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Sunday, July 15, 2012 will go down in Canadian history as the first time an official Motorcycle Gymkhana event has taken place in the country.
Motorcycle (or Moto for short) Gymkhana for those of you unfamiliar with the term is a sport that calls on riders to have accurate manoeuvring skills, bursts of speed and ruthless braking ability while negotiating extremely tight courses. Courses are usually set up in parking lots, using pylons to denote various sections.
Coined Rock the Red and hosted by Honda Canada at their head offices in Markham, Ontario, this inaugural event will likely be the first of many more.
Rock the Red was a full day event that started off with participant riders practicing on CBR125's all morning, while event guests had an opportunity to revel in a variety of other activities including motorcycle, ATV, and side-by- side demo rides.
The CBR125's used in practice were simple machines with virtually no modifications, except for the removal of turn lights and mirrors. Riders were given a sample course layout with opportunity to practice straight-line slaloms, chicanes, circles, and figure eights -- the core elements that make up a Gymkhana course.
For the feature competition that afternoon, Honda would bring out modified CBR250's. These machines featured a loud race exhaust and shorter first gear allowing for maximum power off the line which would make achieving those crucial bursts of speed between course elements possible. To minimize damage during falls, the bikes had their signalling lights and mirrors removed and were outfitted with full race cages.
Blame the heavy rain some riders had to deal with, or insufficient skill, but there were quite a few falls during the competition. In a testament to the relative safety of Moto Gymkhana every rider who took a dive was able to get back up on their bikes and continue their run -- wearing proper riding gear played a not-so-small part in this as well.
Although it's not official, there are rumours that Honda will take this show on the road. Rock the Red will be Honda Canada's Moto Gymkhana arm, putting on competitions in cities across the country. Compared to how developed the sport is in its native country, Japan, what we saw here in Markham is still very rudimentary. But the good news is that the first step has now been taken, not only does Moto Gymkhana have a deep-pocketed sponsor, but after this first event, we've even got some serious fans.
After all, this is a sport that almost any rider, with any sort of machine can get in to -- well, the riders of massive cruises might be at a distinct disadvantage. All riders need is an empty parking lot and some cones.
There is a governing body for Gymkhana in Canada, and all official competitions need to be sanctioned through them. Yoshitaka Nakatani is the director of the Canadian governing body, and also happens to be a terrific Gymkhana rider. He was also the course designer, and lead instructor of Honda's Rock the Red this Sunday. He was thrilled with Honda's involvement in Moto Gymkhana and hopes that the sport will encourage more Canadians to embrace riding.
With the first official Canadian Moto Gymkhana event now in the books, stay tuned for more from Honda Canada. Those who want a good shot at a podium finish should start practicing now though, because controlling a motorcycle through a Gymkhana course calls on a set of skills that most riders can't even fathom.
Photographs by JP Dhanoa.