For more than two decades, X Games has looked for the most innovative sports in order to capture the essence of action sports’ largest stage. After years of focusing the winter portion around snowboard and ski events, motorsports have become a predominant fixture. Last January, X Games Aspen debuted snow bikecross, a sport that’s gaining a great deal of traction in North America.
Snow bikecross, in many ways, has the same characteristics of motocross, as athletes compete on a winding course with motorcycles in which the wheels are replaced with a track and ski system. It’s by no means a new activity, having been enjoyed in the back country of the western United States and Canada for more than a decade. And while snowbiking might seem like just a fun activity, it’s also proven to be a useful tool – just ask X Games gold medalist Brock Hoyer, who started snowbiking to stay in shape.
Hoyer, 29, had built a career as a professional motocross and supercross rider, however the British Columbia native was unable to train all year-round due to the harsh Canadian winter. Thanks to the help of a friend, Hoyer discovered snowbiking and the benefits of cross-training in the snow.
“I started about six years ago now, I guess,” Hoyer recalled. “One of my buddies ended up getting one of these track kits and graciously let me take it out for the day in the back county – I was hooked. I came home that night, called the next morning and ordered one right away. I pretty much just wanted a cross-training tool, to keep me sharp, and I never thought when I was training I’d be where I’m at today and now it’s my full-time gig – motocross is like my cross-training sport now for snowbike.”
What began as cross-training has paid off considerably for Hoyer and thanks to both a sponsorship with Polaris and claiming the first-ever X Games Snow Bikecross gold medal, he’s quickly becoming the face of the sport. Of course, transitioning from wheels to the Polaris Timbersled kit was fairly easy.
“They’re relatively similar,” Hoyer admitted. “I’ve raced AMA Supercross, I’ve raced Pro Nationals professionally and, even the jump characteristics for the [snow] bike – considering it’s a lot longer and a little bit heavier – handle very similar to a dirtbike. The only thing I would say that doesn’t compare is you don’t have the front wheel and that’s the only thing it doesn’t have. Jumping it, whipping it, moto racing and stuff, they’re very, very similar and I think that’s why it’s such a good cross-training tool.”
Back when Hoyer began, there weren’t too many kits roaming around the western Canadian back country, which often led to strange looks while motoring past strangers. But that’s beginning to change significantly these days and Hoyer’s noticed hotbeds beginning to form in various areas.
“I’d say the most popular area in western North America is Utah, Colorado and British Columbia. We are even seeing people in Japan and even some people in Russia – there’s Russian snowbike kits coming out now. It’s kind of worldwide. Wherever there’s mountains and snow, you’ll find these things.”
The snowbiking community is one that’s becoming tight-knit. Athletes help each other out with their kits but, like most motorsports, don’t give away too much of their garage secrets. Testing kits can be a full-time job alone but, with an extensive automotive background, Hoyer is able to do most of the work to his snowbike alone, though help is provided for bigger events. Aside from training and competing year-round in both motocross and snow bikecross, Hoyer also has a full-time job to pay the bills, along with a wife and two children. Balancing everything isn’t always easy but it definitely made riding his Timbersled-equipped snowbike to an impressive victory at X Games Aspen all the more sweet.
“To come home with the gold after all the hard work, all the ups-and-downs – I’m not going to say it was an easy feat,” Hoyer said. “It wasn’t just I woke up, ate pancakes and high-fived every day. There was lots of hard work, and dedication, and stress, and tired nights, and late days and there was a lot of blood, sweat and tears that went into this and to come back with the gold medal was such a relief.”
It’s the roar of the engine, the smell of the fuel and the love of the sport that keeps athletes like Hoyer going – not the limited financial gain. With exposure from national television as well as the ability to now stream events live online, things could change for the sport in the not too distant future.
“It’s such a new sport that now a lot of industry people are seeing,” Hoyer claimed. “It’s got the traction it deserves now. I think this is a sport that’s going to stick around for the long haul.”
With the X Games in his rearview, Hoyer is set to be featured in a number of snowbike videos, though he’s already planning and tinkering with the Timbersled kit for next year. That’s not to say that he hasn’t thought a lot about the entire Aspen experience and what he has planned for his gold medal.
“Words can’t explain what it was for me.” he declared. “It’s the biggest accomplishment in my life, other than my two sons. My wife has a cool idea of framing [the gold medal] and putting it with my race coat – it’s sentimental. Even my race bike, my X Games race-winning race bike, that bike will never see dirt. It’ll be a snowbike forever – it’s a trophy and I’m lucky enough that I can afford to buy it. You always see guys like Ricky Carmichael or Chad Reed have their championship bikes, I’ve always thought that was so cool and a couple of weeks after it sank in, it was really like, ‘I need to keep this bike, this is like a trophy in a sense.’ I will still use it for testing and whatnot but I definitely want to keep it for the rest of my life.” It’s a cool thing to be able to keep and show to my kids when they get older.”
Photos courtesy of Wayne Davis and Polaris