We can try to make racing motorcycles off-road as safe as humanly possible but there will always be an element of danger…
Whether it’s through organisational necessities like risk assessments or through innovations in rider equipment such as neck braces – everywhere you look today it’s clear to see how competitive off-road motorcycling has, generally, become increasingly safer.
By wrapping ourselves in the latest and greatest protective clothing, while being well aware of the ‘miracles’ of modern day medicine, we secure ourselves in the notion that life-threatening injury is something that won’t happen to us. ‘What if?’ is a question that’s a million miles from our minds each and every time we throw a leg over a bike.
How easy it is to forget what a fragile thing human life really is.
I say all this in light of the passing of US racer Nathan Woods – father, motorcycle fan, two-time US WORCS title winner, 2010 US ISDE team member. I’m not going to pretend I knew Nathan, I didn’t. But I certainly knew of him and irrespective of how well known he was to folk here in the UK his death is both tragic and sobering.
I met Woods at last year’s ISDE having watched him race on a number of occasions prior to that. He, along with all members of the US Trophy Team, was getting stuck in and helping out a couple of team-mates whose bikes had arrived late in Mexico and needed to be prepped for the event ASAP. While it was very much a case of all hands on deck the friendly and good-natured banter between all riders was something I remember clearly. There was no pecking order, no ‘that’s not my job’ attitude. Everyone mucked in to get the job done.
I have no idea where Woods finished come the end of the 2010 Six Days. I know he didn’t do great and that he certainly didn’t challenge the mainly French front-runners. But he was there in Morelia as a part of the US Trophy Team doing his best and representing his sponsors. Outside of his West Coast comfort zone he was riding for whatever the US equivalent of Queen and country is. Giving his all. Enjoying himself.
If you didn’t know Woods you could easily assume he was a ‘bad ass’. I almost did the first time I saw him. Quiet with a menacing demeanour, he had a character that couldn’t be worked out from afar. With a sizeable physical presence, the odd tattoo and a serious look about him, the fact that he wasn’t overly expressive or vocal meant that he weirdly also blended into the background. Less comfortable in the company of ‘Euros’ than the likes of Kurt Caselli or Mike Brown, in Mexico Woods came across as the strong silent type.
The death of any motorcyclist is hugely sad news but when it’s a professional racer, one of the world’s best trained over seasons to deal with on-track battles, it’s somehow harder to understand. Off-road racing – be it WORCS, GNCC, EWC, national enduro or cross-country events – is thankfully generally very safe. Obviously, there are dangers – and it’s the dangers that in part attract us to the sport. But they are governed, regulated, minimised. Although not eradicated.
The Dakar however is a very different story as prolonged periods of high-speed racing can and sadly does claim lives. But not this year. With the event largely more technical and with speeds reduced it was all about the winners and finishers. Just as it should be.
But now, so soon after the Dakar, we have the news that Nathan Woods has passed away following a racing accident. RIP Nathan…