On a muggy Thursday night in Jebel Ali, a group of dedicated bikers are sweating it out in preparation for the upcoming season of motocross. Standing trackside, bike after bike whips past us, catching speed before coming hard onto a freshly flattened ramp, taking off and disappearing over the other side.
Closing just before summer for an overall refurb and rethink, the Dubai Motocross Club has just reopened with a whole new track design and something of a different ethos. While spectators were welcome before, the club is trying to open up more to spectators and potential newcomers to the sport.
That’s why we’ve arranged to meet Sam Sunderland. The young British motorcyclist, currently riding for KTM, has started offering training to newbies, giving a bounce by bounce introduction to motocross riding on the DMX Club track. ‘We just want people to have a go at it without spending loads of money,’ says Sunderland, who finally arrives sporting two KTM bikes he’s brought along for us to train with – a 250cc and a 450cc. ‘Without paying out for a bike, it’s difficult to have a go and get a feel for it. That’s what we want to offer.’
After getting off to a strong start in last year’s motocross season, Sunderland came off, breaking his collar bone and taking him out of action for six weeks. Not wasting a moment, he was back in the races as soon as the injury had healed and pulled his ranking back. ‘The racing is pretty intense,’ he tells us. ‘That’s how it starts; people watch and want to have a go.’
Despite a (very) basic under-standing of handling a bike, we ask Sunderland to give us a lesson as if we’re a complete beginner and soon we’re sputtering along in first gear around the sandy car park.
The most noticeable thing about riding one of these dirt bikes is the rawness of the machine. Sitting astride, there’s a heavy, visceral bang to the engine. First gear is a juddery, stop-start affair, while slipping into higher gears lets the bike roll into that deep, gutsy scrambler sound. After a couple of circuits, Sunderland calls us back and explains that a single two-hour lesson should be enough to get a complete beginner riding on the track. We pull up alongside the first big jump as a pack of riders scream past us, each taking the ramp of packed sand hard and flinging over the other side. ‘I can get you taking the jumps in no time at all,’ says Sunderland. ‘It’s a bit of a battle at first but as soon as you know what you’re doing with the clutch the world is your oyster.’
Sunderland will be competing in this year’s upcoming motocross season, which kicks off on October 1. ‘Sam Sunderland is certainly the fastest guy on a bike at the moment,’ says John Watkinson, chairman of the Dubai Motocross Club. ‘The way he broke his collarbone halfway through the season and then came back into the competition is a great example of a motocross rider. He’s pretty hardcore.’
Watkinson is fronting the campaign to get more spectators trackside. ‘You can see someone crash at the start and then work their way back up again, or you can watch two riders have an incredible battle throughout the whole race. This is an exciting, very competitive, very aggressive motorsport.’
While the DMX track is rough and ready, its cast iron stands and general gearhead atmosphere doesn’t quite scream family day out. ‘We’re going to concrete the area next to the big jump, with some picnic benches set up and some shade ready for the season. We’re also going to get a temporary pool set up there,’ explains Watkinson. ‘To increase rider and spectator enjoyment, we need a bit more money. In order to get more money we need more people coming. It’s that simple.’
The summer’s redesign of the track is aimed at broadening its appeal to what Watkinson refers to as ‘desert warriors’, riders who go out off-roading. ‘In the past the motocross track was very technical, and it scared a lot of people away. It’s still technical but we’ve made it more fun. We’ve put in bigger jumps but safer jumps, a rider will get more air time but we’ve made the landing areas quite long and easier to land on. At the end of the day anyone who rides a bike wants to see who goes fastest and in a desert you can’t see that, but on a track within five minutes it becomes clear.’
The DMX Club’s track is near the Jebel Ali Beach Hotel, next to the go-karting track. Bike owners can ride around the DMX track for Dhs50 a session. Sam Sunderland offers one-on-one two hour lessons for Dhs500. Group sessions are Dhs300 per person. Bikes and kit can be hired for Dhs500. Call Sam on 055 643 3548 to book. For more information on the DMX Club’s race season see www.mydubaimotocross.com.