Cross-Rutted | Lifeblood On Two Wheels

Jean Turner | June 24, 2020



The first day back at the races after being out for months with an injury—many of us have been there. It’s the sign you’ve been waiting for, that the worst is behind you, and life is finally getting back to normal. That feeling was shared by everyone in attendance at the recent SRA Grand Prix at Glen Helen Raceway, obviously not because we’ve all been out with injury, but because the Great Pause left us with nearly 100 days without racing. I can’t remember the last time I raced one of Glen Helen’s monthly SRA GPs, but simply because it was taking place, I felt compelled to be there.

Riders file in to the start area for the SRA Grand Prix at Glen Helen.
Riders file in to the start area for the SRA Grand Prix at Glen Helen. Photo by Jean Turner

I do also happen to be nursing an injury but needed to at least start a race. I needed the adrenaline rush of the flagger pointing at me on the start. The sound of the dead-engine start. The chaos of the first lap. Perhaps I’d only last a lap or two, but just to be there, buckle my helmet while butterflies danced in my stomach and hold it wide open up Glen Helen’s hills would be enough. Just the throttle therapy I needed to reassure my soul that the fog is lifting.

It’s not only a reminder of “normal” life, but the best of normal life, and that these blood-pumping celebrations of speed and dirt and freedom are still ours to enjoy, through good times and bad; in sickness and in health.

It seems our secret is out. For so many people and families left unable to enjoy their regular pastimes for a lot longer than 100 days (who knows when we’ll be able to enjoy a basketball game or a concert again?) they are turning to powersports. Perhaps they’re coming back to it, perhaps they’re trying it for the first time, like the guy on the starting line next to me at the SRA. “I bought this to test my marriage,” he said of his shiny new YZ450F.

“And?” I asked.

“So far so good!” he said with a laugh. The kids were there with mom to cheer on dad at his first race. So long as dad didn’t wad himself up, I suspect they’ll be in the dealership shopping for minibikes for the kids next.

And that’s easier said than done right now, due to a sharp spike in demand for powersports, particularly for the mini-bike category. Manufacturers are quite literally running out of inventory, even calling back loan-pool units to help satisfy the dealer demand. Dealers talk of entire families coming in to get outfitted with bikes and gear. If junior can’t go to lacrosse camp this summer, looks like we’re all going riding!

RV sales, boats, bicycles, dirt bikes, ATVs and UTVs all seem to be surging, since getting outdoors appears to be the only way to play during the Great Pause. It’s the 2020 boom that no one saw coming. I would call it surprising, but it’s not so surprising when you consider the history of off-road motorcycles.

Seventy-five years ago, the world found itself in a different crisis. Post-WWII Europe was in ruins, roads broken, cities decimated, but countries needed to get back on their feet; people needed to start piecing their lives back together. Transportation was challenging due to the crippled infrastructure, prompting people to turn to motorcycles. The scrambler motorcycle soon came into being, a bike that could take on any road conditions (or lack thereof) it might encounter between point A and point B. And as it goes, scrambler racing most likely began the day the second scrambler motorcycle was built.

But before enduro racing became a thing, motorcycles helped get the lifeblood of Europe pumping again after WWII, and brought about the advent of the modern enduro, and eventually motocross, motorcycles.

Today we find the world in a state of crisis once again. No roads have been destroyed, nor cities reduced to rubble, yet our way of life has been completely crippled by the challenge of avoiding one other. Mass transit, taxis, ride shares are all danger zones. And suddenly that “dangerous” motorcycle is looking like the safe choice. Mouths and faces covered, hands to yourself and effectively socially distanced. Now that we can begin to stitch our lives and our economy back together, transportation is once again a challenge, especially in urban areas. Looking again to Europe, motorcycles are coming to the rescue just as they did 75 years ago.

In the UK, the Motorcycle Industry Association (MCIA) is pushing motorcycles as the “affordable, economical and fun” alternative, and kicking off the #UnlockYourFreedom campaign. The UK government is advising citizens to avoid public transportation, telling Brits that “the safest way to commute is in isolation, and the most isolated way of traveling is on two wheels.”

In certain UK cities, the government is also rolling out trials of e-scooters. These so-called PLEVs (Personal Light Electric Vehicles) are not yet legal on public roads in the UK but are being allowed to operate as rentals to help with the urban transportation challenges.

Will U.S. cities follow suit with similar two-wheel initiatives? Will our government get behind social campaigns to attract new riders? It would be great to see. The numbers are already pointing in the right direction for off-road powersports. Perhaps the street sector will help the urbanites who need to get across town without relying on the subway. Perhaps it will give rise to another all-new sector of two-wheel machines. After all, from crisis comes opportunity.

By no means am I trying to make light of our current situation, or hope that our industry profits from the disruption of our daily lives. Yet I find it fitting that motorcycles are helping to breathe life back into a world emerging from crisis.

For me, motorcycles have always been my lifeblood, through the good times and the bad. But to see motorcycles bringing a piece of freedom and excitement to others during this crisis is significant. Not just because of the old friends and new faces lining up together at Glen Helen, but because the very advent of off-road motorcycles reminds us that our world has overcome hardship before. The world isn’t as it should be right now, but motorcycles will help see us through, even if it’s just a simple dose of throttle therapy on a Sunday. CN


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Jean Turner | Contributor A former staffer at Cycle News, Turner continues to contribute to the website and magazine as a columnist and someone we can count on to whip up a few thousand words on an off-road race when needed.