[Interviews]

Dylan Long – Fish, Film & Fast

1 year ago | Words: Andy Wigan | Photos: MXN Images

In the past couple of years, Australia’s most successful race team, CDR Yamaha, has almost been synonymous with Dean Ferris. Why? Because Ferris dominated the premiere class at the 2016 and 2017 MX Nats, and finished runner-up to America’s Justin Brayton in the Australian SX Championship while he was at it. But midway through the SX season, CDR’s ‘other’ rider, Dylan Long, returned from a nasty wrist injury and started to show his true potential. So much so that many MX pundits began to think that Long will take the battle up to Ferris this year in both the MX and SX title chase.

But who is Dylan Long, aside from the fact he’s an unassuming 23-year-old from the small Victorian town of Benalla and first came to prominence when he rocked up at the Nowra round of the 2015 MX Nats and upstaged the entire MX1 field? Well, over the past few seasons, we’ve seen a lot about Long’s riding and filming antics through social media channels, but not a lot from him on the national race scene. Long is the first to admit that his past three injury-marred seasons with Kawasaki, Honda and now Yamaha have been frustrating, which is why he’s so determined that this year is a breakout season for him in both MX and SX.

After Long returned from an afternoon’s training on the mountain bike – and a spot of fishing – we sat down with him to reflect on his debut season with CDR Yamaha and his aspirations for 2018.

TM: From a championship-winning perspective, Team CDR Yamaha has been ‘the team’ in Australia for many years. So was riding for CDR always a goal for you?
DL: For sure. I’ve looked up to the CDR team for years because they’ve always been the team who was winning more than anyone else. I’d dreamt about it, but never thought I’d actually be part of the CDR team one day. So when the opportunity came up a year ago, I jumped at it. It takes so many elements to be a successful team at the top level of the sport, and there’s no doubt that CDR’s experience and proven track record improves my chances of riding to my potential.

But it didn’t start well with the CDR. Is it true that you broke your wrist just three laps into your first day of testing on the Yami?
Yes, it is. It was actually just a practice ride at Park4MX. Two riders had come together after an 80-foot tabletop, so when I came over the thing blind, I had nowhere to go. The crash was unavoidable, and I mashed the scaphoid bone in my wrist. The bone busted into four pieces, plus the docs had to take a few floating pieces out. It was a gnarly injury to recover from too. And way worse than major ankle and shoulder and elbow injuries I’ve had, simply because I couldn’t hold onto the handlebars properly for a long time. It hurt when I rode and it took a lot of physio work to get enough flexibility back into the wrist.

And it destroyed pretty much half of your 2017 season, right?
It did. The injury turned the whole year into a struggle, and it meant we had very little time to do much testing or on-bike training. I came back for the last four rounds of the MX Nats, but I tried to listen to the team’s advice and be really smart about it. I ran fourth Overall at the final MX Nats round at Coolum, but the goal was really just to get through the MX season and build from there. Toward the end of the year, I was able to train more and I ran fourth in the Supercross Championship. I was pretty happy with that, but it took until the last couple of rounds for me to ride with much confidence. I ran second at the Adelaide round, just three seconds behind Justin Brayton, and I felt I was a top-three guy at the final round in the Queensland mud, but I hurt my hip in my heat race and that affected me in the final.

Were you concerned you hadn’t done enough to be offered a second year with the CDR Yamaha team in 2018?
Not really. At the end of the season, I spoke with Craig Dack. He was happy with the speed and potential I’d shown in the Supercross season. I think he realised he hadn’t seen what I was really capable of, so he offered me another one-year deal for 2018.

How much improvement do you think you’ve got in you?
A fair bit, actually. Having areas of your riding that you need to work on is always a positive thing as it means there’s room for improvement. And having a super-experienced guy like Craig Dack in your corner is a huge advantage. He knows how badly I want to win and how hard I’m willing to work to make that happen, and he’s able to identify the key areas where I can improve my game and win. He’s been there and done it himself, and as a team manager and owner, he’s got many other riders there.

With your teammate, Dean Ferris, being the reigning and two-time MX champ, and runner-up in the past two SX titles, do you feel like you’re in his shadow a bit?
A little. Dean has obviously been riding consistently well, but I see that having him as a teammate is a positive thing. I think it put a bit less pressure on me during the time I was coming back from the wrist injury, plus it gives me something to peg myself against every time we get out on the practice track. Dean and I were really close in the Supercross, and I know how fast I can be at motocross when I’m fit and strong. And I’ve learned a lot in the past year about my off-bike training and diet, so I’m really excited about the upcoming motocross season.

Some riders, such as Dean, get themselves in the zone by being serious and super-focused, whereas you’ve always tended to do better when you’re relaxed and having fun. Does that still work for you in the cutthroat factory team world?
I think most racers ride better when they’re having fun. When I get really angry and serious, I ride really fast, but I usually crash in the process [laughs], so keeping it fun is important for me. It’s true that when I joined the CDR Yamaha team, I had to learn to take things more seriously and be more organised and disciplined in my approach. So these days, I keep the fun aspect with the whip videos I post on my social media. In that world, people follow you when you’re having fun. But what they don’t see is all the hard work and training I put in before I go out and cut loose for the camera.

Does it bother you that many people know you better from your videos than your racing? That ‘Child’s Mind’ video you did got something like 90,000 views!
No, it doesn’t bother me. Even if it did, I’ve got the opportunity to change that by doing well in the 2018 race season. I just really enjoy filming, and I think that’s why my videos work so well. I grew up with Bret Trigg as one of my best mates, and he’s a top videographer who taught me a lot about filming and editing. Mate, I live in Benalla and there’s not that much to do around here [laughs], so putting videos together is a good distraction outside racing.

By the looks of your Instgram, you’re swinging off a fishing rod a fair bit too!
Yeah, that’s fair to say [laughs]. I live right next to some rivers that are really good for fishing, so it’s easy to sneak off for a fish in the afternoon.

The other standout thing about Craig Dack is the loyalty his CDR team has had to many sponsors – one of which is Monza Imports, who distribute Fox and Shift in Australia. So how did it work out that you and Dean wore different brands of riding gear last year?
Like you said, both Fox and Shift come under the Monza umbrella. Plus, I’ve ridden for Shift in the past and they really appreciate the value of the social media exposure I can bring to the table. So even though it was the first time that both CDR riders weren’t wearing Fox, it made total sense. If you look at Ken Roczen this year, he’s been racing in Fox and Shift. Technically, the Shift gear is right up there with Fox, and I think it’s cool to be a bit different from my teammate. We plan to do the same again for this coming season.

ACCORDING TO CRAIG DACK…

What does CDR Yamaha team principal, Craig Dack, think about the 23-year-old Victorian he signed 12 months ago? Here are Dack’s responses to a few topics we pressed him about:

Signing Dylan Long…
At the end of the day, like most team principles or team managers, I’m a continuous talent scout; always watching, observing and looking for the next ‘guy’. These days, we’re working with tighter budgets, so it’s important that a rider not only fits within the team budget, but also that he can be a title contender for both the motocross and supercross series. Dean Ferris has proved to be a very good supercross rider, but when we hired him, we couldn’t hang our hat on that fact. So that’s when I started looking for a guy who’d be strong across both MX and SX for the 2017 season. And Dylan Long fitted that description. The other thing was that Dylan is based in Victoria. And as a young guy who’s a bit of a rough diamond as a rider, having him in proximity to the team’s base makes the testing and rider development process a lot easier.

Long’s injury-marred 2017 season…
Dylan got really unlucky shortly after he’s joined CDR. When he was with Honda in 2016, he carried a wrist injury for the second half of the season. And then literally the first day he rode one of our bikes, he landed on a guy who’d already crashed on a down-ramp and broke the scaphoid bone in his wrist. It was unrelated to his previous wrist injury, but it put him on the back foot before the season had even begun. We were adamant not to bring him back from that injury too early, and to Dylan’s credit, he really listened to the team’s advice and direction. He didn’t ride over his head, and got stronger and stronger over the back half of the 2017 season; to the point he was clearly a top-five guy in the MX Nats by the final round. And I was very impressed with that. Then his best result was a second at the Adelaide round of the Supercross Championship. This year, he comes into the season fit and healthy, so we’ll be able to see what he’s really got.

Riding talent…
A lot of people are aware of Dylan from all his freeriding videos on social media, which is why he has a reputation as a guy with a lot of natural talent. I actually don’t think that’s the case. Technically, he’s got a few things that need to be ironed out. I don’t say that to put him down; I think that’s a positive thing because it gives us a lot to work with and room for improvement. We just need more time with him, and to help Dylan get himself organised better. He’s got a big heart and is a really determined character, so I think the sky’s the limit.

Splitting CDR’s team riders between Fox and Shift riding gear…
We’ve had Fox as a key CDR sponsor for many years, which has meant that both team riders wore Fox riding gear. For 2017, we split our riders – Dean Ferris remained in Fox, while Dylan Long wore Shift – and I believe Dylan’s large social media presence, general style and how he carried himself was a major reason for that. It was raised with me as an opportunity and we were open to it. The three main athletes around the world that Shift pushed last year were Gautier Paulin, Ken Roczen and Dylan Long. And with Monza Imports distributing both Fox and Shift in Australia, there was no conflict.


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