By Brendan Lutes
No one ever said that jumping nearly 400 feet was an easy feat, and Robbie Maddison knows this better than almost anyone. But behind the popular Australian Freestyle Motocross rider is a team of people making sure everything goes down flawlessly, allowing Maddo to only worry about successfully completing the incredible Red Bull New Year No Limits leap over San Diego's harbor on New Year's Eve.
Alex Ewing is Maddo's right-hand man and in charge of perhaps the most important piece of the puzzle—Maddo's specially built Yamaha YZ450F. Everything on the bike is designed with a key function to make his humongous 400-foot jump possible. The motor is built by Joe Gibbs Racing's Dean Baker and Sean Ulikowski and designed to get the bike up to speed in the short 1,450 foot runway; the suspension is made to not only help with the takeoff but soak up the jarring landing; and the wheels are balanced to perfection to help the bike fly straight and true. On top of all that, though, is the sheer gnarliness of the jump and the fact that Alex is getting an insider's look at what it takes. We spoke with Alex about what has been going into the jump.
How important is the ramp set up and speed that Robbie must go?
Robbie works with a guy that designs his takeoff ramp and landing ramp. Robbie has worked with this dude for his last five jumps, and when he jumped the football field in Vegas, everybody always had these ideas of ramps with big lips on them and huge landings. But after that jump, Robbie went to Australia to break his world record and he couldn't. What he figured out was that he needed a different tool to get the job done and that tool was the current ramp that he's using now. What he found out was that his ramp was maxed out at however many feet it was. He figured out that no matter how fast he hit that ramp, he wasn't going to go any further, so he started working with the new guy he is working with now. They ended up changing the ramp angle, and when they did that, they also calculated in how fast he would need to go. That's where they come up with the speed, distance, and ramp angle.
How does Robbie know how fast he's going?
There is no gauge that tells Robbie that he is going 90 miles per hour. There is a guy standing with a radar gun so many feet down the runway and he checks Robbie's speed—there are actually three or four guys with guns that check his speed. When he gets to the last dude, he goes by, stops, and asks the dude how fast he was going. The guy will say, "You were going 90 miles per hour." And if the ramp is at 360 feet, he knows that he needs to hit it at 103. So he'll turn around and do another run down the runway and have the guy tell him how fast he's going. The radar guy will say, "Alright, that's 101." Then Maddo turns around and does another run… "Alright that was 102." Robbie will then turn around knowing his speed and knowing what it feels like. Then he's ready to jump. He'll then go back to the beginning of the run-in ramp, try to shift at all the same points, and hit the takeoff ramp. There are no speed gauges or anything like that until the night of the jump.
How important is it that Maddo hits the correct speed and is going fast enough?
People think that you just get on the bike and hit the jump as hard as you can; yeah that sounds all good, but until you actually go there and see how it happens, what goes on, and how f*#king gnarly it really is you have no idea. Obviously, I came from racing and I didn't really know much about distance jumping. When I first started doing the deal with Robbie, I thought this was going to be cake. I would be going everywhere with him and getting to hang out and be a Freestyle dude. I'll build a bike for him here and there and he'll be stoked, but after Poland X Fighters, he was setup in San Diego to jump over 300 feet to test his ramp, and I really saw how much work went into it. When I first started building his distance bike [for the New Year's jump], I asked him what he was going to use and he said he was going to use a stock 450. I ended up calling the guys at Gibbs and we worked out a deal to get an engine from them. It really wasn't that big of a deal for me, I wasn't stressed about it at all, and didn't give it much thought until it came time to actually see the ramp, landing, and see him doing 90-something miles per hour, hitting 300 feet at his first jump since X Fighters. It was a big deal. That's when I went, "Oh shit. This is gnarly." This whole last week, Red Bull has had the ramps set up as a test run for us to test the bike and make sure that we can get the speed and make sure the suspension is as stiff or soft as it needs to be. It was basically to work everything out that we needed to on the bike. That was when I really started stressing. Seeing it go down was when I was like, "This is gnarlier than Supercross. He's got one shot when he leaves the ramp." Being a part of it is different than everyone thinks. I definitely respect what Maddo does. It's crazy. It's really fun, but it's really scary to be a part of. It's probably one of the most exciting things I've ever been a part of in my life. This year and the next year coming up, Maddo has some really mind-blowing stuff that people are going to see and just go, "Wow did that really just happen?"