Show me a MotoGP rider, and I'll show you someone who has done perhaps a little too much motocross in their time. Road racing's more rough-and-ready cousin made its latest appearance this past weekend — as ever, at the most inconvenient of moments for the rider involved.
Cue Héctor Barberá being rushed to Barcelona for surgery on a broken tibia and fibula, undergoing surgery and being ruled out of action for 4-6 weeks. That puts him out of this weekend's US Grand Prix and most likely the Indianapolis GP as well. The rider who has only missed one race in his premier class career faces a spell on the sidelines, just as he was gaining real form.
Yes, he likes to follow the factory riders (so much so that Jorge Lorenzo's crew have even drawn up a 'tricycle' warning symbol on the pit board to inform their man of Barberá's presence) but the Pramac Ducati rider was showing signs of a real upturn in fortunes on his own merit at the last few rounds. That culminated with his putting the Ducati on the front row at the Italian Grand Prix two weeks ago, with no tow necessary. Whoever comes in to replace him will have big shoes to fill —particularly if two urban legends about size correlation are anything to go by…
Many a rider's season has been ruined in a training session on a motocross bike: Valentino Rossi's big crash at the 2010 Italian GP was the most spectacular incident seen by fans, but in fact 'The Doctor' was back in riding condition fairly quickly from the resulting leg break. What really hindered his early adaptation to the Ducati the following season was a nasty injury to his shoulder when getting his motocross laps in during the early part of the preceding campaign, with the joint notoriously tricky to fix.
Or look no further than this preseason, and motocross fanatic Andrea Dovizioso's exploits in the dirt. A regular spectator at MX GP events, the Italian isn't averse to getting stuck in himself on his Yamaha YZ502F —debuting with a collarbone break in January. Nicky Hayden also did himself some damage over the winter, injuring his shoulder and ribs in keeping up his two wheel training.
The problem is, of course, that motorcycle racing is dangerous by nature. When it is even more dangerous is when one is not fully prepared and comfortable on a bike. The only way to train in similar circumstances to those of the sport is not by getting on a simulator, nor taking on a crossfit session at the gym: It's feeling the throttle and adjusting to slides.
I caught up with a man who knows a fair bit about racing and training to get his views on the slew of motocross injuries suffered by riders and the alternatives available: Grand Prix winner, Superbike hall of famer and now creator of the highly regarded Motovudu instructional, Simon Crafar.
"Many riders like me started with motocross and grew up with it before going to short circuit racing. They know this sport and the risks, and if they have never had a long break from it their body and mind are up to speed with riding and there is less chance of a mistake. Even then, there is always a chance of getting bad injuries," explains the former rider. "They can say 'oh I'll not take any risks' but at the end of the day riders are competitive risk takers, they will always push the boundaries."
"Used as a training tool, you will reach a level of 'riding fitness' that is unreachable doing other types of training because it's not just hard; it uses the same muscles and mind power. Sure you can reduce the risk of injury a lot by riding sand tracks or at least tracks without jumps, especially unforgiving jumps, but the risk of injury never goes away. If the rider is not an experienced motocrosser and the track is unforgiving, it's going to happen. Even for the experienced motocrossers, it's only a matter of time before it bites you."
Crafar says that, overall, the risk of missing races on a competitive bike just wasn't worth it for him, recommending a combination of Trials riding and combat sport training for fitness. Team managers mostly agree, and many a contract forbids participation in dangerous activities.
As long as the riders feel that they are going to benefit from 'rugby on wheels,' then they will keep on training by motocross. Barberá is still likely to return to it for training. Until they find something safer and more effective, then they — and we - will have to rely on their skill and common sense for an injury-free season.