This month, Bobby Gunther Walsh chats with Anna Davis, a student at Lehigh University just finishing up her junior year majoring in mechanical engineering. Davis also happens to be an accomplished cross country dirt bike rider who regularly competes in the Grand National Cross Country Dirt Biking Series.
Bobby Gunther Walsh: When did you get this passion for dirt biking?
Anna Davis: Well, my family always grew up riding four wheelers and around the age of 12, I decided to switch over from a four wheeler to a two-wheeler. We knew some friends at our church who said we should start racing and we did and that was it, since then we’ve never stopped.
BGW: So how old were you when you did your first race?
AD: I was 12.
BGW: You mean you went to your first race at 12? You didn’t participate though?
No, I raced at 12.
BGW: You did? At 12 years old? Wow. Everyone in your family rode? How many people in your family?
I’m the oldest of five kids, so my dad rides and then three of my younger siblings ride and my mom and my one sister ride horses.
BGW: Does your mom have any objections to you riding?
No, absolutely not. She’s very competitive and she’s very into it. She helps a lot with our motivation and drive to do well.
BGW: Who goes to the races?
My dad and my 18 year old brother are my main support. My mom loves to come but sometimes she’s doing things with my other siblings.
BGW: I imagine it brings you closer with your siblings?
It definitely does. We have a camper and you definitely get closer living together all the time.
BGW: So there’s a men’s and a women series. You obviously compete in the women’s divisions and there’s different classes and you’re in the women’s class?
Yes, that’s right.
BGW: So how are you doing in that?
Right now I’m currently in first place, but we’ve only done five of 13 races of the series so there’s still plenty of time left in the series.
BGW: And the last couple of years you’ve finished second in the series, right?
In the whole series I’ve placed second the last two years.
BGW: Where do you race? Does this go all over the country?
It’s all over, but it’s mainly concentrated in the East Coast, up to New York, down to Florida and then out to Indiana.
BGW: And how long is one of these courses? How does it work?
The whole concept is you do as many laps as you can in a certain time frame. My race is two hours, so I do as many laps as I can in two hours. And each lap is about 11-13 miles long. So I usually do between three and five laps depending on the course.
BGW: And for folks that don’t know, this cross country dirt biking — it’s through the woods, over streams — the courses are intense.
Yes, they’re anything you could possibly come across in the woods: grass, hills, mud, anything that you could think of.
BGW: Trees falling into the path, big trees, small tress, all this crazy stuff…This takes incredible physical conditioning. To appreciate this get on a dirt bike folks and do it for five minutes and most of us will be exhausted. What kind of conditioning do you need to do in order to be able to race?
It’s harder since I’m at college because I’m away from home. But I’m only an hour away from home, so I usually go home and ride. I try to go home at least once a week, if school permits, to get a couple hours of riding under my belt. But, I also do have a mountain bike that I ride on campus and Lehigh University is on the side of a large mountain so I can ride there and workout in the gym.
BGW: So what are you working out on because the other thing is it takes great leg strength, but I imagine the upper body and core strength, you’ve got to be in top physical condition in every part of your body.
Yeah, every muscle needs to be conditioned, the mountain biking does do a lot of that, but doesn’t work your arms as hard, so that’s why I’ll go to the gym and just have a bunch of different circuits I’ll go through to even out my body.
BGW: When did the season start and when will it end?
It usually starts late February, early March and then it goes until about June or July and takes the summer off and restarts in September and goes through October.
BGW: Is that a different season or does it take you that long to get the 13 races in?
No, that is all the same series, so those 13 races are just spread throughout the year.
BGW: How crazy is it to be sitting on top of the points? Is that driving you nuts?
It just makes me excited to keep racing. And the time passes quickly because in between races we’ll do local races to keep practicing.
BGW: Are you racing for money or just fame and notoriety and trophies?
Well right now in the local series in my class they do pay out but in the nationals they don’t, so you’re just awarded a trophy, but there are different contingencies depending on what you have, like my tires, if I place first through third, they will pay out.
BGW: What kind of motorcyle are you riding?
I ride a KTM.
BGW: What cc’s?
150. It’s a KTM 150 XZW
BGW: About how much does that weigh?
About 200 pounds.
BGW: Do students on campus know you do this?
My friends definitely do. It’s basically my life, so I’m always wearing the t-shirts and working out. My friends know but I usually don’t go out of my way to tell people.
BGW: What’s the reaction of a new student that doesn’t know and is just meeting you? Because you’re small and very lady-like, so they would not picture you out there with a dirt bike, right?
A lot of times they are shocked and don’t believe I would do this by looking at me I guess.
BGW: Does that intimidate guys?
I’m not sure. One thing I’ve learned in this sport, there are so many guys and so few girls and you gain a lot of respect by what you can do. It’s always fun when there’s like hill climbs and you pass the guys and you just gain their respect that you can do what they can do as well.
BGW: How has the sport impacted your life?
It’s been a really great experience, beside the fact that I get to spend every weekend with my family, this series, we got to travel around and we’ve met so many people. And on the bike I’ve just learned to be more capable and when to panic and when not and sometimes you’re tired but you’re not actually tired and there’s still more energy in you to finish the race and get through. Racing has really inspired my major in school.
BGW: Your major, mechanical engineering, you can apply that science to making your bike better I bet. Who works on your bikes?
When I’m home I work on my bike and I’ve learned how to do most things, but mainly my dad will work on it and we have a mechanic who works on the motor because it has to be perfect when you’re traveling far.
BGW: What would you say to other young women who might be interested in getting into the sport?
It’s important to do what you want to do and a lot of times people can be intimated. Dirt biking everyone should experience whether they get into racing or not but everyone should have confidence in their abilities.
BGW: Is there an age limit?
No you can go on forever, there are master classes for people in their 70s. I plan on riding and racing for my whole life hopefully.
For more information, visit gnccracing.com