Zach Osborne | Practice With A Purpose
We’ve all heard stories or watched clips of the work that goes in on a daily basis at places like the Baker’s Factory. The routine that riders go through during the week is always credited as the reason for their success, but there’s much more to it than just the number of laps logged. Is there an emphasis on technique one day and speed another? What happens if you crash during a practice moto? Is there a competition to have the fastest lap time?
One of the best guys to talk about all this with is Zach Osborne, as the Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Racing rider is one of the most detail-minded guys in the pit area with a reason for every action. During our conversation, Osborne explained what a day at the Baker’s Factory is like, his relationship with riding partner Cooper Webb, and the different ways he stays sharp between race weekends.
Zach, do you enjoy the typical day to day grind? You seem like a dude that really, really enjoys everything about it.
Yeah, that’s kind of my jam. The day-to-day routine is something that I really thrive on and something that I’ve learned to love over the last 10 years. The money’s made during the week, in my opinion, the weekends are just the execution part of things, which I know is very cliche and has been said a million times, but it’s actually really true, for me especially.
So when you go for just a normal routine practice day, you show up to Aldon’s place, what is the timeframe like? Is there a certain schedule for each day that you ride, like is one day more of a speed day and another day a skill and technique day? How do you determine what is what?
Well, we have something in the morning every day, including Sunday. So there’ll be either a bike ride or some cardio in the morning before riding or whatever we’re doing that day. Tuesdays are typically our longer day, as far as motos go. Monday and Thursday are more of one moto and some sprints, or skill work, or sections, whatever is on the program that day. Typically during the season, we ride Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and then race Saturday, obviously. There’s not a ton of variation for us during the weeks in the season. It’s pretty straight forward, you can almost copy and paste the program from the week before, but it’s just about that routine and repetition that gets the job done, I think.
When you go to the track on a certain day, do you have an idea in your head of what you want to work on? Maybe there was a weakness that you had the weekend before that you’re trying to alleviate or address? Or, is it more, “We’ll fix it amid all of the other things that we have going on”?
Well, it’s hard to really fix things on a week-to-week basis, in my opinion. You can do a lot with a bike on a week-to-week basis. But as far as fixing a mechanical deal with your riding is a little bit more long term, say three to four weeks, or even a couple of months depending on the issue. But for me, I’m 30 years old, I’ve done this a long, long time, so, I feel like anytime that I do a lot of changing technique-wise, it sets me back for some time to come because it’s not automatic.
I ride my best when everything is just muscle memory, and just as automatic as walking. But with that said, I do review a lot of races, and look back and see what I can fix or change, or even looking at other guys to see what they’re doing that I’m not doing. I probably do a lot on my own that maybe other guys don’t do as far as review and studying myself and other guys.
Do you do that with races that are on TV, or do you use the footage that the team shoots of you?
No, we don’t really have that much access to the footage of the team after we leave the track. I use basically every outlet online, clearly most on YouTube.
You’re watching the GoPro videos and all of that?
Yeah, all that. I watch old races, I watch new races, I watch everything.
Is that something that you picked up later on, or have you always been that way?
It’s probably become a little bit of an obsession over the last three or four years. But analyzing and watching other guys is something I’ve always done my whole career because I think you can learn a lot more from other people than you can from yourself, and you just have to try to apply it to yourself as best as you can.
Do you ever see maybe a new technique or something that comes into play, especially with the guys that you’re around that you try to work into your riding, or is it just so concrete of your riding style now that you’re so loose and scrubbing and all that stuff?
The style is pretty concrete, but I feel like, over the last two-ish years the game’s changed a little bit as far as cornering goes.
A lot lower in the corners, yeah?
A lot lower, but this year it went back to the high line a little bit because I felt like there was a big TV gap and we had to wait on the starting line before the Main Event. And they were able to do a lot more track prep so those higher lines stay better, and you can obviously carry considerably more speed. East Coast, it starts to get lower and lower, but that’s where I was missing the boat.
Looking back on the West Coast races is like those guys were just riding the rail of the berm at the very top, and that’s where I missed the boat. I went all winter practicing staying low, because that’s one of my really big strengths is turning really tight, and popping the jump out of the corner. Even keeping just good enough speed at the bottom of the corners is hard sometimes. Here at the Baker’s Factory, we can be literally in the flat, at the bottom of the bowl corner sometimes, so that’s also a learned skill. But, like I said, the game’s changed a little bit this year, especially with the track being a little bit fresher for our Main, with guys railing and being a little bit more open in the corners.
I know that Aldon’s super particular about how everything goes. When you guys show up every day, the grass is cut, everything’s in order, the tracks are all fresh. Is it hard for you guys to replicate the race conditions, or is it because so many dudes ride there now and he has this down to a science, that you can have a rough race-style track on a Tuesday, Wednesday?
Oh no, definitely that’s one of our strengths, I would say, is having really gnarly conditions track-wise. There are seven or eight guys now, including the Lites guys that ride the tracks, and there’s not a ton of prep. Aldon’s pretty open-ended with how much prep we get. We can ask for a couple of things, but it’s not like we show up every day and it’s fresh or whatever. He’s strict on letting us choose what we’re going to fix. He’s not going to let us just be like, “Hey, can you fix the whole track for tomorrow, after a Monday.” We know what we’re up against and we can request something like a turn here or turn there, maybe a jump face if it’s sketchy, but there’s never going to be a fresh track every day of the week.
How often do you guys change the layout of a track, or is it pretty much the same general, “Hey, these are these lanes, this is what this rhythm is like the whole time?”
Yeah. Well, we have three tracks, so we don’t get a ton of change. There’s some adjustments, like one single cut and a half can change an entire section. So sometimes we’ll get something like that or just a small section that’ll change the whole track changes, the whole flow of how everything’s going. So as far as a complete section changes, it’s not very often, but we do get some adjustments that change the way things go a little bit.
That leads me to this next thing. Considering the fact that you guys ride pretty much the same layout over and over, do you know what the fastest lap time that you could do on this track? Are you always trying to chase that or is that something that you put out of mind? Because that’s not important, because just trying to be the fastest over and over again isn’t the best way it’s being solid all the way around for a moto.
Well, that depends on the time of year. I think during boot camp there’s definitely an urgency to set those laps and just the hammer until you can’t do them anymore. During the rest of the season, there’s a little bit of management going on for each guy with how they’re feeling, how the weekend before was, if they’re sore, if they crashed, all that stuff. So there’s a little bit of managing the whole series. Boot camp is to really prepare for the series and then there’s a lot of little variables that change things during the season.
But back to your question, we do have those days where we’re like, “The track is sick, we’re going to get it. You can get some heaters right now.” We all know the lap times, the best laps, and what’s out there, what’s possible as far as the track conditions go. And some days we’ll have an inside somewhere, and when you can’t go inside anymore, you have to go outside, and that changes the whole thing. So you know that that day is not going to be the “hero lap” or whatever. There’s a lot of variables in it, but definitely during our boot camp, it’s a Hammerfest.
Is it important for you or for other riders to go out and do the fastest lap time to set the mark for everybody, or do you not like that?
For me, it definitely is. I like that. I mean, the point of the group to me is to elevate each other, and that’s something that Cooper and I have been really good at doing, just working with each other, and we can both check our egos at the door. Obviously, my results this season have been sub-par considering what I was looking for coming into the season. But I think that we had a really good working relationship and a really strong training camp this year.
And it’s something that I enjoy, the friendly competition. If you can find a guy that you’re really comfortable with, like Kenny and AC, or Eli and Jeremy or, whatever. I think that we’ve kind of worked into that role. And I think it’s fun and it keeps it fun. Friendly competition is always good and I think that we both have a good understanding that we would blast each other in last turn for a win, no problem. But at the same time we’re going to pick up pieces and go back to work on Monday.
You and Cooper, this is a good relationship. You’re very like-minded guys that just want to grind it out and do the work. Were you guys close before this, or is this all a relationship that grew out of being at Aldon’s place?
It’s basically a relationship that grew out of being at Aldon’s place. I was never a big Cooper Webb fan prior to this.
We really didn’t have any run-ins in the Lites class, but he was the guy that I needed to beat and I never did. It was just one of those deals. But he’s a good dude and somebody I just enjoy being around. We hang out quite a bit away from the facility, too. So we’re quite good friends.
You’ve had a lot of different training partners, like when you moved to Colorado and were with Eli. What’s your ideal trait in a training partner? Is it a guy that pushes you to the limit or is it a guy that you can have fun with? Is it a mix of everything?
A mix of everything, like personality and obviously the speed factor is big. I prefer them to be faster than me or really close to me, those are the two biggest things. I’m kind of a jokester. I like to joke around when we’re at the track and not take myself too seriously. It’s like anything in life, the people that you mesh with, it just happens, and a lot of times it’s the whole opposites attract rule. Cooper is different than me, he’s 23 and not married, but getting married. I’m 30 with two kids and married, so we have very different looks at life at the moment. But it’s quite fun because I can make fun of him, and he can make fun of me, and it’s just one of those deals.
With Aldon being there, and this will go on for pretty much any riding coach, do you ever get frustrated with him? Are you’re ever like, “Hey dude, you’re asking us to do something that we don’t feel comfortable doing or might not be possible,” or does he have a good understanding of what you guys are capable of?
He’s really good at that. I think that’s one of his biggest strengths as a coach, that he’s really good at taking the how you feel part of it out of it. He’s been doing it for a long time and he knows when things are mental and when things are physical, and he has enough numbers and data on us daily to have a good understanding of what we should be feeling. If we’re feeling extra bad or I’m super tired, maybe it’s more of a mental thing than a physical thing. He’s really good at recognizing that and adjusting. Like I said, his biggest strength as a coach or a trainer is that he can decipher those codes, if you will, of feeling and physical load. He’s good at separating those two.
We all have days where we just feel flat, when you wake up and you’re like, “Oh man, this isn’t going to be my day,” or “Maybe I just don’t feel well.” Do you ever have that happen, and do you have a way that you break out of it? Or do you just have to grin and bear it and go through the day?
Sometimes I can break out of it. Sometimes, though, I just have to take it on the chin and be over it, take my beating for the day and go back to the house. You just have those days, and you just know that on Saturday it’ll come around and everything will be okay.
What happens when you tip over or something in a corner or you have like a good slam during a practice moto? Do you just wipe that whole moto out, depending on the crash, or do you get back up and then rejoin and finish it out?
For me that’s not the thing, I like to get up and finish the moto if I can. I treat every day as a race, as if I needed to score some points or try to get back in it, and I try to get up as fast as I can and get back to work.
You were on the mend from an injury a couple of weeks ago. What is the procedure when you have a hard slam like that at the test track? Do you instantly know, “Hey, this is bad,” or, “All right, let me get out of my gear, go back to the garage, and take care of it from there.” Is it a case by case basis?
Yeah, it’s case by case. This last one was a massive hit. I was coughing up blood and I knew that I was pretty hurt, so we went just straight to the hospital. We’re pretty fortunate to have a really nice little ER about five miles from the track. It’s all brand new. I rolled right into the room and they saw me. Obviously, they missed some stuff on the X rays and scans. But at the same time, if you’re not in severe pain or something, it’s one of those deals where you just go back, take your gear off and chill, and maybe wait until the next day and see what’s going on, or whatever. But in my case at the last crash, it was pretty serious.
When the bike and all that stuff gets twisted up, do you try to finish out the moto or do you head back to the workshop so that you guys can reset everything if needed?
No, I just continue and try to finish. I mean, there are situations that you have in racing and you try to avoid that, but at the same time, crashes happen every now and then and you have to ride with a bent lever, some bars that aren’t perfectly straight, or whatever. I mean you just get on with it. And also it’s really hard because mentally, once you start a moto and you crash 18 minutes into a moto, you’re not going to want to restart that moto. You don’t want to go out and do a 12-minute moto, that just sucks. So it’s better to just finish it, for me anyway. Some guys would rather go back and restart, but I would rather just grind it out and try to adjust.
Especially as you get later in your career, you don’t want to do unnecessary laps that you don’t have to.
Well, not really about that, but dude, it’s hard to get motivated to completely restart the moto that you’ve already put over half of it in, and maybe it’d cost you one second a lap. You’re going to learn something from that and just keep getting on with it.
And I totally agree. I think that’s a good mindset because you’re never going to have a perfect race. They’re not going to throw the red flag and let you guys all reset because you went down in a turn on a Saturday to Supercross, that’s not going to happen. You have to get up and understand, “Hey, I can make the best of this situation, because I practiced for it already.”
Yeah, exactly that’s my theory, but maybe others are different.
And that’s what’s cool, because everybody has their own take on this. I did a long interview with Blake Baggett a few weeks ago and his mindset on how he does this is completely opposite to a lot of other people too. Everybody has their own way to get there.
Yeah, there are a million ways to skin a cat and they’re all correct as long as you get to the same end result.
The one thing that we always see is how guys ride that same burned in, ideal line all the way around the practice track. Are you a guy that ever deviates from that, because you know that you’re not going to be able to stick to the same line for full 20 minutes in a race. Are you trying different things or is that frowned upon because you’re going to mess up the track somewhere?
Well, that’s mostly a California thing. Our trucks in California, like now that we’re in Murrieta, they don’t really get that way buut I know the feeling of that. I know from back in the day at the old Husky Corona track, and even the Honda track, it was just like that six-inch line around the track. But it also adds a little bit of more intensity to the riding, because you have to be so perfect. So it’s not a terrible thing. I actually like that riding because it’s a little bit brainless, as long as you’re perfect. But, like I was saying earlier, the game has changed a little bit now with the cornering, so I think we almost need to go back to that one line deal a little bit because it’s just right around the top of the corner. And I think that that teaches you a lot as far as speed goes, and a lot of patience, too.