Give two racers dirt bikes and a place to ride and the chances are you won’t see them for hours – or until one of them needs an ambulance. Luckily when KTM lent Sam Lowes and James Whitham a pair of Freerides, MCN grabbed one too, which meant we could get in on the conversation with two of the most talkative riders in the paddock. Tough gig.
It’s been raining all morning, and it looks set to continue all day. But it doesn’t matter because despite getting two of the most talented and loquacious past and present racers together, we’re not here to go on a trackday – we’re here to hit the dirt. Current Moto2 contender, and reigning World Supersport champion, Sam Lowes is joined by former serial BSB and WSS winner, WSB and 500GP rider – Jamie Whitham. We’ve got two KTM Freerides at our disposal and an off-road paradise to sully.
From the off it’s clear that Whitham has the edge. He’s not only completely up for it, he knows the track and despite having retired over a decade ago, he’s lost none of his talent. Surprisingly, Lowes is a slow starter, but not a slow learner. With every lap the 23 year-old gets faster and faster, and it’s not long before the elbows are out and Whitham starts to ride defensive and dirty.
The banter between the two is relentless, most of which we just can’t print. “This is mega,” says Sam. “I could ride like this like this all day everyday – no problem.”
“Once you get fed up doing this you’ve pretty much lost the will to live, and you know you’re settling into something close to death,” agrees Whit. “I’ve had a similar conversation with Carl [Fogarty], one morning you wake up and it dawns on you that realistically you’ve probably only got ten years of really messing around on bikes like this left before you’re too old and your knees are knackered, and you have to take up fishing. As a racer you crack the odd bone and you knock yourself out a few times, but I came out the end of my career and thought how I wouldn’t have swapped any of that – not even the shit bits.
“I feel sorry for the riders now because there are just as many characters as there always have been, it’s just that they are not allowed to show it. It’s only Rossi that’s got away with doing normal stuff, everyone else is so media trained. I’m sure my generation of racers had more fun than the racers now.”
Lowes: “I know what you mean, and I feel the pressures, but not massively. I suppose you have to be a little bit careful, but what I’m doing now is all I’ve ever known.”
The Freeride is designed for just about anything off-road, and crosses the boundaries of trials, enduro and motocross. The bikes were raced, jumped, crashed and given as hard a time as you’d expect. They didn’t miss a beat and left Lowes and Whit grinning like idiots.
Lowes: “It’s a mega all round bike. One minute we were doing big jumps and the next we were in the woods getting over slippery logs.”
Whitham: “For me it wouldn’t be a bad bike for nipping down to the paper shop too. It’s good for wheelies and I like that. Because it’s physically small it makes it that much easier to muck about on. The 2-stroke is really torquey, and it’s flat at the top so you can’t really over rev it.”
Lowes: “I like that – it’s all torque, just like me and Whit! When you ride it though it feels small and light which is good, because I struggle on a normal Enduro bike because I can’t even touch the floor.”