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Dialed In With Donk Presented By Kimpex Canada

Well, how was it for you?

The AMO season opener at Gopher Dunes was this past weekend and to the best of my knowledge, things went off without a hitch. Great attendance, unbelievable weather for April, and I may have missed it, but I didn’t see anyone get loaded up into the white van with flashing lights. If I did miss it, I hope the person is doing well.

‘The Dunes’ has played host to the season opener for as long as I have been around this sport. Primarily due to the soil composition – sand – being able to take the usual rainy, wet weather that comes with this time of year. But ooooooh baby did we ever get treated to a surprise on Sunday! It felt like a mid-June race with the blue-sky sunshine and when that little splash of humidity showed up, we got to borderline Vet-Unfriendly temps. By the end of the day, I heavily regretted my pants and toque choice I made that morning at 6 am while loading my bike, although, my incredibly cold-sensitive self and the thermometer displaying 4 degrees at the time, says otherwise. That cool air quickly left as the day started and before we knew it, we were all throwing sand at each other again and kicking off another year of racing here in Ontario.

The track conditions for the first round at Gopher were not what I was expecting at all and threw me a bit of a surprise. While circulating the course during my 6-minute hot lap session on Sunday morning, I quickly noticed how dry everything was. More on that in a minute…

Raise your hand if you love watching Liam O’Farrell ride at Gopher Dunes! Photo by James Lissimore

My Team Priority MX Teammates Liam O’Farrell, Travis Knoop, and I headed over to Gopher on Thursday to make an attempt at being somewhat comfortable on our bikes heading into the race that weekend. Talk about being prepared! Ha! It was my first ride of the year, I was breaking in a fresh bike, and since I made a few personal changes for this season I was riding in a different helmet, goggles, gear, and boots. It had rained most of the morning, albeit not heavy, just steady, so we were anticipating a bit of a wet track but hoped it would come around and get good. Well, it was a mess for a couple of hours and my bike looked just like it did after the last race we had there in October. When you juggle your own work, your Wife’s work schedule, children being sick, and their part-time daycare schedule, you ride when you can, rain or shine. So, I put in a few sessions and made sure I was home in time to get the boys from daycare.

I was quite surprised with how comfortable I felt right away, the bike felt like a new bike, a little rigid, a little tight, the gear was great, comfy, and a little loose. My helmet was good, goggles were good, and the boots – the one major thing I was concerned about, turned out to be just fine. See, I had worn the same brand of gear and equipment for about 10 years, so one could be comfortable in saying I was… Comfortable. Ha! (Hey, we’re here for a good time, not a long time) Making one small change to your “set up”, whether it be different goggles, gloves, what have you, can take some time to get used to, and here I was just hitting the big ol’ reset button and changing up the whole program, head to toe. I am quite the picky a-hole when it comes to what I wear whether it’s for riding a dirtbike or playing hockey. I am not really one of those people that will just put up with something and deal with it if it’s uncomfortable to me, so I do a little research, dig a little deeper and try and find a solution so it doesn’t even cross my mind. It’s annoying to me and I wish I wasn’t like this, but things like having a seam in a different location on gloves is an example of my ridiculousness. Gone through a lot of versions of gloves over the years!

AMO Gopher Dunes 22
Even with the cool and wet spring thus far the conditions were fairly dry at Gopher Dunes. Photo by Mickmedia

Back to the track conditions at Gopher Dunes – Now, they had open practice Friday, controlled practice Saturday morning, and even ran some motos Saturday afternoon all in good weather, so naturally the track was going to dry out, but I was not expecting how dry it was by the time I hit the track Sunday morning. Gopher Dunes has one of the coolest and most convenient watering systems of any track we race at and the crew over there does an absolute wonderful job with track prep so please, don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t upset with the lack of moisture in the ground. In my opinion, it’s much easier to ride when it’s on the dry side versus wet and heavy. Perhaps this dry prep was done on purpose to allow us to get back into racing with a little less of an issue.

One of the many things I’ve learned over my years of doing what I do is arriving at a track and analyzing the dirt, regardless if it’s in a stadium or in some field in the middle of nowhere. There are the obvious things like if it’s sand or more of a harder pack clay-type dirt, but once you’ve made that incredible discovery (haha, again, good time, not a long time) it’s time to look at a few other things. How does the soil compact? If you grab a pile and try to press and roll it into a ball, does it fall apart, or can it pack up tight and become something that could resemble a potential weapon? Whichever type of soil you come across, the most crucial thing you need to understand is the moisture content of said soil – How much has it rained in the days leading up to the race? How deep does the moisture go into the soil? Did Uncle Barry fall asleep at the wheel of the water truck and somehow still manage to do 3 complete laps of Walton while spraying the absolute MAX amount of water possible? No one will ever know…

The moisture content of the soil is what’s going to determine how the track develops and changes throughout the day. When the sands of Gopher Dunes are on the dryer side of things like they were this Sunday, the braking bumps develop a little closer together and aren’t near as deep as they can get when it’s wet. They were sharp, steep, and the bumps aren’t a smooth transition, they get a square shelf like edge in them to add in a little flavor to your general breaking bump. The sand breaks apart easier and gets pushed around because there’s less moisture holding it together. When it’s wet at Gopher, like our last race in the fall, or the Pro National on Sunday last summer, the bumps are spread out, or what we call whooped out and they can get a lot deeper! More moisture in the sand allows it to hold together better and takes more force to break it apart.

When Barry forgets to turn the water truck off at Walton, that dirt becomes incredibly thick and heavy. Unlike sand, where the water can penetrate and keep sinking lower and lower into the ground, hard clay dirt compacts so tight that below the groomed surface, you eventually get to a base, and that base is hard. The dirt can absorb a lot of water, but when it gets down to that hard base, it has nowhere else to go, and that’s what gives us puddles. The loose, saturated soil on top of that hard base creates a very slippery surface that is incredibly difficult to ride on. But, when the moisture content reaches a certain point, whatever that’s called I have no idea, but that point is when it’s wonderful. We label it as tacky, or grippy and when a whole track is like that, we refer to that as chocolate cake. If you’ve ever had the pleasure of riding in those conditions, you completely understand why it’s desired. That perfect moisture content lets the dirt move around and form into shapes, or ruts as we know them. Since they’re still soft they will give a little when we hit them and before they get too deep, they don’t require being super precise so it can be a lot of fun to come into a corner, lay the bike over and just let ‘er eat. But, all good things come to an end, and once the moisture evaporates, or dries, the dirt hardens up, and if it’s in that compressed state, it becomes extremely hard and concrete-like. Ever seen rubber tire marks on a hardpack section at a track? When a clay track is dry, the top layer is generally very thin, and the dirt will constantly break down into smaller pieces eventually forming a powdery substance. That powder on top of the hard base creates a special type of slippery surface that requires a lot of throttle control to ride comfortably. The track usually won’t get too rough, and there won’t be any ruts due to the dirt and powder just blowing out to the edges of the main line. In our summer months, that’s how most tracks around here get, simply because of the high temps, wind, and lack of rain.

Donk 22
With some new gear and a great looking bike Donk is dialed in for 2022.

Now that you’ve completed your degree in Pedology, which is a discipline in soil science according to Wikipedia, it would be beneficial to understand what YOU should do to be able to comfortably ride in these varying conditions. The riding technique and bike setup will be drastically different for each end of the spectrum depending on how much water is in the soil, not to mention the type of soil. Having a basic comprehension of how the track conditions will change throughout the day, whether it’s from Mr. Golden Sun, ol Momma N, or Uncle Barry, it will allow you to adjust your technique and make the appropriate bike changes. That is one of the cool parts about motocross, the track conditions are constantly changing, and there’s an infinite number of variables that affect those changes. Knowing what technique and bike changes to make, are for another discussion, on another day. The ability to adapt as a rider and make an educated adjustment to the bike can make riding in any condition a great, and enjoyable time. However, the cleanup may be a different story.

Kudos to the whole AMO and Gopher Dunes crews for kicking off another season of racing for all of us to enjoy. The next stop is the return of Auburn Hills, and no joke, I just got goosebumps typing that. Auburn is a track we used to race at way back in the day and I believe the last year we raced there was 2008. Coincidentally, the majority of guys that I race in my class now, also raced each other

back then, so to say we are freakin’ amped would be an understatement. It’s going to be 2008 all over again, just, with our kids cheering us on. Can’t wait! I’m not a very religious person, but I have been praying to the Rain Gods to keep Mother Nature happy for that weekend ever since I heard of its return. Here’s to hoping, wishing, and praying’!

And, Barry, you know I’m playing, I love ya. But seriously. HA!


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