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KAILUB RUSSELL: TIME FOR CHANGE BUT NOT BEFORE ONE MORE GNCC TITLE

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KAILUB RUSSELL: TIME FOR CHANGE BUT NOT BEFORE ONE MORE GNCC TITLE

Posted in People, Racing

GNCC Racing legend Kailub Russell is determined to earn an eighth straight title in 2020 but is equally set on moving forward with plans for the future, when this season is over. What is next for the woods racing champion, what’s the secret to winning and which of his many winning KTMs is his favorite?

Announcing that 2020 will be his last season of GNCC Racing doesn’t mean seven-time champion Kailub Russell is in any mood to back off the gas just yet. Covid-19 may have brought a temporary pause to proceedings but the FMF KTM Factory Racing Team rider is determined to go out on top with an eighth GNCC title.

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Kailub Russell – FMF KTM Factory Racing and seven-time GNCC champion.
PC @SimonCudby

Kailub should need little introduction, but for the record he began his 2020 season sitting on 60 career wins in North America’s prestigious Grand National Cross Country (GNCC) Racing series. Russell has seven straight championship titles so far and sits second only to GNCC legend Ed Lojak (nine titles). This is alongside his International Six Days Enduro (ISDE) World Trophy victories, plus National Enduro and Sprint Enduro championships.

The goals remain the same – to win the 2020 GNCC Racing title – but Covid-19 delivered a twist in the plot when it brought a halt to racing in the USA, just as it did across the world. Unlike many countries, in the US it has been possible to keep riding so riders like Russell have at least been able to train and keep busy, “I bought a new piece of land and it’s been keeping me pretty busy trying to get that place dialed in,” said Russell from his North Carolina home.

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Russell racing his KTM 350 XC-F earlier in 2020.
PC @KTM

Unlike most riders, who tend to keep quiet about plans for moving on and prefer to call time after the finish line of their last race, Russell took the unusual step of announcing his plans before this season had even begun. “I wanted to announce my retirement before the season so that all the other guys I’m racing against have the chance to up their game and try to put an end to it,” explains the celebrated KTM rider on his pre-season announcement that 2020 would be his last in GNCC Racing.

So far in 2020 “those guys” he’s racing against have tried but failed to topple the champ who took three GNCC wins on the bounce plus a Sprint Enduro victory before the lockdown took hold. It begs the question, why call time now on his GNCC career at all? “Racing has been good and I’m at this level but there’s only one way to go now. That’s dwindle backwards and I’m not ready to go backwards, I race to win,” explains Kailub. “It’s not that I can’t win for another couple of years, but I’ve had a good career and there are some other things that I want to give my attention to before I’m actually done racing. Stepping away from GNCC and taking my focus away from that is gonna allow me to move forward with my plans for the future.”

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Russell celebrates victory as part of the all-KTM mounted United States World Trophy Team at the 2019 ISDE.
PC @KTM

CALLING TIME ON GNCC CAREER, BUT WHAT NEXT?

Many rumors have circulated as to exactly what Kailub will do next, fueled in part by fellow KTM rider Ryan Sipes who has branched out across different bike sports in his later career years. But Kailub says Off-Road and Enduro are very much part of the plan with the pinnacle of enduro sport – the International Six Days Enduro – set to be held in Italy 2021 firmly on his wall planner.

“The definite plan is the Six Days and the Full Gas Sprint Enduro series, that’s for sure. But past that I really can’t say yet. We’re still working some stuff out but it’s going to be pretty big news and pretty exciting. It’ll probably be in December when we’ll announce that. We’re still in talks with KTM about how it’s going to work out so wait and see.”

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Whilst plans are being made for beyond 2020, Russell firmly has his sights on an eighth straight GNCC title.
PC @SimonCudby

2015 A VINTAGE YEAR

During a career which has seen racing, championships, riders and the off-road sport in general go through a huge period of change, which season stands out as Russell’s greatest? “Definitely 2015. I was just really focused and doing a ton of racing, so I didn’t have any time to do anything else. It was train a couple of days, ride a couple of days, go to the race, repeat…there was only a little bit of time there where I wasn’t doing anything. It meant I could stay sharp and stay on top of my game.”

That relentlessness of racing, those long seasons and the spells of back-to-back events that cement Kailub’s place in racing history, are also the reason why there comes a tipping point where the enthusiasm of youth gets muscled out of the way by age, family life and other priorities. “It can be tough on your body and now if I’m going to have a five or six week stretch where I don’t have a weekend off I’m burnt and get to the point where I’m just going through the motions. Back then [2015] I don’t remember being that way at all. I was fresh and excited every weekend. It’s crazy that is only five years in life, but it changes the dynamics.”

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Russell is unbeaten so far in 2020.
PC @KTM

One thing which is clear and consistent is the steely determination to win, even in the face of defeat. “When those guys get close to beating me it drives me harder. If you beat me it lights a fire in me that makes me try harder for the next one.” It has been a feature of Kailub’s career that he has always bounced back from a defeat with added fire in the belly: “If you beat me one weekend, I get stronger, I use the pressure,” he says.

One of the truisms of sport, particularly motorsport, is that one race does not make a champion. Every race counts and off-road sport has the added reality of being across different terrain. You might be a good sand rider but can you ride the hard-pack or the rocks? It’s as true of GNCC as it is of the WESS Enduro World Championship or Grand Prix Motocross.

“It’s one of those things that blows my mind,” says Kailub on the ability to be fast everywhere. “There are a lot of guys that can win but only in certain places. I don’t know why that is or why that comes about but it’s a real thing. I always thought that if you could be good in one place you should be good all places and it shouldn’t be a roller coaster.”

“My dad always instilled a lot of discipline in me and he used to make me read a Vince Lombardi quote. It was a long quote but the biggest thing I took out of it was you don’t do things right every once in a while, you do things right all the time.

“I think if you work like that it takes all the guesswork out. If you know you’re doing it right all the time you’ve got no option than to be good everywhere.”

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With his incredible talent, Russell just loves racing bikes.
PC @SimonCudby

HOW GOOD IS MY KTM?

Across a decade racing for KTM, Kailub has moved through different generations of KTM XC models with the four stroke XC-Fs being the bikes of choice in the US. Is there one bike which he looks at as the best?

“I’ve got all my championship bikes with me at home and I think they got better every year – to the point where the current bike, the KTM 350 XC-F, is almost too good for riding in the woods to be honest with you! The current 350 motor is almost like a 450 from four or five years ago.”

Narrowing it down to one bike, Kailub says the model year jump from 2015 to 2016, the model year when Red Bull KTM Factory Racing’s Roger De Coster and Ryan Dungey were on board developing what turned out to be a game-changer, was a step-progression in terms of chassis development.

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Whilst talk is about what his future holds, repeating his 2019 success for another title remains the focus.
PC @K Hill

“I can remember in 2015 I was on my 250 XC-F and KTM came out with the 2016 KTM 250 SX-F. I had a buddy who bought one and I rode it in stock form and went faster on that than I was on my own race bike!”

 “I bugged Antti (Kallonen, FMF KTM Factory Racing Team Manager) about getting one for the National Enduro series because the bike turned better, was nimbler and handled better. I was doing well in GNCC but struggling a bit in the Enduros on the 350 so I switched to the new KTM 250 SX-F, started racing it in Sprint and National Enduros and started killing it.”

 “At the time it was such a big difference from the bike I was on, the switch in the frame, the geometry, it was a jump.”

 “I think that was the year when Roger and Dungey and those guys were onboard with development and they made a big improvement. But if I was to ride that bike now, I’d probably say the same about this current model!” 


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      PC @PolarityPhoto Smiling
      MotoGP is the pinnacle of motorcycling road racing thanks to the pace, the technology and the circuits. Those 23 riders on the grid have an extraordinary job. In fact, the time spent on their multi-million Euro motorcycles is relatively limited: outside of the 19 Grands Prix and a handful of official tests. This is why racers are incessantly looking for other ways to train and keep their ‘touch’ and that involves motocross, flat track and even using modified sport bikes for exclusive track days. Once on MotoGP machinery however they are into a privileged world.  
      “I don’t have anything I can compare it to,” Binder says. “When you fully open the throttle for the first time you think ‘how the hell am I going to do two laps in a row with this thing?’ then you kind of get used to it. It’s ridiculous.”
      Brad Binder explains how he gets used to the force of the throttle during the course of a race
      PC @PolarityPhoto The South African is now the joint top speed record holder in the history of MotoGP after blazing the radar at Mugello at the end of May. He set a phenomenal 362.4kmph along the main straight in Italy. “I got really good drive and a good slipstream,” he remembers. “I saw the speed and thought ‘jeez’. You don’t feel too much difference between it 20kmph faster or slower but you do really feel it when you hit the brakes. It’s where you tend to notice that extra bit of speed.”
      “It was super-cool to see it afterwards,” he adds “and also a reward to team for their work and all the hours, the thousands of hours, on the dyno with the guys back at the factory to get such a strong machine.”
      Miguel Oliveira aboard his KTM RC16 at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya
      PC @PolarityPhoto For Oliveira the rush of MotoGP is better appreciated off the bike than on it. “It still amazes me to watch MotoGP outside of the track,” he told us last year. “I think – because we ride the bike many times and we take everything to the limit – then [riding] is not as fascinating as watching it from the fence! Sometimes you still get impressed by the acceleration of the bike when you are onboard but, in general, I think it’s more interesting to watch, and even hear, it trackside: you get a real appreciation for the speed, what we are doing and how we stop the bikes in such a short time; that is pretty amazing.”
    • De Dementor
      Posted in People, Riding Instagram: @solo_vlogs | YouTube: Solo Vlogs
      Paulo Coelho once said, “When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” For ULTIMATE DUKE RIDER Solomon Daniel, that phrase not only defines his entire riding career – but also his future.
      ULTIMATE DUKE RIDER Solomon Daniel and his KTM 200 DUKE
      PC: @SDaniel Solomon Daniel grew up along the tropical Malabar coastline in Kerala, India. Renowned for its scenic landscapes and beauty, Kerala is often referred to as ‘God’s own country’, seemingly designed for motorcycling with mountain roads littered with hairpin bends.
      Solo grew up along the tropical Malabar coastline in Kerala, India
      PC: @SDaniel It would make sense then, that Solomon would inevitably upgrade from his bicycle to a motorcycle, eventually finding his perfect match in a KTM 200 DUKE. However, as you will soon learn, Solomon wasn’t happy with being restricted to the tarmac, and quickly started exploring the dirt tracks around the area.
      His KTM 200 DUKE ist equipped with the suspension of a KTM 390 ADVENTURE
      PC: @SDaniel He soon realized that it was too risky to take a street bike on deep offroad, but he accepted the challenge regardless – much to the surprise of his fellow riders. Solomon became obsessed with the idea, and soon completely changed the perspective of what a KTM DUKE is capable of with a few modifications.
      Solomon discovers the mountains of Kerala aboard his KTM 200 DUKE
      PC: @SDaniel Dubbed the KTM 200 ADVENTURE DUKE, Solomon has swapped out the front forks on his KTM 200 DUKE for a set of KTM 390 ADVENTURE units, giving it 170mm front fork travel, with 177mm at the rear, and 200mm ground clearance. This is arguably the first time anyone has replaced the KTM 200 DUKE suspension with that of the KTM 390 ADVENTURE anywhere in the country.
      Kerala seems like it was designed for motorcycle riders
      PC: @SDaniel When asked if he embodies the DUKE mentality, Solomon answers with an emphatic ‘YES!’
      For him, the KTM DUKE represents so much more than a great motorcycle. It’s become a companion. His best memories and adventures have been made possible by owning a KTM DUKE. He even calls himself a DUKE addict, as most of his conversations end with something DUKE related.
      Solomon takes his KTM 200 DUKE offroad
      PC: @SDaniel But most of all, he attributes his freedom and ability to love life to his KTM DUKE. Afterall, he says, life’s a journey that has to be enjoyed.
      Incidentally, Journey is also his daughter’s name.
      Meet all the winners on ktm.com and subscribe to the KTM Newsletter to never miss a competition like the ULTIMATE DUKE RIDER.
    • De Dementor
      Posted in Riding, Travel There are plenty of travelers and motorcyclists who stretch the full limit of their fuel tanks and wallets but for Johnny Nice a life in the wild is a pure lifestyle choice. We ask how – and why – a person commits to adventure…
      Johnny nice with his brand-new KTM 1290 SUPER ADVENTURE S at Lake Como, Italy
      PC @MCampelli Johnny Nice has a booming voice. We’re speaking on the phone after the 51-year-old has completed a full day of enduro riding. “On average I am 7-8 months of the year on the road,” he thunders down the line. Johnny is a self-made man with an envious lifestyle centered on two-wheels.
      His vehicles of choice for the better part of a decade visiting 72 countries and tours around Europe, North and South America, the Middle East and North Africa are the KTM 1290 SUPER ADVENTURE S and R. Something of an ‘orange bleeder’ due to his love of enduro, Nice and his endeavors have come to represent much of the philosophy entwined with in the SUPER ADVENTURE and the possibilities the bike brings.
      Chilling in the desert in Jujuy, Argentina
      PC @JNice It would be easy and too simplistic to think of the Italian/Israeli as ‘a wealthy guy on a bike with a passport’, instead the overriding impression of Nice is of someone that advocates the power of empowerment: in short getting yourself into a place to live the life that you really want. For him that means in the saddle of a KTM and without the conception of boundaries.
      At the age of 41 Johnny decided to partially sell his company and start travelling. On the picture he is resting after a long day in the desert in South Argentina.
      PC @JNice Right, so where did the philosophy come from to embrace the whole adventure biking vibe?
      My life was quite adventurous! I was a ski instructor, but I had a lot of problems and the government actually seized my car once. When I was 28, I was living in the basement of a friend’s house sleeping on a couch. I’d recently come back from the U.S. where I’d graduated in finance and business administration from the University of New York. I remember looking in the mirror at the time and thinking ‘I don’t like this guy’. I knew I had to change something. I changed my social circles and began to read a lot. I’d failed in a few businesses but decided to try another in finance. By the time I was 33 I was able to say that I was ‘financially free’. I’d moved to London. My company grew and when I was 41 I partially sold it and invested in real estate, start-ups and so on. And this allowed me to start traveling.
      “5 star hotel” in Partaca (Chile) incl. parking for the KTM 1290 SUPER ADVENTURE S
      PC @JNice People might see your blog or Instagram and think ‘how did he get to a place where he can just get on a bike and go anywhere?’, not only the financial side but the attitude and approach…
      I think people would like to do a lot of things in their lives, but their goals stay as dreams. They have a dream to change their lives one day, but that day never comes. The toughest part is to make the first step. Realizing your dream is easier than you think because you deal with the problems when they come. You just need to pick up your stuff, start the bike and go.
      You’ve done some serious mileage, so why keep going?
      I love to meet new people and experience different cultures and languages. I’m a curious guy. I think that life is an adventure every day. I have a bucket list! I wrote it 20 years ago. There are 100 points on it, and I followed it and checked things off. There were some where I thought ‘I don’t like that anymore…’ so I changed the list. When you do something that you love then you never get tired of it. It’s almost 10 years that I’m on the road.
      Since he was young, his dream was to travel with a bike
      PC @MCampelli How did you get into bikes?
      Oh, ever since I was a kid. My mum actually asked someone to cut my bike into two pieces when I was 14 – 15 because my knee and other parts of my body were a mess! When I was young my dream was to travel with a bike.
      Favorite type of motorcycle?
      Enduro bikes and Adventure bikes were always my favorites. They were perfect for the sort of riding I wanted to do. I would say I’m offroad half of the time. An asphalt road is just a commute to the next offroad section. So, for this, the KTM is exactly what I need. I’ve done hundreds of thousands of kilometers and never had a problem. Never. I took it to some places where you’d think ‘how is that possible with this heavy bike?’ like the side of a mountain in Chile or the depths of Peru. I go with a KTM because I want to visit places where others don’t go.
      Travelling across Morocco with his KTM 1290 SUPER ADVENTURE R
      PC @JNice The KTM 1290 SUPER ADVENTURE models have that ‘no limits’ tag. Have they taken you to a place that maybe you were surprised to reach?
      Yes! That would have to be Bolivia, Peru and the southern area of Argentina. Patagonia. I crashed the bike and fell down numerous times through those areas. I went through some really hard paths and where guys are using 300 or 250cc Enduro bikes. At times it was almost impossible, but I made it and that’s because of the KTM. I couldn’t have done it with another bike.
      Sand, gravel, snow… – thanks to his KTM 1290 SUPER ADVENTURE bikes Johnny knows no limits
      PC @JNice People see the photos and the sun and idyllic life but there must be a lot of admin, waiting, transportation and organization to that lifestyle as well…
      Yeah, people might think that I’m cruising all day, smiling under my helmet in the sun. That’s not always the reality! Sometimes you are riding all day in the rain, or having to get through the snow. You get worried about breaking the bike or having a puncture. Adventure riding can be about solving problems or meeting challenges. Something will crop-up every day and you have to be ready for anything. Knowing how to do administration is another skill: border crossings are rarely the same. Some of them happen in minutes, others happen in two days! In Bolivia it can be quite tight to find gas. There is always an obstacle to get around to stay on your way.
      The ADVENTURE life is not always as idyllic as it was here in Marmolada in the Dolomites, Italy
      PC @JNice You must be asked all the time for your #1 place, but where would you least like to travel again?
      Definitely the hospital I had to visit in Peru. I had been riding at almost 5,000m of altitude and crashed in some mud and broke my collarbone. My GPS tracker saved my life because I could barely breathe, and an ambulance found me after three hours. I was nine hours in the ambulance and when we arrived at the hospital there were chickens wandering around the emergency room.
      Flying high with Johnny and his KTM 1290 SUPER ADVENTURE S in the Peruvian Andes
      PC @JNice What happened to the bike?
      The bike stayed on the mountainside for a few weeks and was actually snowed under. The KTM dealer from Lima was able to pick it up after two-three weeks. It was terrible. You know, the most common technical problems on the road are punctures. I would say it happens once a week on average. It can get very complicated to fix things in the pouring rain and in the mud! I remember once I was in a national park in Brazil and had to fix a tire and it was 47 degrees. I was melting!
      Johnny meets a lot of friendly people along his way, here he made friends with a village in the desert in Paracas, Peru
      PC @JNice What’s the most biker-friendly place you’ve visited?
      Ireland, for sure. Irish people are super-easy about bikes and love bikers. The UK also. I will say Brazil and Argentina too. When you are in Brazil the police always stop you. Not to check or control the bike but to take a photo or to talk!
      Johnny’s KTM 1290 SUPER ADVENTURE S in the Eduardo Avaroa Andean Fauna National Reserve, Bolivia
      PC @JNice Like a sportsman, are you aware that you are perhaps living an extraordinary life?
      You have to think that every single day means your life is one day shorter. It’s like a yoghurt in the fridge with the ‘best before mark’, except you don’t know when your date will be. Time is the most precious commodity. You have to live your day in a way that is amazing for you. I don’t think I live an extraordinary live because I’m doing what I love. For others it might be playing golf, tennis, fishing or parachuting. Don’t wait for it, just do it.
      Johnny likes to post stories on his travels through his colorful Blog www.bravebiker.com You can also follow his global adventures via his profile on Instagram: @thebravebiker
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