David Knight on coming back to racing KTM and future plans
David Knight MBE is perhaps one of the more outspoken riders in Enduro, and he’s certainly a favourite with the fans. The 36-year-old Manxman once dominated everything he raced in and is a real powerhouse on a motorcycle. A three time World Enduro championship winner, ISDE outright winner, two time GNCC National Cross country champion, EnduroCross champion amongst many other titles, Knighter has a wealth of experience and recently returned to racing a KTM, with whom he won all of his championships with, in a privateer set-up.
We caught up with the Enduro-ace during this year’s SuperEnduro series to ask how things are going and what his direction is for the future.
Tell us about your history with KTM and what’s happened in recent years?
“All of my world championships were won on KTM, and all my American titles were on KTMs. When I first joined it was a big family, Kurt Nicoll was in charge, and I just did my own thing working my own way. It became more corporate, and it just didn’t really suit me as much. There was a lot of emphasis in motocross, and I felt I needed to try something different, so I went away from being with the orange team. But obviously I’m now back on one. I’ve been and tried different things, which I think you need to do to re-motivate yourself, and when you are winning everything like I was five or six years ago, you can become a bit complacent.”
What was the reason for coming back to riding KTM?
“I’ve realized that I suit some bikes more than others and I’ve always suited the KTM. They are a bit bigger than other bikes; the Japanese manufacturers produce bikes that are generally a bit smaller and European riders are a little bigger, so KTM seem to produce something that suits. I just feel comfortable on them straight away and it’s always where I feel I belong. I knew that this year I had to be back with KTM to enjoy my riding and stuff again. I have done a deal with KTM UK to do the British races, although for the indoor championship I’d already got things planned thanks to a local company that´s supported me. Everything has gone well; it’s clicked again, the bike feels like my own bike and I’ve always had a good feeling with WP Suspension, so the little things are all there. All the guys in KTM UK are great people, I’ve got a good relationship and I’m having fun again.”
What bike do you choose to race from the extensive KTM range and why?
“The KTM 450 EXC-F is my preferred bike, and I’ll probably ride that for the British championship stuff. The KTM 300 EXC two-stroke I’ve been riding in the Extreme races, which is the best choice for me, and indoors it was a close one between the 300 two-stroke and the 350 four-stroke. Generally when I’ve been testing I’m quicker with the two-stroke, but I can get better starts on the 350. It’s so important to have a good start in the indoor races, so that’s why I’ve chosen it. I’m happy and I love riding it – I don’t get bored when riding such a variety of bikes. KTM have all the different bikes to do the job, so sometimes I might mix it up and have a bit of fun. I’d even like to ride a 150 in some races for a laugh. I’d also like to do the Welsh two-day on an Adventure bike or something similar, just to see if I could get round. At those races people are there for the passion of the sport and you’re racing against joe blogs, so it’s just a lot of fun.”
Tell us about the strategy for SuperEnduro and how you change your program in comparison to traditional Enduro?
“I cycle a lot for training with Mark Cavendish (Tour-De-France cyclist), and we sometimes go out trialing together. He couldn’t believe how tiring it was on his arms, although his legs are strong as anything. He was asking how long the races are, and of course Enduros can be eight hours a day for two days or more, and sometimes up to six days. The three hour races are three-hours none stop from flag to flag, absolutely flat out, but in my opinion the SuperEnduro races are the hardest of anything. And they are six minutes plus a lap. I guess it’s like them going on a turbo-trainer for seven minutes flat out. With Enduro you might do twelve minutes flat out for the timed sections, but you’re on open going and don’t get me wrong you do get tired, but it’s just not as intense as SuperEnduro.”
So SuperEnduro can actually be tougher than an eight hour race?
“The races are short so if you make one mistake, or get caught up with someone else then that’s your race done. It’s a weird mentality to learn to try and never follow anyone, because if he messes up, that’s you messed up and ten bikes will go past. Other things that can happen, if you get a bad start there’s often little ways to make up time anywhere. It’s one of those sports that if you relax a little bit you can really make a mess of it, and if you’re leading you can really make a mistake if you try to calm and pace yourself at the end. I am probably one of the oldest there, but I’ve got a good mentally and I’ve learnt a lot over the years, so I probably feel now as good as I ever did, if not better.”
You’ve always managed to stay away from injuries, although you’ve had a tough time with your hips. Tell us how that’s going now?
“I’ve had injuries, but I didn’t have any real injuries when I was young. From four to nine I rode KTM, I won every championship I did from five, I did a hell of a lot of races, every two or three weeks I was doing a big race whether it be indoors, or outdoors and even motocross. I never had big injuries; I think it’s because I’m a fairly safe rider. I’ve had the odd big crash, but touch wood I’ve never been one who crashed big every few weeks. Maybe my height and strength helps, I don’t know what it is, but I must bounce pretty well. Up until 2011 I never had anything happen, but I had trouble with my hips and they were getting worse and worse. It was a condition that a lot of triathletes and American footballers get. They think it’s because I was so active when I was young, bicycles mainly they said, and it made my hips go egg shaped rather than round, so they weren’t working properly. I had that operation, which wrote my 2011 off, but then in 2012 I struggled a lot. Although I felt good, it’s not until now I’ve realized my hips still weren’t good. Even last year they were still improving; it’s taken longer than I ever thought.”
“In 2012 I won world championship races, and the British championship, but it wasn’t where I shouldn’t have been. In 2013 I had good results, but I hit a hole in the dust in a liaison section in a race and that finished that year off. Overall I consider myself lucky. Some of the motocross guys you feel sick for them; they get injured, work for six months to come back, and then do one race and they can be injured again. So touch wood I’ve had a good career and I’m enjoying it again.”
Do you still have the passion and motivation to race as much as before? And also a lot of people talk about your fiery character, tell us about that?
“Yes, I’ve always enjoyed my riding, and when it’s going well I’m the happiest person in the world. When it’s not enjoyable I’m the grumpiest in the world, because it’s my passion and my life. I get a lot of stick when I get pissed off and show my emotion, but I like to see that in a rider, because a lot of them are like robots these days. It’s good to thank the sponsors, but it’s also good to be able to express yourself. So many people thank me for being the way I am and it means a lot to me. Obviously, sometimes there are people who don’t like it, but I like to be honest. I know I’ve said things in the heat of the moment that maybe I shouldn’t have said, but that’s how I am and sometimes that gets more respect.”
“I’m putting a lot into it; A lot of my own money and my own time and effort. I’m away from my kids a lot, because I want to do it still, so when something shit happens I get frustrated. The competition is tough, and this year has been good, I’ve had some good races and some moments with Taddy Blazusiak (title winner of the SuperEnduro series) that haven’t been so good. But he loves racing and winning as much as I do so in the end it’s really tough competition. It doesn’t matter if you’re a veteran rider who’s bought a bike and is racing for 20th place, or racing for first in a world championship race, it’s the same. That’s why we all love it.”
So how does your set-up work now with the support from KTM UK and your focus on the British titles?
“Even when I was a factory rider, I’ve always had my close group around me. Julian Stevens was with me in the beginning and then Scotty in the US, and Jonty Edmunds’ brother in 2010. I know I can win races off the track as well as on it; my dad and brother were mechanics and we did our own bikes when we were younger. I was doing my own bikes before I was professional and sometimes it can be a hindrance, because you need someone to tell you what direction to go in, but generally I know the direction I need. Now I have Steve Plain with me, and he’s the guy that knows the British championship inside out, he’s the best mechanic there and he’s a friend of mine. We get on well and he’s looking after me and nobody else; you’ve got to be very selfish and have someone whose there to look after number one. He’s an excellent suspension and engine guy, and if he notices something he’ll tell me if I’m doing something shit, or really good. You need that extra set of eyes on the track when you’re racing who can see the lines and guide you. I’m training at home, with the odd stint at Spain, but I’ve won three world titles and four American titles, plus 17 British titles and that’s just riding and training from my house day in day out.”
You’ve recently become a father for a second time. Do you think your children will also want to follow in your footsteps?
“I was very lucky as a kid that I wasn’t pushed into it. My dad was so chilled out and he was a trials rider. He was so laid back that we had to almost beg to go out on our bikes. It’s worked, as we were always very grateful for going out on the bike, although some days we’d go out with our mates instead. I was on my TY80 riding flat out around a field or something. I don’t know how it will be with my kids. I see Letti (Andreas Lettenbichler) here with his son, and Paul (Edmundson) with his son and they’re so frustrated as they know what their kids need to do to be better, but they’re still learning. It’s hard and if my young fella wants to ride a bike then I would like to think I could be relaxed about it. He hates the noise of bikes at the minute, I think I was the same actually, but he’s got his KTM stryder and he’s obsessed with the thing. He says ‘bike bike’ and it’s ace. If he wants to ride bikes he can do, but I think I’ll direct him more into the cycling thing a bit I think. I’ll try not to push him into something, but hopefully I can give them both opportunities whatever they want to do, whether it be golf, tennis or bikes.”
For the future do you have a plan? Coaching young stars maybe?
“I do quite a lot of training now. A lot of people do it because they can earn money out of it, or because they can or the chance, but I really, really enjoy it. I like helping people and seeing their improvement. I like working with kids. We’ve done them with all ages, but the little kids are so funny because they don’t listen to anything, they just pin it, but when they do start listening they’ve not got any fear so you can get them doing so many things so quickly. Then the 14-15 year olds who think they know it all, and some that do want to listen, but the hardest to teach are the older guys that have forty years of bad habits. They listen to you but it’s so hard to change their habits, and when they come on I get a lot of satisfaction from teaching them, as they’ve probably been riding at the same level for 30 years, but then they do something so easy and they can come on so much in a small amount of time. I enjoy doing it, and I’ll try to get into it a little bit more in the future; I’ve got to find something to do I’m getting on a bit now!”
Photos: Future7Media | www.ktmimages.com