More than four years after retiring from the pinnacle of professional roadracing with a debilitating shoulder injury, former MotoGP race winner and 2009 World Superbike Champion Ben Spies is making plans to try his hand at national off-road competition.

Spies intends to contest the entire nine-round 2018 Kenda AMA National Enduro Series. The 33-year-old Texan also aims to hit several stops on the Kenda Full Gas Sprint Enduro calendar, as well as an ISDE qualifier with the outside hope of making the USA club team.

Asked why he decided to make such a serious racing commitment, Spies replied, “Why not? It was really tough after I retired. Unless you’ve been a racer from a young age, like I was, you don’t really understand what’s it’s like to have something like that taken away from you.

"After a while, I bought a bike and started riding with my cousin, just to see what my shoulder could take. I got to the point where I realized I could ride for two days as hard as I wanted. My right shoulder is probably 70 percent, but I know I can hold on to the bike."

Ben Spies, KTM, enduro, MotoGP, World Superbike
Ben Spies relaxes after a training ride in Texas with his daughter, Lyla.Photo by Alec Dare

The three-time AMA Superbike champion recently purchased a new motorhome and a small enclosed trailer to haul his brace of 2018 KTM 300 XCs, riding gear, and spares. “It’s not cheap—like a good WERA effort,” he said, recalling his teenage club-roadracing days.

Spies will enter the new “entry-level” Pro2 class, which slots between Pro1 and Expert-AA. “Pro2 is right up my alley,” he said. “If I can get through the year without any injuries, I feel like I can challenge for two or three more years and maybe give something back to the sport.”

In preparation, Spies has been riding several days a week, mostly on family land in Texas. This past October, he finished second overall in the Crosstimbers Enduro in Oklahoma City, the penultimate round of the regional Blackjack Enduro Championship. Steve Leivan will maintain his racebike.

“I’m smart enough to know that MotoGP and World Superbike are impossible, but I love riding dirt bikes,” he said. “I’m not Jean-Michel Bayle, but I really enjoy it. I’d like to see what I can do. I can travel the country again, not like when I was 18 or 20, but with my family.”

Provisional 2018 Kenda AMA National Enduro Schedule

Feb. 4—Sumter, South Carolina

March 4—Forest Hill, Louisiana

April 15—Lynnville, Indiana

May 6—Arrington, Virginia

June 3—Greensboro, Georgia

July 22—Cross Fork, Pennsylvania

Aug 26—Chandlersville, Ohio

Sept. 9—Marquette, Michigan

Sept. 23—Matthews, Indiana

For some time, rumors have been circulating that Spies would return to roadracing in the Wayne Rainey-led MotoAmerica Series on an ex-World Superbike factory Ducati Panigale. Spies did, in fact, consider that option.

He even tested a Superstock-spec Kawasaki ZX-10R at Motorsport Ranch, a members-only track in Cresson, Texas. "I rode the bike and it felt good," he said. "A buddy of mine, an old CMRA friend, lined it up for me. There were only five guys out there."

Spies said the first few laps felt like he was, “out in left field. I thought, ‘Can I even drag my knee again?’ But after 25 laps, I was back where I needed to be. Anything more than that would just have been bragging rights.

“At first, everything was happening so fast. I was back up to 120 mph after spending a lot of time in tight woods in first and second gear. Feeling the bike shaking and twisting while accelerating was really fun.

“I would have to ride a lot more to go back to the ‘kill zone,’ which is what I always called it,” Spies added. “Everything doesn’t happen in one day, but I was where I needed to be if I was going to move forward and make this thing happen.”

Spies reached out to longtime crew chief Tom Houseworth and several former mechanics—at least one of whom is currently working in MotoGP—but backing sufficient for the 10-round championship failed to materialize.

“If such a thing was going to happen, I would have my former guys with me at the track, but it never got past talks,” he said. “My past personal sponsors—Alpinestars, HJC, and Specialized—were on board. My stuff was together if I needed to be ready.

“I was taking it seriously. I had been training a little bit already, what with the enduro stuff. I was at a fitness level—basic upkeep—that if I decided to go back to roadracing or try enduro, I could be ready to go by February. I still have the drive to ride.”