51Fifty Energy Drink Yamaha’s Kyle Chisholm is now on the mend from knee surgery—which means he has time to answer three questions here. The veteran explains the keys to going fast at Southwick and RedBud and gives us an injury update.
1. What’s the key to going fast at Southwick? Is there something surprising about that track that most fans don’t realize?
Kyle Chisholm: Southwick is a very unique track. I’m from Florida so I grew up riding in plenty of sand, and I really enjoy sand tracks. So, needless to say, I’ve always had some pretty good success at Southwick. My best overall at a national came at Southwick, both on a 250 and 450. Fourth both times! Just off the podium, dang it!
Anyway, riding in the sand requires some different skills than a more hard pack track. First, you need to be in great shape and strong. At Southwick, there are basically no jumps besides a few tiny tabletops, and by the second moto you’re not even jumping them! So because of this, you never get any rest in the air over jumps. Also, because it gets so whooped out and rough, you need to stand a lot to go fast. Your legs and back are toast by the end of the day. To go fast in the sand, you have to find a rhythm around the track, jumping braking bumps and from whoop to whoop. You have to stand through corners to let the suspension soak up the bumps, then sit and pivot off of the next bump, and then stand right back up and on the gas.
It’s important to carry a lot of momentum. You don’t want to brake hard in the sand or gas it really hard in the sand. You also want to keep the bike in the correct gear and RPM—not too high and not too low. This allows the bike and suspension to ride very free and will allow it to handle much better over all of the many bumps and holes. It will let the bike “float” around the track. It’s an art to ride sand correctly, and I think it really shows when you watch someone like Eli [Tomac] or [Jeffrey] Herlings and then watch someone that is a good rider but maybe not a “sand” rider. So, get in a rhythm and flow.
One thing you may not realize about Southwick is that the sand is very fine compared to most sand I’m used to in Florida. It’s like baby powder, which makes the lines change very frequently as they push out and a new one forms. The other thing is, there is a bit of a hard base under all that sand there. This makes it get some square edges mixed in with all those big sandy rollers. And because of that, it’s also slick down under there, too, and makes it very easy to wash out like you saw Eli do twice that second moto.
The key to going fast at RedBud is, like a lot of outdoors, carrying a lot of momentum. The ruts get very deep and develop a lot of “hooks” (basically not perfectly round arcs) through the turns, and the bumps get very big since it’s usually prepped so deep. So you need to find lines that will allow you to carry good speed around the entire track trying to avoid that “stop and go.” This track has a lot of big sweeping corners, so that’s why it’s important to carry a good overall speed everywhere. When you do make a mistake, it’s pretty costly because of this. One thing fans might not realize is just how fun this track is. It flows so good and is just fun to ride. Oh, and the leap is huge but fun, and the crowd is nuts!
My injury situation is a bummer. But it’s part of what we go through in this sport, so you have to take it and make the best of it and just work hard to get back healthy. I think most people saw my crash at Colorado where I got knocked out but didn’t hurt anything else. I had two weeks to rest up before High Point and I was feeling good, passed my concussion test easily, so I went back to work. On the second lap of practice at High Point, I made a small mistake through a very rutted turn and washed my front end out. It was a very small crash that 99 percent of the time you’d hop back up from and be fine. But when my front end washed, I had just put my leg out and it stuck in the next rut over. It was pretty muddy, so my foot got stuck, and as I fell forward, it hyperextended my knee.
I feared I tore my ACL immediately. I’ve torn my ACL before and it was almost the exact same type of crash, the same way my knee got bent, and that same pop you can feel. So after seeing my doctor, it turns out I did tear my ACL and had a little minor meniscus damage. So I’ve undergone surgery to fix my ACL and meniscus a week ago and I'm on the road to recovery. It’s a process that requires A LOT of physical therapy to regain the proper function and strength in your knee and leg, but I’ve done it before and I’ll do it again. I’m hoping to be back on the bike by November, and I can’t wait!