October 5, 2003
Warrensburg, Missouri
4th of 16 in A class
When I started racing 9 years ago, hare scrambles starting lines were
ruled by the four primary colors of off-roading at that time: red, green,
blue, and yellow. A few KTM's and Husky's would break up complete
Japanese dominance, but if you weren't riding a KDX, RMX, WR
(2-stroke), XR or converted motocrosser, you were generally
considered to have an abnormal affinity for quirky European dirt bikes
and a lot more money than most folks to spend on parts.

Fast-forward to a hare scramble near you, and the Japanese have
lost a lot of ground. If not for a healthy amount of Yamaha Blue
(thumpers, primarily), the Far East would be a bit player in the
off-road racing scene. With so many good woods bikes to choose
from these days, it's guys like me, riding green motocross bikes in the
woods, who are the nonconformists of the off-road world. Strolling
through the staging area of the Warrensburg property, I could just
about count on one hand the number of green bikes in attendance.
This race was part of the Kansas Offroad series, which occasionally
ventures eastward into Missouri. Sometimes referred to as Knob
Noster, the Warrensburg course is one of my favorites, with lots of
singletrack and fewer rocks than most Missouri venues.

The course was laid out in reverse, more or less, of the earlier MHSC
race in June. Conditions were nearly identical, with mostly dry trails,
moderate temperatures and very little dust. The Warrensburg
property has some interesting features that make for challenging, but
fun, racing. The promoters like to make use of small streams that
carve out narrow passages paved with silt and rocks. Some were very
tight; others were more open and fast, but they all eventually dumped
into the main creek that passes through the property. The first
deepwater crossing came where one of the smaller streams flowed
into the creek. After a fast run through this stream, we made a hard
left turn where it dumped into the creek, then rode 30 yards upstream
(or downstream - couldn't tell) in about 18 inches of water. The right
half of the creek had been marked off with yellow tape, presumably to
keep us out of deeper water on the far side. Where the yellow tape
ended, we made a hard right and exited the creek at the wide
crossing nearest the staging area. The 90-degree turn in the center of
the creek was a bit tricky, as the murky water clouded my view of the
rocks. After my previous race at Eugene, in which I tested the KTM's
underwater capacity (it failed miserably), I rode very carefully through
this section. Later in the course, the crossing that returned us back to
the staging area was much easier because the water there wasn't
very deep, but the climb up the creek bank was steep. The main route
up the opposite bank was off-camber and sure to be sloppy after a
couple laps.

At the starting line, the A class was large and full of familiar MHSC
regulars, including Zach Bryant, Gary Pilant, Brad Crain, Ralph
Gerding, and others. Said AA rider Brian Jahelka after the race, "I
didn't like turning around and counting 17 bikes that would like to run
me over..." As the board dropped, the KX fired up and I dumped the
clutch. I heard the whine of an over-revving engine and that was
about it. The bike was in neutral...oops. I kicked it in gear and raced
to the first corner, near the back of the pack. In my first venture into
the A class, I didn't have great expectations of a high finish and tried
to remind myself of that. I was there to test out the KX under full-on
race conditions. But I still wanted to keep up with the pack.

With help from a few mistakes by other riders, I moved up a couple
spots early in the race. Zach Bryant and another guy got tangled up
in the first half of the course and appeared to have taken it out on a
tree that was missing large chunks of bark at foot peg and handlebar
levels. In a section of new trail, fast guy Caleb Wohletz was pulled
over, victim of a loose oil drain bolt. Zach stopped to help and later
brought back some oil after a pit stop, which explained why I never
again heard his throttle-pinned RM125 behind me. The first lap went
smoothly and the A class gradually spread out. I settled in behind a
guy on a KTM 4-stroke who was keeping up a good pace despite the
fact that his pants were nearly falling off. For two laps I had full view
of the guy's half-moon (with crack). Had the course been at all
muddy, the pants would have been around his knees. I passed him
after he got hung up on some tree roots, but the big thumper blew by
me in one of the open areas so I had to look at his ass for another lap.

In woods mode, the KX did remarkably well on the 9-mile course. A
couple more clicks of rebound on the fork would have helped, and
finding easier clutch pull will need to be a priority, but the bike flat-out
rips. As I was warned, the KX does require more effort to ride fast for
extended periods of time, as the narrower power band begs to be
ridden aggressively. But the rewards for this kind of intense riding are
sweet. A mile or so after the main creek crossing was a long grass
track with some nice berms around the corners. The KX shined in this
section, producing healthy bursts of power out of every corner. In the
wide-open grass straights, it felt much more stable than the KTM, with
less headshake. On the downside, the KX is loud. Above ¾ throttle, I
don't envy guys riding behind me. It also doesn't have as tight a
turning radius as KTM's and has no adjustable steering stops. Near
the end of the course was a very tight 90-degree left turn down a
steep ravine marked "Hard" (the "Easy" route was apparently longer,
though I never tried it), and I struggled to get the KX turned sharply
enough to make the corner. Other than that, I had no complaints. The
forks were much less harsh than the 43mm WP's with which KTM
cursed its bikes from 2000-02.
W.E.R. did an excellent job with the
valving on both ends. Best of all, the front brake is firm as Jennifer
Garner's abs (that's firm, trust me).

At the end of Lap 1, I was in 10th place behind the guy I'll call
Britches. We both moved up a spot in the second lap, and began our
third lap just a few seconds apart. Somewhere during Lap 3 we both
passed Gary Pilant, and in the second half of the lap Britches
appeared to be tiring. I was on his back wheel in the section of new
trails but he maintained just enough speed to make it difficult to pass.
Finally, as we dropped down a steep creek bank to cross back over
the deep water, Britches let me by. As the white flag came out, I
ended the third lap in 7th place with Britches hanging close behind.
He fell off the pace on Lap 4 while I continued to ride faster. By the
end of the fourth lap I had caught up to Kansas regular Dan Johnson
on his KTM, but since I had seen the white flag on the third lap, I
thought the fourth lap would be my last. However, no flag was
displayed at the end of the lap and I began a 5th and final journey
around the course.

After I had slowed down thinking my race was over, Dan Johnson
pulled away. But within a half-mile I caught him in the short run
through the small creek that dumped into the deep water. Despite my
concerns with again submerging my bike, I attempted a pass. As we
made the 90-degree turn in the center of the creek, I charged through
the water and used the KX's nitrous-like powerband to exit the creek
just ahead of Dan. I have to admit, dumping the clutch and flying up
that creek bank was pretty cool. It may not be as easy to ride in the
woods as a KTM, but there's something to be said about having that
burst of power from a motocross-tuned engine.

I held off Dan for the remainder of the last lap and finished in 4th
place in the A class and 9th overall. My lap times showed that I rode
faster each lap, which was very satisfying in light of the warnings
given by several former MX-bike woods racers that a motocross bike
would wear me out (I'm talkin' about you, K-Ruck). Expect to see
more of the Green Machine in '04.

October 26, 2003
White City, Illinois
3rd in +30A
Looking back at the 86 events I've entered and reported on during my
time here in St. Louis, White City is the only venue that I've attended
at least once every year. At each race, I either love it or hate it, but
more often than not I have a great time. Sunday's race had the
makings of a tough challenge after steady rains on Saturday, but the
showers fell sparingly over the Cahokia Creek club grounds and the
course was in good shape.

Like most of our trips across the river in Illinois, Matt was less than
enthusiastic about racing in what we expected would be mud. Don't
get me wrong, anyone who is kind enough to e-mail me photos of
panty-less Hilton sisters has got to be flowing with testosterone, but
sometimes Matt sounds like a girl when it comes to riding wet Illinois
trails. When we arrived at the club grounds, the sun was shining and
the course looked to be in better condition than we had expected. The
light rains from the day before left the exposed surfaces slick, but we
guessed that after one lap the course would tack up and offer plenty
of traction. In some places the club had been thoughtful enough to
remove crab apples from the main line of the trail. Anyone who's ever
had a surprise encounter with those green, soft-ball-sized bastards
can appreciate their removal.

To the east of the staging area was a little 5-turn dirt track that served
as a warm-up area for the bikes. The KX really does love to be thrown
into a berm wide open, but a motocross bike rarely gets ridden to its
full potential by a to-the-core woods rider like me. To put it mildly, I'd
suck at a Six Days enduro. That brief ride would be the only warm-up
for the bike and my already pumped-up arms, since there are no
practice laps at Cahokia Creek. At the rider's meeting, it was
announced that the course would be 10.7 miles long and we should
"stay on the grass track." As I would find out later, there was a good
reason for that warning.

At the starting line I took a position on the right side of the first row,
which included all the various A classes. To my right, I saw fast guy
John Yarnell riding a '03 KX250, just like me. Yarnell picked up his
new ride at about the same time I did during the summer and
naturally, his looked prettier than mine. I'm fairly certain it had seen
less time on its side or upside down against a tree, like my poor KX
during its inaugural ride at St. Joe State Park after a crash that had
left Matt particularly impressed (I believe in complete break-in rides
that should include the destruction of at least one major bike
component). My KX fired up easily as the flag dropped, and I sprinted
straight ahead to a narrow opening in the woods, about 100 yards
ahead. Of the 15 or so guys in the front row, I entered the woods
somewhere in the middle. Just inside the woods, a couple riders
passed me by cutting off a slick corner. Matt and I had seen the
shortcut while walking the course beforehand, but thinking like the
smart racer I am not, I didn't want to give away this great secret. After
all, I would surely need that shortcut later in the race, after dicing with
the fast guys for several laps, so why reveal my superior knowledge
of the course any sooner than I needed to?

Reality set in when at least 5 guys took the shortcut. So much for
secrets. The group of riders ahead of me quickly distanced
themselves while I tried to stay ahead of a screaming Zach Bryant-like
small-bore 2-stroke behind me. I soon gave up and let the guy
around. After that, I was pretty much on my own.

Roughly one-third of the course was on the opposite side of the
highway that paralleled the club grounds. We had passed under the
road bridge over Cahokia Creek and crossed the creek a mile or so
later. The toughest hill on the course was just after the creek
crossing, but it wasn't much of a problem in dry dirt (I've scaled that
hill when the course was muddy, and it's a bear of a climb). By this
time my arms were severely pumped up, and the stiff pull of the KX's
clutch lever was wearing on me. But by the time we passed back
under the highway bridge, I had relaxed enough that I didn't notice
my arms very much for the rest of the race.

The White City course is mostly smooth dirt when dry or sloppy mud
when wet, but it does have very brief sand whoops along the creek
and some Missouri-style rocks around the road bridge. But these
sections were just a tiny fraction of the beautiful trails that had been
laid out for this race. After crossing the creek a second time, a couple
guys caught up and passed me. A few minutes later I overshot a turn,
had some trouble getting turned around, and two more guys passed
me. I was able to catch up to this second pair of riders and re-passed
one of them by taking an inside line down a steep hill, but I followed
the other guy closely for the rest of the lap.

Somewhere in the middle of the club grounds is a large grassy area
that has been used minimally for past races, usually just the
perimeter. This time, a long grass track had been laid out. When I say
long, I mean really, really long....probably two continuous miles. Due
to its length, it was not staked out with yellow ribbon, which is why we
were warned to stay on the established path (spotters were on hand
to keep riders reasonably on course). Back inside the woods, the
course ended after another mile or so. The guy I had been following
the second half of the lap checked in through the "A" barrels and
continued moving along at an aggressive pace. I couldn't get close
enough to make a pass in the trails north of the highway and as
usual, I followed his lines in places where I should have known there
were shortcuts. About half of the second lap was spent trying to find a
way around, but then he appeared to tire out a bit. After planting my
front tire next to his leg a couple times, he let me around just before a
muddy section that cut through a field of 6-foot-tall reeds. I was able
to make it through this section without incident, unlike my first time
through when I slid out around a corner. Soon enough, I was all by
myself in the woods.

On the third lap I encountered the first group of lappers who were
kind enough to clear out of the way. I felt like I was making good time
but pushing a bit beyond my comfort zone. This was confirmed just
after the second creek crossing, on a well-traveled line up a hill that
was chopped up from previous mud races. Both of my feet slipped off
the pegs and I rode most of the way up the hill superman-style with
my only my arms attached to the bike and the "twins" smacking
against the rear fender. With that, I backed off a little and finished the
lap without incident.

The fourth and final lap was more of the same. Fun trails, at this point
plenty tacky, and the bike continued running perfectly. I had upped
the rebound damping on both ends after feeling a little too much
bounce at Warrensburg, and apparently it did the trick. I didn't notice
the suspension at all during the race, other than the fact that it was
there and it was doing exactly what I paid W.E.R. to make it do. At the
grass track I slowly reeled in a guy on a Gas Gas and passed him
just before we entered the last mile of woods. Somewhere in the KX
literature I read that it has some sort of two-stage power valve, and on
the grass track I could feel the second stage kick in. Each time the
engine reached this point, it would try to make the back tire spin on
the grass in 5th gear. Very cool. And I continued to be impressed with
the KX's stability at speed. I've got it geared with a 14/50 sprocket
combo, which gives me nearly the same final gear ratios as my
300MXC, but somehow it seems a bit faster on top. Or maybe the lack
of headshake just makes me feel like I'm riding faster. Either way, it
felt good.

I ended the race in 3rd place in the +30A class and had money
coming if I'd stuck around. But my ride was leaving. Even so, it was
nice to be home by 4:00 and have time to wash the bike and gear and
reflect on another fun race at White City.
Warrensburg, Missouri
White City, Illinois
My new ride