ONE: WHO GETS TO BE AN MXA TEST RIDER?
There are three levels of MXA test rider: (1) In house; (2) MXA Race Team; (3) Photo Session riders.
“In house” test riders have been testing bikes for years. They have ridden virtually every bike made, including factory works bikes and high-dollar exotics. These are the most experienced test riders in the world, because unlike manufacturer’s test riders, they aren’t bound to one brand or one engine size. No MXA test bike is evaluated by any single rider but will be ridden by Jody Weisel, John Basher, Dennis Stapleton, Zapata Espinosa, Alan Olson and Willy Musgrave before it is handed down to the next tier of test riders–the MXA race team.
The “MXA race team” races every week and can normally be found at Glen Helen, Cahuilla Creek, Piru, Gorman or Competitive Edge. They range in age and skill level, much like the inhouse MXA test riders, from Beginners to Juniors to Intermediate to Experts. MXA race team members get free bikes, parts, clothes, helmets, maintenance and tires. But, they have to race a different bike every week, sometimes a different bike between motos. Their job is to accumulate a vast reservoir of information about each test bike in a short period of time. Its not unusual for one test bike to be ridden in four different classes on the same day.
The “Photo Session” riders ride the bikes for magazine photography. Every test rider wants to be the guy chosen to appear in the photos. Many famous riders have spent time before the MXA cameras, the best known being Jeremy McGrath. But, Mike Craig, Mike Chamberlain, Lance Moorewood, Clark Jones, Larry Brooks, Jeff Ward, Greg Schnell and Phil Lawrence have done the deed. Today, Stapleton, Darryl Eklund, Cole Seeley, Willy Musgrave and a small handful of others handle the photo chores.
TWO: HOW CAN I BECOME A TEST RIDER?
It isn’t easy. Because of the information base that a test rider needs it often takes years to be considered for the job. A fast rider isn’t necessarily a good test rider (plus, we test bikes for riders of all skills). He has to have ridden a wide range of different bikes, including past models of the one he is currently testing, in order to make valid comparisons. You’ve probably read tests in magazines where they poll five test riders and get five different answers–that is because their test riders foundation is weak and they have little experience with what is possible both from other brands and past machinery.
The answer to this question is that, it’s not only who you know, but what you know that gets a rider the job. Many MXA test riders started out as minicycle test riders and continued to progress as they got older (Larry Brooks, John Minert, Tim Olson and Billy Musgrave are classic examples). Several MXA test riders are professional mechanics or have graduated from technical schools. Willy Musgrave, Alan Olson, Ray Pisarski and Bengt Johansson are excellent mechanics (in fact, Olson was the AMA Mechanic of the Year in 2004 when he wrenched for Chad Reed). Most test riders have worked in the motorcycle industry, in jobs ranging from factory rider to team mechanic to production manager to technical consultant. Of course, the number one priority is to be an active and full-time motocrosser.
THREE: IS EVERY TEST RIDER FAST?
No. MXA wants test riders of every skill level. Why? Because everyone who buys a bike isn’t a Pro. In fact, very few Pro riders buy their bikes. MXA has test riders of every skill level and although we have an AMA National Pro on staff (Stapleton), we also have Beginners, Novices, Intermediates (and former Pros from the good old days). We are looking for input from the widest range of riders possible. We have a large number of Vet riders (and older) in our test crew. Why? Because these riders have experience that a 17-year-old whiz kid can’t possess. For example, MXA’s old school test riders have been racing motorcycles for 30 years. They have tested every bike ever built (and many that were never put into production). That kind of experience is invaluable, so test riders like Larry Brooks, Jody Weisel, Alan Olson, Lars Larsson, Bengt Johansson, Feets Minert, etc, may have seen their fastest days many years ago, but where else can you find someone who has ridden not just the new bikes, but all of Ricky Carmichael’s bikes from Kawasaki through Honda to Suzuki. In addition, they have ridden Jeremy McGrath’s, Rick Johnson’s, Damon Bradshaw’s, Broc Glover’s and every other famous rider’s bike. When you add in the fact that they have raced Bultaco’s, BSA’s, Ossa’s, Carabela’s, Montesa’s, CZ’s, Can-Am’s and Rokon’s (when those bikes were brand new), you have a data base that is impossible to find anywhere else.
FOUR: WHAT DO YOU DO WITH OLD TEST BIKES?
We give them back to the factory at the end of the test period. We cannot sell them because we don’t own them and legally the factories cannot sell them to a retail customer because it would be in violation of their dealer agreements. Typically, all test bikes are returned, put in lots of ten, and sold at a dealer auction at the end of the model year. The dealers who buy them can sell them or part them out.
FIVE: HOW MUCH EDUCATION DOES IT TAKE TO BE AN MXA EDITOR?
It varies. Jody Weisel, John Basher, John Minert and Zapata Espinoza are all college graduates (some with postgraduate degrees). Jimmy Mac is a high school graduate who has worked for U.S. Suzuki, Bell Helmets, JT Racing and Troy Lee Designs. Dennis Stapleton, Alan Olson and others are high school graduates who immediately started racing before they were out of school. Obviously, to be an MXA editor you have to have a fair understanding of the English language, but most importantly a vast knowledge of the sport motocross.
We aren’t journalist. We are motorcycle racers–who write about our experiences.
SIX: WHY ARE THERE SO MANY ADVERTISEMENTS IN MXA?
MXA often gets letters complaining that MXA is all ads, but in truth, the editorial content of the magazine is never shortchanged for advertising. The number of stories, photos or columns is never reduced to make room for ads, on the contrary it is increased. However, because MXA readers buy more motocross products than anyone on the face of the earth, aftermarket companies want our readers to be exposed to their products–thus they advertise. In truth, the ads enhance the look and feel of the magazine and often contain a potpourri of product info that you couldn’t obtain any place else.
SEVEN: WHO IS THE GREATEST MOTOCROSSER OF ALL-TIME?
That was a matter of opinion up until the domination of Ricky Carmichael. Old-school fans still say Roger DeCoster, while Jeremy McGrath is by far the Greatest Supercrosser of All-Time. Stefan Everts is the pick of most Euros.
EIGHT: WHAT IS BEST BIKE EVER MADE?
Probably the 1981 Maico 490, but it is in a close battle with the 1973 Honda CR125, 1981 Suzuki RM125, 1987 Honda CR250, 1996-thru-2000 Yamaha YZ125s, 2002 YZ250F and the 2007 CRF450.
NINE: DO THE FACTORIES CHEAT?
Yes. However, they believe that their interpretation of the rule book is on the legal side of dishonest. The AMA has never been willing to put any teeth into the Production Rule and as a result the gray areas are so great you could go to the starting line with Art Arfons Green Monster rocket car and still fall within the AMA’s definition of production. The factory teams are cheating–at least in the spirit of the law. By the letter of the law they aren’t breaking any rules.
TEN: DO PRIVATEERS CHEAT?
Do they ever! If the AMA tested the gas of privateers they would find that most of it is illegal (if the AMA had an enforceable gas rule). The advent of four-strokes hasn’t eliminated big-bore engine, but it isn’t as common as it was with 125 two-strokes. Yes, privateers cheat–but mostly around mid-pack.
ELEVEN: ARE THE FACTORY STARS NICE GUYS?
Yes. It is the rare exception to find a factory rider that is a fat head (although they do exist). As a rule, the bad guys are weeded out by their own behavior. But, at some point in their careers every factory rider goes through the “full of himself” stage. They seem to grow out of this once the aura of everybody laughing at their jokes wears off. It may be surprising to find out that the two of the biggest stars of all-time, Jeremy McGrath and Roger DeCoster, have reps as the nicest guys to deal with.
TWELVE: DO COMPANIES EVER RETALIATE WHEN MXA GIVES THEIR PRODUCT, BIKES OR EVENT A BAD REVIEW?
You bet. The MXA wrecking crew has been banned from the AMA Supercross series twice. The first ban lasted half a season before the promoters relented. The second ban lasted a full season. Banning MXA doesn’t work because we have our methods. As far as products and bikes go, its not uncommon for a company to get a bad test and pull all of their advertising. Over the 35-plus years that MXA has been in business, every major motorcycle manufacturer has stopped talking to us at least once. Currently, we could name a couple motorcycle companies whose mail we open in a bucket of water while wearing Kevlar underwear.
We feel bad when we give a product, rider, race or bike a bad review, but we aren’t in the good news business. We are trying to provide motocrossers with accurate and honest information.
THIRTEEN: IS THE MOTORCYCLE BUSINESS THE BEST ITS EVER BEEN?
No. In 2008 and 2009 it is very bad. It is a mere shadow of what it was in the early 70s. In the early days of motocross, the manufacturers sold almost ten times more dirt bikes than they do today. For example. Hodaka sold 10,000 units in a single year (and that was of 100cc trail bikes). Honda sold 94,000 Z50s in one year back in the good old days. Honda was close to selling one million motorcycles a year back in the ’70s. Not today. Business has never been anywhere near as good as when Gary Jones, Marty Tripes, Marty Smith, Brad Lackey, Roger DeCoster and Mark Blackwell raced.
It should be noted that ATVs have drained off a large number of entry-level motorcycle sales. ATV sales are close to 600,000 units a year. Back in the 70s, there were no ATV sales.
FOURTEEN: IS IT TRUE THAT MXA CENSORS ADVERTISEMENTS?
It is true that we do not want sexually suggestive photos, sexist content, foul language or demeaning advertising in our magazine. So we do not allow it. But, we don’t censor advertisments– instead MXA rejects ads that don’t meet our coffee table standard– which means that we want MXA to be on every coffee table in the USA. We do not want the advertising content to offend small children, parents or readers to the extent that they have to hide the magazine. If you are reading MXA to see photos of partially clad women, you aren’t the brightest bulb on the Christmas tree. There are plenty of magazines that specialize in those types of photos. Motocross Action specializes in motocross.
This policy costs us money. We don’t care. Not only do we not accept sexist ads, we also refuse to accept cigarette and alcohol advertising. It is a matter of principle.
FIFTEEN: DOES THE MANUFACTURER WHO BUYS THE MOST ADS WIN THE SHOOTOUTS?
One of the old saws is that the manufacturer that advertises the most wins the shootouts. Hogwash! Need proof? The Suzuki RM250 won the “250 Bike of the Year” award in 2004, 2005 and 2006. Yet, Suzuki didn’t run a single ad in MXA from 2002 to 2005. Additionally, KTM won the 2004 “125 Shootout” and they are definitely not MXA’s largest advertiser. Kawasaki has won the “250F Shootout” for 2006, 2007 and 2008 and their advertising budget was no where near as large as Honda’s or Yamaha’s. And it is obvious that when the 2009 CRF450 finished fourth in the 2009 MXA 450 shootout that Honda’s advertising dollars didn’t sway the MXA test riders.
SIXTEEN: DOES MXA FAVOR YAMAHA OVER THE OTHER BRANDS?
It is common for disgruntled owners of brands that don’t get good tests to claim that MXA only likes Yamahas–and call us “Yamaha Action.” We have heard this many times before, but we find it amusing because we got the same letters many times in the past. Only in those letters they called us “Suzuki Action” during the heyday of the Full Floaters in the early ’80s and “Honda Action” when the CR250 won the MXA 250 Shootout for six out of seven years (from 1983 to 1989). When Yamaha started winning back-to-back shootouts starting in 1996, the red, green, yellow and orange mavens claimed that we showed favoritism to YZs. The only problem with this criticism is that it doesn’t fit the facts. Yamaha hasn’t won an MXA Four-Stroke Shootout in years (and their wins with the YZ250 two-stroke are only in a two-bike race) and when Suzuki was building the RM250, it won more than Yamaha did. That does leave the YZ125 as the winner of the MXA125 Shootout since 2004, but that is because it is the best 125 two-stroke.
We don’t have favorite companies–we reward excellence in machinery.
SEVENTEEN: HOW CAN ALL THE MAGAZINES HAVE DIFFERENT WINNERS OF THEIR SHOOTOUTS?
It’s not uncommon for other magazines to choose different shootout winners than the MXA wrecking crew. More power to them. MXA tests its bikes by racing them. We don’t trail ride or play ride. We race and our tests are strictly on the virtues of the bike’s prowess as a race bike. If we were considering it as a trail bike, desert bike or woods bike, we might have different opinions also. But, history almost always proves that the MXA wrecking crew is right. Need proof? Every magazine raved about the 2002 Honda CRF450 (and some raved about the 2009 CRF450)–not MXA. To us both bikes had a serious handling flaws and a poorly configured powerbands. Who was right? Historically, MXA is proven right (once the blush of newness wears off the bikes).
EIGHTEEN: WHAT BIKE SHOULD I BUY?
We get this question every day. As motorcycle test riders we can’t tell you what bike to buy, but we can tell you what bike we would buy. And that is what an MXA bike test is all about–telling you exactly what we think (with the benefit of having ridden every bike made, not just this year, but for every year since MXA was started in 1973).
NINETEEN: WHAT IS THE BEST JETTING FOR MY BIKE?
If you ask us for jetting advice we will give it to you. But, you don’t live where we live or race at our tracks, thus you have to be willing to make adjustments for your elevation, temperature, humidity and riding conditions. We aren’t afraid to tell you what we run and we think that it will help you, but no single jetting spec works for every situation.
TWENTY: WHAT DID MXA HAVE AGAINST THE AMA?
We have about 40 years of mismanagement, bad decisions, pandering to factory riders and questionable decisions against the AMA. We think, rightly so, that an organization that is suppose to control the sport should be able to write sensible rules and enforce them fairly. We would have gladly quit harping on the AMA, but first they would have had to quit making poor decisions that have an effect on the long-term health of the sport. Now, they are gone.