Ahead of the X Games in LA this weekend, we spoke to Japanese trials rider Taichi Tanaka about his attempts to raise the profile of off-road motorcycling in his homeland…
In Tanaka's first high-profile foray into the European off-road scene the Japanese biker produced a sensational 13th-place finish at the 2010 Erzberg Rodeo after starting from the fifth row. A year later, he finished seventh, and in this year's Red Bull Hare Scramble he ended the day fifth and was one of just seven finishers. He achieved all of this without a strong off-road scene to support him back home.
Aside from Tanaka's obvious talent, there is also a deep determination driving the man from Osaka, something he's been using to attract Japanese attention to his beloved sport. RedBull.com asked him about the work he is doing at home to ensure that the next generation of off-roaders are prepared to take on the world's best at prestigious events such as the X Games.
“Before last year's Erzberg Rodeo I didn't have any off-road biking in Japan, I was without training,” Tanaka explained. “I just went to California for a month, stayed at Kurt Caselli's house and did some motocross training, then went to Erzberg and took seventh. After that, KTM Austria told KTM Japan, and I had a lot of training. So this year has been much better."
“Before the 2012 Erzberg Rodeo I did the Japanese Enduro Championship and then went to California again. There are no sponsors in Japan – off-road is not a big thing. My job is trial biking. I do a show with a DJ in the street every weekend and that's my main job."
“I never get money from any sponsors as salary. Red Bull Japan pay for my trips to Europe, which I'm very happy about, and KTM Japan sort out the bike and mechanics and there are other sponsors who help me, but I get no salary. My motivation is to spread the message to the youngsters. I want to build the profile of the sport in Japan. It's not easy, but somebody has to do this in Japan. I want attention from more people. My motivation is to show what off-road racing can be to the Japanese people.”
Tanaka goes on to explain how he's getting more people into off-road biking: “I organise endurocross with Red Bull Japan sometimes, and every month I organise a motorsport event myself. We make a motocross track and I do a trial show near my house near Osaka. There is everything: freestyle, enduro, motocross. Lots of mini-course stuff for the kids, too.”
Tanaka is currently in LA for the X Games where he hopes to attract further interest and investment.
“At the X Games I'll be doing the endurocross," he explains. "I'm looking for something like that [sponsorship]. Off-road racing is racing but also entertainment, it captures people's attention and we give the people great excitement."
“In Japan the focus is on the short term, money for tomorrow, but it's not a good idea. It needs to be about the future, about 10 or 20 years from now. I am 30 years old now, not young, and I explain to the young riders who I ride with that it's about changing the mentality, giving them a good platform for the future. I want to improve the situation and build some progress with riders, sponsors, and the media.”
With such determination, who will bet against him.
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