Beta USA’s Max Gerston is one of the most outgoing riders on the EnduroCross circuit. The twenty-five-year-old Phoenix, Arizona native can commonly be seen wearing his cowboy hat with a large grin on his face when he’s not attacking the track on his Factory Beta 350RR. We caught up with Gerston prior to the beginning of the 2017 season to see what’s new in his world.
You won the Amateur EnduroCross Championship in 2011. How important was that to give you confidence leading into racing the Pro class in 2012? “It’s kind of a funny question because at the time, I was so mentally ready. I really wanted to win that Amateur title and I had been training really hard for it. I was obsessively riding and training because I was literally scared to death of not winning an Amateur title because I knew I could do it. I just had some issues the year before. I didn’t even qualify for a main event the year before because I wasn’t good enough. I was obsessively trying to not do that again. I did not want to do that so bad. Then I came back and everybody else that was there was better, too. I won and then I thought, ‘Woah, that was crazy! Everything that I did actually worked!’ So even more valuable than actually winning the Amateur championship was the value of learning that hard work actually works. From there, my mind was like, ‘Well if I could do that, I could probably do anything. The sky is the limit.”
After winning the Amateur championship in 2011, you won the Junior championship in 2012. The championship was close between you and two other competitors leading into the final round in Vegas. How intense was the pressure leading into that race? “That was nerve-wracking. It was between me, [Bryan] Roper, [Ryan] Sandoval, and Keith Sweeten was even in there a little bit. We had all kind of had our shining spots throughout the year, but none of us were able to nail down any level of consistency at all. We would all kind of do okay one race and then not do so great the next. That last round in Vegas was a double main event. So it was pretty much whoever got into the main event was going to win the title. It was between Sandoval and I in the last LCQ and I beat him and got into the main event. I just had to get 10th or better. I had to do okay in the main to win the title. I was pretty relieved at that point because I was so down because the whole year just wasn’t going how I wanted it to or how I had envisioned. Typical rookie year stuff; just kind of getting run off the track all year. It was tough, so it felt really good to get that.”
When you won your Junior championship title, you were teammates with Cody Webb at Beta. What were you able to learn from him while you were under the same tent? “It was just endless amounts of everything. Mentally, he’s a really strong rider, so it was good to pick up on that and kind of see what his thought process was going to the races. I was able to pick up on that. A lot of riding stuff, too. Just watching him ride and seeing how he did things, I was able to, in some ways, soak that up and kind of adjust my riding style where I needed to just to try to do more of like what he was doing. He’s winning and he’s crushing it, so why not try to ride like this guy. It was more so just spending time around the guy that I learned from him. He’s a really cool dude and he was such a pleasure to be around. He was just a regular old cat, man. That was what was cool about him. That was a good time.”
After you switched to Beta, you rode a four-stroke, switched to a two-stroke, and returned to a four-stroke. What is it that you like better about a four-stroke for EnduroCross? “It’s so tough because I love both of those bikes so much. The 300 is such a quality machine and the 350 is right there with it. They’re both niche bikes and they both shine equally as much in certain environments. For the majority of the EnduroCross races, the 350 is a little bit better for me than the 300 just because it’s so easy to ride and it just puts the power to the ground. Honestly, it’s easier to jump. You can jump well on a 300, don’t get me wrong, but the power is just so consistent on a four-stroke. You can come out of a corner and know exactly how far or how short you’re going to go just from memory. The four-stroke just lays the power down really good. You can get a start on a four-stroke, too. Two-strokes, you certainly can as well, but nothing hooks up on the start like a four-stroke does.”
You live in Arizona, which seems to be a hotbed for off-road talent. Who do you ride with while practicing at home? “Taylor [Robert] isn’t racing EnduroCross this year, so he won’t be coming out. Him and I do all other types of training together like jet skiing, trials, training for hare scrambles, and for him, Hare and Hounds. So even though he’s not racing EnduroCross, he’s still my main training partner, I would say. There are some other guys out here, but it’s kind of hard to develop any level of consistency with anybody for training because it’s so easy to get burned out with it and it’s easy to say, ‘No, it’s alright. I’m tired. I don’t really want to come out today.’ I’ll have certain other guys out here every once in awhile. But for the most part, like today and two days ago, I rode EnduroCross by myself. That’s kind of what it’s like the majority of the time, which is kind of surprising.”
You’ve built quite an impressive EnduroCross track on your property. How has having a pro-level track at your disposal helped you improve? “It’s helped so much in every aspect. Everything from starts to rocks to corners to this and that, I can practice every little thing and just make sure everything is right. The best thing about it is that training in the off-season, I can get in all the training I want for free from my back door. You can’t beat that. The other thing is if I have a certain area I am struggling in, I can set my track up for that. If I have a rough weekend where the rocks kicked my [butt], I’ll come back here and change my rock section and make it gnarly. Or if my timing was off on my jumping, I can come back here and change some jumps around. Just having that ability to make the track harder for my style and keep making it miserable is what’s nice about it.
You finished last season in seventh place overall. Where have you set your goals for 2017? “For 2017, nothing less than podiums. Anything less than a podium is just completely not a good weekend, honestly. I know I’m there and I know I can do it. My training is there, my talent is there, and my skills are there. We’ve got a good bike this year. So anything less than podium finishes is not kosher.”
The EnduroCross tracks have become progressively jumpier over the years. Do you like that or would you prefer the tracks to be more technical? “You know, that’s a good question. It’s hard because I like both. I like the race-ability of a jumpier track, but then I also like the separation that a technical track provides between the riders. I think there is a happy medium that can be found. We’ve had tracks where there was a really good rock section and there were literally four or five lines through that rock section and they were all pretty hard. There were some guys that were struggling, but you could get around them. It still made for really good racing and it was difficult. But it seems like a lot of stuff they try to make maybe a little too hard and then it just develops into one-line stuff. But they also have to try things that are different, so it’s kind of hard to find that happy medium. My final say on that is I don’t think the race-ability of the track should be sacrificed just for technicality.”
Have you done anything differently to prepare for this season than in the past? “Actually, I have, the main thing being racing the Western Hare Scrambles Championship. That’s just kind of to keep my busy during the off-season. You get more racing in and I think racing is the best way to train. If anything else, I’ve just been training every weekend. I’ve been racing a ton. I’ve raced more this year than I did all of last year. Now whenever I line up for the races, my heart rate barely goes up just because it’s such a normal thing and I barely get nervous. I think there’s a huge factor to that. On top of that, these races are two hour and 45 minutes races, basically. I’m able to build up a really strong endurance base. Beginning just a couple weeks ago, I’ve started ramping up my sprint speed and my sprint training so I can get ready for EnduroCross. But now I have that nice base to build off of, so that’s good for training as well.”
What is your favorite EnduroCross obstacle? “Honestly, flat corners. I love the flat turns. Right-hander or left-hander, it’s always fun to come wide and just pitch that thing sideways and get around that corner. I like the finish line doubles, too. Those are always fun. I think it would be cool if we could do a 50-foot finish line jump at every round, just like a huge jump just so you could get some airtime. I think that would be sweet.”
What is your most memorable race? “Actually, I have two. Denver last year and the year before that in Salt Lake City. Both of those I got thirds. I like those races just because the tracks were really good, really fun, and really race-able. Kind of like what I was talking about earlier. At the same time, they were still technical, proving that you can have technical without one line. It’s technical, race-able, and fun. We had great battles, getting down with it, and smashing bars. That’s really fun for me. It’s crazy. On a podium night like that, you can be struggling so hard throughout the rest of the season and a podium night like that, everything seems so easy. It’s like, ‘Why is it so easy? Why were all of those other ones so hard just to get a fifth, and now this one is just easy and I’m getting thirds. ‘It’s weird. It’s like everything’s clicking. When everything’s clicking, that’s when it feels good. Denver and Salt Lake City are two races where everything was clicking.”
What is the most difficult part of EnduroCross for you? “It’s funny because every time you think you’ve got one thing figured out, something seems to bite you, no matter what it is. I think the most difficult part would be the firewood sections, especially in Boise because they have that huge, gigantic firewood. Mainly the firewood section just because of the unpredictability of it. Those things are rolling, slipping, slopping, and jacking you all over the place. The rocks are at least staying still, so you can kind of predict those.”
If there was one thing you could change about EnduroCross, what would it be? “That’s a good question. Honestly, I wouldn’t mind seeing some more race-able tracks. We need more battles and going along with that, we need more race-able tracks. Going along with that even further, to help the battles, maybe not a 15 minute main event because no matter who you are or how fit you are, everybody settles into some sort of pace during the 15 laps. Nobody is charging as hard as they can at the end of 15 laps. If we did three eight-lap motos, I think that would be sick. After the main event, you always go back and think, ‘I wish I would have done that.’ I think a multi-moto format would be [awesome] because then you could have a shot at redemption for yourself in the same night."