THIS MUCH WE KNOW! WHAT IT’S LIKE TO BE AN MXA TEST RIDER
On paper, Motocross Action only has four full-time test riders. They vary in age (from the mid 20s to Jody’s ancient 60s?actually, the average age of three of the four is 28 years old) and in skill (from AMA National fast to Intermediate quick to Vet mature). This is the mix we think best suits our needs. Until the manufacturers start demanding to see a buyer’s AMA Pro license before they will sell him a bike, we want test riders who cover the spectrum of bike buyers.
The four MXA guys are like peas in a pod?testing motorcycles is what they do every day of their lives. We like each other, we hang out together and we love motocross. Testing motorcycles?although it may seem like an innate ability?is a learned skill. Jody learned the test riding skill back in the 1970s and passed what he learned over the years to MXA test riders as varied as Lance Moorewood, David Gerig, Clark Jones, Larry Brooks and Ed Arnet. Today’s MXA test crew of John Basher, Daryl Ecklund, Dennis Stapleton and Jody Weisel all have years of testing experience?and testing is all about experience. Over the years?decades, actually?MXA test riders have tried to explain what they feel on subjects that might be as simple as fork offset or as complex as shock damping. MXA isn’t preaching right or wrong?just to feel the bike, be the bike and remember it for future reference.
What is the most important thing about being a motorcycle test rider? Riding as many bikes as possible. Why? To test the 2013 Suzuki RM-Z450, you must have ridden the 2012 RM-Z. And to make sense of where Suzuki is coming from, it is best if you raced the first fuel-injected RM-Z450 they built back in 2008 (we were the first guys to break the engine cases on day one). And, logically, to test the whole series of fuel-injected Suzuki RM-Z450s, considerable time should have been spent on the Keihin carb-equipped models that came before. It is hard to tell where you are without a road map of where you’ve been.
Test riders work in a world of comparisons?and speak the language of comparison (A is better than B, but not as good as C). Having valid comparison points, like what the original RM-Z450 handled like back in 2005, could help you understand why it handles as it does in 2014. MXA works very hard on the language of motorcycles. We want to speak clearly, precisely and leave no doubt about what we are saying.
We understand when people don’t like what we say, but we say exactly what we think. So, when internet jockeys make fun of the fact that we gear many of the production bikes down, it doesn’t insult us because most serious racers gear their bikes down to maximize the power for racing. As part of our job we have access to every motorcycle made, the ability to ride and race them on 10 different tracks and the mechanical support of industry professionals. This is all we do and we are thorough to a fault. You don’t have to gear your bike down or use our clicker settings, fuel maps or fork oil heights?we are just offering advice based on our experience. Take it or leave it.
We could, as other test outlets often do, just throw some upcoming 250 Pro on the bike and let him do the test?even if he was racing minicycles just three years ago. Or, we could gather up a bunch of grizzled former Pro riders?most with deals, loyalties and connections to the manufacturers?to give our tests luster, but we have never done it that way. We prefer to stick with our in-house test riders, with no connections to factories, teams or clothing companies. And, we give them the freedom to say what they feel.
Test riders aren’t born; they are made through hard work?and we promise you that MXA works at it harder than anyone else. We think it shows.
THE LAYERS BEHIND THE LAYERS
Behind the front line of Jody Weisel, John Basher, Daryl Ecklund and Dennis Stapleton, MXA has other irons in the fire. We keep a couple of spare test riders in rotation?mostly AMA Nationals Pros. We use them as fill-ins when Ecklund, Basher or Stapleton are in Europe, Asia, South America or a hospital bed. When they aren’t needed we still try to give them the opportunity to ride every new bike?just in case we need a new full-time test rider. Some, it turns out, are too good to stay with us for very long and end up with sponsored rides, like Jeremy McGrath and Cole Seely.
Below the backup guys on the MXA totem pole are our seven race team members. Their job, for which they are not paid (unless you consider free bikes, gear, helmets and parts to be worth riding for), is to race the bikes on a weekly basis. Sometimes they are testing products, sometimes they are giving feedback on new bikes, and sometimes they are just doing endurance testing. To thoroughly test race bikes, they need to be raced, so we have a handpicked crew of weekly racers spread across various skill levels. They aren’t free agents. We tell them what they will ride, what they will wear, where they will ride and what we expect of them. We make them switch brands constantly and even have them trade bikes between motos. What do we expect of them? To race every week, ride hard, tell the truth and have fun. The feedback they give us and the parts they break fill in the gaps that the four MXA guys don’t always have the time to do.
MXA is often accused of being made up of a bunch of old guys?and, in large part, this is true. We can’t deny it. We are proud of it. Why? You won’t find a 16-year-old who has raced a steel-framed Honda, air-cooled Rotax or Ricky Carmichael’s 1997 KX125. Very few teenagers have ridden at Southwick, Red Bud, Budds Creek, Washougal, Lake Whitney, Saddleback, Indian Dunes and Glen Helen. Or in Sweden, Finland, Italy, Holland, Austria, Denmark, the Philippines, Thailand, Qatar and Mexico. Experience in motocross comes with age, and we go where the knowledge is. Plus, we never drop a test rider. We always support our test riders even as they grow older?especially those who helped us in the past. That means that AMA heroes like Lars Larsson, Gary Jones, Larry Brooks, Pete Maly, Feets Minert and the late Rich Eierstedt always had a bike to race, even though they are no longer in the top tier of the motocross hierarchy. We love these guys and value their input, not to mention their historical perspective.
So, the next time you read an MXA bike test, please know that it isn’t a “parking lot” test. What’s a parking lot test? It’s one where a guy spins three laps around his local track and then writes a bogus review that could have been done if he had ridden the bike in the parking lot. MXA takes pride in what we do and are concerned about the hard-earned dollars of the people who buy bikes. We weigh every bike, we dyno every bike, we sound test every bike, we race every bike, we swap bikes between motos, we take our time?and we often have as many as 12 different test riders give their opinions.
Oh yeah, and there aren’t any bylines on MXA tests because they aren’t one man’s opinion. They are the product of the “Institutional We.” They are cooperative efforts with input from all the test riders.