Seduced by Supermoto

by Bob Stokstad

Published in City Bike, December, 2007

At five feet the roar is deafening.  Every bike has a pipe, but when they fly by in pursuit of the hole shot, the sound is overwhelming.  I can't hear my camera clanking eight frames a second while I'm focused on getting THE SHOT and on getting out of the way if somebody cuts loose.  If it's pure adrenalin for me, think what's going on inside the heads of the those racers banging wheels and elbows.  

Since 2005 I've been close to Supermoto racing - physically, at the edge of the track.  I've become close to it in other ways as well.  The race scene is inviting and friendly.  I can wander around the pits, dodging kids on skateboards who, in twenty minutes, will have their leathers on and be revving their two-strokes on the starting grid.  After a six-minute, six-lap race they'll be back tossing a ball or running around in a pack. They are all friends, and many are siblings.  Dad is likely to be racing, too. Mom, if not racing herself, may be busy making sure her ten-year-old racing son's kid sister will be ready for her race.   Grassroots Supermoto is all about family.

It's a young sport, but not all who enjoy it are necessarily young.  One of my favorite shots shows Andrew Dickson racing with Robert Lount at the Reno-Fernley Raceway last August.  The Vet classes were featured that weekend.  Lount (no. 753) is 65 years old. Dickson (no. 88), also old enough to race the Vet 30+ class, is half Lount's age.  There were old farts at Fernley (as old as I!) who were on fire.  They have grace and speed and are tough as nails.   They are all friends, and many have raced against each other for years.

In the middle of all this (age-wise) are the Fast Guys in their teens and twenties who are both pro and amateur, depending on the particular race that weekend. They go to the AMA nationals, race locally in SupermotoUSA, and take on all sorts of other challenges in the racing world, from Pike's Peak to the Red Bull Rookies Cup.   And yes, they are all friends - many have loaned bikes to each other when something broke.  It's amazing to watch them race, how they back it into a corner, with the rear tire sliding, smoking, squeeling.  Sometimes the slide gets out of control, but at the last split-second the rear hooks up just in time to pitch the bike into and around the corner.  The dirt sections always have a couple of jumps just to make it interesting.  At the series finale out at Dixon  (picture a go-kart track in a cow pasture)  there were four table-top jumps in a straight line, spaced so the fast riders could double the middle jumps.  The sight of bikes in the air, bikes on the ground, alternately rising and falling and all coming at me but compressed in space by a 300 mm lens is burned in my brain.  Each number plate becomes a name, captured in sharp focus by Japanese optics and digital technology.  In a good shot, I can see the whites of their eyes, looking straight ahead, focused on the next jump. 

"Fast Girls" - that's the name of a new class that started at Dixon and will blossom next year.  On that Saturday the ladies got to play in a league of their own, if just for a day - and they loved it.  With motorcycles in their blood and gender their common denominator, they raced each other.  They'll be back next year, and they'll bring their friends, too.

Supermoto is for free spirits.  There's room to bend the rules a bit when beneficial, to try something new, to experiment, and to grow.  Grow it will, because there's a base of kids moving up through the classes that more than replaces those exiting at the top.  It's growing because it's relatively safe, easy and inexpensive to get started racing, and because women like to ride fast and take chances as much as their male counterparts.  Just you wait and see.  Better yet, come out and watch.  Best of all, come and race.