Red Bull Romaniacs Debrief - Dirt Rider Magazine

You can watch all the videos in the world, read every piece of information you can get on an event and until you go there and see it first hand, not fully understand it. Better yet, why not just go and try and race the 2009 Red Bull Romaniacs in the Professional class, that is what I tried!To say I was underprepared isn't quite correct, but looking back, since hindsight is always 20/20, I was pretty beat up going in. I save you the full blare of the excus-o-tron but I was a little run down and hurting from a few pre-race bumps and bruises. This was only compounded by the prologue.My job at the event was simple. Test the new 2010 Husaberg FE 390. So test it I did. On how well it survives crashes on ridiculous obstacles onto pavement. Well, not the first order of what a potential customer might be looking into when buying one of these bikes but for sure it taught me a lesson. I'm not as good at crazy endurocross, Romanian style. Especially when my confidence got blown the first time I hit the ground and never came back the rest of the practice session. Compound that with all of the new bruises I received and I was off to a rough start. Luckily the bike was just fine.The Prologue qualifying went much better as it was dry. I even managed to make it into the finals, even though there wasn't much competition left out of the finals! I didn't crash as much this time (only one semi-spectacular over the bars) and was primed for the rest for the event. After all it was just going to be some tough trail riding and I'm pretty good at that.Well the rude awakening came about 100 ft past the first Pro only section. It started to get steep and technical, wet and slippery and it only got worse from there. As I worked my way up and past about five other pros stuck on the same hill, then got stuck myself, I suddenly realized that the level of Pro was not just a tag you stick on your numberplate to show you are a better rider than the others. No, here it means you are going to suffer, no matter how good of a rider you are and if you don't make the sections you are humiliated by those that do. Plus you get disqualified too. Well I made three of the sections on the first day, each time getting more and more run down, finally giving in on an impossible for me climb. It took me 10-minutes to move the bike about one-foot up the trail, then with the help of a couple of locals we moved it ten more feet higher. Once perched atop the ledge that no longer had a clear run up to it so that a decent rider could have ridden right up it. My shaking and bewildered body decided to call it quits. Countless simple crashes and not enough muscle power left to get me up and more of the hellish pro sections was enough to send me back down the hill and onto the expert track. To really put some icing on the cake, just going into the service point, the half-way of the first day I hit a ditch and did a complete front flip smashing all my GPS equipment dead.That was it. I wanted to ride more than you know, since the riding was so good here. My bike was still in remarkably good condition and the trails, (not the pro sections) were some of the best riding I have ever done. In fact one journalist said, "God made Romania for enduro bikes." He is correct.I'm not sure what sparked me back to life at the checkpoint, but I stopped shaking and cramping up and decided to ride the rest of the day with the expert riders. In fact just as I was about ready to go, Alexander Smith and Chris Denison were just leaving so I tagged along with them. I used them for navigation and they used me for pointers on how to get good lines through the tough sections. Yes, the tough sections for the experts were a lot more difficult than anything you'd find in a race stateside for sure. I'd venture to say that what we call an "A" section would be more like the difficult sections on the "hobby" class in Romaniacs.I rode out the day and got my chance at the wall ride and the cable bridge, the latter after watching Smith ride right into the river like he meant to do it! With a shell of a body that was not capable of keeping up with my desire to ride, I decided it would be better to quit than to risk more humiliation or injury. And I could concentrate on testing the bike some more, even though I'd gotten a really good impression in my 12-hours in the saddle during the first day.

The experts, Denison in this case, show how easy it really is.

The rest of my event was from the view of a journalist where I rode with the blogging crew of Casten Steffen ( and Martin Kettnerr (press manager for the Erzberg Rodeo). These guys ride from spot to spot along the course, like three or four other teams just like them. They shoot pictures and type out little bits of information about the riders on the course. Then comes the tricky part of finding a signal strong enough to upload the information so it can be posted live on the web site. I've never seen two guys in unfamiliar territory so good at finding bars in the middle of nowhere with Wi-Fi. It is forward thinking like this that gives the Romaniacs a presence, around the world, as a really awesome event.During the last few days I also rode a few sections of trail on a number of different bikes, from a KTM 400 to a Husaberg 570 to get a better impression of how the 390 really stacks up. (Wait for the November issue of Dirt Rider for the test on the bike.) I got to watch the top riders go through some unbelievably tough sections and make it look easy and I saw some of the Hobby riders struggle with stuff that should have been easy. Shows how fatigue plays a big role in competing in a race like Romaniacs.A lot of the questions I get asked about the event is, "How tough is it?" Especially for the Hobby class. Well, the days are long and the trail definitely has some challenging sections, but for most of the guys that are all rideable if you are a good rider. Having the ability to look at a section and see the proper line goes a long way compared to charging into it at full speed and winding up stuck or worse, off a cliff. Being in good shape and being ready for some 10-hour days would be a proper way to be prepared. The Expert class offers some additional mileage, more duration of tough trails (all rideable, at least for the first few riders) but you'd better be a serious A rider to begin thinking about it. The Pro class is just plain sadistic, watching the videos does not even do it justice. And this year was claimed, by the riders, to have been easy since the conditions were mostly dry.The interesting thing was to watch the Pros go through a section and make it look easy. They would never rev the bike up and never spin the rear wheel. The trials skills of the top guys was evident (this pushing the level of the sport to make sections even more difficult, since they make it look too easy) and their skill in putting their wheels right where they wanted them, using the spring of the bike to make it turn instead of using all muscles, the control to link a few sections together into one effortless motion rather than stopping each time and losing precious momentum. Then came the experts. Way more throttle, way more spinning. Way more energy and in the end a lot of pushing. It was eye opening for sure and makes me think about getting better traction every time I ride.So along with this story I've added a photo gallery and some captions of my week in Romania. It sure felt like a defeat from the racing prospective, but it was a pretty good time none the less. If I can ever get back over there to go and do some trail riding I for sure will do this. Somehow I have to resign from doing the pro class and think more along the lines of expert, at least in the Romaniacs.Check out this video from the Friday training session:

The prologue training went something like this. And this was not the only one. Having a series of gnarly crashes has a way with one\'s confidence. Bumps and bruises, notwithstanding...
The prologue training went something like this. And this was not the only one. Having a series of gnarly crashes has a way with one\'s confidence. Bumps and bruises, notwithstanding...
This isn\'t a picture of me, but most of my day one looked a lot like this, usually worse.
Even the top pros line up and take a second look at sections before attempting them. This is early race leader Xavier Galindo watching Lettenbichler take a line up a cliff.
Half-way through the first day I was a shell of my former self. Cramps, pain and no more GPS was an indication that I should throw in the towel.
The wall ride over the river was scary looking but rather easy compared to the trails we\'d been riding all day. Unless you fell in!
And a few did. This cable bridge claimed more than a few riders including Gerhard Forster.
Martin Kettnerr, Carsten Stefen and our Romanian Guide would rip out to a section, take some photos, get some news and rip back to the first place they could fins with Wi-Fi access. It was a blast to ride and trade stories with them.
I rode a KTM 400 for a couple of days too. I celebrated the fact that I rode to the top of a downtown Sibui, Romania building on my dirt bike with a smoky burnout.
Team USA kept charging along. Here an issue with a loose axle gives the blogging team something to write about.
More of what the Red Bull Romaniacs was really like. This was likely a hobby section. How can you tell? The bike is not in a free-fall. That would mean Expert section. Pro section? The bike is in the air.
Third place finisher Cyril Despres was not this happy after the race. The race promoters took out the section he put a lot of time on the leaders through and then he chose to go around a hill (after trying to get up it for 45-minutes) that, in the end, two other riders (Lettenbichler and Chris Birch) made so he was gifted with a 2-hour time penalty.
New Zealander Chris Birch never really had a good day. He got cables stuck in his wheel, had some serious GPS issues, got horribly lost, but still plugged along to take second on the podium in the end. It was a classic case of never give up for the likeable KTM riding Kiwi.
In the end Lettebichler and his factory BMW proved a lot of points with determination and crazy skill.
It was the riding like this that makes me want to go back for more in Romania.