Motocross training: are the stakes now too high for dirtbikes?

Jonathan Rea during a normal training day...
Jonathan Rea during a normal training day... Picture: Dave Kneen

This morning, Valentino Rossi announced that three weeks after breaking his leg in a dirtbike crash, he would try to ride at the Aragon MotoGP round.

His accident, which happened 400 metres from the end of an enduro ride he had completed many times before, again raised the question of whether training on dirtbikes is just too risky if you are riding at the sharp end – and the riders themselves are split on the issue.

The picture above is Jonathan Rea, who is about to clinch his third WorldSBK title, on a normal training day at a private track on the Isle of Man. Rea can do this all day, every day as he is a multiple schoolboy motocross champion and is able to ride happily alongside the likes of MXGP champ Clement Desalle. It is part of his usual preparation and fitness regime.

However, the MotoGP paddock are at odds over dirtbikes. Some say the only way for a rider to remain sharp is to ride – in the same way as tennis players play tennis and footballists play football – while the other side say the risk vastly outweighs the rewards.

At race tracks, all the safety measures try to reduce the risks, but what about training. Is it fundamental for a rider to train with a bike?

“There is not a way for a perfect preparation to ride a MotoGP bike. In the end we use these machines only a limited number of days during the year. But there is the need of a complete program that includes gym, bicycle and motorcycle. According to your background and skills you can choose the discipline. I come from the motocross, so I’m training with motocross bike,” Andrea Dovizoso told bikesportnews.com.

“Training means pushing, if not at 100 per cent at least at 60 per cent, otherwise it is not useful. I vary different sport, adding also kart, but I prefer to take some risks rather than not to be fit and suffer during the race. You need to take risks while training, but you need to reduce them to the limits, using your head.”

Marc Marquez is an exponent of all forms of riding and agrees with the Italian: “You don’t take any risks if you lay on the sofa or at the beach but for sure it won’t help you to go faster.”

The Honda man too is a fan of motocross as integral part of his training program. But it bit him in the 2014 closed season when he broke his leg in a flat-track crash and missed a Sepang test.

”It’s part of our job to train stamina and agility. Training with motocross and flat track improve different skills. I train regularly with the bikes every week. It’s fundamental. Of course you try to reduce to the maximum the limits.”

“You always need to take some risks,” echoes Maverick Vinales. “Of course you try to reduce them but every kind of training is potentially risky. Unfortunately as we experienced recently, also riding a bicycle can be really dangerous.”

Jorge Lorenzo trains a lot but his program excludes motocross, especially the tracks with high jumps. “They are too risky for me.”

“I tried but I realised that training with motorbikes doesn’t help me to go faster on track,” said Cal Crutchlow. “I prefer to train with the bicycle because it works better for me.” The Brit was also at the centre of the discussion at Misano as he sliced a tendon while cutting some parmesan just before the race weekend, so there is always something that is going to get you.

Rossi himself said that he was training with an enduro bike with the VR46 Academy riders in an area where he is riding since he was 18 years old. He used to go there with his father Graziano and friends and in all these years he never had a problem. “We were close to the finish, only 400 meters and I was riding on the pedals when there was a sort of step in the terrain and the steering went on the left. The weight of my body and the weight of the bike went on my right leg.”

But what is the position of the teams? Differently from the Formula One, where the drivers have many more restrictions about what they can and cannot do, MotoGP riders are much more free.

“There is not a perfect training for the MotoGP,” states Ducati Sporting Director Paolo Ciabatti. “We perfectly understand that the riders need to train, so they are free to chose what they feel is better for them. In terms of contracts, the riders cannot do other sports at a competition level.”

Rossi in training at his ranch
Rossi in training at his ranch Picture: Dainese
Marquez competing at the Superprestigio flat-track in Barcelona
Marquez competing at the Superprestigio flat-track in Barcelona Picture: Superprestigio
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