Ryan Villopoto is a winner, plain and simple. The 25-year-old finished up the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross championship season yesterday with yet another victory, taking every race in the 450 Class at the Lake Elsinore National. This, after clinching his second motocross championship in three years last week, successfully rounding out a comeback from a a knee injury. And we haven't even mentioned his back to back to back championships in supercross. We had the chance to speak with the young star about how he got into the sport, what his recovery process was like, and what his next step could be. Catch up with and get to know the best dirt rider on the planet right now below.
Interview by Tony Markovich (@T_Marko)
How you got into motorcross in the first place?
It's been in the family for a while with my dad and my grandpa. My grandpa had two motorcycle shops while my dad was growing up. And he used to race and he got my dad into racing.
How early were you riding?
I started riding around three or four. And I started racing at the same time.
Was it always on dirt? Or did you start off on tracks?
Always dirt bikes and always racing. There was no freestyle and nothing else. Just dirt bikes.
Were you interested in trying anything else?
No, I was never interested in anything like that. I played soccer when I was growing up utill like 10 or 11, but then I ended up racing.
Jumping back ahead, I just wanted to talk a little bit about your injury last year. What were the initial reactions when you first were injured? What was going through your head?
It's always a bummer to get hurt and try to return to racing again, but it’s part of the sport and I’d already done it once. You just work at getting it fixed and look forward. It's a no-turning-back kind of deal on that one. Once it's done, it's done.
Has that affected how you ride at all?
The body forgets about you know any injury or pain. After any injury it's a fair amount of time off, so once you’re ready to go and start riding again, you kind of forget about it. You always worry about sticking your leg out, at least for the first couple of rides, but nothing major.
What else do you do to get through those injuries and power through it?
When you do end up getting an injury like that and it's not super serious, its almost like you're, not glad, but it's almost like you get some time off. You don’t have to keep travelling. But on the other side of it, I just do the hip surgery, do the rehab properly, and it ends up coming around pretty quick.
I've noticed recoveries in sports have been becoming faster and faster.
The surgeries they do these days are real quick, and the recovery time gets quicker all the time. Technology gets better.
How much easier was it the second time around?
They were both pretty easy. I never had any problem getting movement back in my leg. I actually had to be careful of actually stretching my ACL out too quickly. I had my movement, my range of motion within the first week, so mine went very quickly. I had to be slowed down, actually.
That's pretty crazy.
I was riding my road bike on the road at two weeks after my surgery.
About how long did it take until you were back on a motorcycle?
I was riding a motorcycle at maybe 3, 3 ½ months.
And then competing how long after?
It was quite a while before I actually competed, just because it was in between seasons. It was in transition mode, where you’re going from from outdoors to super-cross.
So, you've won the past three championships in the supercross series. And you won the 2011 motocross series and then had the injury. How different are the two series? Are there a lot of different adjustments?
Both series are definitely different. Motocross is all outdoors, and it's very hot. They're about 30-35-minute races, whereas supercross is inside stadiums. It's much smaller. The heart rate gets to it's max right away, and it stays there, but it only stays there for about like 18 minutes. It's very anaerobic. It definitely takes strength also but it moreso has to do with the lungs. Also, in supercross, you kind of get into a pace, into a groove when it comes to outdoors, because it takes such a long time.
Is there a general consensus of which one is more difficult?
I would say you have to be tougher to do outdoors just because of the heat. It gets very hot. I mean right now we’re here in Utah and its like 100. You know super-cross, its cold or inside a stadium which is around you know 70 degrees so..yeah it just has to do with… theres a lot more that comes into play when it has to do with weather… and outdoors.
How does that affect your riding style?
Some guys prefer outdoors, some guys prefer supercross, but to be one of the so-called better guys in motorsports you have to be good at supercross and motorcross.
What does it mean to you this year to come back from your injury and win it?
In 2011 I was able to win it, then ended up being hurt and missed it for 2012 so you know my goal was to try and win it again for 2013 and just try to keep you know setting goals. And my goals are basically to just try out for super-cross… and then back on my outdoor championships. That’s kind of where I’m at right now in my career.
What’s the next thing for you, after winning all these championships?
I don’t know, because there really is nothing at this point. It kinda just depends on how long you want to keep doing it.
There’s a pretty common understanding that this is one of the most talented fields of riders in a long time. What’s it like being at the top of that class and leading the way?
It's good. The class is more stacked now than it ever has been. There are good guys moving up every year, so that keeps me pushing forward. There are guys that have one year’s experience that’ll just get better and they are younger than me and they haven’t accomplished anything really in the quest yet.
And now a couple questions for the aspirational racers. What kind of advice would you have for first-time riders or people that are just starting on motorcycles or dirt bikes?
It's just like taking anything serious. It takes a lot of work and a lot of practice.
Is there any good way to figure out what kind of riding is for you or what kind of bike is the best fit?
Everybody is different. Everybody has their own riding style. Each person throws their football a little bit different or has their own golf swing where they do something a little bit just different. That's kinda like riding. You just might notice it more on a rider. It might work for you, but it won’t work for someone else.