After ignoring flat track for decades, Europeans have decided it’s cool, since Valentino Rossi and Marc Marquez both use it to train in the off-season and ride in the Superprestigio, an invitational all-star race for top riders from around the world.
Even here in Canada, where flat track participation is highly regionalized, the sport is on the uprise. Last year, after the CSBK season was over, Pro Superbike champ Jodi Christie tried his hand at a Flat Track Canada event and did well. Pro Sport Bike champ Kenny Riedmann attended as well.
But it is in the States that we’re perhaps seeing the biggest revival, with the AMA attracting more manufacturers to its Pro Grand National Championship.
Last fall, Yamaha decided to enter with a bike built around the FZ-07 motor, and just last week, Kawasaki also announced they were on board, putting up contingency money and sponsoring a team. Even former World Superbike ace, Troy Bayliss has joined the scene, racing a Ducati.
Finally, and this is the most important – flat track is now in the X Games. While freestyle motocross has been a popular X Games event for years, flat track has languished as its uncool brother that wasn’t invited to the party. That has changed, thanks to the Harley-Davidson Street 500 and Street 750.
When Harley-Davidson introduced the Street models, they quickly realized they needed to get young people interested in buying them. But how to attract young fans to the MoCo product? By associating them with flat track racing. They’ve talked the X Games management into running a flat track event on June 4 at the X Games in Austin, Texas.
But wait, there’s more! Triumph has also said their top flat trackers are going to race at the games. That should mean for much more interesting competition, even if the rulebook favours Harley-Davidsons, the way it did for so many decades of flat track.
The potential of an X Games flat track event is huge. Instead of drawing only the crowds from regional events (competing with draws like Supercross at Daytona), X Games fans around the world can now access it. We’re talking about millions of young eyeballs that never would have seen the sport before.
If this takes off then chances are, we’re going to see flat-track inspired motorcycle design hit the market, just as the flat track boom of the 1970s resulted in bikes like the Honda Ascot.
We already have the Ducati Scrambler Full Throttle – “inspired by the flat track world,” according to the marketeers. Or what about Victory Motorcycles’ mysterious #Project 156? It sure looks like a flat track-style bike. Who knows what else Harley-Davidson or Triumph could be working on?
We’re probably also going to see a few more oddball grassroots events like Dirt Quake spring up, a sort of Mad-Bastard-Scooter-Rally-meets-flat-track event. For many riders, Dirt Quake is an answer to the ever-increasing amount of obstacles in the way of racing. Sure, your bike has to pass a safety inspection, but how many races can you do while wearing a Mexican poncho, on a chopper? It’s fun, and people like it.
And ultimately, that kick in the pants, that fun factor, is what motorcycling in general needs and thankfully seems to be returning to. Ducati seems to get it with the Scrambler series. Hopefully, the rest of the motorcycling world gets it too.