Four times World Superbike Champion Jonathan Rea has been awarded every accolade under the sun in his career from MBE to recently becoming the only rider in history to win the title of Irish Motorcyclist of the year for the fourth year in succession.
Away from all the trappings of being a World Champion Jonathan returned to his first love of motocross over the close season.
Before Christmas and into the new-year Jonathan and his two sons Jake and Tyler spent most of their free time lapping around the sands of Magilligan motocross Park on their Kawasaki motocross bikes. Then Jonathan took himself off to Spain for some more track time with his great friend and professional MX rider Martin Barr.
We met up just before the Jerez World Superbike test for a chat about his MX passion before the serious business of winning a fifth world title gets under way.
In the off season you have got back to your first love of MX but how does that help going on to hopefully winning your fifth world title?
“One of the biggest pluses of moving back home to Northern Ireland is obviously the access to MX here, especially Magilligan up on the North Coast, an all weather track that you can ride all the time and I reconnected to that love,” he said.
“I rode sporadically when I was away. Every season since I joined Kawasaki I went to Spain to a winter training camp where I had one week of riding every day. This time we structured it a bit different when I went out earlier this year with Martin Barr, an ex rival and professional MX rider from just outside Ballyclare.
“It was really cool to hang out with Martin and encourage each other from the point of view of eat, sleep and train like an athlete. We were good influences for each other that week. It was incredible and we rode some great tracks.”
Did you learn anything from Martin?
“Just watching him and taking in some of the things he does on a bike is really clever and I was able to pick up a few things,” said Rea. “Our careers have been polar opposite since I left MX and we sort of reconnected on the trip and I hope that we do a lot more training together as we are now neighbours.”
Does it help with your World Superbike riding?
“100 per cent it helps,” said Rea. “From a physical point of view MX is one of the toughest sports in the world but it is also the mental thing as the track is always changing. There might be a stone there that wasn’t there on the last lap so you have to change your line and you’ve maybe have three line choices per corner so that’s always stimulating brain.
“Getting your brain working really fast is hard because you can go running, be in the gym or ride your bicycle at 40ks but when you turn up at the first race of the year and head out of the pit lane and you are doing 300ks down the straight it is a big difference, so getting your brain fired up along with your concentration is so important and doing long Moto’s without making mistakes is tough but it really helps.
“I have to say that it’s every team mangers worst nightmare hearing that your rider is going on a MX training camp. Last year I completely opened my finger in a motocross accident up so my team manager wasn’t best pleased about that. But they know its part of what I do and except it.”
Tyler and Jake seemed to be following in their father’s footsteps?
“Yes Tyler can take it or leave it,” he said. “He has great bike skills and rode his pedal bicycle without training wheels before his third birthday so he is really clever. Jake on the other hand is really in to it.”
You seemed to be really enjoying your motocross and wouldn’t look out of place racing again.
“On this last trip to Spain even Martin, who has been riding with me at Magilligan, commented that I was starting to look more like a MX rider now apposed to a rider that has been away for the past three years,” said Rea. “I enjoy it but I get more fun to be honest watching Jake now ride because he seems to really enjoy it.”
You seem to take your MX very seriously, checking lap time etc. Is it just a competition thing that is part of your every day life now?
“It is and it’s a way I have been training over the off season,” he said. “I’ve been trying to keep my lap times stable. All my training on a MX bike has been structured. There will always be a plan to ride. It’s not just go out and ride around a track. I will do a 30 minute moto at a pace then some days it will be a 10 minute sprint as fast as you can. Some days its two fast laps a minute rest the repeat that. Most of it has been structured over the winter.”
You were involved in the Belfast Arenacross for schools recently so would you encourage kids to get involved in MX?
“I love MX,” he said. “Certainly I faced my own injuries being young and sometimes when I explain my love of it to Taita (Jonathan’s wife) who wasn’t part of MX growing up she just sees danger or accident and emergency and she is put off by it. I was having this conversation with friends is it worth it to go through all the highs a lows of MX and in the end maybe not make it in the sport? The answer is 100% yes because it taught me so many things about life, people, relationships and most of my core friends are from MX.
“I never met friends at school that I connected with like I did at MX. It’s very hard and you have to sacrifice a lot but I think it gives you a lot of life lessons as well. Any of the MX riders that I grew up with are really good people and maybe they won’t get a career out of it but they will get a great schooling and grounding of sport in general.”
Thanks Jonathan and bring back championship number five. “That’s the plan,” he smiled.