We all dream about training harder to go faster and to win more races in our own little ponds. We fantasize about jumping farther, doing megawhips and backflips and winning big races on a big stage. And we have delusions that given the chance and a few lucky breaks we could run as fast as the top guys in the world, maybe just for one lap, with the right bike. After all, those guys have had all the advantages, riding since before they could walk, having been sponsored since first grade and enjoying the use of personal trainers and factory bikes. Given an equal playing field, on your best day, could you beat one of those guys for one lap? It could happen.That’s the theory. A dream, a fantasy and a delusion all rolled into one “never gonna happen anyway” package. But what if it could happen? What if an Average Joe got the chance to test himself against one of the best in the sport? A “give it all you got” for one round against Ali, three swings at Roger Clemens’s fastball, a chance at catching a touchdown pass thrown by Tom Brady or a match race against, let’s say, Ryan Hughes.”You got to do it,” DR Editor Jimmy Lewis said. Now logic kicked in-I wouldn’t have a chance even for one lap. I’m old and wrecked and never was fast anyway. “All true,” Lewis agreed. “That’s why you’ll have to handicap the pro rider. Making him sit on the gate wouldn’t really work because then it’s just about lap times and letting you get far enough ahead, but if you put him on smaller and smaller bikes…that’s the handicap! See how low he has to go for you to beat him. Set it up and do it, send me photos and a story. Got to go.”Thus, I was committed like a bridegroom at a 12-gauge wedding. I called my old friend, Mike Webb (manager of Team Suzuki Off-Road), to lament about my big mouth, but instead of being given a sympathetic ear I got laughed at. “You got to do it with Ryno,” he said. “That guy doesn’t back down for anything. I’ll arrange for the bikes, and we’ll do it at Elsinore. This will be great!” Click!Now I had committed to actually do it in a couple of weeks, I did the only thing that occurred to me: I cracked open a beer, thought about going to the gym, decided against it and cracked open another beer. This was a training pattern that I would follow right up to race day.Ryno
In retrospect, Ryan Hughes may have been the best and worst possible choice for this experiment. Hughes is recognized as one of the toughest men to ever swing a leg over a bike. A fanatical trainer, Hughes put himself on the map by nearly winning the 1995 AMA 125cc National Motocross title. After a number of National wins and podiums, the championship came down to the final moto of the season at Steel City. As he charged through the pack trying to catch Steve Lamson, Hughes’ chain broke. No one who was there or has seen the footage will ever forget the image of Hughes as he pushed his bike around the track, up the finish hill and across the line before finally collapsing in exhaustion.He was a successful 250cc motocross and supercross rider and even moved to Europe to race GPs for Honda. Hughes was a part of Team USA’s victory at the 2000 Motocross des Nations, giving him a world championship trophy. He returned to the States to do R&D for Honda, even campaigning the CRF450R in its rookie season in ’01. Ryno was hired by KTM in ’03 to go after the 125cc National Championship. He shocked just about everyone with a two-moto sweep at Hangtown, but then he broke his leg at Southwick, duct-taped the broken limb together and still finished both motos! Ryno came within seven points of winning the title, but a cancelled final round due to a flood at Kenworthys left him short of another championship. So to make up for it, Ryno went out and won the ’04 World Endurocross Championship. In ’05, as a privateer, Hughes struggled on poor equipment in the 125 MX class. Then near the end of the season, he jumped on a nearly stock RM-Z450 and garnered a couple of fifth-place finishes in the Nationals, just behind guys named Carmichael, Windham, Reed and Stewart, and ahead of everybody else, proving he still had the speed and endurance to run up front at the National level. For ’06, Ryno has signed to race for Team Suzuki/FMF Off-Road in pursuit of the WORCS championship.Why is Ryno the best and worst choice for this experiment? All of the above proves he takes racing very seriously. Once the helmet goes on, all friendships, joking and good times end. The only thing that matters is winning, period. In a match race like this, Reed might want to give me a break. A guy like Travis Pastrana would surely fall down laughing. Ryno would do neither; even in a goofy magazine match race against a lame-ass journalist, Ryno would never back down.
With this in mind I requested a long list of bikes, hoping we wouldn’t have to go too far down the ladder before I found my way to the top of the podium. We needed to start out even, so Ryno and I would both begin with Suzuki RM-Z450s. Then I would stay on the 450 while he dropped down to an RM125, then an RM85, down to a DR125 (one of Suzuki’s four-stroke trailbikes) and finally a JR50. I also tossed my FMF BMX bicycle into the back of my truck, just in case it became necessary to deprive Ryno of a motor in order to beat him.When we showed up at Elsinore, the Suzuki guys didn’t unload a JR50, as they had none in their current loan pool. A bad omen for me. But not to worry, I’d probably beat Ryno by the time he got on the RM85, right?Racers Race
A few years ago, another friend of mine, who was running a roadracing team, received a call from a rider wanting to be hired on the team and bragging about his lap times at several “ride days” on paved circuits around California. My friend asked him: “Lap times are nice, but where’s the race results on your rsum?” The rider told him he didn’t race and wouldn’t until he got a paid ride, but his lap times were better than anybody my friend had on his current team. My friend told him, “Birds fly, fish swim, lions hunt and racers race. The first motorcycle race happened when they built the second motorcycle; because in order to be a racer, you have to race against somebody else. Nobody gives a damn about your lap times until they happen during a race. It’s very simple: You want to be a racer, race. Racers race.”This was going through my mind as I made my way through the gates at Elsinore. Racers race, it was time to quit talking, pretending, dreaming and paying attention to all that other junk going on inside our heads. I was going up against a guy with several titles and a lot of National and World victories under his belt. My racing career had garnered me (let’s see, GNCC, WORCS, MX, enduros, don’t forget Iceland and Japan, carry the one and the total is…) zero, nada, nothing, no titles, no big wins, zippity-doo-dah. I needed to get my head in the game, so I punched up the CD player for some heavy metal. But my wife had used the truck the day before to drive our three-year-old to preschool. My CDs were all gone, replaced by The Wiggles and The Doodlebops. I entered the pits to “Sing Along With Elmo.” Racers race; it was time.Ryno showed up a little late because he’d been doing his road work (over 100 miles through the mountains on his bicycle). This, of course, killed any hopes I had of his being out of shape now that the MX season was over. We did our warm-up laps and suspension adjustments. Ryno gave me some tips, such as: “Go home before you get hurt.” Then Webb propped up the starting gate and called us to the line.Race #1: RM-Z450 vs. RM-Z450
For our first moto (Webb insisted on two laps for each match race) I already had a slight advantage. Ryno’s 450 was bone stock and mine was modified with an FMF Titanium 4 system, an RG3 top triple clamp and suspension mods, a Gold chain, numerous LightSpeed carbon-fiber parts, Dunlop cheater tires, 909 levers and perches, some titanium and more. My machine weighed at least 5 pounds less than Ryno’s, made better horsepower and handled the bumps plushly. We all knew it would make no difference while he was also on a 450, but the setup might help as he dropped down onto the smaller bikes.There’s a racing dictum in motocross which states: “There are two races in every moto, the race to the first turn and then the rest of the race. Win the first, and the second is much easier.” With this in our minds we lined up side by side. Ryno had agreed to watch me (when he could from way out front) and give me tips as the day progressed. He told me to relax, “See the pin that holds up your gate? Watch that instead of the top of the gate.” I thanked him and watched the pin. Then the gate dropped… And he was gone! I think he was in the first turn before I even upshifted into third. By the time I was about one-third of the way around the track he was almost through his first lap. So I cut the course, just to keep it interesting. It didn’t help. I was lucky we were only doing two laps because even with my shortcut, he would’ve lapped me given one more.
Race #2: RM-Z450 vs. RM125
I ask you all to recall that Ryno has a large number of 125cc National wins on his record. He is more than at home on an RM125. I figured my best shot would be to get the start, try to block him for a while and then cut the course again. When the gate dropped this time, I was amazed that he got the holeshot riding a 125 with one-third my horsepower.Riding with Ryno is like boxing a veteran prizefighter. He knows all the tricks; the thumb in the eye, the head-butt, the low blow and their MX equivalents, legal and otherwise, are all part of his arsenal. On the line he looked me over and asked, “No tear-offs?” I’d told him I didn’t think I’d need them as the track was pretty dry and there was only the two of us racing. After the start, I stayed with him until we entered the first turn and then watched him disappear. I tried to catch him, and yes, I cut the track again. Ryno saw me cut the course and waited for me to catch up to him just before the only muddy section of track, then he swung over to the mud and buried me under a shower of roost. One second I thought I was closing and the next I was mud-blind.He was keeping up his end of the deal, and I had just learned another lesson. I had no chance to beat him while he was on the 125 anyway. Ryno is a professional missile on a bike. I’d have to wait for the RM85, and I was really getting worried that he’d still be too fast.Race #3: RM-Z450 vs. RM85
“I haven’t been on an 85 since I was 12 years old,” Ryno said as he sat atop the little RM. I was still hyperventilating, looking for a clean set of goggles and digging in my ice chest for a Go Fast energy drink. I figured putting Ryno on the 85 was my ticket to victory lane, but I was tired. After all, I’d already done two motos totaling four laps. And I wouldn’t be allowed to cut the course anymore. I had to end this soon before my stamina and ego were totally destroyed.When the gate dropped, I got my first holeshot of the day, barely. Ryno looked like a big, 175-pound, well, top pro riding an 85. I’d forgotten that the pit bike movement gave riders such as Hughes hours of seat-time on small-wheeled machines. Still, I had 10 times his horsepower and Elsinore had some long straights and big jumps.There is a short (long to me) whoop section at Elsinore that Ryno had easily triple-triple-tripled every lap on the big bikes while I doubled-singled-geeked-geeked through it. I had hoped that the smaller wheelbase and weaker suspension would slow Ryno down through this section, but he blitzed by me again. He even yelled “Upshift!” as he made the pass.I chased him as best I could and was amazed by his speed on the RM85. I felt sorry for the bike, as Ryno never backed out of full throttle around the entire track. His corner speed was staggering; he cleared all the jumps and skipped over the top of the whoops as he had on the 125. He won again, but I didn’t have to cut the track to keep him in sight this time.
Race #4: RM-Z450 vs. DRZ125A
We were down to the last motorized bike of the day. The DRZ125 is a trailbike with drum brakes, mild power and extremely soft suspension. This would be the bike that would complete our story, I hoped.We lined up for what should have been the final race, and I noticed that the ball was broken off the front brake lever on Ryno’s DRZ125. “Don’t worry about it,” he said to me. “I can always use that to stab you in the leg in a turn. I’ll probably have to ram you to win on this. And don’t forget to go a gear higher through the whoops.”This caused me to recall when Ryno was doing stunts for the film Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle. They shot several scenes in a Coal Mine Supercross track (I know it doesn’t make sense but neither did the movie) and used a mixture of regular stuntmen and a few professional racers. According to the stunt guys, the director made the mistake of telling all the riders to go out and go for it like it was a real race. Ryno was good at taking direction, the other pro riders knew to give him room, but the stunt guys thought they might try and show the pros how it’s done. Ryno parked several of them (one guy still complains that he broke his elbow) before they learned to get out of his way. Racers race.I got another holeshot, the difference between nearly 60 horsepower and 16. And I went a gear higher through the whoops and managed to double-double-double-geek through and stay ahead. Then we came to a horseshoe turn; I went wide, Ryno went to the inside and fell.Should I wait for him to get up? Start over? Make sure he’s OK? Hell, no! I’d had my butt kicked for three races and now had a shot to actually win one. I rode harder…and he caught me.It was a fierce battle, very much like the Hughes/Langston wars of ’03, except that I’m no Langston and Ryno was on a heavy little four-stroke with less horsepower then a Shetland pony. I couldn’t believe how fast he could go on that thing! His corner speed from the inside of every turn was staggering. I could hear the engine bouncing off the rev-limiter everywhere, and he still blitzed the whoops, pogoing through on sheer strength like a ping-pong ball in a hurricane. He cleared all the jumps. He was obviously cheating, using skill and talent that should be illegal because I didn’t have any.He passed me close to the finish and won the match race-again. I was humiliated, crushed, amazed and inspired all at once. “Get out the bicycle!” I yelled to Webb as I went to the ice chest for another Go Fast.Final Race: RM-Z450 vs. FMF BMX Bicycle
Webb decided to give Ryno a massive head start since he would be riding a bicycle for the final showdown. So I waited on the line while Ryno tooled around the track. He had given one more riding tip before pedaling off: “If you can’t clear a jump, look for the highest take-off area and try that. There’s usually a spot that’s a few inches or even a foot taller at the edges of the jump. Hitting those will give a few more feet of airtime.” I was pondering this advice when Webb dropped the gate. It worked; I cleared the whoop section that had been giving me trouble all day by jumping in on the outside where the face was higher. I also cleared the big tabletop with room to spare.We’d been at the track all day and Webb was hungry, so he wanted me to win so we could all go eat. As I closed the gap on Ryno, Mike held out a pit board (in honor of the infamous “Let Broc bye” signal) which said “Let Joe bye.” Mike meant “Let Joe buy dinner,” but we all understood. The experiment was over.Motocross is not like some forms of auto racing where the car is a bigger part of the equation than the driver. In moto, a great rider can win on a bad bike and a good rider can win on a stock bike. There is a long list of privateers who have won Nationals to prove this point. My match races with Ryno certainly proved it to me, with all the gentility of having a 16-penny nail driven though my forehead. I got the point.Men like Ryan Hughes get paid to race motorcycles because they have found within themselves the ability and the drive to be among the best in the world no matter what they’re riding. Ryno said he had fun-so did I. Did he take each race seriously? “I don’t go anywhere to lose” was his answer. I bought dinner.Birds fly, fish swim, lions hunt and racers race.