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Matthes Report

A Matthes Report: MXoN Theories

Steve Matthes has an MXoN theory.

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Off weekend here in the USA, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have things to say. Two things that I’ve discovered fans of the sport can’t get enough of is silly season signing stuff and Motocross of Nations arguing. Nothing gets people talking like some country-on-country competition that’s for sure and, as most of you know, Team USA is currently on an all-time winless streak of seven straight years and with this year’s race in Assen, Holland, at a purpose-built sand track that appears to be just shy of Lommel, I don’t like the odds of USA breaking this streak.

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After the shocking sixth place finish of Team USA at RedBud last year, all bets as to when the USA wins this race again are off the table. There’s just something going on with the Americans right now that has slipped compared to the rest of the world’s motocross racers. Sure, you can say it’s the focus on supercross for eight months of the year and motocross for four but that was the same when USA was winning. You can say that riders all over the world have caught up to America in terms of riding but I don’t really buy that. There have always been elite European-based riders that are amazing on a motorcycle and, besides, it’s a team of three riders from a country, it’s not just a best-on-best event. Sometimes countries like France or Belgium can’t select one of their best riders due to conflicts or injuries. Looking at you Marvin Musquin (although, yeah, it hasn’t exactly hurt the French).

One of the theories that I’ve been working on the last little bit is that the American bike set-up has skewered more and more towards supercross and that’s been hurting the racers at the MXoN’s. I mean, it’s not ground-breaking to watch Jeffrey Herlings or Gautier Paulin’s bike around RedBud last fall and see how much softer it was than Eli Tomac or Justin Barcia’s.

I was talking to GEICO Honda’s Hunter Lawrence about being back at RedBud this past weekend for the first time since he nearly won the MX2 class for Australia and we got into talking about the suspension. I mentioned to Hunter my theory that European-based bikes look so soft compared to the USA guys, how they track well and stay connected to the ground but Lawrence wasn’t quite having that.

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“I’ll stop you and say European stuff isn’t soft and plush. Think of it this way: In the sand they have over there, soft suspension does not work full stop. You watch the KTM bikes, a Husqvarna, just in a perfect example, as how high they sit in their stroke of suspension and the theory of that I guess it’s like supercross. You have soft suspension, you go into the jump and you go out of the jump. Same on a sand track. You go into the bump and out of the bump. Into the bump opposed to stiff suspension you go across the top of it. You are on top of the sand, not in the sand, so that’s the easiest way I can explain it.

“I think the speeds are higher in Europe on the track. We’re talking ground speed. I think they are higher because they are not tilled as deep. None of tracks are as deep as what these ones are and the lines are a lot more sweepy. We don’t slow down as much as here. Obviously, you have got to allow for different track layouts.”

We continued to talk after the recorder shut off and Hunter told me that it’s more of a softer set-up with springs over there but yet harder internal valving with more travel, which makes sense for sure. Something that always strikes me as weird is how high the GP based riders run the rear ends on their bikes so whether it’s travel, spring rate or shims and oil something about the European bikes stand out.

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Another thing that stands out when you go to an MXoN is the Americans sure love to rev their bikes. The engines aren’t designed to make much power in the upper ranges but that doesn’t stop our guys from doing it.

Lawrence brought up another difference with RedBud this past Sunday and RedBud at the MXoN.

Lines.

“In Euro they sweep their corners. The bumps have flow to them, where when there are braking bumps you’ll lift the front wheel and link it up or they’ll swoop out wider and cut in a little bit, like Formula 1 car lines. That’s how the tracks form up. It’s always we say in moto slang: Race car lines. Whereas here I wouldn’t say the American tracks aren’t as race-car liney, to be honest with you. It’s point and shoot. They [American riders] come in straight, then a big hook and then you are out and you are on the gas wide open. It’s different.”

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This is another fact that makes the USA based riders standout. I was standing there at RedBud at the start of practice and watching a new berm form which, as Hunter predicted, turned into a hook and not a traditional entry and exit point of a berm. It’s a very violent riding style compared to many of the Europeans. It can be faster but if the turn isn’t quite right or a mistake is made, it can also look like a monkey doing something obscene to a football.

Look, neither suspension set-up nor lines are the reasons USA riders have struggled at the last few MXoN’s but they, along with other factors, are things that haven’t helped. The conversation with Hunter Lawrence this weekend confirmed some things, got me thinking about others and, all in all, it was interesting to hear from a neutral country talking about both series set-ups and tracks.

Words: Steve Matthes | Lead Image: GEICO Honda

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Matthes Report

Matthes Report: Daytona

Predictions from Steve Matthes!

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The 2021 Monster Energy Supercross series riders and teams just had their first week off of the season this past and when the halfway flag gets thrown this Saturday night at Daytona, we’ll officially be halfway through the 450SX series.

Here are some random predictions on some random things in regard to both the 450SX and 250SX classes.

– It’s been a while since we saw anyone not named Cooper Webb or Ken Roczen win a 450SX main event but we may finally get someone different this weekend. Now, don’t hold me to that because the top two riders in the points have been so good. This is Daytona though. This is something different for the guys and we know how good Eli Tomac is down at the speedway. I’m not going to stamp a Tomac win but it says here he will be more competitive this weekend than he has been. Good vibes will be hanging in the air for ET and even if he does not get a start, he can make it work there. I predict a strong performance for Tomac this weekend with either a win or a runner-up ride.

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– Honda’s Chase Sexton makes his return to racing after a crash in Houston while leading the 450SX main. The #23 will be a boost to the series and I think he’ll do something memorable this weekend. I do not know what exactly; maybe win a heat, lead some laps or podium the whole thing? I’m not sure but Sexton will make a splash. You watch!

– Jason Anderson has been getting progressively better since his awful opening round and subsequent finger injury. Now, how much his improvement had to do with the harder packed Orlando track is something we’ll see. I think he’s on the right track to be top five or on the podium at Daytona.

– Marvin Musquin is very good at Daytona – he’s had some hell of good rides there with a couple of 450SX podiums and a win in 250SX. It’s been a hot and cold season for Marv, but he’ll be hot this weekend.

– Dylan Ferrandis was great at Orlando 2 but had just an eleventh to show for it after he had to pull into the mechanics area for mid-race repairs. On this track, with more of an outdoor-ish feel to it, I think Ferrandis really shines. I predict a top five for the Yamaha rider. Yeah, I said it.

– I predict Justin Cooper wins the 250SX West main event. Boring, right? I know. This series is his to lose now with Jeremy Martin out with a shoulder injury. Cooper was not even at one hundred percent at Orlando 2 and he did that. Wait until he gets an extra week of prep for this one.

– I’m not sure what Star Yamaha team owner Bobby Regan said or did to rookies Nate Thrasher and Jarrett Frye in the time since Orlando 2 but I guarantee you it was not good. I’ve heard many stories about how Regan has talked to riders under the Star tent and with both kids underperforming at their first ever supercross, I predict they both come out with better performances than what we saw in Orlando. How much better? I do not know, just better.

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– Garrett Marchbanks does not win this main event like he did last year but he does end up on the podium, which is a good result for him and his team.

– Troll Train will shine this weekend and redeem himself after KO’ing himself last race. That’s what “we” do.

– I think Martin Davalos will fall down at some point in this weekend’s main event. I hate being a negative Nancy here but he’s done it in every single race this year but one. I cannot see how Marty gets through a rough and tumble Daytona track where things change every lap without making a mistake but maybe this is exactly what Marty needs to stay on two wheels!

– I predict that Kyle Chisholm will continue to Chiz, because Chiz will always Chiz. In fact, he might have some extra Chiz happening because he is usually pretty solid at Daytona.

– This one is not tough to predict but Ken Roczen will continue his great season with another great ride. Hey man, I can’t be wrong if I just predict stuff like this!

Thanks for reading!

Words: Steve Matthes | Lead Image: Align With Us

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Matthes Report

Matthes on: Alex Nagy

Feel-good story from Orlando.

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There are a lot of cool stories in the pits in the course of a year of Monster Energy Supercross but let’s face it, these days with COVID-19 still affecting everything, things still suck. Although the racing in Orlando was cool, in terms of some fans being there, it’s still not supercross, you know?

In Orlando, we had a cool story going on though. Privateer Alex Nagy made his first ever main event via his third in the 250SX LCQ. Nagy is a privateers privateer, you know? There are guys that are what you would call privateers but they are on teams and sometimes have expenses covered  some guys get everything paid for but not factory help at all and we still call them privateers. The word “privateer” has changed a ton over the years for sure, but there is one thing that’s not in doubt and that’s that Alex Nagy is a privateer.

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Nagy had lined up for 132 races and had made 118 night shows, most of them in the 450SX class. The 250SX East series has been wrecked with injuries so that definitely helped Nagy’s case, but he’s also been riding very well. In Orlando, we saw history!

“I honestly haven’t even kept track of how many night shows or how long,” Nagy told us after the race. “My first year of racing supercross was in 2013, and I did that on a 250. Then every year after, I’ve been in the 450SX class. This is kind of like my first time back in the 250SX class. I’m glad I was finally able to capitalise on a good coast to ride and be able to put it in the main finally.”

Look, once he made the main the rest was gravy, right? Nagy rode pretty well in the 15-minute main event though to end up with a fifteenth on the night. That’s pretty decent for a guy who’s not used to racing that long. Nagy got six points toward ditching his three-digit number and getting one of those two digits that the cool guys get.

Surely Nagy was going to reward himself with some sort of extravagance for his efforts, right?

Nope.

“I’m going to spend the night here. I spent the night here last night. I spent the night in the van the night before, and I’ll probably spend the night in the van tomorrow night too,” he told me. “It’s kind of funny because even in Indy I stayed in the van. I didn’t run it, didn’t use the heat in it and didn’t have a heater. I just had four sleeping bags and I just ground it out.

“Honestly, it sucked. It was cold waking up in the morning. Then when you are kind of cold and then you’ve got to put cold clothes on or cold gear on, that was rough. Like I always say, you don’t even really think about it. It’s just in the past.”

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Nagy spending the time in freezing cold Indianapolis sleeping in his van for rounds four through six is next level. Hey, he loves the sport and it shows!

This is a part of the issue I have with the MXGP series. Yes, there are wildcards out there that some riders can get but it’s not easy to show up at an MXGP and race like it is for riders over here in SX and MX. That’s one of the things, in my opinion, that make motocross great. A guy can get a bike, modify it a bit and line up with the world’s greatest riders. Talent is the separator, not money spent. Nagy has spent time riding in the winter down in California but unfortunately not this year. His program is, how we say, pretty loose!

“I didn’t even have an off-season because I was in Illinois the whole time. All I did was ride. I would ride with a track that was half snow, and then two jumps of dirt. That was all I did. I wasn’t in California. This was the least prepared I’ve been going into a year, and I did the first round on a 450 and was able to get in on it which was sweet. I was stoked on that, to make the night show.

“Then I wanted to do a 250 the whole time, but I didn’t get the bike that I’m riding until the night that I left for Houston. I pretty much just had a brand new 250. I’m like, ‘Okay, I’ll race the 450 at the first one and then switch the suspension over.’ I broke the bike in in the parking lot. The first time it ever saw dirt was the practice at Houston 2, which is pretty funny.”

The thing about that is he broke the bike in around the pits and he hadn’t ridden the bike on a track until the first practice at Houston 2! The bike had stock bars, stock grips, a stock head pipe and suspension modified last year. Yet, somehow, five rounds later he’s in the main!

Nagy’s now going to race the much-more competitive 450SX class while the 250SX East series is on hold and I don’t like his chances to make the main there. However, Alex Nagy will be out there sleeping where he can and practicing where he can. Nagy’s enjoying his life and now he’s got that main event on his record. We need more Alex Nagy’s in the pits.

Words: Steve Matthes | Lead Image: Align With Us

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Matthes Report: Ken Roczen

A look at Ken Roczen’s triumphs.

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It’s not too hard to imagine that, although Honda HRC’s Ken Roczen just grabbed his second win in a row in the 2021 Monster Energy Supercross series, he should actually have four wins. He passed Houston 1 winner Justin Barcia a couple of times in the first main of the year and, of course, we all know that lapper Dean Wilson cost him another win.

It’s not a stretch to imagine Roczen with four wins out of five races to start the season and his current points lead being even bigger, right? He has been amazing and on it right from the first round and it’s cool to see; having Roczen healthy, happy and fast in SX is a good thing for the sport.

One of the things I was wrong about, and boy there’s a lot, was Kenny’s adaption to the all-new 2021 Honda CRF450R. The bike barely shares anything with the 2020 model and I’ve seen plenty of riders and teams at the highest levels struggle to figure out new models. The most recent Kawasaki, for example, wasn’t easy for Eli Tomac and the Team Green guys to get a handle on right away. The 2009 Honda. The backwards-motor Yamaha – there could be a book written about trying to get that bike set-up and working right.

The point is that with data acquisition teams are able to get improvements done to the bike but it usually takes a year. Then of course parts and 2021 Honda 450 bikes themselves were late getting to the USA only adding to my thought that this might be a year where the team and Roczen are constantly learning. The fact that Tim Gajser was on it all last year in the MXGP’s probably helped a bit but SX is quite a bit different from MX as we all know.

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We had Roczen on the PulpMX Show on Monday and I asked him about the bike.

“There’s always little things that could be better, but I think ultimately it comes down to the stock bike has to be good from the get-go to be able to start off and not have huge problems,” Roczen said. “Our previous bike was not quite like that – it was a very difficult bike to set up, especially for all different kinds of conditions. We are in a super good spot.

“My bike is very raceable, especially in the conditions that we have had. It’s been rough. It’s been rutty and tacky. I think it will just be that much better even when it gets a little bit more hard-packed. I think we have had the most difficult conditions. I think everybody would agree with that. We are just solid.”

Honda’s had former SX/MX winner Trey Canard aboard to help with the testing the last couple of years and there’s no doubt that he has been a huge help to the team as far as getting a base set-up down so that the team does not waste a lot of time with Roczen testing. He’s able to just focus on himself.

“I’ve said this a few times; this bike is not a revolutionary bike. Honda has done this in the past with big steps like the dual mufflers or the aluminium frame and, although this bike is different, it’s not so different from the previous model. We were never so far off with this bike; it was pretty good the first day we rode SX. We could race it like this. It gave us a good head start on things

The biggest thing for me is there is less rigidity in this frame. At the end of the mains when the ruts are choppy and bumpy, you have to be perfect. This bike makes a difference and the rider can sustain a hard effort. These guys are going fast the whole time. The power is also more usable in more ways.”

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The new “thing” for the factory teams is having someone like Canard, or Ryan Morais at KTM, who is still a great rider, knows how a bike works and can eliminate some directions that the team wants to try. I’ve been there as a mechanic and spent some long days at the test track trying clamps, bearing races, cams, pistons etc. and trying to get through what works and what doesn’t. The riders themselves don’t really enjoy those days. The quicker you can get the testing over, the better. The riders can then focus on putting in laps and getting themselves ready for the season.

“I think the last three years, I’ve learned a lot. At first we would come up with something and he [Roczen] didn’t like it or he didn’t win. The wins for me as a test rider were hit and miss. I’ve gotten to know him better,” Canard says about specifically testing for Roczen.

Yeah, maybe I was off on my take of him figuring out a new bike or maybe Canard has been such a massive help that they have overcome those usual new bike blues. Either way, Roczen looks as good as ever here to start the series. I wondered if Canard himself was surprised at how good the #94 and the new Honda 450 look so far?

“I’m not surprised at how good he looks. The last year and a half, his health has been a struggle. Even the races he did win, it seemed to me he wasn’t happy with the way he rode. He came a long ways since we started SX – we started a bit late due to the nationals going longer. When he took that time off this past summer, I got a sense he would get things sorted and he did.”

That’s the understatement of 2021 so far.

Words: Steve Matthes | Lead Image: Align With Us

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