300

www.dirtrider.com

The Cody Webb Story

300
...

This article was originally published in the January 2018 issue of Dirt Rider.

It was 2006, and there he was, a teenager still in high school and sitting at the kitchen table of the family’s Watsonville, California, home. He had a magazine open to an advertisement for an event called EnduroCross. Geoff Aaron, the most dominant American trials rider of all time, was featured on the page and Cody tried to get his mother’s attention. Geoff was the perfect example; the family loved Geoff. Cody’s mother said no to the bike—especially ironic since Cody was already a top trials competitor.

Geoff was the big brother Cody never had. His parents trusted Geoff enough to send their only son on the road with him to trials events and demos, and Geoff treated him like any big bro would. He even gave Cody a nickname: Dirty Cody. “He always had dirt on his face,” Geoff said. “He was a grom, always in the dirt.” One time, Geoff had so many people in his motorhome at an event in the mountains that he set up a tent outside for Cody to sleep in. Then he warned his young guest to watch out for the bears. Cody didn’t get any sleep that night.

Cody had always wanted a real dirt bike, and now that Geoff was riding EnduroCross, it was the perfect excuse because his mother, Francesca, had always told him that motorcycles were too dangerous. The fact that she married Kip Webb, a professional trials rider, was ironic enough considering she was raised by parents who were disdainful toward motorcycles. Francesca was more tolerant than her parents, however, and learned to ride when she was 19, even competing a little on the North American Trials Council (NATC) circuit.

Cody, now a professional trials competitor with a salary from Sherco, was told he’d have to buy his own motorcycle if he really wanted one. Busy as a starter on his high-school basketball team and simultaneously trying to win his first NATC pro title, he didn’t run out to a dealership right away. Instead, he took his Sherco trials bike to Las Vegas. In November 2007, at the sixth EnduroCross race ever held in the United States (from 2004–2006, EnduroCross was a once-a-year event), Cody came within 10 yards of qualifying for the pro class main event. Battling John Dowd, who was riding a much more powerful Suzuki RM250, Cody’s Sherco gulped so much water from the deep crossing that he couldn’t ride over the simple log climbs on the finish straightaway. While Cody was nursing a smoking engine, Dowd slammed into him from behind. Damon Huffman passed them both and took the win and the final position in the main event.

With the lights, the excitement, a sold-out arena, the spectacle, and maybe even the allure of potentially winning $10,000 in one race, Cody was hooked. Sherco’s Brad Baumert saw the interest, and six weeks later Cody was in Kentucky sitting on a 2004 Suzuki RM-Z250 Baumert pulled from his garage. Baumert arranged for five-time Grand National Cross Country champion Scott Summers and friends to take the freshman dirt biker for a trip through the woods. Cody was 19 years old, and it was his first ride on a “real” dirt bike. One of Cody’s sharpest memories is that he brought his trials boots along “like a squid.”

Hours later, the group returned with stories of Cody riding over massive logs and rocks no one else would try. “They rode some really gnarly stuff, but Summers told me that Cody couldn’t turn,” Baumert said. “Summers said, ‘He comes up on a turn and he almost stops.’"

When one thinks of what a lifelong trials rider might struggle with in a racing environment, jumping, starts, and encountering other riders instantly come to mind. Cornering is an underrated (and overlooked sometimes) skill set in racing. Cody had no experience hitting any type of corner at speed. Baumert also took Cody to a motocross track to ride with his nephew. “He literally couldn’t jump the bike,” Baumert said. “It was all new.”

Finally, in the autumn of 2008, Cody went to Moore and Sons in Santa Cruz and bought a KTM 250 SX demo bike. A few weeks later, he took his new steed and tried to qualify for the Las Vegas EnduroCross once again. Now 20 and still looking for his first professional trials championship, the former trials prodigy who had won the NATC high school championship before he was actually in high school, was already showing signs of having goals beyond hopping around on hard rocks with gummy trials tires. Unlike Taddy Blazusiak, who went from top 10 in the Trials World Championship to winning Erzberg and his first EnduroCross all within a one-year timespan, Cody’s road to the top of the sport was long and rocky (pun intended).

Pat Smage and Cody sort of owe each other. Cody might be responsible for having a hand in helping Pat become the nine-time NATC champion he is today, and Pat might be responsible for saving Cody’s career as a professional motorcycle rider.

The story starts in the summer of 2006.

Pat was in his first full year in the pro class, and he finished in seventh place (last in most cases) at each of the first six rounds. During the nine-week break between rounds five and six and seven and eight, he spent three weeks riding with Cody in California. One of the days, Pat was already having a frustrating session when Cody took him to a place near the house called “Ridge Runners.” The terrain was loose dirt with rocks set on steep hills, which is Pat’s kryptonite. Cody’s idea was for Pat to work on rear-wheel traction in the low-traction conditions. Today, Cody calls it the perfect riding spot for extreme enduro training.

“Cody was flying up that stuff,” Pat said. “At that time in my career, when something wasn’t fun for me, I wouldn’t do it. I wouldn’t put in the time. I look back on that day a lot. That gave me some motivation to learn and get better and focus on what I wasn’t good at.”

Pat went to Rhode Island in August for the conclusion of the 2006 season and dominated the weekend, winning both rounds. In 2007, he banged off three consecutive victories and eventually won his first pro championship. “Years after that Cody would remind me of that day at Ridge Runners,” Pat said.

In 2010, Cody entered his fourth consecutive season as the number-two ranked rider in NATC. In the previous three years, he had finished runner-up to Pat. He signed a one-year deal with GasGas and was also enrolled in a community college where he was in the early stages of earning a degree in mechanical engineering. It was a make-or-break year. “If I didn’t have a good year I was going to be done,” he said. At that point, EnduroCross was still something he was doing for fun. He had only qualified for two finals.

Cody dominated the trials season and won the title with eight wins. In EnduroCross, he not only qualified for main events, but he finished third at the finale. After years of being number two, he finally had a reason to keep his motorcycle career going. Had Pat’s dominance continued, Cody may have quit to focus on college instead.

The foundation for Cody’s work ethic and persistence came from his father, Kip, even if son has a longer fuse than father. It wasn’t a gentle upbringing. Kip is a gruff, no-nonsense man who doesn’t accept mediocre or half-assed performances. The phrase “I can’t” is severely forbidden. Cody’s friends have a running joke that Kip brushes his teeth with battery acid. Geoff said they always called him “The Animal.” One journalist remembers watching Kip’s foot get smashed while minding for Cody, but he didn’t seek medical attention until the end of the day. The foot was so swollen his boot had to be cut off. It’s fitting that Kip has an occupation to match his gritty style; he spends 50 hours a week overseeing a fleet of 35 concrete trucks.

Kip was a professional trials rider in the ’80s, competing a dozen times at the world level and winning the NATC expert sportsman title twice before slowing down to focus on his son’s career. He knew Cody had the talent to win, and so he demanded perfection.

“I pushed him hard—I’m not going to deny it,” Kip said. “But he responded to being pushed.” Pressed for an example of what this might look like, he said, “Hey, you [jerk]! I didn’t fly all the way to Pennsylvania to see you get second place. You’ve got to step up your game!”

When asked how he survived such an abrasive environment, Cody said, “I would just get pissed. He’s pretty intense. I’ve had people tell me they were glad I stuck with it, that they didn’t know how I got through it.”

One of Cody’s clearest memories was at a 2006 national in Oklahoma. He’d had a dismal day, sixth overall, his worst of the season. Kip was furious and so consumed with frustration he accidentally backed the rental car into a tree leaving event. “Let’s just say there was nothing said on that ride to the airport,” Cody recalled.

Maybe that hardline approach helped Cody endure the years of beatdowns in EnduroCross racing from riders like Blazusiak, Mike Brown, and others. Cody didn’t get his first win until October 2013 but then won three of the last four rounds and finished third in the championship. Had he not missed round two with a broken foot, he might have captured his first title too. Cody’s consistency since the 2013 season has been unprecedented; he’s been on the podium 36 of the past 37 events (as of November 6, 2017) and has won nearly half of those.

Because of bad market timing (remember when Kawasaki Off-Road folded in November 2012?) and a skill set that wasn’t as diverse as it is now, Cody didn’t get full factory support until 2016. As recently as 2015, when Cody was on the RPM KTM team, Kip was still building the racebikes and driving the van to all the races. With a renewed contract with FMF KTM Red Bull Racing for 2018/2019, Cody has been granted the opportunity to expand his schedule to include the full FIM Super Enduro championship and the entire Red Bull Hard Enduro series. In 2016, he became the first American to finish on the podium at Erzberg (second).

In 2017, he took third at Erzberg and then went to work on earning back his EnduroCross championship, which he lost to Colton Haaker in 2016. In the arenas, Cody and Haaker are in a class of their own, and at the opening round in Las Vegas the two made contact with each other every single time they met on the track—heat race, bracket race, and main event.

A chorus of boos met Colton as he tried to speak on the podium after his main event win. “Either you’re going to hate or you’re going to love, but either way you’re going to talk about it, so it’s all good,” Colton said.

Even a decade after his first race, Cody was hardly an expert in aggressive race craft, but he stayed poised on that Vegas podium and in subsequent interviews. After Vegas, Kip told Cody, “I know you don’t like to ride like that, but you’re either going to have to stop this or put up with it.”

When the two met in their head-to-head bracket race in the very next round in Reno, Colton tried to lean on Cody coming into the first turn. Cody held his line and Colton went down. “If you kind of ride dirty, it’s going to come back to bite you,” Cody said on the podium. Cody won the Reno final, as well as the next four rounds (as of November 6, 2017). Colton pulled out of the 2017 EnduroCross series after the fourth round with an injury, paving the way for Cody to get his third title, which he secured in Boise, with a full round left still in the series.

For a one-time trials champion, whose junior-high pudginess earned him the nickname “Keebler” from his father, Cody has transformed himself into one of the fiercest and most talented off-road competitors in the world. Even if he is winning by 18.3 seconds and lapping up to fourth place (Everett, 2017), or bettering that with a win of 43 seconds (Boise, 2017), he still has work to do. “I need to be a better moto rider,” he said. “My fitness and stamina are good, but if I go that extra 5 percent I start to fall apart. I’m efficient at my pace now.”

Of course, Cody’s life wouldn’t be complete if he wasn’t simultaneously working on something else. In May 2016 he graduated from San Jose State University with his engineering degree, and today he’s working at Bell Helmets as an intern. Yup. Cody Webb, who owns his own home, is getting married to Morgan Rogers in July (they call themselves “The NewlyWebbs”), and gets paid good money to win dirt bike races, spends 20 hours a week working a desk job as an intern. He says it’s because he doesn’t know how to say “no.”

Off-road motorcycle fans are thankful he doesn’t listen when he’s told “no” either. Cody’s rise has been a slow one built on determination. His trials riding skills have made him the rider he is today, and his fortitude has made him the champion he is today. He represents a constant will to improve, which puts very few limits on where he might go from here.