Over my time in the dirtbike-racing world, I think I’ve seen every possible rider superstition known to man — everything from the order in which a rider gets dressed to lucky underwear, unlucky colour gear, the side of the bike they get on etc etc etc. In fact, complicated modern youth are as whacked out on superstitions as you could possibly get and it won’t be long before they’re looking to the sky to check cloud formations to determine if they can even toss a leg over.
But most of these lucky charms can be explained and, no, you didn’t win because you put your left boot on before your right; you won because you rode well. Boot order has no place in winning races. Let’s look at three of the more popular urban myths surround luck at the races.
Scratch New Helmet Before Use
I used to be a man who ran this from time to time. You get a fresh new helmet and it looks sharp but because you think it’s bad luck to race without running it in — ie, putting a mark on it — you must scar your new helmet before you hit the track.
My belief was that if I didn’t put the first mark on it, one would come via some huge crash the first time I rode with it, so I simply took matters into my own hands. I’ve seen some guys drop it on their footpegs. I’ve seen riders bash it into the rear door of their van. I’ve seen riders pick up rocks and throw them at the helmet, all in an effort to rid themselves of bad luck by marking the helmet before riding.
Then, as I got older, I figured that it really didn’t make a difference and if that theory applied, every time I got new plastics for my bike, or even a new bike, maybe I should take to it with a hammer and flat-blade screwdriver just to ensure I got the scratches and dents in first before the evitable cartwheels came. So, my answer to the riders who still think you need to ding your new helmet before you ride with it is … snap out of it! Put the damn brain bucket on your head and go ride. Cracking it with a hammer isn’t going to make you win, stop you from crashing and or help you explain the look of it to sponsors — it might even make it less safe than it was.
I’m not sure how you define lucky undies but every rider at some stage of their career will tell you they can only race in red, blue or green boxers or no undies at all. And what gets them to this point is entirely different for every rider. The most common reason is one day they did really well and beat Ryan Dungey on his home track and they assume it was because of the colour of the underwear they were wearing.
This theory usually rolls along well for a while until reality steps in and said rider has an absolute shocker of a day. His bike runs like crap, he crashes like James Stewart and has car issues on the way to the track and suddenly it’s the undies’ fault so the over-worn, hole-infested ball catchers are tossed out the window like a cheeseburger gherkin.
The cycle continues the following week when the rider has success in some new undies and they become the new racing secret weapon. Then it filters into the rest of their lives: get lucky at a nightclub, you have nightclub undies; get a raise at work, work undies. The undies thing goes on forever — and that’s usually about how long we men like to keep our undies.
Running Bikes In
There’s a theory in racing that if you run your bike in fast it will be fast. None of this by-the-manual slow for 15 minutes, go through the heat cycle 38 times, moderate for 15 minutes, inspect entire engine for anything that looks like movement, go through the heat cycle another 10 times before riding at moderate speed using third and fourth gear while in the rpm zone of 10,250–10,625 — then let it cool before leaving your brain in the toolbox and going to a balls-out sprint to finish off.
Some guys just prefer to start the thing up, let it warm up for a minute, do a slow lap of the track and then just ride at their normal pace. Now, I have no idea which theory is right or if any of them even work. Last year, Takeshi Katsuya bought his in-house mechanic from Japan for each round of the MX Nationals and that guy certainly didn’t go for the warm-up theory. He fired that KX250F and within 15 seconds it was repeatedly on the limiter for long periods. There was no by-the-manual warm-up procedure. It was to the stopper until the birds fell out of the trees.
Also remember, speed is relative. Your fastest lap is probably still 10 seconds a lap slower than a pro’s speed, so when they say slow, slow for who? You or Jeff Herlings? And don’t get me started on gear colour or boot order or any other of those weird and wonderful things..