Dirt Bikes and Motocross with Matt Morgan and Joe Shipman
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By Kayla Anderson
Photos by Eric Leslie
The sounds of engines revving up, the smell of exhaust and the anticipation of everyone coming out of the start gate at once but not knowing who will end up out in front – this is the thrill of the NorCal motocross/dirt bike riding scene.
Although many of California’s public dirt motocross tracks start in Oroville/Marysville and run south, some crop up every so often further north.
The Shasta District Fairgrounds in Anderson used to maintain a dirt track for motocross racers in the middle of its speedway and even now, the Honey Lake Motocross Park in Lassen County has been called one of the most challenging tracks in the United States.
However, for hardcore local dirt bike enthusiasts in Redding, it can be difficult to drive every weekend to a designated professional track, so many have banded together to form their own groups and ride through the Northern California hills together. Here is a look at local dirt bike riders in the Redding area.
Matt Morgan has been riding dirt bikes since he was 3, growing up in the motocross scene through his dad. Joining the Redding Dirt Riders when he was young, Morgan’s passion was in motocross racing, but his focus has shifted to hitting the local dirt trails with friends and having fun.
“My dad was in it and got me into it when I was 11 years old, but I was more interested in riding the track,” says Morgan. As he got older, he got into freestyle riding and even made it into the X-Games Qualifiers before settling down into basic trail riding.
“I like riding motocross but it’s hard to shoot down to a track, so it’s nice to be able to go trail riding with members of the club,” he says. The Redding Dirt Riders have been around since the early 1970s and they have 101 active paid members. For only $20 a year, they get access to the member email list and invitations to regular club meetings and exclusive riding events.
“We host a national race once a year at Shasta Dam where people come from all over the United States,” Morgan says of the Kenda/SRT AMA Hare Scramble Shasta Dam Grand Prix, where dirt bike riders do three laps on a 25-mile track.
Although the annual Hare Scramble is the Redding Dirt Riders’ biggest open event, the club also hosts a New Year’s Day Poker Run and Buckhorn Enduro for its members.
“The New Year’s Day Poker Run is a 20-mile loop so that the little kids can do it,” says Morgan, whereas the Buckhorn Enduro is a 300-mile round trip that starts in Susanville and then goes to Sparks, Nev. and back.
“It’s great for local guys like me who have a job and a kid,” he says. Although Morgan has had 12 broken bones due to riding dirt bikes, it does not deter him. “It’s still my main passion. Nothing really beats it,” he says.
Like Morgan, Cottonwood local Joe Shipman has been riding dirt bikes for 25 years and comes from a dirt bike riding family (his dad, uncle and grandpa all ride). However, unlike average trail riders, Shipman has found his niche in hill climbing.
“Any dirt bike rider can do a hill climb, but you need to be physically fit, have technique, skill and ability,” says Shipman. A lot of it, he says, is about really knowing your bike’s traction, momentum and overall setup. You have to look at the bike’s gearing and tires and know how to change your equipment to adapt to different hill verticals. Shipman competes in about 10 races a year all over the nation, and his favorite is the competition in Carnegie State Park in the Tracy/Livermore area. “It’s similar to the Shasta Dam OHV,” he says.
Riding around his 15-acre property at least a couple times a week, Shipman does well for himself on the North American Hillclimbers Association race circuit, too – in 2016 alone, he won the Big Nasty Open Exhibition, the Big Nasty King of the Hill, the Poag’s Hole Hillclimb King of the Hill, Nitro In the Blues Open Exhibition, and was an eight-time West Coast Hillclimbers Association champion. Shipman won three out of four North American Hillclimbers Association events, earning the most points in the overall series and securing the Northwest Nitro National Open Exhibition championship.
“Winning the series was quite an accomplishment for me. I took a used street bike and turned it into a dirt bike (to get up the hills). That was pretty awesome,” he says. It took a few months to convert the bike, working with a builder who did the frame and rebuilt the motor.
“It cost some money but it worked,” says Shipman. Moving to Cottonwood from the Bay Area when he was 12, Shipman finds there are more places to ride due to all of the open space around him.
“We live on 15 acres of land in Cottonwood and I have a track in my backyard,” he says. With Shasta Dam and many dirt trails around, Shipman says, “I like the small-town Cottonwood feel. I can ride wherever and go down to Cottonwood Creek without getting hassled, and still be respectful to the environment. I’m close to lots of riding areas and can drive an hour in any direction to get to riding spots; there are a lot of natural resources around.
“It’s an adrenaline rush. I’ve done all kinds of riding, but nothing beats going 60-70 mph with a 200-horsepower hill climb,” he says. “It’s an addiction. There’s nothing else like it. Even after breaking my femur, as long as I’m physically capable, I will keep riding – it’s my passion.”