"Photography by Richie Hopson As the nine times MotoGP World Champion, Valentino Rossi is very much the most recognisable face of motorcycle racing. Throughout his 16-year career, the 32-year-old has amassed the sort of fame and fortune that would have "
'Are you big in Japan?' The song title asks. Well, MotoGymkhana certainly is and it is a sport growing in popularity here in the UK too.
Influx met with UK Womens MotoGymkhana Champion, Jo Noble Finch to learn more about the sport. We also got to see firsthand, the skills required to throw a bike around trying to defy gravity and stay on.
On a beautifully sunny day in West Sussex, Jo started up her Honda CBR600 and shot off down the runway where she had set up cones to mark out a course. She immediately started flipping the bike from side to side at acute angles, and this was just to warm the tyres up. The CBR is her new bike for this season although she really fancies a KTM 790 Duke, don’t we all.
All bikes taking part in MotoGymkhana have to be road legal and passed an MOT. Owners do adapt the bikes to suit their needs, and also for safety to protect them and the bikes. Technically, MotoGymkhana is very challenging as it involves very good memory combined with lightning fast reactions. Your brain has to store all the course information and transfer this to the body where every little hip move or throttle twist means seconds lost or hopefully gained.
Stunt cages are fitted around the engine, which stops riders’ legs getting trapped when they fall and makes it easier to get the bike back off the ground. Handlebars are normally short and straight to allow the bikes to get very low to the ground enabling ultra sharp turns. The sport is all about shaving time off your run through a course of cones. Seconds saved means everything.
As I mentioned MotoGym, as the participants call it, is massive in Japan where it originated. Most people say it started there about thirty years ago and really took off eleven years ago. Other countries have been quick to pick up on the popularity and now USA and Holland are the next biggest participants, with the UK gaining in numbers very quickly.
Image below shows the description of the various coloured cones which indicate to the rider the course, actions and information.
It is cheap to enter, you can race a whole season with limited finances. This makes it appealing to riders of all ages who like technically challenging motorsports.
Jo is entering her fifth season this year and loves the technicality of the sport over pure speed such as road racing. MotoGym is relatively slow for motorsport and akin to Trials in that respect. The bikes very rarely get out of first gear and have their gearing altered, to allow for immediate power delivery to help with power turns and burst through the slalom sections.
Following a fairly nomadic life and a few varying jobs, Jo found herself back in England and missing her love of skiing. She is a trained Ski Instructor and has competed in various ski disciplines. By chance, Jo saw a small advert about MotoGym and it grabbed her interest so she went along to an event and try out day. She was hooked, as it offered her the competition and adrenaline rush she missed from skiing.
A KTM 640 SM was purchased, and Jo started competing. Last year she achieved two podium finishes, which she prizes more than the title of UK Womens Champion. This is because MotoGym is a mixed sport and she competes against men and other women.
The podium finishes proved she was beating men in the sport and progressing. Her aim this season is to obtain a Green bib which would be two levels above what she is now. Coloured bibs designate the level of rider. In Japan and the USA, there are many more colours due to more levels of rider ability.
Although you compete against others you are very much focused on improving your own times and skill levels. Jo mentions the great spirit within the MotoGym community. People will help with repairs and maintenance and friendships are made. There is no prize money or sponsorship so medals and bragging rights are the only rewards for winning.
Jo has ridden all types of bikes and when living in Spain, got into the dirt bike scene which she loved. She started her journey on bikes with a Honda 50cc but then had to settle for Puch Maxi moped. Yearning for the popular Yamaha FS1-E. When she passed her driving test, bikes were put on the back burner for several years until Jo turned forty and reignited her love of riding.
Over a coffee to warm ourselves up as the cold wind came off the English Channel, Jo talked me through the rules and sport of MotoGym. Different coloured cones mark the course and provide information to the rider about what turn they have to make and what they must do with their bike. During an event, courses will be marked out and riders have an opportunity to walk this prior to starting. Very much like you see on horse jumping events.
During the walkthrough, riders plan their angles of attack for each cone and every aspect of how they want to approach the course. They ride the course twice competitively over the day. You break the timing beam as soon as the bike goes across the start line and penalties are applied for cones touched or missed out.
My time seeing Jo practice got me excited and then I had a go on her CBR. It gives you a real buzz and you feel like you are going much faster than you actually are. Each lean becomes more acute as you push yourself and test yourself. I can see how popularity is growing and I recommend bikers give it a try at one of the organised event days.
Please have a look at the film clip by following this link https://youtu.be/CyKg7cNqK3g
Find out more about MotoGym here.
Photos courtesy of Jo Noble Finch.
KTM 790 Duke: Simon Cudby.
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