Motorcycles lined up to race

By Paul Berglund

The X-Games came to town. While I’m not their target audience I went ahead and watched the motorcycle parts. Thursday was flat track racing at the Mall of America. They, the X-Games people, built an entire dirt track in a large parking lot next to the mall. Parking was free, admission was only $10 and the concession stands were selling food and drink at a fraction of typical “event” prices. There were large bleachers with an excellent view of the track and a huge screen to watch the action, commentary and replays on. Even the sound system was top notch. My only gripe was they played music constantly. While the announcers were talking and even during the races. At times speaking to the person next to me was impossible. I guess the X in X-Games stands for eXtreme.

There were two pit areas, one for the amateurs that run in the Hooligan class and one for the professionals. I got a chance to walk through both pit areas and I saw that the Hooligans were all riding various types of Harley Sportsters and the gear they wore was a mix of off-road armor and jerseys to race leathers. It was a wild mix of men and women with different budgets and interpretations of what a flat track race should be.

On the professional side I saw shiny big rig trucks and factory backed teams from Harley and Indian. I didn’t count all the teams, but the Harley Street Rod was the most popular bike of choice, followed by the Indian flat track bike (that’s not available to the public yet) and then a group of Kawasaki’s and then Yamaha’s. There may have been more brands, but I couldn’t pick them out.

The Harley and the Indian bikes are poster worthy. Both company’s have come up with beautiful bikes that are ready for prime time television. I was really looking forward to seeing them in action.

Up first were the Hooligans. They did not disappoint. The racing was fast and very fun to watch. I would highly recommend you find a local flat track near you and go watch. It was a blast. There are several heats and a final, all of which made the $10 entry seam like a bargain. The pros were up next and they looked great in racing leathers and shiny bikes. When the flag dropped and the first race started, I was amazed at how much faster these guys were. The X-Games brought in some of the best riders in the world and they put on a hell of a race. The crowd was on it’s feet for every heat.

Friday, Saturday and Sunday the motorcycle part of the X-Games were held in the US Bank Stadium in downtown Minneapolis. Friday was a near perfect day and I was still fired up from the Flat Track racing, so I went out riding for the day in Northern Wisconsin. Much fun was had. Saturday I was in the stadium. It was my first visit to the US Bank Stadium and that itself was a spectacle. What the X-Games people had built inside the building was amazing.

The place was filled with ramps, hills of dirt and a huge towering skate board jump. They had worked day and night for weeks to pull it off. There were two areas made with pored concrete for the skate boards and BMX bikes. All for four days of the X-Games. The largest part of the floor space was given over to the BMX bicycles and X-Moto motorcycles. I sat down in my seat just as the X-Moto high jump was starting.

Ramps for motorcycle jumps
Photo by Chris Tedesco/ESPN
Moto X Step Up defending gold medalist Jarryd McNeil didn’t set a height record on Saturday, but since the record bar was set at 47 feet by Ronnie Renner back in 2012, no one has jumped over 40 feet in the event. McNeil looked like he could have gone as high as 50 feet, but with his last competitor going out at the 43-foot mark, he won the gold when he easily cleared the bar at 44.

I could relate to the Flat Track racing. I know I could ride a motorcycle around the track kind of like a racer would do. I would be slow, but it would be possible. Everything I saw the X-Moto riders do was impossible. I don’t know how they did it. Well I do actually, HUGE amounts of talent, olympic levels of conditioning and no fear whatsoever. Just to rub it in they did all this on basically stock two stroke MX dirt bikes.

The high jump was literally that. Just like a track and field event where a person would sprint towards a high bar and jump over it, that’s what these riders did on dirt bikes. They had a short 20 foot run up to a ramp that made a very quick transition from the horizontal floor to the vertical face of the ramp. The bike and rider would shoot straight up in the air and using his body and rear brake (locking up the rear brake while in the air transfers all the rotating force of the rear wheel into the chassis of the bike causing it to rotate) twist the bike over the bar without knocking it down. Then they fell 30 to 40 feet depending on where on the downward sloping ramp they landed.

The landing part alone was crazy. It was like riding off the roof of your two story house and landing in your backyard on a dirt bike. Simple. The jumping part was more complicated. The bar started out at 34 feet. The winning jump cleared 44 feet. The rider’s head was over 50 feet in the air when his tires cleared the bar at 44 feet. All this while tossing a 240 pound dirt bike over a pole in midair.

The other X-Moto events were just as impressive. I would watch a rider perform a trick that I thought wasn’t possible and then I’d turn to the one of the Gigantic high definition television screens on ether end of the stadium and watch the replay. Yep, it’s possible. Oh and look, when they play it back in slow motion, you can see he landed the bike without his hands on the bars. Fantastic.

The X-Games of 2017 are over, but they are coming back next year. I didn’t have that much interest in all the other activities, like skate boarding and live bands, but all the athletes were clearly world class and I could appreciate the amount of skill and discipline that went into each of their sports. It was all highly entertaining and worth the time and money to go see it in person. I’ll be going back in 2018.



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