The Rekluse team sat down with "Mr. Versatility" Ryan Sipes to talk about his busy year racing and why he runs Rekluse products in all his disciplines.
At A Glance
Rekluse: When did you get your start racing?
Sipes: I got a dirt bike for my 2nd birthday, and I think I raced about a year and a half later. I was about 3 and a half.
What is your favorite part about racing?
The competition. The feeling of “that guy’s better than me, I’m going to figure out how to be as good as him.” Or “there’s no way I’m going to let anybody beat me today”. And the learning, especially now. I’m 35, I’ve been racing pro for 16 years, and I’m still learning stuff. That’s the really cool part about what I’m doing now. You wouldn’t think after that many years of riding and racing that you’d still be learning, but I still do, and that’s fun.
What’s your favorite track?
I’m gonna be honest, it’s a local track around here [in Kentucky] called Echo Valley. It has the best dirt that I’ve ever ridden in.
What’s your favorite riding or racing memory?
I have a bunch, to be honest. My first Supercross win, Indy in 2011, was really cool. Then winning ISDE in 2015. Those stick out the most.
Do you have any pre-race superstitions or rituals?
No, I don’t believe in all that crap [laughs]. I just get on my dirt bike and race.
Staying Busy This Year
Ryan's busy year kicked off at Daytona Bike Week, racing Supercross, GNCC, and Flat Track within a few days
So how has this year been going? You’re competing at a lot of different types of events; SX, GNCC, AFT, Hill Climb. Why are you going after so many different disciplines this year?
I did it last year on a smaller scale. I can do a lot of different things on a motorcycle, so it was like “what else can I do”. I did Supercross, then Motocross, then I got into off-road, and I did pretty well there. Then it was just like, “I just like riding dirt bikes, and I’m at a point now in my career now where I can make the most of it and see what else I can do”. So I did some flat track, did some hill climb and got back into Supercross. It’s been a lot of fun. It’s been tough, but for sure rewarding. It’s a lot of work to get all these bikes ready and travel to all these places, but it’s been a really good year.
"[Erzberg] opened my eyes to what's possible on a dirt bike."
Talking about hard enduro, how was racing Erzberg for the first time this year?
It was nuts, man. I watched every video you could find on it, just because that’s the only way I knew to prepare. You think you have a pretty good grasp of it until you get there and you see it in person and it’s 10 times bigger and tougher than you thought from watching the videos. It opened my eyes to what’s possible on a dirt bike, because I would’ve told you “no way, can’t make it”. I made it through some of the stuff I didn’t think I would, and the top guys that finished it made it through everything. I look at things a little bit different now.
What was the hardest part of the race for you?
I would say some of the hills in the back where they don’t video – maybe it’s too far or they don’t want to scare people or whatever – but it’s not even in the rocks. It’s a hill that you can barely walk up, and we have to ride our dirt bikes up it. But you can’t go straight up it, you kind of have to go sideways and then 180, then sideways then 180. Some of that stuff was really tough. It wouldn’t be a big deal if you had a big run for it, but you don’t. You have no run. You start at the very bottom in 1st gear, you have no speed. So you have to figure out how to get traction and not loop out. That was the hardest part for me, some of the stuff where the faster you went the worse it was. You had to just creep along and make sure you didn’t fall off the tiny little rut that there was or get out of the line. If you got off the line, there was no getting back.
So you’re going back next year?
Yeah, I want to, just because I didn’t finish in the allotted time. If you finish it, it’s something special. You’re a great rider. So I want to see if I can go do it.
Switching gears a bit, you did Red Bull Straight Rhythm this year. How is the transition from hard enduro to doing something like Straight Rhythm?
It can be a little tricky just because I can go to a race without having ridden that discipline in a month because I had to prepare for other stuff. There’s a lot more thinking that goes into it. When you only do one [discipline], you kind of don’t want to think. You practice it so much that it should just come natural. The more you think, the worse it is. For me, I’ve found that I have to think and I have to get to the race and go “alright, I’m not doing Supercross again, now I’m doing hard enduro” or whatever it may be. I have to remember all those things I learned a few months ago and apply that and forget all the stuff I know about Supercross.
How did Straight Rhythm go for you this year?
Straight Rhythm was alright. I think I rode pretty good – I didn’t qualify well so I had kind of a bad seed. I got through the first round then the next round I had Ken Roczen, so I knew he was going to be tough [to beat]. I gave him a good run in the first race. I was right there until the very end, and I actually led it for a bit. The second race against him I just tried to hard and made some mistakes. He went on to win the whole thing, so if you have to lose to somebody, losing to the eventual winner is not so bad.
But if you took Ken and had him do a Sprint Enduro, you never know what would happen right? [laughs]
Yeah, it’d be a whole different deal. The tables would be turned a bit.
Hear what Ryan has to say about his Red Bull Straight Rhythm 90's themed KTM 250 SX and running Rekluse
How was that Sprint Enduro you raced this year? It seemed like everything was clicking for you.
It was really cool. I was worried a bit going in to it because I hadn’t been in the woods all year. I did the one GNCC round at the beginning of the year, but honestly I didn’t practice it at all because I was getting ready for Daytona Supercross. The GNCC didn’t go well – I hadn’t been in the woods and [the other racers] have, they do it every weekend. I wasn’t sure how [the Sprint Enduro] was going to go. I thought I was going to get beat pretty bad. I’m fairly confident in the cross-tests. I figured I would be good there, I won the first set. Everybody was like “oh you didn’t lose anything” and I thought “just wait until we get into the woods”. That went pretty well too. I went in there and had some good tests and squeaked out the day one win. Then day 2, I put the hammer down and pulled away. It was cool to come back after not doing it for a while and still be good at it, but also I put a ton of work in before it, just practicing at home. For probably about 3 weeks before it I just stayed in the woods and practiced with that type of stuff, so it was good to see that pay off.
"I feel like I’m getting better and better, so that’s super fun."
Now that you’ve expanded even farther than you did last year, do you have a favorite discipline?
Shoot man, I don’t know. It all kind of has its own place. Like Supercross was super fun, just after not doing it for 6 years. Then coming back, it was a struggle to get my speed back. With Supercross, the risk is super high, so I’m kind of scared the whole time, but it’s really fun. It’s a really fun thing to do, and to get through it without injury was cool. The flat track stuff I love. It’s fairly new to me, this was my second year ever doing it. I feel like I’m getting better and better, so that’s super fun. With the hard enduro stuff, I feel like I have a long way to go, but I feel like I can be good at it. I just have to get down and practice it and learn all those things. The hill climb was really fun, I was surprised by that. I didn’t think it would be as fun as it was. I don’t have a favorite, I think all of them are cool and fun. It’s just cool to be able to do them all.
Riding With Rekluse
What’s your background with Rekluse? The relationship started with a wrist injury in Motocross a while back, right?
Yeah, I dislocated my wrist really bad, like grade 4. It looked like it was going to fall off. Long story short, I came back from that and rode for about a year and all was good. Then my hand was starting to go numb. So after a couple laps, I couldn’t pull the clutch in. They ended up saying it was carpal tunnel, but it was mid-season and I didn’t want to go have surgery with a pretty long recovery time. I had heard about Rekluse [auto] clutches, so I figured we would try it and I called you guys up. That was a fun year testing and getting everything dialed in for me. By the end of that year, on a 450 during the outdoor [Pro Motocross] nationals, I never touched the clutch after the start because I couldn’t, my hand was numb. I was able to get 6th overall in the 450 class that year with a couple 4th place moto finished. That was really cool to be able to see what you can do with an auto clutch. Like I said, never touching the clutch after the start. That was pretty amazing to me, being able to compete at that level.
"In the slicker, rockier, rooty-er stuff, I trust RadiusCX [auto clutch] more than my finger."
You were one of the first top-guys on a Motocross track using the auto clutch. It was a great step forward for Rekluse, and it was fun developing that with you. Fast forwarding through your career a bit, you continued to use the auto clutches in the GNCCs. How does the RadiusCX auto clutch and the Core Manual TorqDrive manual clutch work for you?
With my racing, doing a bit of everything, I use a Rekluse [product] in all my bikes. For all the off-road stuff, I use an auto clutch. I view it as a big advantage. If I don’t feel like pulling the clutch in, I don’t have to and it works great. In the slicker, rockier, rooty-er stuff I trust RadiusCX more than my finger. I’m just going to let go of that clutch and let the [auto] clutch do its job. I think it’s a big plus. For 450 Motocross, I like the auto clutch too. If you go to the Supercross stuff when I’m on a 250, I think the auto clutch is less relevant there, so we use Core Manual TorqDrive. I’m 170lbs, 35 years old, and I’ve pulled some good holeshots against the 130lb 16-year-olds [laughs]. So I think the TorqDrive works really good too. In the hard enduro stuff, I use the [RadiusCX] auto clutch, as well as in flat track. Everything has been good. I feel like I have an advantage every time I go out.
In what sections do you feel it’s most beneficial to have an auto clutch?
Any time it’s slick or rocky or root-y. Giving [the bike] too much throttle [in a that situation], you’ll spin or get sideways and lose your drive and not be able to make it through the section . The way we have the auto clutch set up, I just don’t even trust my fingers. I don’t even use the clutch lever, I just let the auto clutch do its job and pull me right through. I think it works really good. On the hard enduro stuff, same way. You get on a hill and you’re pushing and maybe can’t reach the clutch lever, you can give it some gas and get the rear wheel to turn and pull you up the hill. In moto too, in a turn where maybe you’re in the main line and want to cut out of it, I always feel like the auto clutch is good at finding the traction to pull you out without spinning the back wheel around.
"If you let the clutch out with your fingers, you aren’t going to be the same every time, no matter how good you are. With the EXP [auto clutch] disk, it’s the same no matter what."
That’s great insight. Are there any misconceptions with auto clutches that you’ve heard?
The biggest thing I’ve heard is people thinking that the auto clutch doesn’t give as much drive as a regular manual clutch, which I would dispute 10 times out of 10. Once it’s engaged, you’re getting the same amount of drive that you do with a manual clutch. As far as the lever feel, if you have a soft lever, you have the clutch set up wrong. I tell people about it all the time. They’ll ask me, and I’ll say “I could let you ride my bike and not tell you [an auto clutch] was in there, and you’d never know.” Until I say “hey, let the clutch out with the bike in gear”. Then they do and go “oh wow, no way!”. It’s the same thing, it’s an added benefit that you don’t have to use the clutch lever. The EXP [auto clutch] disk does the same thing every time, no matter what. If you let the clutch out with your fingers, you aren’t going to be the same every time, no matter how good you are. With the EXP disk, it’s the same no matter what. Once you get the hang of it, you can rely on it to get you through sections.
Awesome, couldn’t have said it better myself [laughs]. How has it been this year balancing your racing with your family life?
Yeah, it took me a while to figure that part out. Working on all the bikes, traveling – you don’t leave the day of the race, you leave a couple of days before. I’m gone a lot. My wife has been awesome. She’s been taking care of all the kids and helping me where she can. It’s definitely different than when I was 19 years old and I had nothing to do but ride and train. There’s a whole lot more going on now, so I have to treat it more like a business, more like an actual job than something that’s just fun. I feel like I’ve found a pretty good balance now, and I’m always getting better, trying to refine it and figure it out to where I can spend as much time as possible on my dirt bike, but also as much time as possible with my family and my kids. It’s really important for me to be a good dad and raise my kids the right way. That’s always #1 on my priority list.
We really appreciate your time. Good luck at ISDE!
Thanks guys, I really appreciate all of your help.