When you tune in to X Games, the Freestyle Moto X course you witness will be a bit different from the courses of years past. Long regarded as the home of the biggest and baddest outdoor courses in the business, the X Games Freestyle course is shoehorned inside the Staples Center this year. The course features three big landing surfaces, four ramps and one big dirt hit, and the talk in the peanut gallery is that this year will play to different strengths. I decided to check in with a few people in the know to get the scoop.
First, I tracked down X Games and Red Bull X-Fighters head judge Regis Harrington about the move inside. "We're going to see a different type of rider move to the top," Harrington said. "Guys who are used to riding inside arenas won't be intimidated because we don't have the type of big course we usually have." Although Harrington has to be impartial in his picks, I pushed a little on whom he thought was favored. "Some of the European riders could do really well," he said. "They are not going to get the usual pressure of being at X. It is going to feel a little more like they are used to, and the course won't separate people as much."
"The course is very basic, and we will have a Best Trick FMX contest," Villa said. "It doesn't take much general dirt-bike skills to put together a run on a course like this, so it gives a lot of other riders the chance to win -- riders who normally could not put together a proper run on a real FMX course. You will see some big tricks for sure." Villa was also cagey about who would really bring the pressure. "It'll be the rider that can mix in a podium-worthy Best Trick within his run and remain mistake-free," he said.
From Europe, I decided to head Down Under, since that is where it seems most of the top riders are test-tubed these days. Blake "Bilko" Williams is never short for a comment, so I knew he would have an opinion on the new course.
"Like everything, it's got its ups and downs, but I think the biggest up is the weather," Williams said. "There's going to be no worries about rain; it's not going to be that hot. It's pretty much perfect for everyone, and course conditions won't play a factor because everything is so basic.
"So it's kind of like your 10-best-tricks contest. Outdoors you've got to figure out creative lines and pick the way you want to go around the course, whereas here it's pretty much the same loop everyone's going to be doing."
I asked Bilko whether he had changed his training approach because of the changes this year. "Yeah. You don't really have to practice too much other than just the ramps," he said." The dirt double is going to be about the same size as the ramp. I've just been practicing to get back up to scratch in general and not practicing anything specific except for the big tricks that I've had before.
"It is going to be something to deal with steering dampers and stuff on a tight little course. Landing a jump and then turning around and jumping right again, whereas on an outdoor course there's a little bit more space and you have time to switch your flip levers up, play with your steering damper and all that stuff. Here is going to be a lot tighter, and you are going to be more rushed with that stuff."
When asked who will be big threats out there in Los Angeles, Bilko said, "Not sure if Dany Torres is going to be back from injury, but the way he was riding in Rome and Madrid, he definitely has a lot of variety and really big tricks. Of course Nate [Adams] is pretty good, maybe Adam Jones or Villa. It's pretty much anyone's -- it's going to be hard to separate!"
The "other" Aussie, Robbie "Maddo" Maddison, is racing Rally Car for the first time at X17, but he insists that he's really looking forward to the Freestyle Moto X comp. "I'm excited," he said. "I know that in the past, being in the California summertime, the courses really got slippery and dried out a lot. With the indoor conditions I think the moisture content in the dirt is going to be a lot easier for the track guys to control. I think we can expect pretty near perfect conditions, which will allow for the highest level of riding."
"I'm also excited about the biggest jump on the course. It's the 90-foot jump which is using the long-distance ramp, jacked up. It's going to allow for riders to get some big airtime, going a lot higher than normally and having that point of zero gravity present for a lot longer in the jump. You can expect bigger extensions, tricks held longer and really give us a taste of the way the sport's evolving. I think the riders are enjoying that sensation of more pop out of the ramp, it helps with body varials and gives you a lot longer to let go of the bike."
As to who Maddison thinks will be a force to reckon with on the tight course, he said, "If Levi Sherwood makes it back [from injury], he's going to be a top-seeding guy for sure. Like we saw in London at Red Bull X-Fighters on the jump with the popped-up ramp, he is able to hold crazy extension on his tricks. The young kid's timing is just perfect, you know? He's my pick as far as a guy I've got to go after and the guy that I have really got to keep in mind to adopt a similar riding style."
It's pretty evident that we are going to see something different in the Freestyle Moto X comp this year, but the common thread from all the riders and other industry insiders is that this year is going to be a trick spectacle like no other. Be sure to line up early, because I get the feeling that the Staples Center is going to be packed to the rafters.