Aj Roberts: An Insight Into Luke Styke

4 months ago | Words: Andy Wigan | Photos: Jarrad Duffy, Salvatore Aloisio

The AORC paddock has a growing list of former MX/SX racers. Over the past decade, guys such as Toby Price, Tye Simmonds, Beau Ralston, Chris Hollis and Jack Simpson have all made the successful transition to off-road racing. But you could argue that no MXer has adapted to enduro as quickly and seamlessly as former national MX and SX champ, Yamaha’s Luke Styke, who recently became the first Australian ever to win a national motocross, supercross and enduro title. So, was Styke always destined to be a title-winning off-road racer? What were the main challenges he faced in making the transition from MX? Can the bloke change a tyre? And is he planning a return to the MX Nats paddock?

We asked Styke’s team manager and off-road mentor, Yamaha Active8 Yamalube Off-Road Racing Team’s AJ Roberts, to give us more of an insight into his 27-year-old, lightning fast acquisition…

When was Luke first on your radar, and what made you think his MX/SX speed would translate into title-winning speed in the bush?
As a guy who’d won his national titles with Yamaha, he’d been on my radar for a while. You don’t get to be a national Motocross and Supercross Champion unless you’ve got bike handling skills, speed and mental fortitude. So Luke was a pretty good bet to begin with, plus he was looking for a challenge to reinvigorate his passion for racing. As soon as Luke rocked up to the first round of the AORC in Queensland last year and I saw how he won and how he handled himself that weekend, I knew he was going to win the championship. You’ve got to remember that, while a lot of riders have come across from the MX Nats to the AORC, none of them were of the same calibre as Luke. He was the first Aussie Motocross Champion to make the switch to enduro. There’s always that rivalry between the two disciplines, so I think Luke’s arrival in the AORC paddock was good for everyone.

Did it surprise you that, just a month after that AORC opener, Styke went out and won the E1 class at the A4DE in what were very testing conditions?
No, it didn’t surprise me because we’d thrown him in the deep-end in his development phase. We put him through a really punishing off-season, and that was designed to help him make the transition to enduro quickly. It was also designed to help him understand what elements of his game he most needed to work on. We made him do full three-hour cross-county races in the middle of summer. That helped him understand how harsh it is on the body, and how on-your-own you are out there in the bush.

What kind of racer is he?
He’s the type of guy who always does his homework before he gets himself into anything. He wants to understand what he’s doing, and he’s always setting himself goals. The toughest thing for Luke was that he could never see himself ride. In motocross, he had people who filmed and scouted for him. People in his corner could see all, or most of, the track. In the off-road scene, we can only see a few corners before he disappears again, so it’s impossible for us to give him direct feedback about how he’s riding. And none of us can see the lines that Daniel Milner and Daniel Sanders are taking, and figure out where they’re making up time on Luke. So it was a real challenge for Luke to know whether feeling good on the bike was translating into fast lap times. It was a very different world for him to get his head around.

What other challenges did you see him confronted with?
It was all new to him. I mean, he’d never ridden with a Camelbak, and it takes time for elite racers to adjust to having those extra few kilos on their back. It was also hard for Luke to get his head around how he needed to come our swinging with explosive speed straight away in special tests. He believes he’s a better motocross sprint rider now, because off-road racing has taught him that intensity. He reckons all motocross racers should try some off-road racing because it changes your mentality when it comes to attacking the track, rather than fall into the trap of programming themselves to do 30-minute motos. And by that, I mean managing their race; deciding when to drop the bomb, and to be aware of where their main rivals are sitting in the race. Out in the bush, you’re on your own and don’t know anything about your rivals or what they’re up to. Then there’s the fact that every track is different. Even when you return to the same venue the following year, the track is totally different. So there were all these aspects that he found difficult to accept, simply because he’d raced motocross for so long.

And adapting to the different physical and mental demands that enduro places on a rider?
We pushed Luke so hard to adapt to enduro riding when he wasn’t ready, and we didn’t care because we needed him to understand the impact of this type of riding on his body. He also needed to understand that there’s a lot more mental fatigue when you’re riding all day, rather than a 20- or 30-minute moto. At the recent Dungog Enduro-format round, for instance, they might have only been sprinting for a collective hour in the special tests, but they’re still riding 200km. Luke is calculated and a precise rider who picks his lines and hits his marks, and that really helps him in the bush because he’s not getting loose and off-line and punting trees.

How does he like his race bike set up?
He is fussy and meticulous with his bike. The surprising thing for me is how soft he likes his bike to be set up. I say surprising because MX and SX guys generally prefer firm suspension because that’s what they know. He wanted it set up with that level of comfort from the get-go, which is another example of how he does his homework.

Was it cool for you to be able to help Luke do what no other rider in Australia has ever done – to win national titles in MX, SX and Enduro?
For sure it was. I had nothing to do with his MX and SX titles, but it’s been rewarding for me to help Luke make the transition to off-road racing so quickly. As I said before, he’s always setting goals for himself to keep pushing and striving. Now he’s focused on elevating himself in the AORC’s Outright standings, plus he wants to be the first guy to represent Australia on both the national MXoN and ISDE teams.

How much more upside is there in Luke Styke?
He’s just started his off-road career and it’s a sport where time and experience generally pays dividends. So I think he’s got more upside in him yet, for sure. That’s why I hired him. The biggest disadvantage Luke has is his inexperience with national-level enduro tracks that get lots of traffic and get pretty beat-up. But he’s relentless and he doesn’t settle. He didn’t arrive into the sport with an arrogant attitude, saying he was going to wax everyone. But he’s still got that motocross attitude that he’s here to race and here to win. He’s methodically gone about beating his opposition. And that’s what impresses me most about the guy.

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