Sometimes it’s best to wipe the slate clean and start fresh. That’s what Mike Alessi and the SmarTop/MotoConcepts team are doing for 2016. Alessi spent part of the offseason training in a new location, while the team decided to switch their MCR branded bikes from Suzuki to Honda. Although the changes might seem minute to some, both rider and team are hoping this brings success in the new season.
And to be honest, anything would be an improvement over last year, when Alessi struggled to overcomes numerous injuries and poor results. At one point it seemed like Alessi was set to call it a career, but the recent changes to his racing program seem to have reignited his enthusiasm for racing. Having a factory deal lined up with Monster Energy Leading Edge Kawasaki for the summer in Canada had to have helped, too.
During a recent break between motos at the Milestone SX practice track, we spoke with the veteran about the transition and what he’s learned after racing for over a decade.
It was a pretty big change for the team in the offseason to switch from Suzuki bikes to Honda. How has that been and did riding the bike the first few take some getting used to?
So far the transition has been pretty good. I'm enjoying my time on the Honda and am trying to learn as much as possible with the team. My first time riding it was in late September and I was immediately comfortable. The bike suits me well, it's small and nimble, turns well, and has good power. I'm happy with it.
You've had a place in Florida for a while, but you spent some time at Club MX recently. How was that?
I had an amazing time training and riding at Club MX in the offseason Brandon Haas, the owner, was awesome to me and my mechanic and made it feel like home for us. Being able to go there and get to work every day with a regimen and schedule, gym in the morning and motos during the afternoon followed by a bicycle ride, it was awesome. There are great people there and everyone works hard.
What brought the decision to go there?
I wanted something different. I'm always riding by myself in Florida or in Victorville, but if I want to take a step in the next direction and get to the next level, I needed to try something different. With anything in life, you get stagnant with the same routine and same things like bicycle rides and days in the gym. I thought it was time to change things up and see if this works, because what I've been doing isn't working, as far as to be the best rider possible on the track. That was the main decision and it has been good. It was just me and my mechanic, Aaron. My dad was in California and my wife was in Florida. I've just been going to work every day.
2015 was a difficult year with a few big crashes and other issues. How long did it take before you felt one hundred percent again?
The first injury was at Anaheim Two. I'd just won the heat race and was riding great that night, seventh or eighth in the main event and with three or four laps to go my knee twisted. It popped and then locked, which tore my meniscus. Right away I knew something was wrong, so we got an MRI done. I got that fixed and it took a few weeks to get back to where I felt one hundred perfect, which was around Daytona. I ended up having a bad crash there and broke a vertebra in the top of my back. That took six weeks to heal from, with no riding. It wasn't broken bad enough for surgery so we had to let it heal naturally. I went to Europe for the France and England races, which was a great experience. We met a lot of great people and saw lots of cool things, drove a motorhome from England to France through the Channel. The results weren't great, but we had a good time.
When we came back from that I started getting ready for Canada and I had a weird crash the day before we were set to leave for the race that dislocated my sternum. I had a front flat and didn't know it, then came into a turn and the had the bike washout. The way I landed on the hard-packed dirt dislocated my sternum. It hurt so bad. The doctor recommended not racing Calgary that weekend, but that I could still race in pain and not being able to breathe. That took a good six or seven weeks to finally get back from that. At Washougal I didn't have a great race, it was an odd day with the rain and that made the track extremely slippery. Anyone that knows Washougal knows that with a little bit of water, it's slimy. It was a treacherous day.
After that I took two weeks off and then prepared for the Soaring Eagle race at the end of August. We went there and got second, so I made nine grand in cash. My motorcycle was sold that night, literally right after the race with the dirt on it and all. I didn't ride for three weeks but then came back here and got on the Honda.
Everything is coming together and I've had a good offseason with no injuries. And that's the biggest thing about December that people don't understand. You do all of the hard work in October and November, putting in the miles and laps. But in December what I feel happens with a lot of riders that get hurt is they are trying too hard to get a little more before Anaheim One. You've already done all of the work, so December should be about maintenance and getting time, but not killing yourself. With the race coming up, you want to start recovering for A1 but it's the opposite mentality for riders. In my career I feel that is the biggest thing I've learned, that in December you need to back down just a little bit. In October and November you should give one hundred percent to get to the next level, but when December comes you need to maintain it and not be at a flat zero. You don't want to be at your peak. A lot of people wonder why guys are even riding in December and think we should be on the couch, and to a certain extent they are correct. You need some downtime but should be doing the laps, miles on the bike, and time in the gym to maintain fitness for riding. You'll be smoked midway through Supercross and not think it is fun anymore. With motorcycle riding, everyone knows you ride at your best when having fun.
How do you keep from getting burned out? Club MX was a big change, but what do you do to keep from getting bored on the track? There are people that might lose their focus when doing laps and that's when they get hurt.
Correct, when they're trying to push to the next level but not fully focused. I feel the thought, "Am I prepared enough," that comes into their mind. If you haven't by now, it's not a good sign that you'll be ready. And that's why riders continuously push through Christmas and New Years, which is the opposite effect.
Talking to you now, you seem excited to race…
I wouldn't say I'm excited, because I'm twenty-seven years old and have been racing for a while. I believe that if you're too excited and amped up, you won't ride to your ability because of nervousness and excitement. You have to stay calm and relaxed, then go to Anaheim like it's another day at the practice track when you put in laps. It's A1, so you want to preform well, but it's another race to have fun and do your best at.
When we talked a few months ago around the GP, I could tell the year had been rough and that your enthusiasm had waned a bit. But now you seem to be in a good place and want to go ride. Are you still planning to retire sometime soon?
I've said that thirty is my limit, so I have a good two or three years in me. My target year is 2018, but I'll race through 2017 for sure. I've said that for a long time, at least four years now, and know the target that I'm looking to get. Whether I'm still competitive or fast and making good money, thirty is my number and I'm done after that.
I spoke with your dad and Vince about the switch to Kawasaki for the summer in Canada. How will it be to ride one bike and then at a certain point get on a totally different bike?
It's going to be weird, because the contract for MotoConcepts ends May 1st and the contract for Monster Energy Kawasaki in Canada starts May 1st. It'll be weird to go to another bike with different parts, different team and mechanic. I'm looking forward to the challenge and it should be a fun summer in Canada. What's cool and makes it even better is that I'll have my teammate with me through it all, including Supercross. When we get to Canada, it's not like I'll be learning a relationship with someone new.
How will you have to prepare? If you get on the bike May 1st, how long will you have until the first race?
If I had to guess, during the West Coast swing for Supercross that we will ride a few times to get a base setting and once we come back in May, we will hit it hard.
I never thought I'd be on a factory team again, but I'm grateful that Monster Energy Kawasaki gave us a two-year deal to ride for them in 2016 and 2017. I'll give my full effort and try to get the title that eluded me.