If my father would not have been running a motorbike business in Italy, I don’t think it would have crossed my mind to get into motorbike racing. At the age of 6, I was riding an orange Italjet with stabilizers. Later, at the age of 15, I started competing in enduro races in Northern Italy with a Kram-It 80cc. Few years later I followed my dad’s advice and changed category by riding a Yamaha XT 250cc. I stopped racing in 1994 at the age of 23. It was not just me, but also my father and my brother who enthusiastically participated in this sport. In that sense, we were quite a remarkable family. My father who was racing until his 50s, my brother Stefan who now at the age of 46 is still active and successful also abroad, and me, the young lady who was always curious to try new things – all of us supported by my lovely mother. In this article I would like to share my lessons learnt in off road racing.
What is the Enduro sport all about?
Let’s be clear about one thing: it’s not the same as rallies or motocross. Enduro racing, or off road racing, is a motorbike sport which is run on courses that are mainly off-road, such as forests, mountains, dry or wet riverbanks or parts of asphalt roads. However, it’s not unusual to find a mixture of all these different environments in one race, which makes it surely more interesting and challenging for every racer.
There are also many different challenges and obstacles that need to be overcome. If it’s raining heavily, it can become very muddy, very strenuous and much more difficult to end a race. Another characteristic of this sport is that numerous stages are raced against the clock in a time trial. The goal of the race is to reach at pre-defined locations following a strict schedule. If you turn up there too early or too late, you will get penalized. But you also need to be quick on those tracks that are time-recorded.
Races can last on average between 3 to 5 hours, usually 1 hour per lap. During the race there are also opportunities for servicing and refuelling your motorbike. Have you heard of the famous annual event “International Six Days Enduro”? As the name suggests it lasts for 6 days! What made this sport so fascinating to me is that it’s very unpredictable. You don’t know in advance 100 % what the whole racing experience is going to be like. So there is definitely a “surprise factor”.
10 Lessons learnt in Off Road Racing
Let me tell you my 10 lessons learnt in off road racing.
Lessons learnt in off road racing # 1 – It requires physical and mental strength.
I remember in the early days telling my dad jokingly “What’s the big deal? You sit on your bike, use your accelerator and enjoy your ride. That’s it!” That’s what I thought before I took this sport a bit more seriously. I can assure you it’s nothing like that! First, you need to be physically fit in order to complete a race that lasts for some hours. You will face many unpredictable obstacles and you need to learn to save and spread your energies accordingly. It can be physically very demanding but that depends on your current physical fitness. If you don’t exercise at all during the whole year and just ride once in a while, you will struggle badly to finish any competitive race.
Secondly, you need to be mentally fit. You need to persevere, you need to still stay positive if you are stuck somewhere and you feel the race is already over. You also need to have this confidence in you that no matter how intimidating other (male!) competitors might appear, you still stay focused. If I made mistakes, I still tried to remain concentrated by trying to avoid the same mistake in the following laps. The smallest distraction can end very badly.
Lessons learnt in off road racing # 2 – Competing in an entirely male-dominated sport.
Learning to compete in an entirely male-dominated sport made me – as the only female participant – stand out, but it also taught me to be tough when it’s getting more difficult. I learnt to be fearless no matter what was coming in my way. I had this drive and liked taking risks. The thrill that you get when often you push it to the edge, indescribable! At that age I did not have to think “I can’t afford to get injured or sick because I have a family to look after”. In that way, I felt a sense of freedom. Did I ever get injured? Yes, of course. There are scares on my body that still remind me of my adventurous enduro times, but I had never any fractured body parts so far. If you want to know what my experience was with other male competitors, I can tell you this:
Many of them were nice, and when it happened that I was maybe struggling at a certain point on the track, some of them did not hesitate to help me. They usually recognized me from my blonde mane which was sticking out from my helmet. However, there were also other racers, in a very little minority, who were rude and shouted curse words at me when few times I was riding right in front of them.
Lessons learnt in off road racing # 3 – It pays off to have technical knowledge and skills.
I was lucky. My father and my brother had excellent mechanical skills and I could always rely on them if there were any technical issues. However, if in my teenage years I would have taken the interest and time to learn from them (for free!) how to fix my own bike, I would have sometimes ended the race on a better rank. If now I could turn the time back, I would roll up my sleeves and get learning until I would become an expert in fixing my own bike. I would be very proud to do it all by myself!
Lessons learnt in off road racing # 4 – Determination is crucial.
My dad often used to say “Gib ihm!” (‘give him’) meaning ‘give your best, show them what you are capable of”. This was often a sentence which was (and still is!) stuck in my mind whenever I experience difficult situations which need to be dealt with instantly.
There are situations and obstacles in a race where you have to act fully determined and convinced in order to proceed the race. Let me give you an example: Once I approached a highly steep slope and I started getting insecure half way through. What happened was that my bike and me both crashed. I had to take my bike back to the bottom of the slope and start all over again. Wasted my time and my energy, with the risk that also something could have damaged my motorbike. Now after this experience and listening to my dad’s advice I always knew how to tackle the upcoming steep slopes. I made sure I was fully determined to reach the top all in one go by putting in first gear, keeping the accelerator at its maximum throughout the ride, believing in myself and being focused on riding straight up to the hill. If weather conditions get worse, you might be lucky in finding spectators or other riders’ supporters along the slope, ready to help! Some would be well equipped with ropes trying to help you in pulling up your motorbike. I’m not joking!
Lessons learnt in off road racing # 5 – It’s difficult to perform well on all types of soils.
One of the fascinating things about this sport is also that you will learn to ride on very different types of soils. You will come across dry, wet, muddy, gravelly, grassy, hard and soft types of terrain. Riding on muddy soil was never my strength because it often can really suck your energy when trails are getting very deep or you just feel like “rien ne va plus”, stuck in the mud with little hope of ever getting out of the mess. Getting really dirty in this sport is something that you also need to accept, whether you like it or not. Something that women are struggling a bit more than men. So everyone has their strengths on different types of terrain.
After attending several Motocross World Championships in the 80s and 90s around Europe with my family, I remember that Dutch motocross racers for example, are well-known for being sand-specialists. That’s based on the fact that their local racing tracks on which they regularly practice, are sandy.
Lessons learnt in off road racing # 6 – You need to accept the worst case scenario.
Everyone thinks before indulging in this sport “Serious accidents? Paralysis? Death? This is not going to happen to me!” Unfortunately, in some very rare cases, it happened that racers have had bad accidents which ended in paralysis. If you want to participate in a sport like that, you have to keep in mind that nobody is 100 % safe from serious accidents. If you are not prepared to take that risk, stay away from it! If you are a parent, a reason more, to think twice whether it’s worthwhile for you or not.
Lessons learnt in off road racing # 7 – Kindness pays off.
Did you know that racers carry a waist bag during the race in which they keep some basic mechanical aid tools in it? The reason for that is that if during the race something unexpected happens, e.g. a puncture, there is still a chance to fix your motorbike on the go and you can continue your race. My strategy was often to keep apart from some mechanical tools, also some chocolates in that waist bag. That was actually not meant for me, but for the racer or spectator/helper who would eventually help me in case I find myself in a tricky situation. What I learnt? It’s not all about competition and yes, kindness pays off also in enduro sport. I was always able to spot a smile on the racer’s face every time when I gave out the sweets. My little gesture of saying THANK YOU in my own way, made me also a bit more memorable and popular among other racers.
Lessons learnt in off road racing # 8 – You need to speak up, if you think end results have been manipulated.
If after a race, you are suspicious that someone’s results can’t be true (according to what the official list with the timing results shows), you have the opportunity to submit an appeal to the Racing Committee.
Imagine you are the runner-up and you know for a fact that the winner’s result has been manipulated, would you still keep quiet? No, it’s time to speak up! I personally did not make this experience, but once I have witnessed that a racer has been disqualified. After going through several technical examinations his motorbike’s engine has been found out to be tampered. It did not comply with set standards and rules and the trophy had to be passed on to someone else! What can we learn from it? Don’t fool anyone, otherwise you will get fooled!
Lessons learnt in off road racing # 9 – Being a strategic thinker and preparation does make a difference.
If you make it on time the day prior to the race, you will get the opportunity to have a look and ‘walk on foot’ on those racing tracks that are time-recorded. This is always a highly important part because it allows you to prepare yourself so much better in advance. You will know exactly where the spots are in which you can accelerate and where you need to be more cautious. You will also see that if you have 2-3 different routes to choose from in order to get to point B, you can determine which route will be the best for you. However, if weather conditions are very bad and it’s raining, it can often become extremely muddy. Then, also that strategy might not always work!
Lessons learnt in off road racing # 10 – Both need to be fit: the racer and the bike.
In order to succeed in enduro racing you need two things: being a great racer, but also having a great, reliable motorbike. You can be the best racer, but if your motorbike lets you down, you are going to lose. And if you have a great motorbike, but you are out of breath because you don’t have the energy anymore to carry on, you will lose as well. It’s the human in cooperation with the machine which will make it possible to complete (and hopefully also win) races.
Any scary moments or bad experiences?
Yes, there are two memories which are still quite fresh in my mind. One episode occurred during my training when my motorbike slipped off my hands. At that moment I was happy that the motorbike got stuck in the tree and didn’t fall on top of me! Who knows how it could have ended!
Another episode was during a competitive race when I was crossing a dirty pond. As soon as I came out of the water the accelerator cable got stuck and I was not able to stop my motorbike for some time. But Thank God I never had any serious accidents.
Would I recommend the enduro sport to other ladies?
Yes, of course. If you work hard, and if you are fearless, ambitious, determined and can afford it financially (unless you have a great sponsor!) go for it!
It’s an enriching experience which can build your character and prepare you better for tough situations in life, too! Being determined, speaking up when it’s required, dealing with guys only, being kind, taking risks, being mentally and physically fit and thinking strategically are all qualities that helped me at some point also in my personal career! No doubt!
If you know anyone who could benefit from this article, or who would be interested in this sport, make sure you share it. You will be helping them out and me too! Thanks for any feedback!
Author: Karin Schroeck-Singh
Karin Schroeck-Singh is a trilingual Career Optimizer at www.Careerheads.com. She has an MBA from the University of Leicester (UK) and gained 20 years of international work experience in various industries in Italy, the UK and India. Her passion lies in creating multilingual, high-quality content in career matters, giving highly engaging public speeches and helping job seekers to optimize their career by providing professional coaching. She is the author of several ebooks, among them “44 Tips for a successful Video Interview” (http://careerheads.com/product/ebook-44-tips-for-a-successful-video-interview/). She has written several career and business articles for international HR and Marketing companies. Her favourite motto is “Learn from anyone, anywhere, anytime!” Follow her on Twitter @CareerHeads.