The Other National Motocross Series

What It’s Really Like To Be A Factory Rider Up In Canada

While the Lucas Oil AMA Outdoor Nationals are going on across the United States, there is another top-level series running at the same time just north of us in the great country of Canada. The Rockstar Energy Drink CMRC Canadian Nationals are quickly becoming a hotbed for some Americans to restart their motocross careers. Riders such as Mike Alessi, Brett Metcalfe, Bobby Kiniry, Matt Goerke, and Kyle Chisholm all have gone up to try their hand in stealing a championship away from the Canadian racers. While the competition might not be as deep as the ever-popular AMA series, the Canadians do know how to go fast on their home turf. I have had the pleasure of being a “factory” rider up in Canada in 2005 and 2007 with KTM Canada and was recently asked to come back to race and test the team’s MX101 Yamaha YZ250F factory bikes (MX101 is a popular track in Richmond, Ontario, that is leased and operated by race team manager Kevin Tyler). I obliged because I wanted to see if I could shake off my racing cobwebs and give you an inside look on what it is like to race a couple of rounds of the CMRC Motocross Nationals on a Canadian factory 2015 Yamaha YZ250F.

The Atmosphere

If you have never been to Canada, let me tell you that it is one of the most beautiful and laid-back places there is. When driving from Southern California through British Columbia to get to the first round in Kamloops, BC, you are met with picturesque mountain backdrops and smiling faces. While you can’t drive to the second round on the series schedule, you will have to take a ferry over to Nanaimo (which is on Vancouver Island) and enjoy the picturesque mountain backdrops and fresh Pacific Ocean air to take in.

Rolling into the pit scene at a Canadian National is more like walking around a Loretta Lynn’s qualifier than an AMA National. Everything is more “loose” in the Great White North, and you are pretty much on the honor system. Need a tool? No problem. Can’t find a parking spot? Someone will make room for you to camp with them and probably wind up cooking for you as well. Fans greet riders with gifts instead of the usual, “Can I have something?” mentality of some American fans. It is not uncommon to see other factory riders in rival teams’ pit areas just talking and shooting the breeze. Saturday is amateur day (unlike in AMA racing where Saturday is the pro national) and Sunday is designated for pro racing only. Having the schedule set this way makes it a fun weekend for fans to get more time to interact with their favorite riders and race some motos of their own!

The MX101 Yamaha/Canada’s Motorcycle team is run by Kevin Tyler, who also operates the Sand Del Lee track in Ontario that hosts round six of the series. There are no fewer than five to seven team workers at each of the rounds to help the riders, and they even have a caterer at each round. The team operates out of a truck and trailer rather than a huge semi and has the fast New England “Rippa” Jimmy Decotis and up-and-coming 17-year-old Dylan Wright riding for MX101 for 2015. Both of these riders are capable of getting on the top step of the podium.

Tyler relies on his main sponsors Yamaha Motor Canada, FXR Racing, and Canada’s Motorcycle (an online shopping site) to fund the team’s efforts for the race season. There are no huge budgets—just a lot of blood, sweat, and tears that go along with putting a team together up here. The team has a real family feel to it, as Kevin and his father were my mechanics for my two-round journey.

The Factory Yamaha MX101/Canada's Motorcycle YZ250F Machine

Unlike in America, most of the parts you see on my racebike (and it’s the same for most every factory team in Canada) are parts anyone can go out and buy. GYTR takes care of the team’s cylinder heads, cams, pistons, and clutches. FMF provides a race team-spec titanium 4.1 RCT muffler system, and Renthal supplies the bar, grips, and sprockets. Joe Skidd of SSS Suspension is heavily involved in getting the riders comfortable with the suspension settings. DeCal Works makes up the team’s graphics along with Guts seat covers (and foam). Cycra powerflow plastic kits, Vortex ignitions, Twin Air filters, RK chains, Dunlop tires, Nihilo frame grip tape and clutch covers, Ride Engineering clamps, TM Designworks chain guides and sliders, VP Racing fuels, and finally Motorex chemicals are used to keep everything moving smoothly on the machine.

Although I have been training to race two 30-minute motos (Canadian National MX2 motos are 25 minutes plus two laps) for a couple of months, I haven’t raced a 250F in professional competition in more than eight years! Practice at the first round went surprisingly well, as the Yamaha’s YZ250F engine pulled my 170-pound frame around the deep tilled soil of the Kamloops track fairly easy. The Kamloops course consisted of a sandy topsoil with a hard clay-like base underneath. I ended up qualifying 15th fastest out of 63 riders entered.

When the first moto gate dropped the MX101 Yamaha pulled me to a mid-pack start after I wheelied out of the gate (this bike had some pulling power out of the hole that I wasn’t ready for). The Kamloops track was already forming huge ruts and sizable square edges. Since I am very familiar with the stock Yamaha suspension, it only took me a couple of laps to get used to how Joe Skidd of SSS Suspension sets up the suspenders for Canadian soil. Joe likes to run a lot of rebound damping and a softer compression setting to get maximum traction under extreme rough conditions. Since the tracks in Canada are tighter than in the US and more stop and go, the settings were unfamiliar to me.

However, once around the halfway mark I could see how the SSS suspension was good at getting traction at the rear wheel. The rear Dunlop MX32 seemed to stick to the ground better and never did anything unexpected coming into big braking bumps. The overall feel of the fork was soft, but both ends felt balanced, and I was thankful at the end of the moto as the track really began to deteriorate. I finished the moto in 17th due to a crash near the end of the race.

Moto two looked more promising, as I rounded the first lap in the top 12. The MX101’s engine package was more suited toward the second moto as the smoother roll-on power of the bottom-end let me put the power to the ground on the harder-packed second moto dirt. But once again the Kamloops track bit me and I high-sided coming off of a fast sweeping corner. I charged back up to 23rd at the end of the moto but really didn’t have anything left in my energy reserves.

The second round in Nanaimo went much better, as the track was hard-packed, slick, and rocky, which felt like home to me. The MX101 Yamaha engine and suspension package also suited this style of track better as traction was key, which led me to my best performance of the trip. I came away with a ninth overall in the hyperactive MX2 class and top team rider on the weekend!

The Experience

Although the first race didn’t go as planned, the YZ250F was plenty capable of getting me a better result and it proved that at round two. Overall MX1 first round winner Brett Metcalfe explained the Kamloops track, “as one of the roughest I have seen in past years,” and Bobby Kiniry described Nanaimo as “like riding Carlsbad with more rocks.” What was almost as enjoyable as racing were the people I met and seeing how much they care about their racing in Canada. The teams are not here for the money but rather for the pure enjoyment of the sport; most of the top riders in Canada have full-time winter jobs to pay for their summertime racing careers. Yes, it’s more laid-back in the paddock, but when the gate drops every single racer lined up on the gate is not here for the “cool” factor, the money, or the fame. They are here for one reason—the same simple reason you and I ride a dirt bike—because we love it and it’s in our blood.

Want More?

Find out how the MX101 team of Jimmy Decotis and Dylan Wright are doing at MX101life.com or at the team's twitter page @MX101Racing.