it just builds with the straightline speed. A revelation from someone used to having all the power delivered in a nanosecond with nary a jot given for the poor sap sitting behind the bars.

A couple of runs are more than enough to work out that this thing is almost civilized in the way it goes about its business. The gearbox is fluid and there’s not really any need for the clutch on upshifts. But being a mechanically sympathetic type, it was used going down the box.

This is neither scary, or dangerous. This is actually fun. A small amount of complacency mixed with misplaced bravery set in about 30 minutes into the debut – and going around in circles was a bit dull. And my sarcasm-versed three-year-old was making yawning gestures at me. I’ll show him.

Spinning the rear like Tony Cairoli was next. Again, not as hard or as wayward a process as you would think. Long grass is possibly not the ideal surface for it but the way in which the KX delivers its power made it easy enough for to moderate the (minimal) spin as you exit a turn, and as there is no lightswitch power, the resulting wheelie when it finds grip doesn’t immediately warrant a rapidly-shut throttle, a stamp on the rear brake and a little whimper.

As with all things, the more you do it, the easier it becomes and that makes it more fun. It went well, until I stopped. Then whatever had been missing from my wrist and fingers for the last few minutes flooded back and its re-introduction hurt like hell. Or it might have been cramp, or something. It was enough to call time on day one as the school run beckoned, and that tedious work shit that gets in the way of almost everything these days.

Confidence with these bikes is everything. Once you have learned that its sole purpose in life isn’t to maim you at every given opportunity, you can relax, let it get on with whatever it is doing underneath you and the moments you had yesterday which felt like they were going to hurt become the norm. Motocrossers are supposed to move around a lot, roadbikes aren’t, and this is why it feels alien and alive for the first few goes.

After a couple of days, riding the KX feels as natural as eating toast, everything performs exactly the way it did yesterday but a change of scenery brings with it new challenges. Out of the field and into the lane bring small ditches, ruts and a three bumps in a row, which could be described as a triple if you were very small. Two days ago, this would have been approached with massive caution.

Now with some confidence and very ancient muscle memory the ‘triple’ is jumpable with only a small raise in the fear index. And after a handful of cracks, it’s again natural. Constant throttle with a little blip to bring up the front so it doesn’t smash into the up bit of the third bump and you’re clear. This is actual, massive fun and in-helmet giggling is rife.

So, to address the question again, no I’m not too old or fat to have fun on a full-blown dirtbikes and neither, old son, are you…

Big thanks to

Rossi at Kawasaki UK for the KX250F, click here to learn more (about the bike, not Ross…)

Picture: Elle Henderey
Picture: Elle Henderey
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