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Feeling like a factory rider … for one day

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Feeling like a factory rider … for one day

No doubt the factory riders of KTM were not very happy when they found out their ‘babies’ were being turned over to a bunch of journalists for a day. But a chance to try out the powerful machines of Red Bull KTM Factory Racing on the famous Eurocircuit in Valkenswaard is a unique opportunity that no journalist wants to miss.

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Red Bull KTM SX Factory Bike Test Valkenswaard (NED) 2018 © Jarno van Osch/Shot Up Productions

Sometimes the right words just aren’t finding their way onto ‘paper’, your computer really needs an upgrade, and an interview you had planned weeks ago gets canceled at the last minute. Contrary to popular belief, the life of a motorcycle journalist is not always glitz and glamor. Luckily, just one simple email can make all that ‘misery’ disappear in a flash. Your whole week, or perhaps even the whole month, suddenly becomes sunny and bright again when you read the words ‘KTM’, ‘you are invited’ and ‘factory bike test’. Fifteen journalists were lucky enough to find this email, sent by the KTM Press/PR Department in Mattighofen, waiting for them in their inbox this summer. All they had to do was travel by plane or car to the south of the Netherlands in the middle of September. Five factory dirtbikes would be waiting for them there, which they could take for a spin around the legendary motocross circuit of Valkenswaard. A unique opportunity to experience first-hand what it feels like to be a factory rider like Jeffrey Herlings, Tony Cairoli, Glenn Coldenhoff, Pauls Jonass, and Jorge Prado.

Busy process
“The preparation for this media test day started around three months ago”, explains Beatrix Eichhorn. She works as Event Manager at KTM and responsible for the entire organization of this factory bike test ride. Her main job was to make sure the three days went smoothly for everyone who took part in the event. But she didn’t do it alone: Eichhorn had the capable assistance of two colleagues from the Press/PR department of the Austrian motorcycle manufacturer. “They arranged everything that involved the press materials and the race department. Making sure the factory bikes were there for the test, for example, and working out which team members were going to take part. They took care of all that. Not an easy task by any means, because our motocross teams have a very busy Grand Prix schedule. But once we managed to find a date that suited everyone, then we started inviting the journalists and working out the program for the test.”

That was a tricky job as well, because with this type of media event a lot of things have to be organized behind the scenes. Even if you’ve only got a relatively small group of 15 journalists. “First you have to get the go-ahead to use the circuit, in this case the GP Eurocircuit in Valkenswaard, and then you have to arrange hotel accommodation for all the journalists and the support staff. And naturally you also have to arrange food as well, and find suitable restaurants. Plus, you have to organize transfers, journalist gifts and branding material.” Even after all these practical details have been sorted out, the team still had another challenge to overcome. They had to plan the start times for all the test runs and make sure everything was caught on camera. During the media event in Valkenswaard, for example, there were two photographers and two cameramen on hand to make sure the journalists got all the pictures and video they needed. “Putting together a timetable for the test runs can be a complicated process, because you have to make sure every journalist gets to ride every factory bike for at least 20 minutes and you have to consider their travel data.” Luckily KTM have had plenty of experience with this type of event. They do more than just organize one event a year. “We have to launch new (production) models, both offroad and street, and organize meetings and conferences throughout the entire year. So, this type of event is nothing new for us.”

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Red Bull KTM SX Factory Bike Test Valkenswaard (NED) 2018 © Ray Archer

Surprise guests
When the journalists arrived at the hotel, they were welcomed with a refreshing cocktail and then treated to a gourmet dinner in the evening, joined by several surprise guests. Four of the five factory riders (Cairoli, Coldenhoff, Jonass, and Prado), who had generously agreed to ‘lend’ their bikes for this event, sat down with the journalists and answered all their questions in great detail. The only KTM rider not in attendance was Jeffrey Herlings; the young Dutchman had just been crowned the MXGP world champion the weekend before. However, the journalists were glad to learn that he would be joining them the next day at the Eurocircuit while the other riders got back to their training routine.

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Red Bull KTM SX Factory Bike Test 2018 © Ray Archer

It was an early morning start for the test ride day, with a presentation hosted by Jennifer Dick, KTM’s Offroad PR Manager. After going through all the technical details of the bikes and the test ride program, she made a surprise announcement. In honor of Herlings world title, KTM had decided to launch a special limited edition of his KTM 450 SX-F. The journalists got a few moments to take a close look at the gleaming replica, and then it was time for them to suit up and get out on the track. The excitement was palpable and plenty of nervous glances were exchanged as the mechanics casually fired up the factory bikes. The motocross circuit had been sprayed to moisten the track, but the bikes soon blew up a huge cloud of dust over Valkenswaard. Not that it bothered Krzysztof Tomaszek, because he had been waiting for this moment all his life. He couldn’t wait to get on the five different factory bikes and share this unique experience with all his readers at scigacz.pl. By the end of the day, he was exhausted, but very satisfied. Going flat out for 20 minutes on five different factory bikes had made an enormous impression on the Polish journalist. “It was a fantastic day that I will never forget. I had never been on a factory bike before, and I have to admit I was pretty nervous beforehand. I’ve had plenty of experience with the production motocross bikes of KTM, but this was a completely different level.” Tomaszek was particularly surprised by the machine of world champion Herlings. “That was definitely the most difficult bike to ride”, he admitted honestly. “Very aggressive and you could tell it was a motocross bike that had been set up for maximum speed. Herlings’ KTM just wants to keep on attacking.”

Testdag KTM fabriekscrossers 250827_KTM 450 SX-F HERLINGS REPLICA

Red Bull KTM SX Factory Bike Test Valkenswaard (NED) 2018 © Jarno van Osch/Shot Up Productions

Then it was time for Jeffrey Herlings to take his bike out onto the track and show them how it’s really done. Instead of a few steady exhibition laps, Jeffrey Herlings thundered around the circuit at the outrageous pace that has made him the seemingly unbeatable champion he is. So, no throttling back only two days after winning his first MXGP World Championship title. His dominance at Valkenswaard has been impressive, with an amazing seven Grand Prix victories in a row on this track. “The MX2 motocross bike of KTM has a very strong engine setup, and that really makes a difference in the heavy sand of Valkenswaard. That’s when you need to use all the horsepower you can get”, explains Herlings. “In the 450 class, the competition is a lot closer together when it comes to pure power. That’s where the total package of KTM makes it stand out from the rest. We’ve got a great bike, a strong team, and of course the best riders.”

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Jeffrey Herlings (NED) KTM 450 SX-F Valkenswaard (NED) 2018 © Jarno van Osch/Shot Up Productions

The highest level
One journalist who has been in the saddle of a factory bike before is Paul Malin. The former GP motocrosser from Great Britain switched to a career in the media, including MotoX Magazine, after retiring from racing, and he now mainly works as a commentator for the MXGP races. “I’ve just been on the bikes of Pauls Jonass and Jorge Prado, and you can definitely feel the difference. They have exactly the same engine setup, but they don’t handle the same. It’s to do with the rear gear wheel, because Jorge uses one tooth less. This gives his dirtbike more punch, a slightly sharper response in third gear”, explains the winner of the MX of Nations in 1994 in more detail. Although Malin has definitely been there and done it, he still always considers it a privilege to be able to ride these types of bikes. “You won’t find better motocross bikes than these, this is the highest level. And each one has its own distinctive feel. Although the bikes are fundamentally the same, they handle completely differently. That’s because each rider has a setup to suit their personal style. It’s about combining all the little details in the right way to produce the right package.”

Another veteran in the world of offroad journalism is Toine van Dijk, who has tried out numerous factory bikes over the years. “But it’s still a very special feeling every time”, according to the test ride editor of the Dutch Noppennieuws. “I’ve been doing this work now for 23 years, but I still get a thrill every time I ride these types of machines. And this year is particularly special for me as a Dutchman, with Jeffrey winning the world championship. I missed out on a chance to test Herlings’ MXGP motocross bike last year, so I was even more excited about getting to see his machine this year.” Van Dijk was also surprised by the noticeable differences between the factory bikes of KTM. Each of the three MXGP motocross bikes he took out on the circuit had a completely different feel. “The setup of Cairoli is of course adjusted to his size, like the lower back side. So, somebody of my size [Van Dijk is a good 1.94 m] is better suited to Herlings’ bike, because he’s tall as well. These personal preferences of the riders are what make each bike feel so different.”

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Paul Malin (GBR) KTM 250 SX-F Valkenswaard (NED) 2018 © Ray Archer

Unique opportunity
With his many years of experience in the offroad world, Van Dijk is able to spot the improvements from one year to the next. “You really notice that with the production bikes. It always amazes me, how the engineers are able to achieve progression time and time again. You would think, after a while, that it would simply not be possible to make it any better. And yet they still manage to come up with a new model that takes your breath away. I think that is where KTM really shines. They get input from so many different perspectives, including the factory riders. So, they are able to just keep on getting better and better.”

After a long day on the Eurocircuit, it’s time to go back to the hotel and take a long shower to get rid of all the sand. Refreshed and redressed, the journalists enjoy an evening looking back over the day’s events. During the farewell dinner, there is a lively exchange of stories all around the table. The permanent smile on the suntanned face of Christoph Bertrand shows he also enjoyed getting on the KTM factory bikes today. And naturally, just like all the other journalists, he had his own favorite dirtbike. “It was the last bike I rode today, Jorge Prado’s bike. For me, that was the only machine that was reasonably suitable for an amateur rider. The suspension was a bit softer and I felt more comfortable with that. I could have a lot of fun on that bike”, admits the former GP rider and writer for mxmag.be. “If you put Herlings’ bike in my garage, then I would probably just leave it there. It’s such a beast, you’d have to be a rodeo rider to control that dirtbike. If you’re not in top physical condition, then don’t even think about getting on it. That’s what makes it so great to be given a unique opportunity to ride the factory bikes of a factory team. Just a few minutes hanging on to the handlebars of these GP bikes is totally exhausting. Never mind for half an hour at full throttle. Any respect you had for these boys before only gets bigger once you’ve had a chance to ride their bikes. That’s when you realize how good you have to be to make these dirtbikes go that fast.”

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Red Bull KTM SX Factory Bike Test Valkenswaard (NED) 2018 © Jarno van Osch/Shot Up Productions

Photos: Ray Archer | Jarno van Osch/Shot Up Productions


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      Posted in Racing Did you know the Red Bull KTM Factory Racing Team is looking to lead one of America’s oldest motorcycle sports? The two-rider crew is aiming for top honors in the ‘Singles’ class of American Flat Track, so we asked Team Manager Chris Fillmore about the project…
      The 2021 Red Bull KTM Factory Racing American Flat Track team
      PC @EmeryM 34-year-old Chris Fillmore has plenty of experience of KTM orange on American racetracks. Whether it’s AMA Superbike glory with the KTM RC8, Supermoto garlands or setting records up Pikes Peak on a KTM DUKE, the former racer has earned plaudits for his skills and versatility. As Team Manager for Red Bull KTM’s newest competitive project in American Flat Track he had his work cut out to understand the throttle-heavy requirements of the discipline. After two seasons he was able to construct a line-up of promising Aussie youngster Max Whale (2020 Singles runner-up) and fast female Shayna Texter-Bauman, and has learned to flow with the intense (often) brake-less action as KTM attempt to have a similar impact to their offroad, motocross and supercross programs in the USA.
      Whale and Texter on their KTM Factory Racing Flat Track machines
      PC @EmeryM The Michigan-born California resident was able to get on the phone to talk beginnings, equipment and special guests…
      On why KTM are now in the American Flat Track Singles class with a Red Bull-backed Factory team…
      We’d seen American Flat Track grow over the last few years. We watched and listened to what was going on in 2017, and then in 2018 we decided we wanted to be involved. We recognized that the sport was followed by mainly a street bike audience, and we wanted to be there to promote our street bikes. In the end, the shape of the rulebook and the investment needed to enter the Twins class meant we ultimately took another path. It was encouraging to see the TV package growing, the fanbase growing, the other manufacturers getting on the track and the general shift of the sport going up. What we’ve realized now is that the Singles class is showing the most progression; almost all the manufacturers are there, the racing is always tight and this makes for a great spectating experience.
      Max Whale gets his KTM 450 SX-F FACTORY EDITION flat track bike turned
      PC @EmeryM On the KTM machinery on the track…
      Our race bikes are the KTM 450 SX-F FACTORY EDITIONs, essentially they are motocross bikes with 19” wheels, lowered suspension and spec tires through Dunlop that have been around a long time. We have one tire, one tread with different compounds for four-five different track surfaces. You have clay tracks that turn into blue-groove, you have greasy clay tracks – kind of like Atlanta – and then you have ‘cushions’ which are more loamy. Dunlop had to make a tire that works on all of them. I remember going to a first test on clay track and we put a new tire and the guys were slower on newer rubber than a compound that was 100% worn out! Coming from road racing I assumed new tires were always the way to go, but little things like that remind you of how different Flat Track can be. Riders will look and touch a worn tire and say, ‘Yeah, that’s still OK,’ whereas I initially stood there and thought, ‘That needs to go in the trash!’ It’s an interesting education.
      KTM’s Flat Track bike is a KTM 450 SX-F FACTORY EDITION with modifications
      PC @EmeryM On how a rider makes an impact in Flat Track and the ratio of man-and-machine needed for success…
      Racers are always looking for tenths of a second, but those guys are looking for hundredths, and to do that consistently. On average I would say the lap times are between 20-22 seconds for most of tracks and even the big miles are around 30 seconds. The most difficult part from a technical perspective is finding a course that stays consistent in order to know that you are actually making gains. The rider has to be very smart at that point in time to understand how the track is at the beginning of the day and then at the end of the day, grasp those changes and give that feedback so we don’t lose our way. There are very fine details that make the difference. In Flat Track you are always adjusting to surface change because you are always looking for that hundredth of a second.
      Shayna Texter-Bauman is an incredible talent in American Flat Track
      PC @EmeryM On whether Flat Track is like a middle ground between motocross and road racing…
      In motocross the track changes so much, and lap by lap, so you never get time to really adjust consistently. The Flat Track guys only have two corners and if something is ill-handling in one of those two because a bump has developed, and they cannot alter their line – which is sometimes only two-foot wide – then there are less options compared to motocross where you can go inside or outside or wherever you want. Motocross is more about the rider compared to any other motorcycle sport. Flat Track is a good example of something in the middle of road racing and motocross, but I would say it leans more towards the road than moto if I had to pick one or the other.
      Texter in action in Atlanta
      PC @ScottHunter On fielding Shayna Texter-Bauman, her development and integration into the team…
      Shayna is unbelievably talented. She’s a specialist, and on some tracks she’s unbeatable and won’t be denied; those tend to be clay half miles and also Lima, so cushions. But then there are other tracks where she struggles. I got to know her in 2018, and then when KTM and Red Bull wanted to start racing we thought it was better to have a two-rider team rather two individual teams, so we wanted to bring her onboard. Red Bull was also very keen and they did a couple of video projects last year. I think she has worked harder than she ever has for the TT and some of the other tracks. We’ll see if her work has paid off because the skillset is there, but it’s the muscle memory and the confidence that goes into an event that will really tell if she can excel across the board.
      Whale racing in Volusia II
      PC @ScottHunter On motocross and freestyle legend Travis Pastrana riding in Red Bull KTM colors at Atlanta Motor Speedway…
      It was a very unique situation both for our team as well as American Flat Track to have somebody with his experience across the board coming to race. He is a true enthusiast of sports and an all-round good dude, so I was thrilled to be able to provide him with a motorcycle and watch him have a crack at it. Atlanta is pretty special with both pavement and dirt and Travis has a Supermoto background; I raced him when I was quite young. In terms of results I think his focus was in having a good time and beating his buddy Ryan Sipes rather than being on the box, and they ended up just one place apart from each other in the top 10. It was really cool to have him as part of the sport and his first try on a Pro Flat Track; it’s yet another activity ticked off on his CV list!
      Freestyle legend Travis Pastrana raced at the AMA Flat Track round in Atlanta
      PC @ScottHunter
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