Renowned as one of the fastest motorcycle riders in the world and back-to-back title-holder in FIM Superbike he may be but Jonathan Rea is also famed for his penchant for the dirt. The 29 year old factory Kawasaki rider once described himself in his Twitter profile as ‘a motocrosser trapped in a road racer’s body’ and any motorcycle fan will only have to look at the same social network to see images of the Northern Irishman training on his KX450F, competing in a regional MX event on the Isle of Man, perusing the terrain at the Motocross of Nations or swapping machinery with Monster Energy Kawasaki MXGP star Clement Desalle for further proof.
The recent ‘Rider X Over’ event at the MotorLand Aragon circuit in Spain permitted Rea with an ultimate indulgence: some laps following Desalle and on the same works dirtbike the Belgian uses to tackle the highest level of motocross racing. “It was cool such a good opportunity,” Rea says exclusively. “I could feel some subtle differences in the spec between Clement’s bike and my own. His suspension setting was a lot harder and I noticed immediately that he does not like a lot of engine braking and has the bike free-running into corners, which is quite different to mine [style]. I’m really lucky that Showa gave me some proper factory suspension so the bikes felt similar but he had a lot more engine power than the stock.”
Motocross has long been an asset for the best athletes on the asphalt to hone their fitness, bike ‘feeling’ and concentration. For Rea there is also a form of escapism involved with swapping slick tyres for knobblies. “My day job is 200mph and it is punishing sometimes because you are paid to go out and win. Riding fast isn’t the fun part; it’s achieving results. So for motocross when you can put your own bike in the van and go out to the practice track without a crew chief, three mechanics, a tyre guy, telemetry guy and someone to even start your bike is it like a release. You go there, get kitted up, feel good and hit the track.”
“I feel free because it is not a job. I don't have to go fast and I can just enjoy it. That feeling of both wheels off the ground and in the air – like your flying – is really nice. There is no other sport that gives me that. The buzz from road racing comes in a completely different way. It is not any less or more.”
Kawasaki rule the world with their Ninja ZX-10RR and have the perfect package with Rea…as long as the Japanese and Barcelona-based team keep their main man away from a start gate and hope the only jumps he makes involve cuts in his sector times rather grabbing some air, then the ‘65’ will be wearing the 1 digit for some time yet.