The Desert 100 is one of the state’s largest motorcycle races, featuring hundreds, if not thousands of bikes on the starting line, and an even bigger, more impressive mass of RVs behind the scenes “hanging out in a farmer’s field.” It’s just one glimpse into a typical spring and fall weekend for the Richards family.
The family, Dan and Teresa and sons Chris and Nick, a junior and freshman at Mercer Island High School, fell into the sport of racing when Teresa pulled the boys into a store.
“We walked into a store and Mom wanted to buy one because she said they were pretty,” said Chris Richards. Now much older, riding is still very much a family affair — both boys learned to ride when they could barely reach the ground while sitting on the bike.
“She (Teresa) wanted us to do something together, and it’s turned into a pretty good family activity,” said Dan. “She grew up and rode bikes, but the whole industry has changed and you can’t just go ride logging roads anymore. So we met up with some friends through 4H that has a motorcycle division out in Monroe, and from there was a group of kids who ride together. From there we became friends who introduced us to the Hare scramble.”
Hare scramble, a form of off-road motorcycle racing, features a wide variety of course types, from heavily wooded to desert terrain, essentially whatever the natural landscape is. Some courses add obstacles, like giant truck tires that racers must navigate over, or thick stands of trees that riders must go through.
“(You) get a bunch of people in a single-file line, and you’re all trying to make a little tiny trail however far in front of you. It could be 100 feet or 200 feet,” Chris explained of the starting line.
“It’s usually a dead engine start and once they start their engines, they take off. It’s an hour and half race, and it’s how far you can get in an hour and a half. Just go. Normally, they are running about 35 miles per hour,” said Dan.
Chris Richards races with the adults, usually riding a 200 to 250 cc bike, while younger brother Nick still rides in the 15 and under-age group on a larger bike.
After years of riding and participating in various events, this past year the family signed up for an off-road series, finishing fourth in their division. The series included 11 races all over the state throughout the spring and fall. The family also took part in several endurance races earlier in the year, racing for up to 12 hours at a time.
“This year we also raced in a six-hour endurance race and a 12-hour insurance race,” said Dan. “Those were in Goldendale. The 12-hour and six-hour are a team race, and we did end up finishing first in our division for first-timers. You start at 10 in the morning and finish at 10 at night.”
Nick said they usually do a couple of laps, then take a break.
“We were doing two or three laps and once you start feeling tired, you take a break, get some food, then you are back out in two hours or so,” said the high school freshman.
The family already has plans to take part in the 24-hour event next year, having a better idea of what works and what doesn’t.
“We didn’t plan very well — didn’t have enough lights on the bikes,” said Chris. Running for a full 24 hours will require the brothers to retrofit bigger lights onto the bikes, which don’t come with a light bright enough to fully illuminate a path at night. It’s a project that the two high schoolers will gladly take on as they have become the family’s mechanics.
“Nick and Chris both do all the mechanical,” said their dad. “I’m the money, but they do all the oil changes, the suspension, the body work, they rebuild their own engines. That’s part of the gig. They have to learn to fully maintain the bikes. These bikes don’t go to a shop to be fixed. The boys clean them; everything tip to toe they do.”
For the most part, the weekend trips to races are a full family affair, unless its a quick trip somewhere close. In the summer, there’s time for camping trips and free riding with friends.
“Motocross is more in the winter,” said Dan. “The leagues don’t do much during the peak of the summer, July through August because most people go free riding and all the good trails are open. We’re not only doing this (racing) but then we go out and free ride. The areas around Blewett Pass that was beautiful riding, a lot of it is gone. It all burned.”
While there aren’t very many Islanders who ride like the Richards, the brothers said they do see bikes for sale around the Island.
“There is a group who ride, of college kids who ride,” said Chris. “I’ve seen a couple of 450s for sale.”
The overall theme for the family is fun – it not only brings them together, but it’s obviously something they enjoy.
“It’s fun and it’s fun to go really fast,” said Chris.
“It’s a lot more than just sitting down. It’s just like a fight when you want to pass someone,” said Nick. Adding his favorite part is the memories, and learning about riding and life from the older members of the group.
As the teens have gotten older, their dad has noticed they are less willing to ride on just any terrain.
“That’s the drawback of the sport you have to travel,” he said. “You can’t just go up to North Bend jump on a logging road and ride. That’s also not as fun. They are also picky – they don’t like asphalt, they don’t like gravel they like technical and like going fast. They are technical.”
Some of the newcomers to the races worry about their younger children racing, for the most part alone, on the course, but Dan said it shouldn’t be something that keeps people away.
“It’s very family friendly out on the course,” he said. “A lot of people worry ‘oh my kids out there by himself’, but you know there is a dad around every corner who will help pick him up because my kids were the same way. It’s a really cool family thing.”
Even though Dan says he’s done racing individually for now, he’ll still participate in the relay races the family plans to enter.
“Most people don’t realize that when you say it’s an hour and a half race, you’re standing the whole time. It’s a little different than motocross when you have a rhythm,” he said.
“People think the only way to go fast is to have a big motor, but it’s more about your shocks,” said Chris, sharing some of the tips he’s learned over time. “You don’t get tired and you don’t feel the bumps. If you corner better you’re going to go faster.”
Though it can be an expensive sport, which the family keeps in check doing their own mechanics, it’s not something they plan to stop doing anytime soon.
“I don’t see us quitting anytime soon. I think they’ll be riding and looking at schools were there are places to go motorcycling close by,” said Dan.
So if there are some dirt bikes motoring around the Island, give them a wave – it just may be a practice run for their next race.