This article was originally published in the July 2017 issue of Dirt Rider.

It's summertime and that means one thing: It's time for the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship! High temperatures, humidity, thunderstorms, 30-plus-minute two-lap motos, braking bumps, square edges, deep ruts, a 40-rider gate, the smell of barbecue in the air, and thousands of roaming, screaming fans along miles of fence line that surrounds a dauntingly high-speed outdoor playground. Just thinking of all that should carry some weight and make your heart rate jump, but for the riders (and mechanics) who have virtually no time off to get prepared for the 12 grueling rounds, it is a formidable task. The Monster Energy AMA Supercross series only has one weekend off in the 17-round series, and after the final round in Las Vegas on May 6 the first round of the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross in Sacramento, California, is just around the corner on May 20. That is only two weekends off in a little more than five months! That is next to no time to prepare for a completely different form of racing. So what exactly are the trials and tribulations of going from one series to the other? We give you a little insight on what some of the riders and mechanics have to go through going from indoors to outdoors.

Austin Forkner
Austin Forkner is hard at work at the Reynard Training Complex in Oklahoma under the watchful eye of Robbie Reynard.Shan Moore

Changing The Way You Ride

Going from Supercross to outdoors, the bikes have huge differences. One good example is Team GEICO Honda rider Jeremy Martin. Martin is a National 250 Outdoor champion but has yet to win a 250 Supercross championship. Why? Because each discipline takes different techniques, and Supercross practice tracks are not something everyone has at their disposal coming through the amateur ranks.

But when winter rolls around, pro riders are in full Supercross mode. From October to early April riders are practicing on Supercross tracks that are under one minute in lap times, and the racers rarely get their bikes into fourth gear for very long—and hardly do you ever see them go more than 40 mph. Going to outdoors they are working with speeds up to 70 mph, and the racers’ eyes have to adjust to hitting bumps at high speeds. Riders will usually ride a smoother, faster type of outdoor track on their first few days of outdoor testing just to get their eyes dialed in for the speed. Lap times on an outdoor track hover around two minutes, and when you ask some riders they say they have to really try harder to focus for almost 40 minutes compared to 20 minutes at a Supercross race.

Austin Forkner
Austin Forkner and Robbie ReynardShan Moore

Another thing riders have to readapt to coming from the lights of a stadium is technique on the bike. Riders are constantly on the front of the bike pushing down on the front end to scrub or soak jumps indoors, yet they need to hang off the back of the bike more for outdoors. Getting traction coming out of a long, muddy rut requires the riders to move toward the rear of the bike and prepare for the onslaught of square edges and bumps they are about to hit.

When watching your favorite riders also look for how they enter or roll their corners in outdoors compared to indoors. In stadiums, riders square up corners a lot and rear brake slide to pivot them down the next lane. In outdoors rarely will you see this maneuver. Rolling corners, getting on the gas sooner (through corners), and using the front brake predominates and is key to carry the most speed around a motocross track. All of these little things add up when tackling an outdoor track and take some time to get used to once again.

The Machine

The suspension in Supercross is ridiculously stiff (especially the fork setting) in order for riders to hit faces of jumps and stay low. Skimming whoops takes a stiff setup as well to keep the bike from pitching (back and forth). In outdoors the suspension must stick to the ground (for maximum traction) while also being soft enough to soak up all of the bumps that accompany a soft, watered outdoor track. So when racers jump back on their outdoor suspension settings the bike often feels too soft or even like something isn’t working right. Riders have to adjust to the bike actually moving in the stroke instead of the bike’s attitude having a “dead” feel and not moving at all.

Some riders are more head cases than others, so it can take some persuading to convince them that everything will be okay and they just need to ride it a little more, and then additional settings can be gone through. The engines are known to be smoother off the bottom-end and rev much farther for the long straights. This will usually be done through remapping the ignition. In Supercross, riders want more bottom-end to get over rhythms out of corners and will sacrifice some top-end. Outdoors riders have to ride an engine character for almost 40 minutes, so a little friendlier power delivery that is much easier to manage for the duration of two long motos is better.

Lastly, some teams and riders run mousse inserts in their tires to prevent flats, and that creates a different feel on the bike. Most motocross riders prefer traditional rubber inner tubes for contact feel and lean-in traction feeling. With mousse inserts riders have to get used to a less absorbent tire carcass feeling and the mousse gives more of a “dead” feel over braking bumps. Some teams drill holes into the foam inserts for a softer feel, but then they are risking the foam breaking down and failing in a long moto.

Austin Forkner
Jumps at high speeds are something riders have to get used to coming from the confines of tight stadiums.Shan Moore

The Training

Instead of doing sprints and short, quick bursts for speed, riders will transition into doing longer motos during the week in hot and humid conditions to train their bodies for the sun and not the bright lights of a baseball/football stadium. Recovery is also more important during the summer months, as riders will dehydrate more racing 60-plus minutes on a Saturday afternoon. Instead of practicing four times a week like riders do during the Supercross season, most riders will back it down to two to three days a week during the outdoor season. Off the bike, training is not as strenuous and more recovery bicycle rides that are longer in duration (two hours) and with a lower heart rate dominate riders’ training schedules.

Preparing The Machine

The rider is only as good as his bike and mechanic allow him to be. A mechanic’s job can be just as stressful as a rider’s during the week and on raceday. In Supercross, mechanics usually have more time to change parts, prepare, and get the machine ready for the night show and main event. In outdoors, the schedule is much tighter with live TV, and the bikes endure so much more abuse than in Supercross.

To qualify for a Supercross main event the bike has less than 10 minutes of racing on the chassis/engine. In motocross the chassis/engine has more than 30 minutes on it between motos and is much dirtier with mud than in Supercross—not to mention that for those 35 minutes or so the engine rpm was higher than that of a Supercross race.

Testing is also much harder to do as most of the manufacturers and teams are based on the West Coast, which means testing happens on the West Coast. But what happens when the riders’ “West Coast” test settings don’t work in East Coast dirt? Unlike Supercross, where settings very rarely change from track to track, outdoor motocross presents a whole new challenge in bike setup. Teams sometimes have to rely on their notes from past years’ race settings at a particular track in order to get a good baseline for a rider at any given round.

motocross nationals
Riders will be looser on the bike and move around much more when taking on the motocross nationals.Shan Moore

What The Industry Thinks

Cooper Webb | Factory Yamaha
"For me, I wouldn't say there are any huge struggles. I mainly just really have to get used to the longer motos and warmer weather. At first the biggest difference is carrying more speed everywhere and opening the bike up because you're in SX mode for so long that you're not used to the higher speeds. My engine settings actually don't change that much, but my suspension is way different. Both ends of the bike are way softer than in SX. I have tried to change some engine settings, but I have always gone back to what I race in Supercross. The only small thing other than suspension is gearing. We usually change the gearing on my Yamaha for the speeds of outdoors."

Kyle Cunningham | JGR Autotrader Suzuki
"The hardest thing for me to adjust to is getting back in the swing of preparing throughout the week hydrating. Not over­doing it to make sure I'm ready for the heat and long motos. Once you over-run yourself with dehydration or getting sick, it takes too much time to get back to 100 percent to do it again the next weekend. I also really work on staying loose more in outdoors and stand up quite a bit more. I really work on my patience and try hard to not over-ride the bike."

Seiji Ishii | Trainer For Andrew Short And Phil Nicoletti
"Two main things that are focal in the transition from SX to MX are heat acclimatization and increasing overall work capacity. A lot of riders spend a large portion of the time during SX season in climates that aren't as hot and/or humid as some of the venues used in the outdoor series. Heat acclimatization increases the body's ability to hold and utilize more water for evaporative cooling in an attempt to maintain a workable range of core temperature. Gradually and intelligently increasing the exposure to heat and humidity, both at work and rest, facilitates this process without spiking fatigue, which could sabotage adaptations to heat and workloads. Fortunately, the gradual exposure to the heat and humidity go hand in hand with the progressive increases in workload, both in duration and the specific intensities required for the Great Outdoors. Juggling the demands imposed by both the rising heat stress and higher overall workload becomes paramount during the transition so the rider isn't starting the series in an overly fatigued state."

Bike setup
Bike setup is extremely important outdoors, so it is common to see factory teams out testing their new chassis settings often.Shan Moore

Jason "Gothic Jay" Haines | Honda HRC Factory Crew Chief
"The wear and tear in motocross is so much more apparent than in Supercross. They are longer races, and riders rev their machines for a longer duration of time. What is ironic is that in Supercross, tires get worn out just as bad if not more than one 30-minute plus two-lap moto."

Zach Osborne | Factory Rockstar Husqvarna
"The biggest struggle for me is just getting up to speed. The main reason it's tough is because once you start riding some outdoors and getting up through the gears you think you've got it dialed, but then you look back after a few weeks and realize you have taken four to five seconds off your lap times, and it makes you think you didn't have it all figured out. It just takes a little time."

Wil Hahn | Assistant Team Manager, Yamalube Star Racing Yamaha
"I think the biggest thing is the depth perception between the two disciplines. We go so much faster than in Supercross; obstacles are coming at you much faster. I also think another key thing to look at is the much longer training on the bike and different style of training off the bike—longer practice motos and maybe different ways of training off the bike with less intensity and longer endurance bicycle rides."