SILVERADO, Calif. — On a warm afternoon in late summer, about 250 motorcycle riders have converged at the Saddleback motocross track in Orange County, raising dust and an unholy racket as they test their skills on a tortuous series of jumps, curves and whoop-de-dos to the displeasure of some.
Among them is Chad Robbins, an explosive jumper who was returning after an accident a few nights ago. The 17-year-old from Brea had been attempting a 110-foot double jump and landed atop another rider, injuring his back. But it was no big deal, he said.
“I’ve broken my leg, my ankle, my toes, both arms, my knees,” he said. “Both wrists have rods in them. I’ve also been knocked out in a coma for two days.”
Asked why he was so willing to keep defying death, or at least paralysis, he said: “It’s worth the rush. Motocross is my life.”
Motocross–racing and stunt riding with off-road motorcycles on dirt tracks–has become one of the country’s fastest-growing sports, fueled by the gladiatorial spectacle of arena races, the astounding jumps and flips of freestyle riders, and what amateur and professional riders say is simply the intoxicating thrill of it.
But as the sport has grown, so has the number of injuries to riders. The number of motocross-related emergency room visits has doubled in recent years, to about 53,000 in 2000, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
Devotion like Robbins’ makes people like Rick Sieman furious. Sieman, 62, founded Dirt Bike magazine in 1970. He is an editor for off-road.com, a veteran of about 3,000 off-road races, a former Supercross rider who survived a broken back at a 1979 event in Los Angeles and an outspoken advocate of safety in the sport, which he says glamorizes dangerous stunts.
“Professional Supercross racers have to sign their legal rights away,” he said. “They know that if you go out and get hurt, that’s the price you pay for being Evel Knievel.
“But in those stands is a kid with a little motorcycle. He goes out with his buddies and the first thing they do is find some huge jump and try to impress each other, and the trend continues. The wagons keep hauling these morons to the hospital,” he noted.