Back in 2000, Travis Pastrana was a 16-year-old kid who was already one of the best known motocrossers in the world. That was when Roger DeCoster was just beginning to understand what he had in Travis. In the July, 2000 issue of Dirt Bike, Roger wrote a column about getting to know the real Travis. A year later, Roger arranged for Travis and his Suzuki RM125 to meet us at Glen Helen. That appeared in the July 2001 issue. Here are both stories for quick blast from the past.
TRAVIS & ME
By Roger DeCoster
“Hi, Roger. This is Travis Pastrana. I just called to tell you I broke my thumb. Other than that, everything is going well. Don’t worry, I’ll be ready for Indy.”
I just stared at the message machine for a minute or two. It had to be a Mitch Payton-style joke. It was two weeks before the east-coast 125 opener at Indianapolis, and I really didn’t need any bad news. Greg Albertyn had just broken his leg and Travis was the only bright spot on my horizon. I called and, sure enough, Travis had broken his thumb. But it didn’t seem to matter to him. He was upbeat and positive and he was sure that a trivial thing like a broken bone (a small one) wasn’t going to be any handicap for his first real Supercross just a few days away. But Travis is always positive, happy and upbeat. I didn’t know how to read through all that. I had a hard time not letting him feel my disappointment, thinking the chance for a title was over before we even started. I couldn’t recall anyone ever winning a Supercross in a cast.
But Travis is different.
I understand that better than ever now. He raced the first three races of the season in a cast, came back to win a few rounds and was in contention for the title all the way through the series. All the way through he carried an air of confidence and happiness that just didn’t seem natural in a 16-year-old rookie. But on the other hand, there has never been another 16-year-old rookie in quite his position. Before Travis ever set a wheel on a track at a points-paying race, he already was as well known as any rider short of Jeremy McGrath. He had already been on various TV events, the Letterman show, and he had already ignited a bit of controversy with his now-famous jump into the San Francisco bay. He got all this notoriety through freestyle jumping, of course, and so people assumed that he crossed over from one sport to another. That’s not how it happened, though. Travis had been racing for years in Suzuki’s support program. The freestyle came later. He discovered that he was good at it and it probably grew into a challenge. In amateur racing there are only a few really big races, so that left time for him to experiment with other things (like deliberately stepping off his motorcycle 40 feet in the air). It helped him with sponsors and he loved it. But that’s just one thing that makes him different.
On the track, he’s easy to spot. He’s the lanky rider who makes a full-size motorcycle look like a minibike. He’s fun to watch, because you never know what’s going to happen. He tries things that no one else even thinks about–I’m not sure if it’s creativity or just the fact that no one told him something can’t be done. And there’s always the question–will he do some crazy freestyle stunt? All this combines with blazing speed and occasional rookie mistakes to make him the most entertaining rider on the track.
Other things on the Why Travis Is Different List: He has a work ethic and discipline that seem way out of place in a present-day 16-year-old. It could be his upbringing, or maybe there’s something in the water in Annapolis. But I think it’s just the way he is. He’s made a choice for himself and decided that’s who he wants to be. Then there’s his attitude toward the fans. It’s almost like he wants to meet every spectator individually and have a chat with him. For 20 years, I’ve been pushing my riders to step up their level of responsibility with the public. I try to get them to be on time for autograph sessions and to always do more PR work. With Travis, I have to do the opposite. I’m the mean old man who has to tear him away from fans and make him get on the bike. The bike can be running, practice can be open–and he’s still signing autographs! The fans love him for it, too. The line for his autographs stretches around the lines for most other riders.
All this means that there’s huge pressure on him. With so many fans, sponsors and journalists already expecting miracles, that’s a very heavy weight to bear. Very few riders have had such high expectations at such an early age; perhaps Carmichael and one or two others. All the attention can easily backfire. It serves to motivate your competition. How is he standing up to it? So far so good. But I can’t help but wonder if the fans will understand as his attention becomes more and more divided and he can’t spend quite as much time with them.
Oh, yeah. At a test session the other day, I asked if he was happy with how the bike was working. His answer: “Perfect. It flies real well!”
The funny thing is, I think he was serious.
TRAVIS PASTRANA’S 2001 RM125
At 6’2″ and 170 pounds, Travis is pretty big for a 125. Heck, he makes the RM250 look tiny! Not only does Pastrana run a tall seat, his handlebars are 5mm higher and 6mm farther forward than anyone else on the 125 team. Travis’ works footpegs are moved 12mm back and 12mm lower than stock. He also uses a works shifter that’s longer than stock. The result is a huge pilot’s compartment that makes a YZ125 seem like an 80. All the better for Travis to work his magic on the track.
As for Travis’ weight, RG3 revalves the Showa kit suspension to work with progressive 0.36-.41Kg/mm fork arid 4.5-5.0Kglmm shock springs (and RG3 linkage dog-bones), and Suzuki Japan injects plenty of power into the RM125 engine. The cylinder ports and head are reworked by Suzuki Japan to mate with a factory Kokusan Denki ignition and Bill’s pipe and shorty silencer. The stock TMXS Mikuni carb feeds a V-Force reed block, and the stock clutch is replaced with a works basket and Hinson hub and pressure plate. While Danny Smith runs 12/53 gearing, Travis prefers 12/52 so he can clear the triples in second gear! Team bikes used to have a taller first and second gearset, but this is done to production bikes for ’01. If you’re looking for 2002 news, the stock RM125 will have a new, works-like shifter.
While suspension tuning and components are a matter of rider preference,’ engine settings are not. The entire team runs the same engine setting, which doesn’t even change that much when switching over to the outdoor series. Rodrig Thain has proven quite the test-rider, and he came up with the team’s jetting spec. Riders do get choices in brake componentry, and Travis uses the most aggressive front brake pad available, along with works discs.
DRAGGING PASTRANA’S PEGS
When we slung a leg over Travis’ RM125, it had been fitted with Suzuki’s first-generation outdoor suspension settings. Sag is a whopping 107mm! Maybe it’s a remnant of the McGrath year, but the team’s suspension settings have the fork much stiffer than the shock. Pete Murray and Ron Lawson bottomed the shock a time or two, but not even the Lump could bottom the fork, and he tried. The squatting rear end, no doubt, gives Pastrana more stability when attacking whoops, and nobody is faster in stadium stutters.
In fact, the kit shock never did anything weird. It made the RM more stable than any 125 we’ve ridden. But, between the lower rear end and the lowered footpegs, we found ourselves dragging the pegs in rutted turns. It took a little getting used to, but we forgot about it as we sampled the killer motor and suspension.
Oh, man, what a motor! It comes on hard at insanely low revs for a 125cc two-stroke, then it hits hard in the midrange before revving to Mars’ moons. It doesn’t sacrifice anything, anywhere, so it’s really easy to ride. Likewise, the suspension is awesome. It picks up the small stuff and tracks true over acceleration bumps, yet it works best on the big hits. You can almost hear the kit Showas asking, “Is that all you’ve got? Upshift next lap!”
THE ULTIMATE RM125
Armed with works RM250 wheels, Showa kit suspension, DSP carbon-fiber components and factory Suzuki fasteners, Travis Pastrana has the ultimate RM125. Everything works perfectly, and no detail is left unmassaged, Controls are light to the touch but pack serious firepower. His bike is completely torn down after every race, Clown to the crank. The cases are cleaned and inspected, and the main bearings are carefully assembled every week. The bearings’ inscription always goes at 12 o’clock. If they move at all, then the cases are replaced (usually after three or four races for SX, shorter for MX). And RG3 refreshes the suspension every week. Not only is it the ultimate RM125, but the #199 bike is eternally, internally brand-new.
TRAVIS AND K-DUB
After missing the 2000 125 East Supercross title in 2000, Travis Pastrana left Maryland to live and train with Kevin Windham for 2001. “Kevin lives in the middle of nowhere, so there was nothing to do, which was what I needed. No distractions and all. We spent most of our time riding and training,” said Travis. “We’d get up and eat breakfast at 7:00, then we’d go for a run at 8:00 and start riding at 9:00.
“We’d usually do a 20-minute moto and a sprint moto, then go for a long bicycle ride–usually 30 miles on road bikes or 18 on mountain bikes. That’s a typical day, with Kevin going on to weight train at night, and we’d play ride, too.
“Kevin has got some nice jumps. He’s got three really nice doubles–two are whip jumps and the other is awesome; an 80-foot jump with about a 30-foot step-up. I learned a new trick every week for three weeks straight there,” said Travis. He taught Kevin some new tricks, and the two started pushing each other to new heights, and speeds. “Kevin has come up with some good ideas for tricks, and he’s been schooling me on his track. He actually laps me, which really ticks me off! It’s so hard to train with a guy who laps you.”
“It worked out so well,” Kevin added, “I’m looking forward to it next year and into the future, when we’re both on 250s. For a time, we had different schedules. I like to train late at night because that’s when we race, and he likes to get it over with in the morning. We were doing the work but not together. After a month, we got on the same schedule, and it got to be really fun. We’re already looking forward to making it better next year and pushing each other to go faster.”
With Travis’ limited time on the 250, K-Dub was the main test rider for Supercross, but DeCoster has enlisted Jean-Michel Bayle to develop outdoor settings. “I thought I had my bike set up pretty good, until I rode Kevin’s,” said Travis, laughing. “Then I’m wanting what he has.”
“I was going to test suspension for Travis,” said Kevin, ”but I couldn’t get
down to his weight!”
Always pushing each other in training and in fun, the two were soon looking for new challenges–like the pond on Kevin’s property. The two decided that it could be crossed on a dirt bike. “We talked my friend Jim into doing it first,” Windham said. “Then Travis did it, then I did it for a video. We started out small, only crossing 100 feet in about waist-deep water. You had to hit it pinned in fifth. The furthest crossing was 360 feet, so we called the Guiness World Record people to see if we had the record, if we had complied with the rules.”
As for Travis, he has moved on to hang with Robbie Reynard and Guy Cooper in preparation for his 125cc outdoor title defense, but he’ll move back to K-Dub’s during the Supercross season. “The Supercross title slipped past me last year, with Roncada and Sellards doing a great job,” Travis said, “So I knew this was my last chance before moving to the 250s. Now that I’ve got the East-coast and outdoor titles, I’ll focus on winning the 125 title again before moving to the 250s, where I know I belong.”