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Rok on DUKEs

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Copy-of-JBA_1790-MAX-1024x683.jpg

Rok on DUKEs

Freestyle stunt rider, Rok Bagoroš, began his professional career in 2011 with the KTM 125 DUKE. Since then, he’s performed around the world on every single cylinder DUKE in the range. KTM BLOG caught up with the Slovenian rider to see what he thinks to the recently updated KTM 125 DUKE, KTM 250 DUKE and KTM 390 DUKE and to ask him what he loves about the new generation and what made the previous models so good for stunting.

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Rok Bagoroš © JBA

Rok Bagoroš is a man always on the go. If it isn’t him performing gravity-defying tricks on a range of KTM DUKEs at events, then he is dreaming up new tricks, the content of his next video or the designs for his new range of clothing. He’s a hard worker, no doubting that.

The beginning of Rok’s professional career coincided with the launch of the KTM 125 DUKE and together they showed the world their abilities. When the KTM 690 DUKE was massively updated for 2012, Rok helped wheelie it into the face (not literally) of riders. The same happened with the introduction of the KTM 200 DUKE and then again with the KTM 390 DUKE.

He is the only stunt rider among the world’s elite using a single-cylinder engine motorcycle. He’s also fresh back from Nepal after performing the world’s highest stunt show in the Himalayas. So, in terms of extreme riding with DUKEs from 125cc to 690cc, there’s no better experienced man than to talk to us about the DUKEs past, present and future.

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© Rok Bagoroš

KTM BLOG was in Slovenia, visiting Rok in his home town of Murska Sobota for a special media event involving the charismatic rider and the KTM 390 DUKE. The format for the event will see the media ride on the roads around Murska Sobota, crossing the border between Slovenia and Austria several times. Not only will Rok ride ‘The Corner Rocket’ on the road with the media, he’ll also be given them some special riding tips. Very special …

Before the action with the journalists went down, we took the time with Rok to check out his new Moto Garaža where he and his team prepare the stunt bikes, creates special parts, service motorcycles from the local area and sell his official merchandise.

“It’s great to spend time with people with the same passion of me,” Rok says behind the counter of the garage. “And some of them can really ride. It’s just that they will all be expecting me to put on a bit of a show at every traffic light and I’ve been told I need to behave as we don’t need trouble with the police – especially in my home town. But sometimes I just can’t help myself.”

And he’s right. When we rode with Rok the previous day to check the test routes and sight the photo points, it was like being in the middle of a KTM promo video. Every stop sign was an opportunity to test the brakes with a rolling stoppie and each green light chance to launch a wheelie. Worth noting, Rok did ride in this KTM 125 DUKE promo video.

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© Rok Bagoroš

Anyway, after seven years riding KTM single cylinders – rarely with both wheels on the floor – we asked Rok about the DUKE range; past, present and near future.

KTM 125 DUKE (using from 2011-2016)
“The bike I started my pro career with. When I first saw it, I didn’t know how to use the clutch! I came from scooter stunt riding, so it took me a couple of weeks to learn this funny lever! Not much later I got my first wheelie using the clutch and then the other tricks soon followed. The transformation from automatic to manual was quite quick!

I used the KTM 125 DUKE for two years and people’s minds were blown that I could do wheelies, drifts, burnouts and technical stuff with this small capacity bike. But for me it was easy. For a 125, it has a lot of power. As soon as you put a bigger sprocket on the rear, it is a great base for a stunt bike; it’s a solid machine and you can’t destroy it quickly. It came ready with good equipment, such as the brakes and suspension. A lot of competitor 125cc bikes have slim forks that would soon be bent like a banana with how I ride.

I still have my original bike with same sticker kit. I will never change that bike.”

KTM 690 DUKE (using from 2012 on)
“This was when the 690 moved away from its supermoto styling and became more of a naked roadster, like the 125. It was a huge step for me to go from the 125 to 690! Not just in terms of power, but also the weight – and both are light bikes! So, I had to bulk up; the back and core muscles for stunt riders are under a lot of stress. So, I trained hard.

The 690 is a wheelie machine – no question – but we had to put a lot of development into preparing this bike for technical stunt riding. It’s a powerful bike, so we could make some seriously epic drifts, but we also softened off the power a lot!”

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KTM 690 DUKE © Rok Bagoroš

KTM 200 DUKE (using from 2013 to 2016)
“KTM entered many new markets with the KTM 200 DUKE and, like I did with the KTM 125 DUKE, it allowed me to increase awareness for KTM in a lot of new countries.

This bike is what really developed my name as a stunt rider and was my favorite KTM, up until now. It has enough power to do drifts but feels perfect when you do the really technical tricks, like wheelie circles, no-hand wheelie circles, combinations and so on. It’s so smooth.

The engine on my bike is still the same in four years; I’ve never needed to change any pistons, bearings – nothing has broken. It takes the hammering and is so reliable. Probably why it is so loved by owners.”

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KTM 200 DUKE © Rok Bagoroš

KTM 390 DUKE (using from 2014 to 2016)
“It has so much more power over the KTM 200 DUKE with not much of an increase on weight. Quite aggressive, an incredible street bike, but I’d became so dialed into the 200 by this point I concentrated on that bike more for most of my shows. Funny, sometimes less power can be more. Then again, my riding is not normal!”

THE NEW BREED
With helping KTM produce promotional videos and images for the new DUKEs and attending press launches and other such events, Rok has enjoyed plenty of saddle time on the new KTM 125 DUKE, KTM 250 DUKE and KTM 390 DUKE in standard trim – no special parts, other than KTM PowerParts!

“Looks wise, the new bikes are once again on another level,” the 27-year old explains. “I was expecting a small update for last year, but it was a brand-new bike – frame, plastics, tank, headlight. It’s like nothing compared to the previous bikes. I love the sharp edges and how it looks like the KTM 1290 SUPER DUKE R.

I think the 125 and 390’s headlight is the best feature. On my bikes, I usually change the lights to a motocross plate as I don’t want to hang with my legs on the light. But the new model light is slimmer and looks so sick that maybe I can leave the light on it!”

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© Head Lens Media

KTM 125 DUKE (2017 on)
“This is a huge change. I’m not saying that because I’m a KTM factory rider. The suspension is a BIG jump in performance. Before, my feeling was that it was too soft. But now it has a great feeling and stability for high speed stoppies and kangaroo stoppies. Also, the shock absorber is much better – this is next level equipment.

The front brake is also a big improvement in terms of performance and the gear shifting is smoother. The engine has always been good for power and torque, so no problems there.”

KTM 250 DUKE (2017 on)
“I love the 250 – it’s the closest to the 200 in terms of the engine. I really got to know this bike in 2017 as I did a lot of shows with it around the world. Even more crazy, I just used it in Nepal to perform the highest stunt show ever recorded at 3664 meters. To get the record I needed to do a 20-minute show.

Making the job harder, is that we lost 30% of the bike’s power at that altitude because the air is so thin. I also had oxygen on standby! So, we went down from 30hp to 21, but the KTM 250 DUKE still delivered the tricks. Incredible.”

KTM 390 DUKE (2017 on)
“I love doing stoppies. This bike has a really powerful front brake and this gives me the ability to do some great stoppies. The sintered brake pads bite hard; you can hear and feel this and I love it.

The suspension is the same next level jump as with the 125. For sure, it is firmer than the smaller bike and worked really well on all the crazy roads I rode on in Turin at the launch last year – from over the tram lines in the city to the fast sweepers in the mountains.

Engine wise, I found the previous model was not so smooth with its power delivery. But the new bike is a lot more improved and feels stronger – I saw you Luke [ED – who me?] pulling some very big wheelies on it.”

Rok-390-DUKE-action-800x450.jpg

KTM 390 DUKE © Rok Bagoroš

While Rok waits for confirmation from Guinness World Records to see if his Himalayan show made it into the record books, we don’t doubt that he isn’t already making plans for his next extreme adventure. Rok on!

Photos: JBA | Rok Bagoroš | Head Lens Media


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      “In the same way that Jorge can leave you open-mouthed with what he can do on the bike I am the same way with Tom and how he has dealt with the ‘factory circus’,” Smets voices. “He is so relaxed and I thought internally he might be really nervous for his debut but … it was crazy: I think I was more excited and anxious than he was in Argentina! It’s impressive and it is an important talent as well.”
      Tom Vialle (FRA) KTM 250 SX-F Neuquen (ARG) 2019 © Ray Archer
      Vialle’s demeanor is also about belief derived from a vital winter of preparation. It was a whirlwind of discovery and learning but it also shaped his orientation for the races. In this respect Smets, Gruebel and his staff have curated a fine egg. “He has stayed really cool,” the German opines. “He did some tests in the winter and I did not want to overrun him with too many possibilities for the bike. We went step-by-step and he has a good package. If he is ready for something extra and more advanced as we go on then we will take more steps but he needs to grow into that first and get comfortable in the team.”
      “We know he can go fast with what we have given him, and sometimes new riders can get lost if you give them too much to go in their own way. Firstly, he needs to live up to the abilities of the bike and then we can do more. He is demanding and he knows what he wants.”
      Tom Vialle (FRA) KTM 250 SX-F Matterley Basin (GBR) 2019 © Ray Archer
      Don’t underestimate the role and experience of the team in smoothing Vialle’s transition to Grand Prix life. For Gruebel and co the rookie was a different type of project after concentrating on world championship winning pedigree for at least half a decade with Herlings, Tixier, Jonass and Prado. “It cannot be like that every year where you are spoilt by having two title contenders!” Gruebel smiles. “We need to take care of the youngsters and Tom is one of those now but I think he will live up to the billing. It is still exciting because winning is really nice but sometimes also the way to win is just as nice. It is our job to guide and help riders and it is great to see how some develop.”
      Vialle had to contend with a factory bike and while the emphasis has been more on acclimatization rather than development it was still a different set of tools for the youngster to deal with. “On the suspension and the engine; it was not easy to get used to,” he says. “I had to learn a lot about it.”
      “I judge a rider by how hungry they are to get on the bike and if you change something then how they can feel it and give feedback,” Gruebel adds. “If you have a guy that gives good feedback quickly then it is easier to get them moving faster forward because you know the direction. Tom was pretty easy with that.”
      Red Bull KTM Factory Racing Team Matterley Basin (GBR) 2019 © Ray Archer
      From Vialle’s side the presence of his dad and family – the people who were key and central to his racing before the KTM chance arose – is another factor. Red Bull KTM have witnessed different types of family scenarios; some overbearing parents, some the opposite. With the Vialles the chemistry seems to be promising. “Tom had a good education and is a nice person but he is also very realistic and humble,” says Smets. “They knew from the first day when the contract was signed that this was just the start, and they were not at the top yet. They have their feet on the ground.”
      “It is something very different for the family,” Frederic Vialle observes. “Last year we had a stock bike and were on a privateer team, just me and Tom. So, a factory team is very different: two mechanics, Dirk, Joel and the winter training, living in Lommel … I just keep an eye on Tom now because the organization around him is so good.”
      “Many riders have pressure but we look at it like we have a very good team and a very good motorcycle – the KTM is very fast – and with these tools if you have a good rider then he should make a good result,” he understates.
      “The family situation helps a lot,” stresses Smets. “Even in my day racing I could see how situations with parents could go very wrong and then since retiring and watching young kids then a lot more. Ok, it’s not easy to be a mum or dad of a sports guy that is at a high level but the Vialles are very stable and they know that hard work is the only way to ‘get there’. It is not flashy bikes or equipment or a Red Bull helmet that will make you win: It is the hard work that will decide if you make it or not.”
      Vialle family Pietramurata (ITA) 2019 © Ray Archer
      What next? Vialle has already caused a stir with his results. “That surprised me a lot and clearly he is making a big improvement, coming from the European Championship it is not easy to already be so good in the first two rounds,” Tony Cairoli said of Vialle’s first podium walk at round two. “I’m really happy for him and I hope he can continue in this stride and be on the podium a lot more: I think he can do it, he is very technical and focused and I don’t see many mistakes.”
      The team are still being protective. “We shouldn’t make the mistake to create too high expectations,” warns Smets. “We must have realistic goal setting.” There is also frank awareness of his weakness (his level of English is another area to work on). “He maybe has the same problems that Jorge had in 2017,” Gruebel assesses. “He is riding good and has talent but maybe does not have the strength yet to push all the way until the end of the race. If he has a good start then he can run up front for a while and hold on as long as he can. In his first year Jorge won four GPs but also didn’t finish four GPs. He wasn’t strong enough but he also developed and the more he races the better he’ll get.”
      “He has a very nice style and is a good starter but just needs to improve his speed,” opines Vialle Senior. “The gap between EMX and GP is seen in the strength of the riders and the physical condition. The bike is very fast and he needs time to adapt. He will take so much experience in the next months. I think he has the speed over one lap and he has the technique but because everything is so new for him he needs as much racing as possible … and to avoid the crashes.”
      Tom Vialle (FRA) KTM 250 SX-F Matterley Basin (GBR) 2019 © Ray Archer
      In the first phases of MXGP in 2019 Red Bull KTM are again flying. Prado is undefeated, Cairoli holds the red plate and Vialle has, amazingly, stepped up to be their peer. It is a slightly surprising situation for the racing team and the management but not an unusual one considering the impact of their former racers. Somehow the magic keeps being mixed.
      Photos: Ray Archer | P. Haudiquert
    • De Dementor
      Getting into MotoGP™
      Posted in People, Racing Breaking into the high profile but highly-occupying MotoGPTM paddock is understandably tough (it’s the peak of motorcycle sport after all) so we decided to ask John Eyre, one of our Red Bull KTM technicians, about making it as a mechanic.
      John Eyre (GBR) KTM RC16 © Rob Gray
      One of the hallmarks of 21st century life to date has been the increased ease to self-market. Social media, networking platforms and recruitment websites mean that it is possible to make shortcuts and directly target the vocational niche of your choosing.
      While there are still no substitutes for experience, contacts and knowledge, the possibilities to break into a desired field like MotoGPTM racing can seem a little clearer. There are even specific ‘race engineering academies’ that can train an aspiring mechanic in the processes and demands of preparing competition-spec equipment. In Spain ‘schools’ like the Monlau facility in Barcelona now have an element of prestige.
      There are different ways in. Alex Merhand, part of Miguel Oliveira’s Tech3 crew, studied and qualified as a data engineer, served his ‘laptop apprenticeship’ for two years for a factory team in MXGP and then graduated to MotoGPTM. On the other side of the ‘entry coin’ is John Eyre, a Brit now three years in Red Bull KTM as a mechanic looking after one of Johann Zarco’s KTM RC16s. Almost two decades in MotoGPTM John submerged himself in the scene by working part-time for a local rider in the British Superbike series. “The best thing to do now is to get a good qualification if you want to be working with data or electronics but if you want to be a mechanic then you just have to get experience and see if you can find someone that will take you on for weekends,” he says. “Do your studies during the week and get to the track at weekends. A lot of people at BSB will do that.”
      John Eyre (GBR) & Adam Wheeler (GBR) © Rob Gray
      Eyre started his journey as an eager kid obsessed by bikes. “Everybody asks ‘how did you start?’. Well I began working at races in the British Championship for a guy in the 250 series who was from the same village as me. Instead of taking holidays I went racing on the weekends. That was between 1993 and 1998 mainly as a kid.”
      “My Dad used to race grass track, road racing and vintage bikes – I have vintage bikes at home – so it was a bit of a passion thing [inherited] from him,” he says. “I did a bit of racing but you quickly realize that it’s expensive and if you crash then you still need to go to work on a Monday morning. So, I went more into mechanic-ing and the technical side.”
      KTM RC16 © Rob Gray
      Once in the race paddock then the relationships John made, the work he performed and a particular character towards the job meant he was in a position to start moving: A role working for Paul Brown in Supersport led to a year with Steve Hislop in Superbike and then finally the opening to arrive to Grand Prix at the end of 2000. “Steve was really good and I really enjoyed working with him,” he recalls. “I always wanted to get into Grand Prix and a friend was working at the Shell Advance Team and a job came up. I was thinking about it because I was 21 and it meant moving to Spain. That was 2001 and it was with Leon Haslam in the 500s.”
      As well as a mechanical mind, concentration and diligence seem to be two essential skills. Making a mistake in race bike prep can be perilous but Eyre is quite forthright about the mentality required. “A motorcycle is only nuts and bots: You just have to put it together properly. I always double check everything and was brought up to be extra sure. Then when you are in a team you bounce off each other in terms of the jobs: When that feels easy and second nature then you know you are in a good crew.”
      John Eyre (GBR) KTM RC16 © Rob Gray
      At MotoGPTM level a stripped-down racing prototype looks like a complicated collection of exotic parts and tech. For Eyre and his peers it is all relative. “It is technical … but the bike still has two wheels, two handlebars, a seat! I have worked on a lot of bikes; 2-strokes and a lot of engine stripping. Nowadays you get an engine and you just place it in the chassis. Before you had to do all the maintenance yourself with the pistons, rings, cranks: That was almost a daily job. I miss working inside the engine: the gearbox, cylinders. We used to build everything but now it is just placement of the engine, there is even a specific guy just for the gearbox.”
      “When new stuff comes you have to have a little look and think about it … but generally if it is made right and properly then it should go together nicely,” he adds on the evolution of parts and ideas in MotoGPTM.
      John Eyre (GBR) © Rob Gray
      Eyre could be the best spannerman in the business but a crucial part of his job (and something anyone looking to reach his position should be aware of) is blending with his co-workers – around 5-6 in the immediate vicinity – and making the best team environment. “I think you have to be easy-going with everybody,” he says of the personality needed to spend so many days and hours on the road and in pitboxes. “You have to be open-minded and then you’ll warm to them and them to you. We have a new Crew Chief this year and he has been absolutely brilliant.”
      He spent more than ten years at HRC (as part of the unit around KTM’s new test rider Dani Pedrosa, “I’d worked with Mike [Leitner] for about nine years and I was looking for a different challenge”) and this was a big marker on his CV. It meant that his name and face was firmly entrenched in the MotoGPTM scene: Another boost to employment prospects. “It’s not easy,” he smiles of making contacts and the ‘networking’ element of breaking into the paddock. “I remember one guy telling me it was easier to get in the Arsenal football club first eleven than it was to get into our team in BSB!”
      Knowing the job, being good with people (thus building contacts) and having the disposition to handle a race situation: If a wannabe mechanic still believes they are suitable then the next step is persistence. “What you cannot beat is race experience,” Eyre stresses. “You can have all the qualifications under the sun but that experience counts for a lot. The group really matters as well. When you have a good group of lads then you tend to know what they want before they know themselves and vice-versa. There are a lot of shortcuts and it seems to click.”
      John Eyre (GBR) & co-workers © Rob Gray
      To achieve any goal takes sacrifice. Reaching MotoGPTM might be a promised land for many but, as with anything “you have to take the rough with the smooth,” Eyre says. Nineteen weekends of racing on five continents plus tests means a long haul of kilometers on the road and in the air, and many days away from home. Much of the work formerly done in workshops is also carried out in the pitboxes of the circuits.
      “The travelling is massive. There has to be a compromise now because if they keep putting more and more races then there won’t be an off-season. I remember when I first started Grands Prix then we didn’t begin racing until April and we’d have a test in Malaysia and Jerez and that was it. Now we start the day after the last race of the year! Testing is hard work compared to racing. The travelling can be a burden but if you want to be in the world championship then you have to deal with it. I enjoy the job when I’m here.”
      Above all – and like the riders themselves and anybody else striving for results at elite level sport – Eyre says commitment and determination is what will help you make it in the end. “If you are into it then just keep trying and don’t give up,” he insists. “You have to have a passion for it. I remember being at school and saying that I wanted to go grand prix racing. Half of the teachers said ‘you won’t do anything like that’ but if you keep your head down and carry on …”
      John Eyre (GBR) © Rob Gray
      Photos: Rob Gray 
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