Motorcross rider in the air taking a jump


I have an attraction to extreme sports. Motorcross is less extreme, but certainly beyond the capabilities of many. I have not ridden one in several decades, but I know the skills required. It isn’t just a case of opening the throttle. Too much and you overshoot. Not enough and you hit hard. Balance. Not many have the sheer balls-out guts to launch themselves sixty feet or more through the air astride an explosive bicycle.

I have a lot of respect for motorcross riders. One bad bounce, a burst tire, or a broken pair of forks, and they are instant toast. Impaled or exploded or splashed across a literal wall. I’ve seen it happen.

That said, it also takes a cool head to stand in front of one of these things. Get in the way and get hurt. Riders cannot steer in mid air. And they are concentrating only on their take off and spiking the landing. Not worrying whether the photographer will be OK. That’s where trust comes in.


To launch yourself into the air astride a motorcross bike is one thing. To do it while someone is walking the track is quite another. Riders cannot know where the photographer is when cresting that jump. They ride for the course, and trust the photographer won’t be anywhere in the path of the bike.

As we are on different sides of the jump, riders and photographers can’t see each other until a bike is airborne. So walking the track with a half dozen lethal death machines taking to the air around you brings it’s own challenges. Getting hit in the head with a motorbike can really put a crimp in your day.

Mutual trust is the order of the day. Riders know where they need to be. Photographers know where not to be. Based on walking the track and gauging landing spots, speeds, and watching riders do laps for a while before venturing out. Calculated risks. Each knows their job, and once we are comfortable with the presence of each other, we take care of business. Get on with it and get it done. No sweat. Just another lap.


I will let you into two secrets. Sometimes, riders like to grandstand a little. Go a little faster, a little wider. Get more air. They get a rush from pushing themselves and their mounts to new heights. Literally. They raise their games. That’s the first secret. The other secret is, so do photographers.

The best photos come from up close. Really close. That may mean lying on the track to get a view from underneath an airborne bike passing overhead. Or sitting on the outside of a tight turn to get dirt flying (keep your mouth closed or end up spitting mud). If the rider knows their game, the only concern is a potential accident. But you factored for that, too. Calculated risks. A faceful of hot metal is game over. Know where to be and not to be, when to be there, and have a plan for that split second if (when) something does go wrong. Which way do you roll if you hear the rider scream? Always have an exit plan.

Of course, you could set up a remote camera. That would be the safe and logical thing to do. But… where is the fun in that? Manual, all the way. It’s worth it. You can’t nail action shots with a half-second delay.

Being so close to a bike as it passes, sometimes overhead and from behind, is, I won’t lie, a rush. A calculated risk. If you have calculated the risks correctly, you are as safe as you can be where vehicles are involved. All the variables have been factored, as much as they can be. Sit back, and enjoy.

Let the wind from the flying machine muss your hair. The smell of the gasoline fill your nostrils. And the sound fill your world as that screaming engine passes close to your ear. You have one job. Do it.

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