[Riding]

How-To: Tackle the AORC

2 years ago | Words: Martin Child | Photos: Andy Wigan

With the 2018 Yamaha Australian Off-Road Championship (AORC) officially underway, we thought it was a good time to throw it back to a how-to feature we originally published in Issue #32 of Transmoto Dirt Bike Magazine back in 2013. Why? Because these key techniques demonstrated by enduro legends, Toby Price, Chris Hollis, Daniel Milner, and Jarrod Bewley will help you improve your approach to the all-important melee-avoiding first corner, to literally keeping your head up when you’re physically spent.

FIRST IN, FIRST OUT?

It’s the first round of the 2013 AORC, and the start of the first cross-country of the year. From the traditional dead-engine start, the riders fire along the 100m straight into a large braking zone. The entry to the corner is very wide, being approximately 15m across. There’s bunting around the outside of the corner, though none on the inside – potential hazards in the uncut grass being enough of a deterrent to anyone thinking about cutting the inside line too obviously. Although the entry and middle of this corner look pretty flat from this angle, the apex dips down and has been swamped by the massive amount of rain the course received the week before.

Coupled with the rise on the exit, the middle portion of this left-hander quickly became a muddy hellhole, forcing the riders to choose either inside or outside lines around the natural central swamp. They’ve had a sighting lap to spot this obstacle but, as it’s constantly changing as the field of bikes ride through each lap, no two passes are exactly the same. KTM teammates Toby Price and Chris Hollis are the first in and out of this corner at the start of the three-hour event, having chosen to take the longer outside line, while Husqvarna’s Lachlan Stanford (#46) has taken the inside line, which is clearly sharper and steeper, but offers a slower apex speed. The trio is the first to emerge from the rise and head into the next set of corners – a 180-degree right followed by a 90-degree left.

CHRIS HOLLIS’ TAKE

“The start’s a free-for-all, so you have to get there early. I’ve picked a spot over towards the outside of the track to launch from. I’m more concerned about setting myself up for a decent entry into this corner, rather than worrying about the start itself. Toby Price is to my right. The pair of us are first into the corner. I’ve followed him in and we’ve taken a wide line to carry as much speed as possible. I’ve turned in earlier than him. There are two reasons for this: I don’t want to get filled in by his roost as he gets back on the gas and I reckon my line will allow for a better entry to the next corner, which is a right. With Lachlan staying wide and engaging in a braking contest with Pricey, I brake earlier and undercut the pair of them, and grab the lead from the apex of the next turn.”

HEAD & SHOULDERS ABOVE

It’s the first year for the 2009 A4 DE champ aboard Husaberg machinery, but he’s clearly getting to grips with it. This shot was taken nearing the end of Round 2 and shows how the Pro-level riders keep focused right to the end of the event. The previous day’s round had seen the field attack the three-hour cross-country race and Bewley – regarded as one of the fittest athletes on tour – looked physically drained after the event, as the course was tight, bumpy, rocky and unforgiving. This image demonstrates the muscle memory of a Pro rider and the importance of correct body position. For as tired as he is here, his stance on the bike hasn’t faltered, and he remains in the attack position and leading with his head.

Arms are bent at the elbows to give the perfect position over the bars, while his knees are bent to allow his tired torso a degree of insulation against the rutted course. His calves and boots grip the bike so he can control any major bucking or directional changes. All this action is very much on the cards as this is a very sketch section of the lap. Diving out of forest-clad singletrail, he’s straight on the gas and clicking up to fourth gear to attack the incline he’s faced with. Even with massive trees lining the course, Bewley’s eyes are more concerned with the skull-sized rock that’s appeared on the racing line. This is forcing him to make a choice between left and right of the obstacle, although later in the day a rut will appear on the outside, and that becomes the favoured line. Using the outer edge of the rut to rail against, it forces the bike to drop back onto the centre line, offering the best set-up for the next bend.

JARROD BEWLEY’S TAKE

“The humidity took its toll that weekend. Riding in and out of the gullies had me struggling for breath, as the air was heavy and really hot. Luckily, when training I only have one body position that I’ll maintain (for each different situation), so even when I’m really struggling, my first reaction is to hold the correct posture that’ll see me carry on with speed and without draining me any further. Not only is riding this way the fastest, but it also conserves the most energy as you aren’t fighting the bike unnecessarily. At this level of riding, you have to have the correct style as your base setting, otherwise you’ll drop down the racing order like a stone when tired.”

ROCK BOTTOM

This picture looks like enduro perfection, but there’s deception hiding in that loamy grass. From the rider’s point of view, the scene is scarred with energy-sapping and front tyre-grabbing hidden surprises. The apex of the last corner is off-camber, and the procession of bikes throughout the two rounds mean that the loamy topsoil has been shifted to the edges, exposing the seams of rock that lay under the track’s surface. Combine that with the abundance of loose rock and the emergence of sinkholes (big enough to see plenty of riders hit their chests against the bars when running through them), then you get a pretty good picture of this 5-metre wide track.

With the braking zone becoming more and more cut up and the rocky apex not conducive to running high mid-corner speed, this exit quickly became rutted as riders tried to find grip (and therefore drive) at the edges of the track. With the unknown obstacles hidden in the long grass, not many riders looked beyond the natural edges and, when they became bumpy themselves, the chosen line was back up the guts of the track. It then became a bit of a horsepower lottery as to which line worked best.

Yamaha-mounted Josh Green used the extra power of the 450 to square the corner and drive the bike up the inside of the exit, while 250-mounted Glenn Kearney took the faster, smoother outside line to keep the smaller bike revving and torquing.

DANIEL MILNER’S TAKE

Off-camber doesn’t cover it – the angle of the slope at the apex was pretty extreme and the rough and rutted surface made the whole section very sketchy. I was trying to get on the inside line every lap to find the freshly mown grass and smoother ground, and get some traction. I’m in second gear and on the gas, so it’s important, on the 250cc, to hook the rear tyre up and find some momentum before the next section. I’m not keen to venture into the longer, uncut grass, as you can see the logs and such hiding in there. Most riders have stuck to the main line through this corner, but that leads you into the numerous sinkholes that would nearly stop the smaller bikes in their tracks. It was easier for me to cross the main rut twice – at the start and end of the section – and you can see how hard I’m gripping the bike with my knees to stop it being deflected off some of the bigger rocks strewn across the track.”

DEEP ENOUGH TO SINK A CHAMP!

One of the biggest (read, deepest and muddiest) obstacles the riders faced was this man-made quagmire. With around 150 bikes passing through this water-filled trench every lap, and most riders punching out six laps before the end of the first round’s three-hour race, it went from being a poorly draining marsh into an absolute nightmare. How bad? Well, multiple world champ, Stefan Merriman, and current AORC champ, Toby Price, both lost precious time in this section (Merriman was ‘stuck’ for over a minute), so you know it’s not a simple case of paddling through while spinning the rear wheel. By the second lap, the central trenches were more than axle-deep, with the footpegs acting more like anchors, and the gloop becoming more like quicksand. Most of the front-runners approached the boghole with due caution.

With a high-speed entry leading to a slippery S-bend needing careful negotiation before entering the boghole itself, many chose to stop completely and mentally ride through. Standing out in this section was the Sherco Australia Off-road racing team, comprising riders who have made the switch from trials to enduro for the AORC. The best exponent of this crossover skill-set was Dylan Rees, who entered slowly and then proceeded to climb the sides of the trench and skirt the majority of the mess. Standing all the way, he made it look easy, with no leg flapping or risk of sucking water into the airbox. His technique ensured he always found the firmer ground earlier than the other AORC regulars. At only 20m long, there was never much time to be gained through this boggy section, but there was plenty that could be lost.

DYLAN REES’ TAKE

“From the high-speed grasstrack, the entry into this section dropped away to a blind bend and the whole scene was sketchy. The danger was going in too fast and being left with nothing but the outside line to choose from. I chose to enter slower (pretty hard to do when in the heat of battle!) and that gave me more time to pick a better line through the slop. Each lap, the area got wider as more and more riders looked for firmer ground, but each time I would leave the furthest tracks up on the left-hand bank. Trials skills have taught me to let the bike move around underneath me more than the enduro guys do. Where I’m standing wide on the bike, they’re gripping hard with their calves. The trials technique makes it easier to stay on the pegs and ride cleanly through, using a constant throttle and clutch slipping to keep my 300 driving and not bogging.”

ELBOWS & KNEES HELD HIGH

From a spectator’s point of view, the ‘death-spiral’ that the riders had to negotiate at the end of every lap represented the best, and longest, section where they could catch a glimpse of their favourites. For the riders, however, it must have felt like Groundhog Day on two wheels. From space, the course must have resembled a giant snail’s shell – a series of ever-tightening corners diving into an inverted spiral, the centre of which sees the track double back on itself and loop back out.

Plenty of riders saw their entry speed too high and had to brake, turn and have various bites-at-the-muddy-cherry on the way round. This image of KTM’s Toby Price shows the style needed to maintain corner speed throughout the section. Check out his right boot: toes pointed so that there’s no stabbing of the ground that can send the boot (and leg) flying towards the back of the bike and act like a pendulum. His left foot is welded to the peg and frame rails, applying downward pressure to make the tyres bite into the ground.

His head is low, but his vision is fixed on looking ahead and not down. The front tyre has a battle to find just the right amount of grip, highlight by just how far back and central his head is. This is because he’s past the critical part of the corner for the frontend and is focused on getting the rear wheel to grip and drive.

TOBY PRICE’S TAKE

“This was about midway through the day. The ground was still soft with moisture, and there were plenty of lines to chose from. On the big 500cc bike, I could pretty much torque it through this section in third gear, though the size of the field meant that the ground was constantly changing and you had to read each corner, rather than rely on what you knew from the previous lap. My right foot’s pretty planted here – I’ve enough pressure on it to feel the contours of the ground beneath my sole and to act as a stabiliser to the bike, especially the front. This is mid-corner and I’ve started to move my weight back and give aid to getting the back to drive out and towards the next section. My eyes are focused to the end of the rut I was in and then on to the next bend. Smooth and consistent were the keys here.”


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