Riders Embrace the Fun and Responsibility of Motocross Racing

The fun of flying over a hill can be addicting.

Many Mainers get the most out of summer by meeting friends each week to run, bike, paddle or fish together.

The Pine Tree Trail Riders keep the same kind of social schedule. They just do it on dirt bikes.

Every Wednesday at 6 p.m., these motocross riders roll into Maine Cycle in Auburn with their trailers and unload their bikes on 20 to 30 miles of trail.

To be sure, riding a dirt bike is not the same as learning to paddle a kayak, or scale a 4,000-footer--especially at the speeds these riders go.

It requires balance, coordination, quick reflexes and a little bit of a carefree spirit.

"It's supposed to be a trail ride, but it ends up being a trail race," said Kevin Clark of Fryeburg. "Everyone is pushing to find their limit."

But, while they are looking for places to go fast, the trail riders say they also care about the land they ride on. Some landowners, such as Central Maine Power Co., ban dirt bikes from their land for fear of property damage.

The Pine Tree riders only use routes where they've received prior permission from the landowner, and want a reputation as a club of responsible users.

"There's a perception that we're dirty young yahoos. I think most in the group are 30 or older," said Pete Gagnon of Buckfield.

The 38-year-old club is billed as the oldest ATV organization in Maine. From 32 to 72, and every age in between, the club is made up of folks who simply enjoy chasing each other around the woods on dirt bikes.

"We do it for exercise. And, because we can," said Bruce Myrick, 72, the owner of Maine Cycle. "We're all old guys. You don't see many new people getting into our sport. They're just kids who grow out of racing."

The riders who meet Wednesday nights are professionals looking for a jolt in their work week. It's like the ultimate coffee break.

"You go to work, and you live for Wednesday night rides. We still ride on the weekends, but we all have commitments," said David Bishop of Auburn.

Some club members incorporate the sport into their work.

"I know these trails better than the guys. I zip up on them, or fishtail around them," said Kate Hossler, 34, a behavior consultant who works with children in the Boothbay region school system.

"I take the kids dirt biking for incentive."

Speed is Your Friend

Learning to ride a dirt bike is similar to learning to ride a mountain bike on a single track, or learning to ski moguls.

There's just an engine involved.

"Speed is your friend," said Brian Pratt of Falmouth.

That is, of course, if you know what to do with it.

The sudden dips in a dirt trail, the bumps that some use as jumps, the 90-degree turns, all take getting used to for a new rider.

But learning to ride a dirt bike can be easy under the tutelage of a seasoned Pine Tree rider.

Taylor Smith-Peterson, who races dirt bikes in the summer (and in the winter--on ice) is happy to take a novice through the basics of dirt bike riding.

It takes him roughly 45 minutes to teach the use of the throttle, the brakes, the gears, and how to turn the bike quickly without falling.

Smith-Peterson sends his student off to circle around in figure eight after figure eight.

Once on the trail, a dirt path across trail rider John Schott's 300-acre property in Greene, the strict lesson comes in handy, because the fun of flying over a hill can be addicting.

However, a new rider can be easily caught off guard when a road takes a sharp right and goes up a sand hill, requiring a quick correction.

Even veteran riders get ahead of themselves.

"You think, 'Oh, it's got a motor, how hard could it be?' Until you get pitched," said Bishop, who once broke his arm while riding.

The majority of dirt bikes used on the weekly trail rides have 40-horsepower engines capable of reaching speeds of 70 to 80 mph, Smith-Peterson said.

The bikes cost around $6,000 new.

Smith-Peterson said protective gear adds another $250, although he spent as much as $450 on a helmet, and $350 on boots.

Most Pine Tree riders wear full protective gear--leather jackets, pants and gloves, as well as helmets--although these are not required by Maine law.

Without question, going fast, for some, makes it fun.

"It's mental. The only thing you think about is what's 50 feet in front of you," said Schott, 64.

It's like racing mountain bikes. Find the line and follow the best track.

Going fast requires riders to stand while going over bumps, to pull and lean around tight turns, and maybe brace against the handlebars for a quick stop.

The best one picking and choosing a course among the rocks and sand will be out in front.

Even Smith-Peterson, the patient teacher, shows a different side out on the trails.

"I'm going to go do some hot laps," he said, after guiding a novice around the trails.

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