Interview: Natalie Kane on her return to racing and reflects on WMX career

After deciding to stop racing the WMX series, Natalie Kane spent a number of years racing and living in Sweden but has now decided to return home to Ireland. Despite not riding for around a year and a half since coming home she is starting to put the laps in on a bike once again and even race Ulster/Irish Championship races which is great to see.

We caught up with Kane last week after an Ulster Championship to discuss her day racing and reflect on her WMX career.

GateDrop: Natalie, I haven’t seen you racing since WMX at Assen back in 2018 (note: Natalie finished 5-14 that day). First and foremost, did you enjoy your day’s racing here at Seaforde for the Ulster Championship? In the first moto you got a good start and rode well for third, but the second moto was totally different with a bad start, but you rode even better to finish third again and keep Jay Sherry in your sight…

Kane: Actually, I thought he was a lap down because I saw him nearly crash in front of me around the first turn. But, yeah, the first race I got a really good start but got passed by two trying to make passes myself which put me off for a couple of laps. I then sort of settled into it but had a wee fall off actually with another rider as we ran into each other by an accident. We both got up, but I passed him and ended up third. I am happy enough; I am not used to this anymore. At a GP you do have off-camber turns and hills but it’s full of ruts. This here is all like Supermoto stuff which means you need a good throttle control. I am good at, but I just haven’t done it in a long, long time.

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I am really happy with how I got on. In the second race I missed the count at the start, I counted four and then the gates dropped so I got a bad start but rode really well to work my way back through to third.

GateDrop: Just on the track here at Seaforde, how long would you say it’s been since you raced a track like that? I know after your WMX career you did a bit of racing in Sweden but I can imagine the tracks there are completely different…

Kane: I had a big wrist injury in 2019 and that was the end of my professional career. It was going to end that year anyway, but it just ended on a low. I was a bit depressed and low about it, but I got back in the middle of 2020 riding a good bit but had a small tip over and dislocated my shoulder. That was an old injury and after that I had enough. I took a year and a half off to get fixed up, I started again about three months ago and the last time I was here was twelve years ago on a Suzuki.

GateDrop: Considering you took a year and a half off and have only had three months back on the bike, did you expect to be this good already? Comparing the pace to your last year of WMX on the Honda, it doesn’t look like you’ve lost any speed… Do you feel far from your best?

Kane: Well, I am definitely not at my best but at the end of my WMX career, I was working a full-time job and then Motocross became a job as well. To be honest, I was hating it… the last year I did at WMX I didn’t want to be there. I was still giving it my all out there but mentally I just wasn’t in the right place, so I wasn’t riding good at all. I’d probably say I’m riding a bit better now (than her last WMX season) to be honest. I had a good break and once I got back out was good, but the fitness isn’t great. There’s just a few wee things to make up a couple of seconds but right now I am more than happy with how it’s going.

Pic: Nigel McKinstry

GateDrop: Whenever you did race at home in the past during your WMX days, you could always tell you weren’t fully committed because you didn’t want to end up injured – completely understandable! Now you aren’t racing WMX and have that on your mind, do you enjoy racing at home more and being able to push more?

Kane: Exactly. When I did a few races at home I sort of just did them for Rowly (Suitor) and just for a bit of fun. I was very cautious of someone being silly taking me out or doing something silly myself so I didn’t really push. Now I am more of the mindset of just getting into a battle out there and have fun with it. If I get first, third, sixth or tenth… it doesn’t matter, it’s just about having fun now. As long as I feel that I am giving it my all that’s all that matters. There’s no big sponsors, no one is expecting anything so I’m having a lot of fun with it at the minute. I would just like to get riding a little more for the fitness so I feel more comfortable just in myself because I do get tired and I start to feel: “oh no, calm it down a bit”.

GateDrop: When you were racing WMX, you were pretty much living in a camper and after your WMX career you lived in Sweden, what was it like living there and now being back in Ireland what’s it like?

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Kane: At the end of my career, my main sponsors came from Sweden and the Swedish Championship is really really, good for the woman. Out of the top ten WMX riders, there would be three or four of them there, so it was really good competition. We even got paid and everything, so it was really run well and I really enjoyed it there. I did like living there as well and then I got a normal job, everyone helped me out and the language and everything, they didn’t care. I really did enjoy being there but again I wasn’t riding there for a while and things started getting to me so I just wanted to come home to see how I feel for a while. That’s what brought me back home, straight home and straight out on the bikes enjoying it at the minute.

GateDrop: Just on WMX, do you still keep tabs on it and follow it? I would say there’s a new generation at the front with the likes of Valk, Van der Vlist, Hughes. What’s your thoughts on the series now and for the future it looks to be in good hands? I believe Lotte van Drunen is making her WMX debut in Turkey as well…

Kane: I still keep track of it. It’s really good to start seeing it pick back up again because that’s why we all did it. When I first started, it was high and then it dropped a bit but it’s starting to pick up again. It’s starting to come that there’s four, five or six girls that could win like it was when I was racing. When I first started, I could have been on the podium or sixth overall so it’s really good to see the competition is there. I did race Nancy van der Ven and a few others, but I am really looking forward to seeing Lotte. I think she is going to be really really good but it’s great to see for the woman and also her racing against the boys. I am still keeping track of it, watch it and love seeing the progression.

GateDrop: When you look back on your WMX career, I mean what you did from were you come from, there might not even be another girl that ever does that…  what’s your proudest moments looking back at your career?

Kane: I’m probably most proud of where I got myself. Like you say, I lived in a camper and raced against riders that just dropped their kit and walk on having suspension people and people for everything else. Lancelot had factory rides and Laier had factory rides and I was up there with just the basics. Yes, I was getting help from Mark Chamberlain and then Roger Magee looked after me for years and years – I have to thank them a lot for that. With the up’s and down’s, Roger was still there. I travelled in the camper and never had a real home, I did it the hard way but when you do it and get a podium… I’ve two medals which are probably the proudest, but winning Matterley Basin is the proudest of the proudest (laughs). Winning that so close to home with a lot of English supporters, English sponsors and a lot of family came to England to watch. I heard those horns the whole way around the track, it was unreal.

Pic: Nigel McKinstry

GateDrop: When you were in the moment racing WMX, making all those sacrifices, your goal was always to win as well since a little girl, did you enjoy it? Living in a camper, that must take it’s toll during the week! 

Kane: Exactly, I would struggle with my weight anyway, I pushed really hard during the winter training but other than that I went for runs and stuff. I had no gym, no factory racing bicycle or anything, I had no room for any of that. I had bikes and lots of spare parts, we could be on the road at months on a time, but I did have a base in Belgium with Roger where I could wash my stuff and all that. Like I said, I’m proud of what I did. Of course, I wish I could have been a bit better here or there and maybe I’d have got a gold medal, but it just wasn’t meant to be. I’ve accepted that now and every time I went on that track, I give it 100% and that’s all I could do.

GateDrop: I believe you did some coaching in Sweden, is that something you’d do here at home? Obviously, there’s not lots of girls that race but you are the perfect role model for them!

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Kane: I did that over in Sweden and the girls over there really loved it. The whole federation over there is bigger and they’re so into it. There were a lot of girls over there racing, so I did the coaching and loved it. I actually did do one training day with the girls over here down South and a few from the North as well. We did it down in Doon and it was really good to see actually how many girls were there. When I was coming up there was only really myself, Kerry, Lindsay Hagen and Stacy Parker really. That was really it the whole time but now I see nearly every class has a girl so it’s really good to see. I definitely want to help them and even young boys, a good 85cc rider should be faster than me or around my speed but I have all the GP experience behind me. Something they haven’t seen and mental things as well. I am definitely going to see if some people want help. It would be good to see people come on and especially the girls. If we could get another girl to the GP’s, maybe they wouldn’t get to my level, but I hope they do and even better. But at least get there, that should be the goal.

GateDrop: What’s the plan for you now – just do some races and see what happens? I hope you do them all because it was great seeing you in the semi-expert class…

Kane: Well, I never had a semi-expert license. I hadn’t raced for a year and a half so why should I not be in the B’s? I never even won so I think that is a good choice and a good battling option for me to let me get used to it again with the men before shoving me into the expert class again. If they let me stay in the semi-expert class, it’s good battling and enjoying it there so I probably will do a lot more next year. We will see, right now Rowly is always at me “come out, come out, come out” and I’m unless like, “I don’t know…”, but when I do get out, I do love it.

GateDrop: Last question, would you consider doing a wildcard WMX race next year – just for fun? After seeing you out there today, I’d love to see it! I reckon you’d be battling for top ten/fifteen already which isn’t bad for only three months back on the bike!

Kane: I wouldn’t go to a GP again unless I thought I could do pretty good, not saying I’d go and win but the last couple of years I did were hard for me working wise and it showed in the results. Riding completely standard Honda’s against bikes that are like rockets, and I was quite the heavy one out of the bunch as well so it was horrible. But if I did get training and get a good bit of riding, I would definitely think about it… I have thought about it when I’ve started to ride the bike again. If I get a good winter and no more injuries… you might see me show up!

GateDrop: See you at a WMX race next year then (laughs).

Interview: Andy McKinstry

Pics: Nigel McKinstry