TEN THINGS ABOUT BEING AN MXA TEST RIDER
(1) What it takes. Every year, riders from all walks of life ask if they can become part of the MXA wrecking crew. It looks like an easy job. Ride next year’s bikes. Test cool product and write reviews. But, it is a dream job that takes years of experience to learn the ins and outs of. You may be able to ride like the wind, but do you understand the mechanics, technology and physics of motocross bikes. The ability to ride is useless without the knowledge to explain in detail every facet of the experience.
(2) Good or bad. An MXA test rider never knows what a new bike brings to the table. It can be nerve racking. Some aftermarket companies’ project bikes come from Craigslist. Test riders are at the mercy of who put the bikes together. We have had bikes blow up off the face of jumps and parts that fly off at the least opportune time. Sometimes we ride it out and sometimes we don’t. On occasion, MXA test riders become true-to-life test pilots.
Test riders aren’t allowed to have favorite race bikes. If they profess love for a particular bike, they will find themselves assigned to a different brand for the next two months. If they say they hate a bike, they will be assigned to that bike for the next two months.
(3) Comfortable. What’s your favorite bike? The KTM 350SXF? Kawasaki KX450F? Yamaha YZ250? Whatever it may be, if you are an MXA test rider, the odds are you’ll be riding something else. MXA’s Josh Mosiman raced Husqvarna FC450s in the AMA Nationals—because of that, he doesn’t even get invited to MXA’s Husky test sessions. As a Pro racers Daryl Ecklund loved Kawasakis, but they are in the no-fly zone for Daryl at MXA. Dennis Stapleton loves the CRF450—to bad he never gets assigned to test one. Jody Weisel loves Hodakas, but since they went out of business decades ago—he can test whatever he wants. As you can tell, MXA test riders don’t pick the bikes they get to ride. They are assigned them. And, once they get the assigned bike dialed in, it’s time to move on to the next bike on the list.
(4) Freebies. It is true that MXA test riders get everything on God’s Green Earth for free. Sadly, they don’t have time to enjoy the freebies. Every photo shoot and test session means a different brand of gear, helmet, boots and goggles. It is very rare that an MXA test rider gets to wear the same color gear twice in the magazine.
(5) Terminology. Dirt bike racers talk with hand gestures and guttural noises. It is a primitive language that all racers understand, but suspension technicians and factory engineers don’t. Brapp is a foreign language to them. MXA test riders have to answer test questions with a consistent vocabulary of terms. No hand gestures or funny sounds allowed. The MXA lexicon of technical terms and phrases takes the guess work out of being understood by an engineer who doesn’t race. Pity the poor test rider who says “motor” instead of “engine”—unless he’s talking about an electric motor.
(6) Speed doesn’t matter. Age brings with it experience, while it reduces speed. A test rider who has spent 15 years years riding has a valuable reservoir of knowledge that no 17-year-old Pro can come close to duplicating. Take Jody Weisel for example. He has ridden every bike made in the last 45 years. On the track, our Pro test riders run circles around him. Off the track, Jody can deliver a flawless report on powerband traits, suspension characteristics and handling flaws with a bibliography of references to previous bikes that shared the same characteristics. Being a good test rider isn’t about speed; it’s about understanding what the bike is doing underneath you.
(7) Losing count. Guess what? You need to have ridden the 2002 Honda CRF450 to know why the 2020 model is the way it is. If a test rider never threw a leg over a 2008 Honda CRF450, he is ill-equipped to state an opinion on the 2020 model. Without spending time on a Keihin FCR fueled machine, a test rider will never get the full picture of fuel injection’s pluses and minuses. One undeniable fact is that the more bikes you ride, the better test rider you become. And every MXA test rider has lost count of how many different bikes he has ridden. Some have ridden just over 100 and some near 1000.
(8) Our readers. When you get your bike dialed in to your tastes, do your friends like your setup? Do you like the way your friends set up their bikes? Or do they have their levers way down, bars in their laps and a pogo stick for a rear shock? An MXA test rider can’t just think of himself when testing a bike or product; he has to think about you. Our readers are who we test for, not ourselves.
Getting to ride the 2020 KTM 350SXF before anyone else is a perk—but did you pay attention to gear ratios, spring rates, bard bend and ergonomics while you were enjoying yourself? The questions will be asked when you get off the bike.
(9) Fit the mold. We have countless sets of helmets, boots and gear. But guess what, they are all in one size. To be an MXA tester or photo rider, you must fit the mold. That means a medium helmet, size 10 boots, large jersey, size 32 pants and size 10 glove. While it is true that some test riders don’t wear those sizes, they don’t complain as they squeeze their size 12 feet into size 10 boots.
(10) Money. If you are not an employee of MXA (there are only a handful of us) then you do not get paid. Whether you are an endurance test rider or a photo rider, you are not on the payroll. We look at it as on-the-job training, because maybe one day they will get the paying gig. Plus, would you turn down a chance to race new bikes every week for free?