Another season of the world’s biggest freestyle motocross competition the Red Bull X-Fighters has started. Like the previous year, the first stop is the Monumental Plaza de Toros the biggest bull ring arena in the world, which is located in Mexico City. Freestyle motocross is always one of the biggest challenges for photographers as combinations of tricks in the air are huge, and the exclusivity is only the right moment captured along with the climax of the trick that the rider is performing. Photographic experience in this sport for years back gives me certain advantages when it comes to photography, because knowing the tricks, the rider and their usual routine allows me to accomplish everything that I plan in advance – The perfect moment!
A lot of photographers ask me variety of questions related to shooting FMX riders. Most often these are issues related to the selection of equipment which is somehow less important than the right position for shooting. And if you make a good choice of lenses and find the appropriate angle for photographing this unique sport then you can be absolutely sure that you will return home with photos you wanted. Generally there are no special secrets when it comes to equipment. A lot depends on the location where you shoot and therefore the right choice of lenses is up to you. It’s always good to have a zoom lens 70-200mm or slightly higher, and also a wider lens such as the 24-70mm will fully meet the needs of any photographer. Of course it is always a good opportunity for a close-up shots to have lenses such as 500mm or 600mm. If we are talking about a daily event, then certainly a good combination of zoom lens can be 80-400mm.
The most important thing in photographing this kind of sport is that you take both close-up zoom and wide angle shots. It’s always good to evoke, in all possible ways, the great atmosphere in these competitions. Interesting moments that are also good to show on your photos are rider’s jumping and landing spots. Thus, the combination of the lens that I have listed above can be the perfect choice. The rest depends on the photographer. A good choice for photographing position and knowledge of the sport will allow you to get the results you want.
The only thing bigger than the sold-out crowd at the Monumental Plaza de Toros was the audacity of the riders, who used the energy of the 38,000 screaming fans to boost their tricks to new heights.
Facing a sold-out crowd in the Monumental Plaza de Toros bullring – where the tightest course of the series was made even more intimidating with murals of the snake god Quetzalcoatl – the best FMX riders on the planet threw down the tricks they’ve been working on all through the off-season, soaring 15 meters into the sky.
“The altitude is a challenge for our equipment,” said reigning World Tour champion Thomas Pagès of France, who raised the bar for the 2013 season with his winning performance in Mexico City last year. At 2,400 meters, the lightweight, two-stroke stock bikes that most of the riders depend upon simply can’t suck in enough oxygen, effectively cutting their power to half.
X-Fighters contenders: “A level most people couldn’t even conceive of” As Red Bull X-Fighters looks forward to its 50th contest when the World Tour stops in Pretoria this year, it’s time to take a look back – and forward. Where did this sport come from, and where is it going?
Yet, less than fifteen years ago Red Bull X-Fighters didn’t even exist, and freestyle motocross was in its infancy.
The History: “People argue whether freestyle motocross was born from guys riding with buddies in the desert or racers doing tricks when they crossed a finish line” an organizer for the first known freestyle competition in 1998, where competitors strung together jumps on a dirt course. Back then, the tricks were simplistic. “We couldn’t fathom that someone might be able to backflip a 220-pound motorcycle”.
Red Bull X-Fighters was launched in Valencia, Spain, in 2001. In iconic settings across the globe, each rider has a limited time (e.g., 90 seconds) to dazzle the judges on a predominantly dirt course packed with features. Today, the riders’ aerial “gymnastics” include not only backflips, but double backflips and tricks that have them spinning and stretching in front of, in back of, and above their bikes – often hands free, and all in the process of a jump that soars as much as 15 meters above the ground and 30 meters in distance.
The Tracks: The evolution of Red Bull X-Fighters tracks has been an important contributor to the riders’ progression. There’s a standard jump somewhere between 22 and 23 meters, and then you add elements, like a quarter pipe. Each feature is an opportunity for creativity, and every venue is unique – Mexico City defies riders with the tightest course in the field, yet amps them with the largest crowd.
What makes Red Bull X-Fighters different is that it has the most varied courses and the most daring courses? “Because of that, it rewards the best all-around freestylist – at the end of the season, the most skilled is going to be the world champion.”
The Heros: Red Bull X-Fighters champions have included names such as “Mad” Mike Jones, Travis Pastrana, Nate Adams, Levi Sherwood and more. Sewell was impressed by last year’s winner, Thomas Pagès: “He took a bunch of tricks that each would have been a winning ‘best trick’ in other competition and linked them together into a single freestyle run.
The Bikes: Amazingly, the Red Bull X-Fighters athletes use equipment that’s optimized to cover ground, not airspace. “The bikes they’re riding are still predominantly two-stroke motocross bikes. “They make modifications to the suspension and small changes like holes under the seat for hand grips, but fundamentally it is a motocross race bike.” The riders and their mechanics “build” their rides on-site: using stock motocross bikes available in any shop, they not only modify the suspension but also add special handlebars, footpegs and other tweaks according to their own personal preferences, to help them execute their most outrageous tricks.
The Progression: The challenge and prestige of Red Bull X-Fighters brings out the best. The first winners were from the United States, but today competitors from all over the world have ended that dominance. “All these guys are riding at a level most people couldn’t even conceive of – every year they bring out something new, which blows our minds.