Loud, Fast & Dirty: Motorbikes Better Than Girls

January 13, 2013  •  Leave a Comment
Arenacross The O2 Arena 12 Jan 20132013 Round One Arenacross Tour The O2 Jan 12th
Freestyle riders follow each other over a 40m jump in the middle of The O2 Arena

For another weekend in a row I dodged London's bitterly cold football grounds and went to cover something completely different, this time witnessing the spectacular Arenacross at The O2 Arena in Greenwich.

Arenacross is off-road motorcyle racing that squeezes the essentials out of motorcross and drops it onto purpose-built indoor dirt tracks.  It is a scaled down version of supercross, which started in the USA in the 70's, and it's all completely crazy

Racing is short, sharp and shockingly spectacular with huge triple jumps, killer mogul sections and fast, banked corners all designed to provide a high octane feast for the senses.  The tracks are incredibly technical, leading to a higher difficulty and injury risk factor.  None of that seems to bother the riders as they give it hell around the track.  Its all very fast, very loud, and utterly bonkers.
 
Arenacross also mixes in some freestyle motorcross, where riders hit steep ramps at stupid speed and outdo each other with gnarly tricks 40 feet above the track.  It is a truly jaw dropping display of aerial gymnastics as the riders twist and backflip 100kg motorcycles in mid air.
Arenacross The O2 Arena 12 Jan 20132013 Round One Arenacross Tour The O2 Jan 12th
A backflipping freestyle rider gives me a convenient framing with the event title lit up in the background
 
The first thing that hit me when I arrived at the venue was the stench of petrol in the air - it was everywhere and very pungent.  I'm sure they put it in my baked potato lunch, and when chatting with the hard working technical crew i'm pretty sure they were sweating petrol too.  I soon learned this cheap metaphor is probably not far from the truth in motorcross, being as it is clearly a very tight knit scene involving of whole generations of riders, mechanics, track builders, support crews and anxious mothers who all live and breathe motorbikes.  It really is their blood, sweat and tears, and I found it fascinating to step inside their intense world for an afternoon.
Arenacross The O2 Arena 12 Jan 20132013 Round One Arenacross Tour The O2 Jan 12th
Panning with a slow shutter speed captures the speed  and jolting movement of the bikes
 
For health and safety reasons access to the track was limited to three event photographers only.  Although completely acceptable given the clear and present dangers, this meant myself and other press snappers had to take positions higher up in the stands with punters.  I knew instantly this was going to be tough both practically and photographically, and no sooner had I took my first handful of pictures from the front row I was being moved on by a disgruntled audience who said I was in their way.  And you just can't argue with paying customers.
 
Moving further up the stands and far away I lost all the impact and drama of the quick bikes.  I had to get something and so instead I used brief sections of the dirt track as clean background to try and seize the pace of the riders by panning with a slow shutter speed.  The trick here is to ensure at least something is sharp, and preferably the head or face of your subject.  This technique is a balancing act of shutter speed and a fluid panning motion to keep the subject in frame.   Consequently it is very hit and miss and I was filling my memory cards quicker than I could pronounce Edgar Torronteras.
Arenacross The O2 Arena 12 Jan 2013
Plenty of flying mud, plenty of flying bikes, just the occasional crash... oh, and fortunately no deaths
 
With a bit of polite nagging back in the media room I was eventually allowed access to the trackside pen, and thats when the proper pictures started to roll off.  Shooting at eye level, straight down the moguls and jumps I switched to fill-your-boots mode and snapped hundreds of frames.  The bikes were flying straight down the lens, kicking up dirt and leaping through the air with every jump.  It was so much louder and faster being this close to the action and with adrenalin flowing it was very hard to concentrate, which is when this happened.
Arenacross The O2 Arena 12 January 20132013 Round One Arenacross Tour The O2 Jan 12th
UK pro rider Jack Brunell landed hard and bounces off his bike at high speed, smashing into the fence in front of me.  
This is the last frame before I died from terrifying terror.  A little bit of wee came out.  Jack was fine.
 
But like any self respecting pro I cleared the dirt from my mouth and eyes and camera lens and got back on with the job.  The rest of my images are here.  There's also a cool video of the event here, including THAT crash at 1min28sec.
 
I can honestly say arenacross is one of the most exciting, incendiary and downright insane sports I have ever photographed, and i'm calling first dibs on covering it again in the future.  It is brilliant fun and I highly recommend it as a thrilling spectacle.  More UK shows are scheduled for Belfast, Liverpool and Birmingham, and details are here.
Arenacross The O2 Arena 12 Jan 20132013 Round One Arenacross Tour The O2 Jan 12th
Theatrical spot lighting picks out freecross riders at the top of the jump
 
Special credit to Sean and the team at Events 22 for staging Arenacross, the first of its kind in the UK, and for helping me get what I needed on the night.  Top work by everyone involved, especially my friend TV's Tim Warwood for MC'ing the show and for taking an excellent tumble whilst attempting to throw a t-shirt into the crowd.  Fail, methinks Tim.
Arenacross The O2 Arena 12 Jan 20132013 Round One Arenacross Tour The O2 Jan 12th
 

 


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