EnduroCross, hard enduro and world rally: Taddy Blazusiak does it all. Unquestionably among the world’s best off-road motorcyclists, he’s a technically brilliant fireball who has expertly merged his world-class trials-riding finesse with blazing motocross speed and, in the process, rewritten the racer’s playbook for extreme off-road competitions.
The 29-year-old Team KTM star is from Nowy Targ, Poland, a tiny, postcard-charming burg in the country’s mountainous southern region. Over the past six years, Blazusiak has risen to the top at events with names like “Hell’s Gate,” “The Tough One” and “Last Man Standing.” He’s also claimed three consecutive AMA EnduroCross titles (undefeated in 2011), an X Games EnduroX gold medal, 2011/2012 SuperEnduro world championships and, in 2012, posted an impressive top-10 in his first-ever Dakar Series Rally, the inaugural Desafio Litoral in Argentina.
Blazusiak introduced himself to the extreme enduro world in 2007 when, just for fun, he entered Austria’s infamous Erzberg Rodeo, an annual masochistic ritual that launches competitors from the depths of a boulder-strewn iron pit across some of the most brutal terrain in the Austrian Alps. Erzberg is more of a survival test than a motorcycle race: Up to 1600 riders start and, two days later, typically fewer than 10 are left to stumble across the finish. Blazusiak, at that time an observed-trials specialist, inexplicably found himself first across the finish line, more than four minutes ahead of the battered remnants of the exhausted and confused hard-enduro elite. “Taddy who?”
Like most kids, Blazusiak began riding motorcycles simply for fun. “My grandfather, Tadeus, who I’m named after, was a big motorcycle fan,” he says. “And my dad was into bikes when he was younger. Just having fun, riding a little bit off-road, a little bit trials—everything. My dad got me and my older brother, Wojtek, into trials at first. I didn’t start with trials because I liked trials; it was mostly because my dad was into it at that time.”
Blazusiak’s first ride was a tiny, automatic-transmissioned Fantic 50 trials bike, “but I was pretty much riding motocross on it—flat-out everywhere!” he says, laughing. “I did ride some local trials competitions, but mostly, I was riding a lot by myself, just going off after school. By the time I was 11 or 12, I was getting really good at it. I got better than my brother, who was five years older than me, so that’s when everything changed. We decided that we should get more serious, try to train and see where we could end up.”
In 1997, both Blazusiak brothers qualified for the Polish National Trial des Nations Team, but 14-year-old Taddy was unable to compete because he was too young to hold a driver’s license. Regardless, he traveled as an apprentice with the team to Spain where he was spotted by Andreu Codina, manager for the Spanish Trial des Nations team. Codina, himself a multi-time trials champion, offered Blazusiak a support deal from Bultaco (now Sherco) and invited the young Polish phenom to Spain, where he trained with the team’s riders.
“That’s when I got a look at how things work in the real motorsports world,” recalls Blazusiak. “Poland is not really into motorsports. It’s not as easy there as it is in other countries. Going to Spain was my introduction to the sport—the real thing. I loved it!”
After 10 years of trials competition and multiple national and international titles, Blazusiak was still looking for a way to elevate his game. He had finished as high as eighth in the World Trials Championship, but it wasn’t enough, so he decided to take a chance and signed a one-year contract with a small French company, Scorpa, to develop, with the help of Yamaha, an all-new trials bike.
“It was a really good deal with support from Japan,” says Blazusiak. “I felt it was going to work, but it didn’t happen. The bike wasn’t really great at that time; there was still a lot of work to do. Everything was just a little bit mixed up, so at the end of the year, we parted ways. I ended up with no ride for the first time in 10 years. So, I went back home to figure out what I was going to do.”
A couple of months later, Blazusiak rolled a borrowed 250cc Gas Gas enduro bike into his van and headed south to Erzberg. “I went with a friend of mine, you know, just for fun,” he remembers. “We had no real plan. We just showed up and pulled out the old bike. I did pretty good at qualifying, KTM noticed and offered me a bike because one of their riders had crashed and couldn’t race. I ended up winning, and, just like that, I had lots of offers on the table.”
Since that first Erzberg victory, Blazusiak has divided his time between various extreme competitions around the world. His first U.S. event was the 2007 EnduroCross in Las Vegas. He won that race and continues to focus on the AMA series.
Now, waiting in 100-plus-degree heat for his first practice call at the Ontario, California, round of the 2012 AMA EnduroCross series last September, Blazusiak is kicked back in Team KTM’s pits, smiling and joking with the mechanics and staff. It’s the halfway point in the season, and if Blazusiak is feeling any pressure in leading the title chase, he is keeping it well-hidden somewhere between the punch lines (spoken in Polish, of course) and belly laughs. Blazusiak’s upbeat, easygoing demeanor, his approach to racing (and his AMA number 111) are reminiscent of multi-time GP/MX/SX champion Jean-Michel Bayle, another Euro super-talent who was able to combine technical proficiency and cat-like reflexes with just enough on-track aggression to climb to the top of the competition pyramid. One notable difference: Frenchman Bayle was not inclined to do a celebratory break dance on top of his bike after a big win.
The Ontario track is typical of the genre: a deviant assemblage of obstacles that include a giant corral of 500-pound granite boulders, a 40-foot-long pit stacked with firewood and a water hole expertly booby-trapped with crisscrossed logs and jagged rocks. And those hurdles are easy compared to The Matrix, which comprises maybe a dozen-and-a-half oversized utility poles lashed together in a giant hopscotch pattern that’s cleverly designed to prevent riders from accomplishing anything resembling a smooth traverse.
Watching Blazusiak navigate this torturous, man-made disaster during practice is a revelation. While other riders idle and bounce through the maze, Blazusiak upshifts on the approach, drops the clutch, lofts his KTM’s front wheel and then smoothly (well, sort of) levitates through the trap. How he manages to consistently get away with such antics is anyone’s guess, though his endurocross competitors have their own theories.
“Skills-wise, maneuvering the bike, being on the pegs, he’s really smooth going over stuff from his trials experience,” says FMF KTM’s Mike Brown, the 2001/2002 AMA national 125cc motocross champion and 2012 X Games EnduroX gold medalist. “You’ll see motocross guys hitting stuff hard and real stiff on the bike because they’re used to that. When I first came to EnduroCross, I would just ride it kind of like motocross, charging everything and hitting the rocks as hard as I could—crashing. But Taddy is really light on the bike. He’s also one of the few riders who can go from dead-last to first on a good day.”
Team Geico Honda’s Geoff Aaron, a 10-time AMA national trials champ who’s now in his sophomore EnduroCross season, concurs. “I think Taddy’s got a good mix of motocross and trials,” he says. “I think that’s what makes him strong right now; he’s technically strong, and he’s also got that moto aggressiveness. A lot of guys have one or the other, but it’s hard to get both.”
Then, there’s Team Husqvarna whiz-kid Kyle Redmond, who, when asked to describe the secret of Blazusiak’s blazing speed, simply laughs and shakes his head. “Taddy? He’s crazy!”
Given Blazusiak’s success in so many forms of off-road racing, it’s only natural to wonder where his talents will lead him next. Roadracing? NASCAR? TV’s “Dancing with the Stars”? Blazusiak’s chameleon-like ability to adapt to multiple competition environments seems to guarantee he’ll be successful in whatever future racing endeavors he chooses.
Blazusiak has already made his big-time rally debut, competing aboard KTM’s new 450cc factory bike at the 2012 Dakar Series Rally in Argentina. “I really wanted to give it a go,” he said. “When the opportunity came around, I talked to KTM. I finished fourth in the first stage and was third-fastest in Stage 4.”
Blazusiak eventually finished ninth overall, even after sustaining a serious shoulder injury in the second stage and voluntarily donating his KTM’s front wheel to teammate and overall-race-winner Cyril Despres, whose own bike’s wheel had been badly damaged during the fifth stage. That Argentinean experience has Blazusiak considering a possible future in the realm of long-distance, high-speed rally events.
“It’s a whole new thing for me,” he says. “The bike is different, and the speed is unbelievable—just going so fast all the time. It’s a new challenge, that’s for sure. It’s a lot of miles that you do every day, more like a marathon. If I can get some more experience and have fun, yeah, for sure, why not?
“I love any kind of racing because, for me, at the end of the day, it’s all about riding motorcycles.”