Aaron Gwin, Angel Suarez and Dakotah Norton are all former motocross racers that all successfully made the leap over to World Cup downhill but what about a rider going the other way? This winter, Bernard Kerr is hoping to make the opposite transition and will try his hand at motocross racing on one of the biggest stages going - the season opener at Anaheim.
With $10,000 NZD and pride on the line, he's flying out to California to spend a month preparing for the event and has his eyes set on the night show at round 1 of the Monster Energy Supercross on January 5. To make it, he'll have to first prove himself as one of the 40 fastest moto riders on Earth, no easy feat.
But then Bernard has never done things the easy way. With his heart set on a World Cup career in 2011, he decided to form his own team to chase his dream of racing bikes around the world. He's currently the only manager of an Elite World Cup team who also races week in, week out. It hasn't been to his detriment though as he's twice been on the World Cup podium and is also a former King of Crankworx and 2x Hardline winner. We caught up with Bernard to discuss his ambitious winter plans and how he balances both sides of the World Cup coin.
Where did the idea come from to race at Anaheim?
The supercross thing was always a childhood dream. We were joking and drinking one day in New Zealand three years ago and I was like, “Yeah, I'll try it, I bet you five grand by 2020, that I will pull up at Anaheim 1 in America." Fast forward three years and we're here now.
Did someone take that bet?
Well, that's a one-sided bet so I was like, “I'll either spend $5,000 on a night out in Queenstown with everyone or I'll do that”, so if I go, I don't have to spend the five grand.
Then we got drunk again at Rotorua Crankworx this year with one of the 100% guys, Eddie and Walker, and he was giving me shit so I said, “I bet you five grand I'll make the night show”, which is a top 40 qualifying - basically qualifying for a World Cup.
So, I do actually have a solid $5,000 bet on with him each way. Hopefully, he's going to be cool and whoever wins it we give it to charity, that's what I want to do.
What was the process after that when you were committed?
Buy a bike, make it supercross and then I've got a friend in the UK, Jordan Booker, so we built a supercross track at his but it rained every day since. I was going to do 20 days in the UK and go to California but I've done seven days in the UK and I’m going to California next week now.
I'm really lucky with Maxxis and Fly being really good sponsors. Maxxis have hooked me up to get a bike off Jeremy McGrath
. I promise I'm not name dropping but they are really pulling it out.
I'm going to go out there for a month and give it everything I've got to try and get good. I can ride the whole track now, I've hit a triple, I can get through a rhythm lane, I can get through the whoops and with it being muddy and wet, who knows?
The worst I can do is fail. People might make fun of you or doubt you but at least I'm trying it. I'd rather be trying it now than get to 40 and be like, “Why did I never try that?” It's ambitious I know but the worst I can do is fail.
What is the process for getting into the race?
You basically just buy a license. You get an ACU license in the UK, then you ask for an FIM license, you do a medical and then I can just enter the race, which does seem crazy.
I can just turn up, roll out into the stadium on January 4 and ride practice. Then you've got two 10-minute timed sessions with as many laps as you want and you've got to get a time within the top 40.
Last year 56 people turned up, 40 qualified and I think you have to be about 8 seconds slower than the fastest guy in the world around the track. So if he did a 50-second lap, you've got to do a 58 to make it in.
It's kind of crazy only 56 people do it
I know, but I guess it's the 56 best people in the world. Even if you're really good on a track it's pretty scary. I knew it would be hard but the jumps are so steep and scary to hit and you've got other people around you.
Scarier than Hardline?
Dude, way worse. I guess I suck on a motocross bike compared to a mountain bike but the first time I hit a triple, it's 70 feet long, which is the same as some jumps at Hardline, but it's so steep and so blind, and you're on a 110kg machine.
I'd never felt a feeling of happiness or satisfaction hitting a jump as to when I hit that jump for the first time two or three weeks ago. I hit it and then hit it 7 or 8 times in a row without stopping just buzzing.
It sounds lame but it was insane how good the feeling was to hit it, more than anything I've ever done on a bike.
If nothing else, it's good training for downhill isn't it?
That's it. I'm going to California and it's so wet and crap here now so I'll be so fit by January. Then I've got two more months to train for Crankworx in New Zealand then the World Cups so I see it as a positive thing.
Hopefully, I'll get lots of coverage, I mean we're talking about it now. It should be really fun and I'm going to get to meet some childhood heroes in the States, which on its own is so cool. I love motorbikes so much, I think all mountain bikers all wish we could ride motorbikes way better.
You're the only team manager and rider from an Elite team, how did that happen?
We used to travel in vans going around doing races for fun and I wanted to try and keep that going. Going into 2011, I rode for Pivot's UK distributor, Upgrade, for two years. I was trying to get a ride on a proper team but I couldn't really get the deal going. So I was like, “Oh, I'll speak to the owner of Pivot and see what he says.”
I didn't actually know what having a team meant but he said, “Write me a proposal and I'll see”. I wrote a proposal and he said it sounded good and offered what I thought was such a huge amount of money and now looking back was a tiny amount of money, we literally struggled so hard. He had trust in me and next year will be 9 years running the team, which is kind of crazy.
How was that different from doing the privateer life in a van?
Well, I didn't think it was at the time. I just wanted to keep doing that but it progressed a lot and now we have a truck and really good riders on the team as well. It's kind of crazy, it wasn't a set thought it just happened and now it's pretty sick.
How has it been watching it grow from that van set up to where you are now?
It's really cool seeing the change from having a really small set up to being quite a big, proper team. We still have a laugh but I think it's really different in our team because we don't really have any adults on it, even though we are all 28. It’s crazy to think we started off with nothing and we have a full proper team now.
Was that ever a goal?
It wasn't. I just wanted to start a team so I could keep travelling around in a van with my friends and getting paid to do it. It just kept developing, developing and developing and we just got carried away.
Is that attitude still what you look for when you're signing new riders?
Yeah, we want to do good, obviously, and your sponsors want you to get results but we wouldn't get someone that's not fun. You can't get a rider that's boring and just wants to get results because they're probably not going to have fun over here and we’re not going to have fun with them. For sure we want to do good but you've got to be in it for fun as well as trying to do good at races.
How important is media presence for you when it comes to riders?
Pretty big yeah, we will definitely look at that heavily. If there are two guys with the same results we would for sure go with the one with way bigger media presence. Obviously we don't want you to have a bad weekend but if you have a bad weekend and still get more coverage than the guy that came 10th, I think that's a guy that's worth quite a lot of money.
Is there one metric you go by, social media? A photographer's rider?
Definitely not one thing but for sure, have a good social media and get out there loads for your sponsors. Look at Eddie, he has fun, photographers want to take photos of him and then he's in more articles because he’s doing something stupid in the pits or whatever. I think just have fun and ride your bike loads and you stand out.
When it comes to you personally, how do you split your time between your riding and the team management side of things?
I don't really think about splitting my time, this time of year you just have to work really hard. I guess it's easy now in England it gets dark at 4 pm so I've got a big evening window to get work done and talk to everyone in America. Now we've got assistant managers in the season and a really good team of everyone that helps a lot.
Do you see yourself always being a team manager? Do you ever see yourself handing over that side of things?
I've thought about it definitely when you've got too much to do. But no, the team's awesome right now. I don't know how much longer I'll race for, racing's fun but I just love riding my bike more than racing.
I think I'll keep the team going, I'll keep going to the races, it would be cool to go on photo or video tours or see some different countries because we do race in the same country on the same weekend year in year out and it's getting a bit old now after ten years of doing it.
So looking beyond that with your personal goals, what are your aims?
I want to win a World Cup. I know I'm close. I've won practice a few times and I know my speed was there this year, at Andorra it definitely was. I crashed and came 17th, I was up at all the splits at the time.
I know I can podium and if you have your day, you have your day. It isn't easy and everyone wants to win a World Cup but it would be awesome to win a World Cup.