Decade in Review - Dirt Rider Magazine

A decade ago we had gotten past the feared computer-clock-initiated world meltdown with hardly a hiccup, and change and innovation were everywhere. Motocross and even (gasp) freestyle were in the mainstream enough to see Jeremy McGrath and Travis Pastrana on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno." Carey Hart had attempted the first backflip in competition and came close enough that everyone sort of gave him a pass on not riding it out. James Stewart even got off of minis. Technologically, our sport was exploding. Some of that was motivated by companies trying to come up with an answer to Yamaha's bombshell four-strokes, but in areas as mundane as tires, companies were working with 18, 19 and 20-inch rears and 20 and 21-inch fronts, with some predicting that future bikes would have 20-inch tires front and rear. In 10 years we saw auto clutches and slipper clutches, all-wheel-drive bikes from Yamaha and Christini, the rise and fall of pitbikes and the advent of EFI. We saw KTM go from novelty to powerhouse.Early on in the decade there was every indication that four-strokes were more than a fad, but by 2000 the only companies to sizably respond to the Yamaha YZ400F were KTM and the ill-fated Cannondale. After the initial enthusiasm for the Yamaha 400F, the tide seemed to be swinging back to two-strokes a bit as some racers tired of the thumper's starting rituals and weight. There were other new four-strokes, but the Honda XR650R and the Suzuki DR-Z400 weren't exactly what most of us were hoping for.The Cannondale did seem to be a potential innovative contender, but it turned out to be a sales and financial sinkhole that swallowed millions and imploded a dominant bicycle company. While the bike itself left only a minor footprint, some of the basic ideas live on. Let's recap the Cannondale: It was a fuel-injected, liquid-cooled, four-stroke electric-start-only motocrosser with an aluminum perimeter frame, tank under the seat and the cylinder head turned around backward. Sound like anything you've seen lately?From the start of the decade we had ample proof that the face of racing is always evolving. On one hand it was clear that Ricky Carmichael and his crazy-fast corner speed had arrived outdoors, but he also reached his indoor potential. Between RC and Stewart and his now-common Bubba Scrub, Florida was headed toward being the center of the motocross universe.As obvious as it seemed at the time that four-strokes would continue to have an increasing effect on motocross and off-road, it seems unlikely that any rider could have foreseen the wholesale switch that would occur in 10 years. Nor would many have prognosticated that freestyle would become so mainstream that McGrath and Carmichael would compete and earn X Games gold or that the backflip would become mundane.The clues for a four-stroke future were there when Tim Ferry used the factory YZ426F, John Dowd a privateer KTM 520 SX and, perhaps most importantly, Larry Ward a new Yamaha YZ250F to reinvent or jump-start ailing riding careers. But the tide truly turned when the weight went down. Honda's CRF450R made a dry weight only 10 pounds heavier than a stock 250cc two-stroke a reality, and Yamaha followed with a lighter 250F and 450F in '03. Every other four-stroke had to hit those numbers, and the tide became a rogue wave that swamped two-strokes. The shocker was how fast it happened in the "125cc class." Despite seeing what Yamaha had done with the 400F in the 250cc class, not many believed that a 250cc four-stroke could be a threat in the ultra-competitive 125cc class, but within three years of the first 250F, the class was packed with baby thumpers. Within another three years new 125s were a novelty. Things were definitely stirring in U.S. MX.In off-road the GNCC series was the envy of the world, and the American invention was firmly in the American hands of Rodney Smith and Barry Hawk, but from '05 on the series has been the stomping ground of foreign invaders. For the entire decade the Hare & Hound series ranked as an important national title and later the odd little sport of EnduroCross took hold like crazy. Thanks to EnduroCross, GNCC and visitors like Shane Watts, Juha Salminen and David Knight, most American riders now know and respect the major players in the World Enduro Championship perhaps more than GP moto stars.As strong as the outlook was at the beginning of the decade, the other start to the decade was the heinous terrorist attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The attack pummeled the U.S. and the world economy, changed travel and curtailed basic freedoms for good. Terrorist attacks and nearly 10 years of war haven't done anyone much good, but it served as a reminder that life is uncertain, so don't save the good times for the future. In all, this has been a decade more volatile and fraught with upheaval than any before, but also one that made giant strides in performance, safety equipment and bringing the motorcycle sport mainstream. Times are tough, but so are dirt riders. We've seen charismatic heroes like RC and Stewart seemingly destined from infancy to dominate the sport as well as riders like Ryan Dungey rise from near obscurity to dominance. We can't help but wonder what changes the future, and especially the next decade, will bring. Our sport is a superb stress reliever, and we need that today more than ever. We are hoping that rider activism will be the big news of the coming years as dirt riders of all stripes rise to meet the challenges that face our sport.

Races

MX and SX were stronger than ever with a more global vibe, though the World SX championship still lacks luster. The U.S.-invented GNCC series has remained the off-road star of the world and attracted the world's best. The WORCS series provided a somewhat equivalent option for those wishing to race Western off-road. Pitbike racing exploded and then imploded, but MiniMoto is still strong. Enduros on both sides of the globe reinvented themselves-no more timekeeping in the U.S. and a more show-friendly WEC. The off-road race series on the rise is EnduroCross, both here and overseas. It may look like it was dreamed up in a conspiracy by the national parts sales association, but the racing is fantastic and unpredictable.Bikes

Three bikes changed the face of MX in this decade: The Honda CRF450R's strengths made life tough for any 250cc motocross two-stroke. Yamaha's YZ250F changed the rules in the small-bore world, and the Pro Circuit Kawasaki KX250Fs have proved a championship steamroller that is very tough to beat.MX riders

The initials RC defined the decade in MX. The sport's most successful racer resisted four-strokes as long as possible, but he won indoors and out with both types of engine. The heirs apparent are James Stewart, Ryan Dungey and Ryan Villopoto. Of the top racers who started the decade, Kevin Windham is the only contender still racing, and the crowd loves him for his longevity and flawless riding style.Off-Road riders

For almost half the decade Rodney Smith was the face of GNCC, and he won until he was 40 years old. American riders have had flashes of brilliance, but foreign imports routinely dominate. David Knight was the most popular of the visitors. In enduros Mike Lafferty is the man of the decade despite the torch passing to Russell Bobbitt. The ISDE Junior World Team of Kurt Caselli, Ricky Dietrich, David Pearson and Russell Bobbitt won for the first time since 1991 in New Zealand, and all four riders went on to be U.S. champions.Freestyle

Despite more motocross and supercross on television, the average citizen associates dirt bikes with freestyle. The discipline may have started with a bad-boy, risk-it-all mentality, but the Gravity Games and X Games helped legitimize the sport. The Carey Hart backflip and the charisma and clean-cut look of Travis Pastrana have transformed the sport to the point that the majority of the Metal Mulisha are now church-going family folk.