HOW TO RIDE: CONQUERING OBSTACLES
QUAD TERRAIN CHALLENGE CHAMP JESSE WEST TELLS YOU HOW TO GET PAST ANYTHING
Jesse West knows a thing or two about survival and, coincidentally, riding a monster-sized 4×4 in rough terrain. He proved this by taking his Arctic Cat 650 H1 4×4 to the top spot in the 2007 Quad Terrain Challenge Series that runs in conjunction with the WPSA ATV Motocross circuit. Televised on ESPN2, this exciting race format has proven to be a big hit with spectators and even couch potato fans. For the racers themselves, though, it is more an exercise in survival training.
|Sponsor: Arctic Cat
Racing number: 888
Height: 6′ 1″
Weight: 175 lb.
|Hometown: Thief River Falls, MN
Current ride: Arctic Cat 650 H1 4×4
Favorite type of riding: Motocross, trails, all types
Hobbies: Snocross, Hunting, Fishing, Racing 4×4’s
Current job: Engineering development at Arctic Cat and full time racing.
SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST
If you have had a chance to observe this exciting exhibition of 4×4 riding, in person or on TV, you soon realize that simply making it one lap around these “obstacle”-laden courses is amazing. The course funnels riders through thick quad-swallowing mud holes, through massive rock fields, then into stacks of piled up powerpoles. Finally, the riders are sent over motocross style jumps and turns. All at breakneck speeds, with other racers clawing their way around the course, all aboard massive 4×4 quads. Once you’ve actually seen it, then you’ve witnessed some of the gnarliest racing ever devised.
It is no small compliment to say that the top riders who compete in this race series are among the best 4×4 and motocross riders in the world. We spoke with Jesse West, the new WPSA Quad Terrain Champ, who hails from Thief River Falls, Minnesota, to find out what it takes to conquer this formidable form of racing.
Dirt Wheels: What is the most difficult obstacle you’ve faced when racing Quad Terrain Challenge?
Jesse West: Rocks. They have stepped up the rock obstacles in this series now. Some of the worst are the ones that have sections where you drag mud into the rocks. That makes them slick, jagged and dangerous. The last event of the year in Bowden, Pennsylvania had the toughest rock section yet.
One of the toughest forms of ATV racing to emerge in the last year or two has been the Quad Terrain Challenge 4×4 events. These races only started a year ago, but they already boast full-on factory sponsored teams and have earned status as a no-holds-barred form of competition.
DW: How do you approach the rocks?
JW: You need to keep your momentum up prior to getting into them. You also need to already have your lines picked out. You don’t want to get in a section and then change lines in the middle of it. Knowing what size boulders you can clear is also a key to getting through these sections unscathed.
DW: What do you do when the guy in front of you hangs up on a rock, then?
JW: You either have to move them out of your way or take a different path. Surprisingly, the easy line is where most people get stuck usually. Then you have to divert unto the biggest, baddest rock sections. To get through these, you have to lay the hammer down then and attack it aggressively. Anything less, and then you’re stuck as well.
“While you don’t want to hit any mud hole wide open, and made a huge splash, you do want to accelerate as hard as possible all the way up to it (when racing of course). I do all my major braking right before the obstacles and sometime even use them to help me slow down,” says West.
DW: Does the type of machine you’re riding have anything to do with how you attack a section?
JW: Yes. Our Arctic Cat’s high ground clearance allows us to straddle rocks that some others might get hung up on. We get about 10-1/2 to 11 inches of ground clearance on our race quads. That is because we downsize the tires (ITP ATR Holeshots 25×8-12 all the way around) and lower the c.g. as much as possible to make it better handling in the motocross sections. It’s a trade-off, but since a standard Cat’s ground clearance is 12 inches, we can get away with lowering it a bit. Some of the riders using other brands don’t have as much ground clearance so they have to run with what they’ve got.
DW: How do you attack the telephone pole sections?
JW: Depending on the spacing, you decide what your rhythm is going to be. I usually will jump into and jump out of them, depending on the spacing. If you can, make the pole section into a series of mini double jumps. Keep your momentum up as well.
DW: How do you make good time around a rugged course like we see on TV?
JW: You want to brake late into the rough sections and be as consistent as possible all around the course. I will even use the first few obstacles to help slow down the vehicle, like the rocks or logs, and then carry my momentum through them. The smoother you are, the easier it is to stay on track.
DW: What kind of grip do you like to keep on the bars?
JW: It’s best to not have a death grip on the bars. There are times that you centerpunch a rock or log and the machine stops instantly. If you have a death grip, then your hand can get whacked. You need a fairly loose grip to be ready to react to an instant ’stoppie’ but not so loose that your hands come flying off the bars. I try to ride as relaxed as possible. In the motocross sections I ride with a more relaxed grip than in the rocks and logs. You do have to keep a firm hand on the bars in these sections to manhandle the machine through. It’s a balancing act between holding on for dear life and not getting your hands smacked. It’s probably a lot like bull riding. Find a good rhythm and make sure you don’t get bucked off for the eight seconds you’re in the rock section [laughs].
(Left) “ You want to attack the rock sections on the tracks we compete on,” says Jesse. “Keep your momentum up and stick to one line…only change lines if you have to. Knowing what size boulders you can clear, and your machines ground clearance, is essential in this type of competition.” (Right) “Search out your path through a difficult section before you get there,” adds Jesse. “If you can, watch someone else go up the trail or obstacle and notice how the machine reacts when they’re riding. Always keep your wits about you and you will be surprised at how you can conquer almost any obstacle out there with a plan and proper technique….”
DW: What’s the most important consideration for riding over tough obstacles?
JW: You need to be in tip top physical condition. The Quad Terrain Challenge is one of the toughest series going. Tougher than motocross, tougher than cross country, and it takes excellent conditioning to be able to do it well. I’ve raced XC, MX and Snocross and it’s tougher than any of those. You have to be able to take pain and still ride. It’s still fun, because of the challenge of riding over the obstacles and the competition.
DW: Anything else you want to add?
JW: I’d like to thank the spectators, the other riders and my sponsors. Thanks to Arctic Cat, ITP tires and wheels, Rocky at SpeedFX, and Black Magic PowerSports. Also my brother and family for supporting me. My brother (Josh) also races the Quad Terrain Challenge events with me in the pros and took rookie of the year honors in the WPSA series.
(Left) “Surprisingly, the easy line is where most riders end up getting stuck,” says OTC champ Jesse West. (Right) “ When you have to divert into where the biggest and baddest rocks are, you want to be able to lay the hammer down to get through them,”