Yamaha Demos and USMCA help Malcolm Smith Motorsports get new and returning riders out on the track.
Words and Photography by Jean Turner
Getting butts in seats. It a major priority for the motorcycle industry amid sagging sales and declining participation. The debate rolls on regarding how to present an accessible point of entry to two wheels, which isn’t exactly a simple task given that motorcycling, especially motocross, is not easily approachable for an “outsider.”
So how does someone who wants to ride dirt bikes get a foot in the door, whether it’s a first-time rider, someone returning to the sport, or wanting to get their child involved? And how do we welcome the casual participant to take the next step toward becoming a more serious one? These are the million-dollar questions, and fortunately there are several organizations that are working toward opening doors to new riders.
A day at the now-defunct Milestone Raceway in Riverside, California recently offered several prime examples of getting new riders behind bars: Jason Raines’ Yamaha Off-Road Demo Program, Malcolm Smith’s Kids Learn To Ride Day, hosted in conjunction with USMCA (United States Motorcycle Coaching Association) and Stacyc Demo. We were there to see their efforts unfold in helping riders find their way onto two wheels as well as inviting existing riders continue their progress in motocross. With everything from Stacyc stability bikes to Yamaha YZ450F motocrossers on hand, the tools were there to keep the wheels turning on the cycle of addiction for riders of all levels.
Yamaha Off-Road Demo Program
Along with running Raines University riding schools, six-time AMA National Champion Raines hosts Yamaha ride days offering the full lineup of YZ motocrossers, YZ-FX competition off-road bikes and TT-R trail bikes to participants. “This is an opportunity to test ride new bikes before you purchase them,” Raines said. “We allow each customer to ride up to four motorcycles a set number of laps on the motocross track, in a real environment, not around in a circle or dirt road. They get to ride—the real motocross track and get a full feel of the units.”
Which model has the most demand? That’s an easy answer, according to Raines. “250F, hands down. I’d say the two most popular, the 250F and then the 125, just for fun. Everybody loves riding the 125. Every area you go to is a little different as far as bikes that are ridden the most. So Cal, you see a lot more 450s ridden. When you go to the East Coast, the smaller cc bikes are more attractive. But overall, throughout the year, the YZ250F is hands down the most ridden bike.”
The Yamaha Off-Road Demo Program works by connecting with a dealer at each stop in order to help fund and staff the event at a local track.
“The dealers are the ones sponsoring the demo program,” said Raines. “The dealer sends out a couple people to help manage the event. They engage with the riders, answer the questions that I don’t know anything about like pricing, financing, trade-ins, those types of things. We take care of maintaining the bikes, washing them, setting up the displays and everything else. I can answer anything technical about the bikes, but when it comes to the sales, that’s what the dealers are here for.”
As for the effort on the ground, it’s an impressive program from Raines and his crew, and a thorough showing of Yamaha’s expansive line of off-road motorcycles.
“When I go to a motocross track or an off-road event, I carry the whole fleet,” said Raines. “We’re a one-stop shop. We have the kids bikes, we have the moto bikes, we have the off-road bikes, we have all the competition off-road. We don’t carry the WR line because typically most of the places we’re going are competition-based. But we do have the ability to service any customer. Even here at the motocross track, a lot of people that are desert racers, Big 6 [NGPC Series] racers that are here specifically for the FX and off-road line.”
Malcolm Smith Kids Learn To Ride Day
The dealership that was on hand for Raines’s Milestone day was Malcolm Smith Motorsports. The MSM crew pulled double duty that day, also hosting their signature Malcolm Smith Kids Learn to Ride Day. The annual event has taken on a life of its own, with available slots snapped up like concert tickets, prompting Alexander Smith (Malcolm’s son) to enlist the help of USMCA (United States Motorcycle Coaching Association), the fast-growing organization dedicated to certifying rider coaches to both teach people how to ride dirt bikes, and coach them to grow their skills on the track. Alexander explained how USMCA came to be a part of the signature Malcolm Smith Kids Learn To Ride events.
“We had some of our loyal employees that like to ride dirt bikes and like kids, that volunteered to be the coaches the first year of Malcolm Smith Kids Learn To Ride Day. And that worked pretty good. We were just limited by the number of people that we could tear away from the dealership for that weekend and not leave the dealership empty handed.
“We decided the next year  to reach out to the USMCA to see if we could utilize some of their professional coaches. That’s how we got into that whole partnership with them. For our 2018 event, a lot of their founding members came out to that event—Jeff Emig was there, Jon-Erik Burleson, Mark Blackwell (former MX National Champion) were there as coaches. I think they were there just to see what it was about, then this last year [December 2019] the Kids Learn To Ride Day became an opportunity for USMCA to put their coaches in front of the parents.”
At the December 2019 event, kids were kitted out with gear, and parents remained behind the fence while kids were paired off with a USMCA-certified coach. The 1:1 ratio allowed each participant the full attention of an instructor as they made their first attempt on a motorized bike. The program seemed to work extremely well even for varying skill levels. Throughout the session, some of the riders transitioned to the track, or even to bigger, faster bikes. Others who did not get comfortable with the mechanics of riding were invited to have a go on the Stacyc Demo area where Stacyc electric-powered stability cycles were available for little ones to try out, also hosted by Malcolm Smith Motorsports.
“It’s obviously a great goodwill event,” said Alexander.” We generate a lot of good buzz from the Kids Learn To Ride Day. The last three years that we’ve done it, we’ve done very well with mini bikes leading up to Christmas. It seems like no matter how many mini bikes we order after that, it’s not enough!”
The goal behind all of it, of course, is growth of the sport. Companies are open doors at all levels, from getting skills started earlier with stability bikes as Stacyc aims to do with their “Ride Sooner” campaign, to continuing to encourage and advance existing riders with Yamaha Demo Programs. For parents who may not be able to teach their kids themselves, USMCA makes it easier to get kids started, offering structured training from coaches certified by a national-level organization—something the motorcycle industry has never had before. Of course, none of it is possible without the investment and support from dealerships like Malcolm Smith Motorsports.
Growing the sport remains an initiative that binds us all, and building that enthusiasm at any level or ability always boils down to one simple factor—the same thing that ensnared us all once upon a time—throwing a leg over a bike and twisting the throttle on that shiny new machine for the first time.CN
For more information, click on the following links:
Yamaha Demo Program
Malcolm Smith Motorsports
U.S. Motorcycle Coaching Association