By Jon Gaffney
on 10.2.09

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Last month, Gear Patrol’s Jon Gaffney was able to attend the SurferCross event in California, sponsored by Toyota. Since his return, he’s been pretty psyched up. And not just about the Travis Pastrana’s injury list, and an ailment known as Whiskey Throttle. We aim not to judge, so read on to hear him explain himself.

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First off, lets clear the air on Whiskey Throttle; no, it has nothing to do with that other whiskey induced condition you dreaded in college. Whiskey Throttle is where you inadvertently open the throttle on a motorcycle from a bump or jump… more on this later. More to the point, SurferCross is a two day pro/am tournament with both a MotoX race and a surfing competition, where a pro MotoX rider and a pro Surfer are teamed up and must compete in both events. While there, I got the opportunity to learn how to ride a dirtbike. I’ve been scouring Craigslist and trying to lay a golden egg ever since.

I was given a Yamaha 125cc bike to learn on and a surprisingly brief but more than sufficient intro. More or less if you can drive stick, the hardest part of riding a dirt bike is just shifting with a huge boot on your foot and remembering that on a motorcycle right brake lever does not correspond to rear brake (a misapprehension that resulted in one of my two crashes). After that, I was set loose on the flat parts of an empty track. Instantly, I could see why people fall in love with dirt bikes and motocross. There’s no separation from you and your environment – the acceleration is instant; the engine noise is thrilling; you feel free.

motox-gear-patrolOnce the real pros started warming up, I was sent to a smaller track with jumps and banked turns. After some pointers on improving my riding, I started pushing how fast I’d go down the straightaways and how much air I could get off the jumps. I started soaring what felt like 6 ft+ into the air (photo evidence later revealed this to be 2-3ft) and the rush was incredible. As I am prone to do, I started pushing my limits and while landing my biggest jump of the day that happened to go right into a hard corner, I encountered Whiskey Throttle. Instead of turning, I juiced the throttle, jumped the back of the banked turn, landed it, crashed through some bales of hay, shot across another part of the track, and managed to pull up short of the chainlink fence, somehow still upright. That was the scary side of two wheels with an engine. Since my self preservation instinct is low, I was waylayed long enough to turn the bike around, find out what I did wrong, and be thankful I hadn’t messed up myself or another rider.

Shortly thereafter we relinquished the track to more seasoned riders, some of whom came up to my hip and were maybe 8 years old; still, they made my me look like a Golden Girl on a bike by comparison. The rest of the day was spent watching the Toyota SurferCross relay race, complete with jaw dropping air. Insane.

Riding a dirt bike definitely isn’t for everyone. If risk and adrenaline are your thing (like me), then I highly recommend it. To get set up with a bike and gear, Craigslist is your friend, as plenty of barely used bikes are available for relatively cheap. Make sure to get direction from an experienced rider before taking to the track or trails. Better yet, sign up for a course from a school like The MSF Dirtbike School.

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