Robby Bell Interview: For the Love of Riding
The name Robby Bell is one that should bring to mind one of the top riders within the world of dirt. From motocross, to Baja, to WORCS, Robby has done it and made quite a few shelves far less empty with trophies and well deserved accolades throughout his career.
Having a philosophical and no nonsense approach to riding and life, Robby embodies the essence of the sport and the reasons we all started riding in the first place. Robby takes to the track or course with a determination unmatched by many in the sport today, and more often than not comes home the winner. Open and forthcoming, when we sent off a request to interview Robby he was gracious enough to respond in a truly candid manner.
Q – First off, thanks for the opportunity to interview you. As a refresher, what got you into riding dirt bikes and what was your first bike?
A – Well my dad had been riding and racing dirt bikes for quite a few years in the Ocotillo desert (District 38) and he enjoyed having my mom and me out there with him. I guess it was only natural that he wanted to get a little PW50 for me so I could share his passion for riding.
Q – Now, why race? When did you feel that you had to race and why? A – I had participated in the local kids races in the desert as I was growing up, but I never took it too seriously until I turned 16. I had a very well-rounded childhood in terms of sports participation: six years of little league baseball, a couple years of YMCA basketball, twelve years of soccer on a traveling club team and even a year of JV tennis in high school, but I always loved watching Supercross, Jeff Stanton, Ezra Lusk and Robbie Reynard in particular, and I remember one day telling my dad I wanted to put all of the other sports behind me and try riding some motocross. I had never ridden a true motocross track before I was 15 years old and the learning curve was steep, but I quickly improved and even qualified for the Loretta Lynn’s amateur national in my first year of trying. From there I can honestly say I didn’t have a plan to “make it”, I was just a naïve kid having fun racing.
Q – So, I gather you ended up doing a lot of the mechanic work yourself then as well in the early days? (Lead in/out & from reading your blog)
A – Believe it or not I actually did most of the upkeep on my bikes growing up. My dad owned a shop, which was very fortunate for me as I had access to many tools and plenty of knowledge, but he was busy growing his business and so I learned the basics of maintenance on my two-stroke 125- changing top ends, tires, etc. I actually carried that in to my early years with Factory Honda as I still did most of the maintenance and bolt-on work on my practice and race bikes, short of top and bottom ends on the much more complex four-stroke machines.
Q – With all that being said, what is your favorite race to enter and participate in? Favorite track?
A – That’s a great question, but a difficult one for me to answer. I have a few different favorites for different reasons. The Loretta Lynn’s national was a blast because of the whole process of the event: qualifying all over the west coast; lot’s of time traveling to the races with my dad; then the feeling of being one of the top 40 riders in my particular class at a week-long national event definitely made for some cherished memories. One of my favorite off road races is the Baja 500; it’s a great length for a two-man team, some of my favorite terrain in Baja (Mike’s sky ranch in particular), and of course it carries that Baja excitement factor with it. My favorite GP was the Honey Lake WORCS race in 2006. It was a rainy weekend, which made for perfect track conditions, I really enjoy the circuit there, and that race in particular was the first time I showed myself I could compete with the WORCS racers on the pro stage. My favorite track would probably be Glen Helen, though Cahuilla and the Ranch are close runners up.
Q – You actually raced amateur motocross until the Factory Honda Off-Road Team came calling, yes? Was there a desire to race the desert, near and where you are from, over the tracks of motocross? Would you have moved onto such racing had not Honda called your number?
A – I’m not sure I would have moved quite as willingly in to the off road discipline if it weren’t for the opportunity with which Honda presented me. It was late-2004 and at the time I still had aspirations of making it in the motocross world, but I was struggling to get support and the chance was too good to pass up. I’m definitely glad I took their offer as I’ve learned so much along the journey. I also feel, knowing what I know now about myself, a full Supercross-motocross schedule may have led to burn out. Motocross is always going to be a passion of mine, but the off road community and lifestyle has embraced and suited me quite well over the years and I’m very thankful for that.
Q – What is it that brought you to WORCS, and what is it that draws you to WORCS racing and that style of race?
A – I’m very fond of the WORCS events because they offer a combination of two things I love about racing dirt bikes: motocross and races that are longer then motocross length. As much as I do enjoy the fast, flowing deserts of Nevada or the challenges of racing in Baja, I’m definitely drawn to the grand prix style of racing. It’s intense, physical and (at least compared to amateur motocross) you actually get some quality time on the track for the entry fee. Baja may have helped put me in a more international spotlight, but WORCS is the home I keep coming back to.
Q – Thus far in WORCS, and as of this interview, you have made the podium in all but one race allowing you to be in serious contention for the championship this year. Please, tell us how you prepare for a WORCS season to be at the top of the field each time out.
A – I definitely prepare for a WORCS season a lot differently than I did this year. Within the past couple years I’ve really improved my diet and refined my training techniques to suite my personal body composition, but this year I’ve had a few injury set backs that have backed up against one another and kept me from any kind of solid training program. It’s something every racer has to deal with at some point in their career and it’s actually helped me realize how little I’ve been injured throughout mine. For me personally, the diet was a huge deal and finally allowed me to reach more of the potential I felt I had. Fortunately that’s not affected by injury, but my physical strength is something else I’ve needed to improve and that has suffered a bit this year.
Q – Now, after you left Honda you started riding a Kawasaki backed KX450F. What can you tell us about your current set up and what you have done to the bike to make it “race ready”.
A – There’s really not a whole lot I need to do to get the bike “race ready”, the Kawasaki truly is a fantastic machine; it’s more about adding the personal touches to increase my comfort and confidence, making the bike more personal for me. That comes in the form of finding the right bend on my Renthals, the right compound of my A’ME grips, working with my dad and Precision Concepts to get the suspension set up for my taste, the right combination of Dunlops from track to track, etc. There are a few things we do as well for performance/longevity like special FMF pipes, DT1 air and oil filters, BRP and Zip-Ty wear products, LAPC pistons, in house engine modifications, and a new company we’re working with, CryoHeat, treats the cases of the motor for better longevity, strength and heat dissipation.
Q – Switching gears to focus on your other love, Baja. What are the differences between Baja and WORCS for those not really familiar with both?
A – The similarities between WORCS and Baja don’t go too much further than the idea that they’re both in the “off road” discipline and require that you ride a dirt bike. WORCS is more fast-twitch, physically taxing, meaning you’re close to your threshold physically for two hours in controlled conditions on a seven to twelve minute loop. Baja is much more mentally challenging as even though the terrain may not be quite as physically demanding (save for San Felipe where the truck whoops will make anyone’s back muscles scream), the speeds and unpredictable natures of the obstacles you may face require a vigilant focus for extended periods of time. The consequences of a crash in Baja are usually greater as well with the elevated speed and risk making it quite an accomplishment to simply cross the finish line in Baja.
Q – When most people think of Baja they think “nothing but sand, and sand of all differing types to throw you off your riding and focus”. How true is this and what tips do you have for riding well in the sand, and Baja?
A – Baja has quite a mixture of hard-packed roads and sandy washes and flatlands. On the roads it’s more about line selection and cutting across the apex of the corner to maintain speed (safely; you never push the limits around blind corners down there). The sand requires a bit more use of the lower body to control the bike as riding upper-body-heavy can wear you out very quickly. Sand also has a flow to it, you want to look ahead as much as possible to maintain your momentum as when you scrub speed it takes some work to get back on top and driving forward.
Q – What changes are made to your bikes going from WORCS to Baja?
A – The Baja set up is a lot more longevity-oriented. Baja is all about keeping the bike running well for the entire distance and with the higher speeds and choppier/rockier terrain, the suspension is adjusted to blow through the stoke quicker on sharp impacts and allow a bit more comfort to the rider for extended hours of seat time. WORCS is purely about speed; the motor, the suspension and handling are set up to allow for more potential speed (not top speed, but racing speed: corner speed, acceleration, etc.).
Q – Let us not forget that you race in other events as well as other motorsports. What events and series do you race besides WORCS and Baja? (I know, but I want a few lead in/out questions from your elaboration, please.)
A – Besides the series I’ve focused on through the years I’ve also raced in numerous AMA MX National events, earning a couple top twenty finishes; I have a long history with the 24 Hours of Glen Helen, a favorite until about 3 in the morning when I start questioning why I continue putting my body through the abuse [laughs]; I also really enjoy the Mammoth Motocross as a bit of a working vacation, staying up there for a week to hike, ride mountain bikes and then do a little dirt bike racing. I’ll hit a BIG 6 grand prix occasionally, a local SRA or REM race at Glen Helen to mix it up, but I’m starting to enjoy the off weekends, spending time with my wife, family and friends.
Q – I have watched several videos of you riding and your riding style, and I must say that you are quite fluid in your approach. Any tips for our younger riders, and older, to them tackle any and all challenges?
A – One of the challenges I’ve faced in my career was evolving my riding style to the bigger, more powerful bikes and higher speeds. I feel the two stroke riding style differs quite a bit from the one a four stroke demands and a lot of riders still use that two-stroke technique because they’re unaware of a different way. With a two-stroke, you could man handle it a bit more and could afford to use your upper body to control the bike. On four strokes, between the weight and inertia of the bikes, they require more use of the hips and legs to be an efficient, strong and safe rider. They’re also more physically demanding machines, requiring a bit more strength than the two strokes. There’s a reason Villopoto is so dominant, ok maybe a few reasons [laughs], and one of the big ones is how he uses his feet and legs to control the bike. Stewart is a great example of posture and how to use your hips, but I feel sometimes he gets a little lazy, especially with his legs, which is why he’ll randomly suffer a mistake or crash.
Q – For our readers that are also young riders, what is a “problem area” you often see in young, beginning riders that they should curb?
A – I definitely feel good posture is one of the most crucial aspects of riding to properly train, but it’s something that can be so hard to learn and/or fix. I’ll use Stewart as an example again of probably the most efficient and proper riding styles on the track. If he used his feet the way Villopoto does, it would make for even more potential than they both show right now in my opinion (which is hard to believe). The other two big points are vision- getting your eyes looking up the track and seeing the terrain early- and breathing- taking controlled, deep, belly breaths instead of short shallow breaths that I feel so many riders tend to do.
Q – What, in your opinion, is the most used riding technique in the races you are often in? Does it also transcend into riding the weekend warrior would make good use of? (Clutch and throttle control, gear selection, weight placement, etc.?)
A – No matter what the conditions or terrain, the basic principles stay the same: I try to use my hips, legs and feet to control the bike instead of relying entirely on my upper body, and try to keep a straight back; I also work on my vision and breathing to be a safer, faster, smoother rider. These are all things that will help anyone, whether they want to gain speed, control, efficiency or just be able to ride longer without feeling completely wore out.
Q – I recently read your blog and took note of what came across as a fondness for a bike I too have a love for, the 125cc two-stroke. However, within that article you touched on several key aspects to what riding, at least to me, is all about. Having fun, learning your machine inside and out, and having a closeness with family and friends. Would you care to elaborate more on this, and others, please?
A – There’s no denying riding and racing dirt bikes has been incredibly family oriented for me. I’ve been in the unique position of having a father who owns a motorcycle shop so he could help me tremendously with working on the bike, going to the races with me, etc., but I think for anyone the nature of this sport lends itself to a family-oriented experience. For me it’s gone even further than that: I met my wife through friends and family at the races; most of my best friends are also racers; in fact, all six of my groomsmen at my wedding were guys I met through racing. There can definitely be tough aspects about our sport: injuries, pressures to perform, the overambitious parent, but at its core this sport, at least for most people, is just like any other hobby out there: a person is passionate about it and wants to share that passion with those close to him/her. And it’s a passion that can lead to a lot of great experiences, incredible stories, and friends that will last forever. What more could you want from a hobby?
Q – What lies in store for you and the years to come?
A – To be honest, I’m in the process of working that out. I really enjoy racing, and I’m thankful for everything this lifestyle has awarded me, but with the injuries this year I’m realizing I’m not going to be racing forever and I’ve started thinking about what’s next for me. I’m enjoying the writing aspect of posting my race reports and blogs and I’m definitely going to be pursuing that, along with my borderline obsession with health, nutrition, and knowledge in general. I’m definitely looking forward to growing continually as a person alongside my beautiful wife Katie and starting a family with her in the not too distant future. From everyone I’ve talked to I’ve heard that’ll be the experience of a lifetime.
Q – Tell us a bit about your sponsors, please.
A – I’m definitely very fortunate to have the personal sponsors that have stepped up and supported me this year. Of course Precision Concepts has been there since day one, Kawasaki has been amazing to me for the past six years, THR Motorsports, Focus Apparel, MSR riding gear, Shoei helmets, Sidi boots, Spy goggles, EVS knee braces, USWE hydration systems, FMF racing, BRP, Alamo Alarm company, Northland Motorsports, Ryan Abbatoye Designs, Jan’s Towing and ATP Mechanix supplements. There’s also a long list of team sponsors I’d like to thank: Dunlop, FMF, Renthal, GPR stabilizer, Hinson, VP Race Fuels IMS, BRP, Kalgard lubricants, LA Piston Co., A’ME grips, Braking, RK/Excel, ARC levers, DT1 filters, Acerbis, Zip-Ty, Ryan Abbatoye Designs, Seal Savers, Baja Designs, Northland Motorsports, CryoHeat, and Hoosier Precision Machining. I have a ton of great people and companies behind and supporting me for which I am very grateful and I’m doing and will continue to do my best to represent them well.
And there you have it folks. Robby Bell, a great rider, racer, and truly all around candid character I have enjoyed interviewing. Well-spoken and a good writer as well. Check out his blog at http://www.robbybellracing.com/blog/. Good reads and I recommend them. Matter-of-fact, just checkout the entire site. Good stuff!
Again, thank you Robby for this opportunity and good luck in the races and events to come. We here at Dirt Hammers wish you the best of luck.
Until next time, stay dirty my friends.
Richard Hughes: Editor
Ryan D. Hackney: Interviewer