Valentino Rossi broke his right leg while riding off-road as part of his training Thursday. That ensured two things.
First, it put an end to his long-shot hopes of winning another MotoGP title this year. And second, it guaranteed that a lot of people would mouth off on social media, suggesting he shouldn't be risking his career by riding dirt bikes. What the hell, doesn't he know motorcycles are dangerous?
It's not the first time a road racer has been laid up due to injuries from training in the dirt, so let's address the subject with a bit more thought. One thing that isn't often considered is that professional road racers spend less time doing what they get paid to do than just about any other professional athlete. How many days a year go by without a World Cup soccer player kicking a ball or an NBA player shooting some hoops? Yet MotoGP and World Superbike racers literally get to ride their true race bikes on the tracks where they compete for just a very limited number of days a year.
The rest of the time, they're finding other ways to train, to hone their skills and to stay in the kind of shape that lets them ride faster than all other humans on the planet for 40 grueling minutes, while sweating in leathers. Two of the most popular ways to train are riding bicycles and riding motocross or flat track. There are risks in all of those activities, as we saw with Nicky Hayden this summer on a bicycle or Rossi this week riding an off-road motorcycle.
Bicycling is great cardiovascular exercise and builds leg muscles the racers need. I suppose they could do all those hours of riding on a stationary bike in a gym, but they are human, and that sounds boring. Riding dirt bikes at speed is not only a great workout — there's a reason motocross riders are among the fittest athletes on the planet — but it also gives racers constant practice at controlling a sliding motorcycle on all those days they're not allowed to ride the motorcycles and tracks where they compete.
Two videos, one from two years ago and one released two weeks ago, shed light on the topic. In this video, Rossi provides a look at his ranch in his hometown in Italy, showing how riding in the dirt is such an important part of his training (both for himself and the young Italian racers he is mentoring).
This second video is also about how one world-class professional rider, Leon Camier, lives and trains. The entire five-minute video is good for getting a look inside a pro racer's home life, but if you just want to see the immediately relevant part, skip to the 4:00 mark, where Camier talks about how riding motocross makes him a better racer.
Fans who say the pros shouldn't take those kinds of "risks," by riding off-road, aren't giving very much thought to the true likelihood of taking a racer, who thrives on competition and speed and challenge, and expecting him to live in a safety bubble the 300 or so days a year he's not racing.