**Editors note: This interview was conducted back in November 2017 and printed in our February 2018 issue.
It's no secret that his motocross-racing career took a toll on 29-year-old Ryan Villopoto. The Poulsbo, Washington, native has seen more success than most could ever dream of, but his record-book career didn't come without a lifetime of commitment and pressure to win. When it came time to officially retire in 2015, he was quick to fly under the radar and collect his thoughts, spending much needed (and well-deserved) rest and relaxation with his wife and brand-new twin boys. Just two short years later, its great to see a refreshed RV2 getting back into the sport that he was a defining force in. We sat down with him to catch up on creating new opportunities for himself and carving out his next chapter on two wheels He had just wrapped a day of shooting his first ever trip to the iconic sand dunes in Glamis, CA. Can you believe that? RV has never even had a chance to play in the sand! Read on…
You're in the dunes! How did this all come about?
Yeah, so with the switch to Answer we're trying to put some content together, and to be honest, just different content then I've ever done or produced. Everything is so content-driven now, and we wanted to do something different than what everyone has always seen me doing and that's been riding and training on a more serious scale. So the idea of going to Glamis popped up, which was cool because I had never been to Glamis before. We cruised out for the day, and I think so far it turned out pretty good!
Give me an expectation versus reality with the sand dunes. Were you tripping out on how unique it is to ride?
It's definitely different, you know? I've obviously raced in sand before, but Glamis is interesting because it's really fine sand. Like any sand, you have to keep your speed up and bike setup is a little bit different, but to be honest, what really tripped me out was that I didn't have a whole lot of depth perception. I don't know if it was the light, but everything was the exact same color and there were no ruts…no anything! It was hard to see where your marks were, where the G-outs were, and where the transitions were in the jumps.
Now that you've ridden it, what do you think of the guys who send it big out there?
I've seen some really big jumps done out there, from moto guys to current guys and even in the '90s and 2000s. It's something you won't catch me doing—unless it was really safe and mellow [laughs]!
The scale of everything is hard to tell from video. Once you're there it's massive.
Yeah, they're big. And just in general knowing how to ride the dunes and what to look out for, it's something that takes experience. You can be riding along and come up onto the backside of what looks like a minor hill, but its 60 feet straight down. It definitely keeps you on your toes, that's for sure.
You're definitely making a push back into the scene after stepping out for a bit. The latest sponsor switch to Answer is a big move. Let's go back to that and how it came about.
Yeah, so I still have a great relationship with the guys over at Parts Unlimited and Thor. It was a big change and a big switch. Basically I wanted to be more involved, find my niche, and do more stuff. It seemed to fit into the plan better over at Answer. It was kind of like breaking up with a longtime girlfriend when that happened with Thor, so I was a little bummed on that end but also excited on the other end because it is a big switch. So far it's going really well.
It seems like you're finding your path on how you want to continue your legacy in our sport. Is that correct?
Yeah, I think on my end we race for our entire lives, and professionally my career was 10 years. I was lucky enough to do really well at it and build a legacy and a following. For me, I'd like to keep some of that going and still be active within the sport and still be able to make some money. I think it would be foolish to let that all completely waste away.
You still have some things going on up north in Washington, so are you splitting time now between California and the Northwest.
Yeah, I'm fully involved with Grays Harbor ORV up in Washington. We have our practices, races, and hold our events up there in the Northwest, and I try and play a part in that as much as I can. I know that the riding and the racing up there is tough, so I knew if I could take part in that and make it better, that's what I would do. The industry, sponsors, and my world basically is down here in California, so I'll spend a good amount of time here too.
Now that you're a couple years into being retired from professional racing, what's your favorite thing about it? I assume not waking up to the grind of training was a nice change.
Yeah, I think at first definitely. Going from having such a busy schedule to not having a schedule at all was nice. But then you get that break and that time off, and then you look for the next thing. Now after having that break a lot of things inside the industry are cool and fun again, but also my schedule did go from racing to having our kids 14 months ago. It's pretty much all hands on deck now with them! The kid program is my new program now—it's hard now because they are so small. I think when they get a little bigger they'll start beating on each other and playing together and not rely totally on us [laughs].
Two twin boys—what's your outlook on them riding motocross? Do you let it happen?
Yeah, I mean, I think it's likely that it will happen and I would, I guess, go with it for now. But do it for fun, for sure, and also try to introduce every sport. Like going up to Mammoth, water skiing, go here, go there, soccer. Whatever they want to do, and I'm not going to push them toward any one thing, you know?
Have you found any new interests with your spare time that are non-moto?
It's kind of still the same deal with me, I love camping—not that I get to do a lot of it! I like fly fishing, and things like that. I like just getting out and being kind of close to town, but also being remote. It's always nice to me to make a campfire and go chill out with the boys. That's always what I enjoy the most; I don't need to make a big trip of it. I've also been getting back into mountain biking. Specialized just gave me a 2018 S-Works Epic demo bike, so I've been riding that and it's rad. I had an older Epic, and it's amazing how much the technology has changed in just a few years.
Talk about your clothing line, Pine Threads.
Tanner Ellingsen and I have a little side gig that we do, and we always talked about things that we thought were cool or what we wanted to do while we were on the way back from the track or whatever. It just kind of came alive and is coming together slowly. It's been fun to see that come alive and start working.
When you do go ride moto now, what's an ideal fun day of riding for you? And do you need a pretty dialed-in bike to truly enjoy yourself?
You know, I've ridden stock bikes and these new bikes are really good. Right now I have a new bike; Mitch gave me a KX450F and Bones [Jim Bacon] did the suspension on it. It depends though. I mean, you could go ride the hills on a stock bike. Even motocross, depending on the track—if it's smooth, you can ride a stock bike. But the problem is that I can still go pretty fast, even if it's only for a short time. If the suspension is soft, I could get myself into trouble really quickly! Supercross there is no chance—you have to have good suspension, set stiff with Supercross settings. As far as what's fun, to be honest, the moto side of it to me is going to hang out with your buddies and getting that tailgate hour at the track. The riding is almost the by-product of it for me. When you're a professional, the hanging out is the by-product. It's fun, hanging out with Bones, hanging out with Mitch and the Pro Circuit guys, and helping where I can. That's always fun and it gets me out of the house too!
So in 2018, Ryan Villopoto fans can expect to see a lot more of you around, and I think that's a good thing for the sport.
Yeah, for sure! I'll be more accessible and around more—and hopefully doing a lot more riding.