Sitting at the start line, my heart beats out of my chest. A crowd of three hundred watches in anticipation as the countdown begins.

Three. Two. One.

I build the revs, dump the clutch, and feel a rush as my front wheel lifts from the ground. I hadn’t realized that the lowered tire pressure on my rear wheel would give me this much traction off the start.

I’d been waiting for this moment for months now, and there was no doubt about it: the pressure was on as I defended my championship in the National Riding Skills Competition, a yearly event meant to showcase the low-speed riding skills of motorcyclists all across the Philippines. The course consists of multiple obstacles the rider must successfully navigate in the fastest time possible. Putting a foot down results in a three-second penalty, and hitting a cone will account for an additional second in your total time. Veer off the course or make a wrong turn, and you’re out.

This is the very essence of skills competitions such as moto-gymkhana and moto rodeos.

Trying to calm my nerves before my first run

Trying to calm my nerves before my first run

It’s a whole different kind of motorcycle racing, one in which despite not having the high-speed thrills of road racing or the gnarly jumps and skids of off-road facing, carries a thrill all its own. There’s a certain elegance about riders smoothly navigating ultra-tight sections of the track, demonstrating mastery in handling their machines.

My journey into the world of moto-gymkhana seemingly fell on my lap late in 2022. I’ve always been obsessed with becoming the best rider I could possibly be, practicing my low-speed maneuvers regularly at empty parking lots with guidelines from the MSF handy in my phone. But here in the Philippines, there aren’t any real institutions that provide the advanced level of coaching I was searching for.

Trying to navigate the dizzying array of cones

Trying to navigate the dizzying array of cones

It wasn’t until a really cool dude by the name of Clyde Solano set up a riding school by the name of MotorClyde situated in Batangas City, just an hour’s ride from my house. I just had to check it out as Clyde spent years as a professional instructor for Harley-Davidson in Saudi Arabia, and when he and his cohorts returned to the Philippines, they carried a burning passion for motorcycle safety and skills development with them.

From the moment I met Clyde, and fellow coaches Tannie and Erwin, I knew they meant business about building a community of safe and skilled riders in the Philippines—the lack of which is blatantly evident in the thousands of riders who ply city and rural streets daily. As someone who rides on a near-daily basis, the lack of proper training is something I have to deal with nearly constantly. Daily accidents involving motorcycles continuously paint a bad picture of two-wheeled mobility, and the sad thing is that hardly anything is being done about it.

Getting a license here in the Philippines is far too easy. In fact, the motorcycle riding test here involves little more than riding a scooter around in circles. After that, you’re eligible for a motorcycle license. Obviously, riding a little 125cc scooter around in an empty parking lot is worlds apart from actually commuting in a densely populated country of 109 million. A lot of riders on the street just lack the proper skills.

Popping a wheelie at the start

Popping a wheelie at the start

So, MotorClyde’s mission? To raise awareness about the importance of developing riding skills, all while providing comprehensive, high-level training to anyone who wants to get good at riding. And what better way to build the hype around skills development than to gamify the whole thing? Thus, the National Riding Skills Competition was born, with the first edition slated for March 25, 2023.

While not exactly moto-gymkhana in every sense of its execution, the skills competition borrowed a lot of elements from the sport. The way the track was laid out, as well as the markers used to point to the direction of the course, were all pulled straight out of the gymkhana world. The spacing of the cones, as well as the width of the track, however, was a bit wider to make the whole thing less daunting for first-timers.

I spent several days at MotorClyde’s facilities honing my craft and gaining valuable tutelage from the coaches. I tried all sorts of bikes, stepping well beyond my comfort zone. From cruisers, adventure bikes, naked bikes, and even scooters, I got a heavy dose of motorcycle immersion. And as the hours progressed, my lean angles got deeper, my clutch and throttle coordination much faster, and my movements much smoother and more graceful.

A walk-through of the track before the start of the race

A walk-through of the track before the start of the race

When competition day rolled around, I joined with the hopes of just finishing—never expecting the outcome that was to be. I signed up for the naked and sportbike category with my trusty Yamaha MT-07. The event took on a time-attack format, with riders going through the course against the clock. The course consisted of tight slaloms, figure-eights, and a bunch of roundabouts. From the outside, the whole thing just looked like a mess of cones randomly strewn across the ground.

Lined up at the start, it can be all too easy to get cross-eyed from all those bright orange pointy things, which is why memorizing the track is as equally important as the actual skills involved in navigating the tight course.

My first run went pretty smoothly, and I did my best to maintain my composure as the bike and I flowed as a single unit through each and every cone. The daunting figure-eights tempted me to slow down and put a foot down, but I did my best to keep both feet on the pegs, lest I gain valuable time. In contests like this, split seconds can spell the difference between winners and losers. Time slowed down as I completed each section, and I lost track of my pace, simply going through the obstacles as if I was on autopilot.

Ultimately, I completed my run several seconds ahead of the competition and secured my spot in the finals.

I was in utter disbelief and told myself that I would be more than content with a second-place finish. But when my opponent took his final run, he immediately veered off course and got lost in the maze of cones. Him being out of the running, all I had to do was put in one clean run to take the title.

And so I did.

I was the first-ever champion of the National Riding Skills Competition in the naked and sportbike segment, along with other winners in the cruiser, adventure, and scooter segments, and it felt great to be one of the pioneers of the sport in the Philippines.

My trophy from last year's tournament

My trophy from last year's tournament

MotorClyde then announced the second edition of the competition, scheduled for March 2, 2024. I did my best to get some practice in ahead of the competition, however, with life’s responsibilities getting in the way, I wasn’t able to put in as many hours of practice as I would’ve liked. Nevertheless, I was committed to giving it my best shot.

This year’s contest was a bit different, though. Not only was it graced by even more spectators, it also featured more competitors, all of whom were hungry for victory. The atmosphere was much more competitive, with lots of riders crashing their bikes in pursuit of the fastest time. Hours before my run started, I was made aware of two of my most formidable opponents; a professional stunt rider, and a riding coach from one of the riding schools in the area. I couldn’t help but think to myself: “Could a moto-journo and recreational rider like myself have what it takes to beat a pro stunt rider and riding instructor?”

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Lined up at the start, I took a deep breath, as the announcer started the countdown. Three. Two. One. I felt like I had been released from my shackles. Giving it my all, I entered the first turn; a sweeping left hander into the first set of slaloms. I told myself to stay calm and to let my training kick in. As I entered the first figure-eight, I focused on keeping my movements smooth. “Smooth is fast; fast is smooth,” I kept telling myself.

After the figure-eights came a roundabout followed by a tight S-weave section. The course culminated in another set of figure-eights, and a wide S-weave section that lead to the finish line. And that was it. My first run was done.

I managed to clock in a lap time of one minute and 24 seconds—one second shy of making it into the finals. The pressure was on as I lined up for my second run.

Once again sitting at the start line, I could smell my rear brake cooking. Ignoring this, I gave it my all, coming in stronger and hotter than my previous run. I still forced myself to stay calm, but I powered through all the obstacles. I knew I was faster this time, even if my rear brake stopped cooperating. It wasn’t until I had reached the last figure-eight section where my rear brake failed completely. Forced to put a foot down, I was served a three-second penalty.

Had I not, I would’ve completed the run in one minute and 22 seconds. And so that was it. I was out of the running and finished in third place overall.


Despite being unsuccessful in defending my championship, I felt a sense of contentment with my third-place finish. It felt great being cheered on by my friends and spectators during the event. But more than that, it was awesome to be around hundreds of people who shared the same passion for motorcycles, and the desire to build a strong community of riders who focus on safety and skills development.

There’s quite a big motorcycling community here in the Philippines, but the sad truth is that a lot of riders, especially folks on big bikes, ride machines that are way too powerful for their skill level. Instead of investing in skills training and safety, they instead splurge thousands of dollars on fancy aftermarket accessories and upgrades.

The result is, unsurprisingly, a lot of riders getting into accidents, and eventually quitting altogether out of fear of getting into another mishap. Enthusiasts who focus on developing skills continue to be few and far between, but hey, thanks to events like the National Riding Skills Competition, more and more people are taking it seriously. And that’s definitely a good thing.

At the end of the day, trophies and titles are awesome. But knowing that you’re part of something so much bigger—something that could quite possibly shape the next generation of motorcyclists—is just so much more fulfilling.

At least for me.

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