By Joe Miller, Montana XC

A common misconception about motorcycle racing is that it’s a relatively passive sport, since bikes are operated by a twist of the throttle. In reality, off-road racing requires a high level of fitness, endurance and mental cunning to be competitive.

Professional motorcycle racers have aerobic fitness levels comparable to world cup soccer players and maintain full time training and diet regimens. An off road motorcycle weighs more than 220 pounds and requires a considerable amount of body strength to maneuver around tight corners and over rocks.

At the starting line, racers are inevitably managing nerves and adrenaline. And at the Big Sky XC, competitors never really settle into a comfortable groove—the difficult terrain and loose rocky ground requires full attention from start to finish. If the conditions are dry, dust makes the visibility poor. Too much rain makes the course slick, which quickly drains the competitors’ energy.

Racers not only have to deal with their own physical and mental fatigue, but also machine related fatigue. As a race wears on, heat generated from front and rear brake rotors can decrease braking efficiency. The motorcycle’s suspension and clutch components also change due to heat generation throughout a race, which can alter the bike’s handling.

A rider must keep continuous mental notes on energy and hydration, feedback from the motorcycle, changes to the course conditions, and the whereabouts of other racers.

Off-road motorcycle racing is also highly specialized, with different regions of the country hosting events defined by their unique terrain. Athletes in the Southwest compete in high speed desert races that sometimes share courses with off road trucks and buggies. Races in the Midwest and along the East Coast are most often held in wooded areas where trails can be just wide enough to allow a set of handlebars to pass. In the Rockies, most races are technical, mountainous and rocky.

Professional off-road racers are frequently paid to compete in a specific racing discipline and may rarely travel beyond their region. Big Sky has become a unique event due to its ability to attract top racers from every major off-road racing series.

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Kenda Big Sky XC, Aug. 24 – 26

Now in its third year, the Kenda Big Sky XC has rapidly gained a national reputation for its excellent venue and demanding course layout. This year, the event will bring high-end competitors from the X Games, as well as families from across the country.

The Big Sky event is a Hare Scramble, which means the course is a closed track with rugged terrain that tests riders’ skills and endurance. These events draw a wide range of participants, from children as young a 4 to adults over age 60. Big Sky’s proximity to Yellowstone National Park is another draw.