Ryan Villopoto's Call of the Wild

Trevor Brown, Jr./ESPN

During the summer of 2015, four-time supercross champion Ryan Villopoto called time on the sport which made him a world famous millionaire. Three years later, and some 70-degrees cooler, the snows of Aspen, Colorado started calling his name. And he couldn't resist. Yes, Villopoto who made his name on tracks built by 600 dump trucks bringing in 12,00 tons of dirt and dumping them down on a football field or baseball diamond will to construct a supercross circuit will, instead, race a Frankenstein-sort-of Monster Energy Yamaha YZ450F motocross bike-turned abominable Snow Bike come on the crystals that precipitate from the atmosphere in good old Colorado. Got all that?

XGames.com: Ryan, there is no big NFL or MLB stadium with a big race track inside of it nearby, so just what do you have going on here in Aspen, Colorado?
Villopoto: Just sitting here right now in the lobby of this hotel and just hanging out. We had a couple of hours of practice today and worked on a couple of things and I feel like we're sitting in a pretty good spot right now.

Were you able to get enough time on the bike, I mean the Snow Bike, to get a competitive read on what might play out on race day?
I think so. We rode for a total, I think, of almost three hours today. It was broke up into different sessions and things like that, but we ended up getting 30-minute sessions here and there. It was good. I feel good.

I'll get to your new role with Yamaha in just a bit here, but did Yamaha actually want you to come up here to the X Games and race a Snow Bike? Man, that seems like a bit of a stretch.
So, actually, yeah, Yamaha was 100-percent behind it. We ended up using the factory Yamaha team out of Canada for this race because they were already coming here anyway. We just kind of piggybacked off them and the Andre [Laurin], the owner of the team, built a bike and built a team and got it all set up and brought some mechanics down, so he's done a great job so far.

Okay, so the big question here that everyone is going to want to hear your answer to: what's it like for one of the greatest supercross racers of all-time to actually ride one of these so-called Snow Bikes in anger - and in snow?!
Yeah, it's way different from a supercross bike, for sure. It's one of the hardest things I've ever rode. In fact, we actually made quite a big change today on the bottom of the skis. We basically call them fins and we ground them down and made some changes with the guys, so it made a bid difference. It's definitely easier to ride and faster. I feel faster on it.

For all intents and purposes, I'd assume the way you turn your YZ450F Snow Bike is with that front ski, huh?
Yeah, exactly. It just depends on how agile the bike is and what it is like to grab certain lines and stuff. Getting that ski right makes it a lot easier to ride.

Trevor Brown, Jr./ESPN

As far as weight goes, and I know this is a bit of an abstract concept, but how different do the YZ450F motocross bike and YZ450F Snow Bike feel?
It's a lot heavier. The first thing that you notice is that on the Snow Bike you obviously have no front wheel, so there is no gyro effect to help you jump and keep things straight in the air. The track that drives the bike is big too and that has also has a lot of the gyro effect to it, so when the bike gets sideways in the air, it doesn't handle too well. Once you kind of figure it out and know what the bike is going to do, you can jump it pretty well.

How does it feel when you're actually riding the bike out there in the snow? I've been watching it all and, to be honest, you guys and the bikes that you are all riding around on look pretty damn graceful! I didn't really expect that...
Yeah, it's much more like riding a sand track in motocross. You rail the berms and keep your momentum. The bikes don't turn very sharp, but still, it's pretty cool.

How about braking and slowing the bike down? How does that work?
There's no front brake, obviously, because there is no front wheel. The rear brake is the rear track, basically. So you pretty much just come into the turn and you don't really need to brake a whole lot because the track has a little bit of drag on it. When you come into a turn, the more committed you are, the better and as soon as you get into the turn and get it leaned over, you want to start getting back on the gas.

And what has the X Games community been like to you since you arrived here? You're preceded by your supercross exploits, thus you being here with snow on the ground and a howling wind is pretty god damn anomalous...
Yeah, for sure. People are pumped that we are here and racing. The vibe here is obviously something way different, and something that I've never been around. It's just really cool to be here. It's nothing like supercross, for sure.

How about the race gear you are wearing? Snowmobiling and motocross don't really match-up when it comes to style and functionality.
I'm wearing full moto gear with some layers underneath. It's not too cold here, so it should be fine for tomorrow; it's supposed to be in the 30s, so we should be okay.

What do you think about the 15 to 18 guys you'll be racing against tomorrow? Can you take these guys?
There are some quick guys out there. I think I should do okay, to be honest. Obviously, a good start will help. Staying out of trouble and not falling is also going to help, but speed-wise, at the end of practice, I think I was pretty good; I was in the top five.

You've won all sorts of world class motocross and supercross races and championships, but that all withstanding, do you go into something like this thinking and saying, "Hey, I still want to win." Or, is it like, "I just want to have fun with this"?
I definitely want to have fun with it, but I mean, I'd love to go home from here with a medal.

Downshifting back to Yamaha, at the season-opening round of the 2018 Monster Energy Supercross series, Yamaha announced that you would be joining the motor company in the role of a marketing representative. Although you made your name as a Team Kawasaki racer, the fact of the matter is that Yamaha played a major role in getting you started on your career trajectory, didn't they?
Yeah, we did the Yamaha deal and announced it the morning of the first Anaheim round. They've been really awesome with me and the goals I want to achieve and the things I want to do. It's cool to be with a brand like Yamaha and with a fresh start. I'm definitely happy with things coming together.

I was at the 2002 AMA Amateur National Motocross Championship in Hurricane Mills, Tennessee when you lined up on the gate for the 85cc Modified (8-13) class championship. I'd never even heard of you before and you went out there and basically smoked most everyone. I remember pointing you out to some of my racing buddies and proclaiming, "Man alive, that kid is a genius. I think he can make it one day."
Yamaha is what I started on and I rode Yamaha YZ85s for three or four years. Fond memories, for sure.

It's Friday night and we are not over at shiny Phoenix Stadium in arid Glendale, Arizona for round four of the Monster Energy Supercross Series that will run tomorrow. Still, here in lovely and tony Aspen, do you still feel that buzz of, "Hey, I'm going racing tomorrow"?
Yeah, it's going to be good. I'm going to pick my cousin up at the airport and have a couple beers tonight and hang out and go race tomorrow.

Ha! But you would never have a few beers the night before a major supercross event, would you?
Nah, I never did. No. This is a little bit different atmosphere over here. It's been a lot of fun so far. I can't wait for tomorrow.

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