There was a thriller on the cards during the final race of the Foreign class at the Bandidos Dirt Xtreme. The boisterous crowd of over 12,000 buzzed in anticipation. A look at the points tally made it evident that this was to be a close affair.
After the first two races, Prajwal V (33 points) led the standings by the narrowest of margins. On his heels were two riders, Jinendra Kiran (32 points) and defending champion, Mahesh VM (31 points). And given the likes of Ikshan Sanket Shanbhag (28 points) and Sarthak Chavan (26 points) in the mix, it was anyone’s guess on how things would unfold by the end of the evening.
In just its second edition, the Bandidos Dirt Xtreme presented immense drama. It handed factory riders and privateers the opportunity to showcase their skills, besides highlighting the potential of the next generation of motocross riders in India.
The two-day event was held over a weekend in January 2023 in Aranattukara near Thrissur. It is the brainchild of Murshid Basheer. He started his own racing career back in 2009 and two years later, even had the privilege of performing alongside Chris Pfeiffer, a former legend in the world of motorcycle racing and stunt riding.
But during his journey, he realised the lack of support for aspiring riders. Alongside his bike accessory business, Bandidos Pit Stop, he started toying with the idea of putting up a private motocross championship in his own backyard in Kerala.
“We first started this event on a very small scale in 2013, with most riders coming from south India. It was possible to do it for two more years, but then we didn’t find any sponsorship since motorsports hasn’t grown much in Kerala. Finally in 2020, I could organise it on a grand scale,” Murshid says.
In the run-up to the event, procuring the necessary permissions was a major hurdle that Murshid faced. On ground, one of the biggest challenges was the 600 truckloads of mud required to create the 900-metre-long track. It took a month to put the design together, akin to any international motocross track. It featured one big tabletop jump of around 60 feet, in addition to 10 smaller ones, about 40 feet in length.
“It was certainly more fun to ride this year as compared to the previous edition. The length of the track was increased this time around and it was a really fast one, which made it a delight to ride,” says Mahesh, winner of Red Bull Ace of Dirt 2021.
Punctuating the competition circuit was also an FMX set-up of a take-off and landing ramp which the organizers took great trouble to procure from Pune. The ramps were set ablaze by two international FMX freestylers of repute, Sebastian Westberg of Finland and Thomas Winberg of Austria. Amid spectacular fireworks, they put on a thrilling show that defied gravity, leaving the crowd in raptures.
The event saw 200 riders across nine classes. The likes of Prajwal, Mahesh and Sarthak featured in the Foreign class, which was followed by the Indian Expert and Himalayan classes, and another category for women. The Novice, Beginners and Demo classes handed relatively new riders the opportunity to soak in the experience of riding on a world-class track. The youngest riders put on a show as part of the two junior classes (12-16 and 8-12 years).
The bikes ranged from 250-450cc in the Foreign class and from 60-140cc among the junior classes. Deepak ‘Clutchless’ Vishnu, a racer and bike builder from Kochi, noticed most riding carburettor-based motorcycles, which are easier to tune as compared to the fuel-injected variants that are based on an Electronic Control Unit (ECU).
“The motorcycles with carburettors were flying around because of the familiarity that mechanics enjoy when it comes to tuning it. ECU tuning is still not mainstream in India as of now. So while the rider was able to control it perfectly while going into and coming out of corners, they were lacking power because they weren’t tuned properly,” Deepak says.
The dirt meant most riders opted for knobby tyres to ensure more traction and minimise sliding. Besides, most used longer travel suspensions, both front and rear, to absorb bumps during the many jumps and maintain contact with the ground as much as possible.
“The racing was pretty good and what I love about motocross is that the audience is always engaged with the riders, right until the end,” Deepak adds.
What really stood out for most was the potential on display among the juniors.
“I was blown away by the participation and talent I saw among the kids. India has a bright future and I hope as we climb up the ladder of being an economic powerhouse, things will get better, especially with the bureaucratic hurdles faced in conducting such events,” Mahesh says.
“Those who want to become professional riders have to begin when they are five and six years old. What happens is that most start riding by the time they hit their teens. It’s gradually changing and I’m happy to see parents bring their kids to the track and invest their own money. Theirs was the best event to watch – people couldn’t quite imagine watching kids fly all over the track,” Murshid adds.
For Prajwal, who finished third at the MRF MoGrip FMSCI National Supercross Championship last season, it was the perfect start to the new year after putting in the work over the last few weeks. Over in Bengaluru, the weekdays were dedicated to cycling, running, and strength and weight training. On weekends, he would hit the track at Tribal Adventure Cafe.
“The focus was on maintaining good technique, improving body position and staying on the bike for a long time. What I’m trying to introduce to my routine in the time ahead is mental training,” Prajwal says.
On the other hand, mental work is as vital as the physical aspect of training in Mahesh’s routine.
“While on the bike, you need to be focussed. So I spend a lot of time meditating, which keeps me calm and sane, and my mind free to handle the many questions that pop up time and again. The physical workouts keep me agile and in shape, so I don’t miss out on my basic schedule, no matter where I am,” Mahesh says.
As things would pan out, it was down to an intriguing duel between Prajwal and Mahesh during Moto3.
With an additional lap added to the final race, the onus was on Prajwal to maintain pace. In Moto1, he had fired off to a good lead, only to lose momentum towards the end, yet doing enough to hold off Sarthak eventually. But a crash on the final lap during Moto2 meant that he dropped to fourth spot in that round, while Mahesh took the win.
“I was under some pressure at the start line (of Moto3). But I was confident of getting a good start. The prime focus was on avoiding a collision during the race,” Prajwal says.
Mahesh too was looking for a good start, but could eventually manage to slot in only at third position. But he fought back to take second spot in Moto3, as well as the overall standings.
“There are times you win and other occasions when you lose and I believe you need to be prepared for either. What’s most important is that you must enjoy the ride,” Mahesh says.
Prajwal’s worst fears came true when he was hit by another rider during Moto3. However he didn’t crash this time around and held on for the win.
“It was a great experience and I quite enjoyed it, just like the fans. The organisers spent a lot of money to put it together, which is great for the sport since we don’t get enough races in India,” Prajwal says.
For Murshid, the dream is to see an Indian rider winning at international circuits one day.
“We have the potential and the ability. What they need is support, which means more events like this where they can gain confidence and take their riding to the next level,” Murshid says.