John Van Den Berk - Training The Bullet
Posted on February 12, 2024
One of the greatest Dutch riders of all time is without question, two-time World motocross champion John Van Den Berk. A World 125cc championship in 1987 and a World 250cc championship a year later in 1988 was the highlight of his brilliant career. In what many people say was the golden era of motocross around the World, Van Den Berk was one of the best. Add some AMA supercross championship performances and racing supercross in Europe in the very tough 1980s when the American’s dominated the sport.
Van Den Berk still as fit as when he raced, moved to Spain many years ago and lives a great life. He still does his winter training with young motocrossers (something he has done for 20 years), and one rider who stands out amongst the pupils is five-time World motocross champion Jeffrey Herlings.
We spoke to the two-time World champion about the pre-season so far for “The Bullet”. Some interesting obvervations and inside knowledge about how Jeffrey Herlings can be so fast.
MXLarge: How is life in Spain?
Van Den Berk: It is good Geoff. We are nearly finished with the training and then I take a holiday to Bali for six weeks.
MXlarge: Oh, nice. I spent a month there in December and then headed to Australia to visit family. I love Bali. You have any regrets about moving to Spain?
Van Den Berk: From the moment I moved to Spain, I have never once regrated moving here. I have never missed Holland.
MXLarge: I know you have Jeffrey (Herlings) there training in Spain and you have Brian (Bogers) when he is racing GPs, but do you still train many GP guys?
Van Den Berk: No, no, not anymore, because I am slowing down in the GPs. I only visit now for the MXGP academy. I do like six or seven of those. I really don’t enjoy the travel anymore, travelling to the races. I have a property business here in Spain and that is going well.
MXlarge: Same with me, I like to travel for fun, but I don’t like to grind out all the Grand Prix’s anymore. I like to pick the ones I like, with a nice town, or countryside, like Trentino, or Spain, or the Indonesian rounds, but I don’t want to do it every week anymore. Tell me, you have Jeffrey training there, how is he doing?
Van Den Berk: I have a good relationship with Jeffrey for many years. We didn’t live that far apart when I lived in Holland, and he made his first trip to my training in Spain when he was like 12 years old. Sixteen or seventeen years ago. The last couple of years he spends a lot of time here, because he likes the set-up, the tracks we ride.
MXlarge: I don’t know if you know, but I am a massive Jeffrey Herlings fan, because for me, there are not many riders who gave the sport what he has given it the last 15 years. His ridiculous speed, his fierce determination and his ruthless, aggressive riding and his determination to come back from injuries. He has come from really two horrible years of injury, but how has he been looking in Spain with you?
Van Den Berk: He looks good. He did basic training here, because he hadn’t ridden for four months, because he did some operations at the end of 2023. Jeffrey is a rider, who needs to ride a lot, to be in shape. He did a lot of heats, like small motos, like 45 of those in total in four weeks. For another rider, this is impossible, but for Jeffrey, he can do it. He was getting better and better. He has no injuries at the moment, also no pain. He is also comfortable on the bike; he really likes the bike and everything around him is comfortable. He knows what to do and the plan is going as he expected.
MXlarge: He has always raced a lot, some say too many races, but he really races a lot, even last year between the injuries he did so many races. Do you think he continues to do a lot of races.
Van Den Berk: Physically, he is very fit, at the very top level. I think he continues to do a lot of races as his preparation. It isn’t normal how motivated he is after all the injuries. I have never seen anyone with the motivation he has. He didn’t crash once in the four weeks here, but unfortunately, and he knows it, when he does crash, very open he picks up an injury. There are riders in the sport that crash every time they race, and they don’t get injured. It is just bad luck in my opinion.
MXlarge: Do you know the pre-season races he does?
Van Den Berk: He does Hawkstone Park and Lierop and that is it before Argentina. I think the early rounds he will be careful, and I don’t expect too much. He delayed the pre-season races, because he wanted to come in with no stress and just take his time to get his body ready.
MXLarge: You have been around the sport a long time and you know how to win championships, but as you said, Jeffrey is special. Can you still teach him anything?
Van Den Berk: Yes, you can always teach somebody something and with Jeffrey, if I see something I think he can change, and I tell him, he does what I tell him. Mainly in the start, because I was a really good starter and one of Jeffreys weak points, are his starts. I have my opinion on starts and maybe different than normal, but as I said, I was always a good starter and we did a lot of start training and in a different way, also about the shifting from the start. When to shift, just little things, but I think it helped him. We also give him a free track, no other riders on the track and this is the main thing, and the rest is just details.
MXLarge: Tell me something, you have been around the sport your whole life, as a fan when you were little, a World motocross champion, you raced a lot of international events against the top Americans of the 1980s and you have also trained a lot of riders. Have you ever seen anyone like Jeffrey in your motocross life?
Van Den Berk: No, no, he is the only guy ever, who can work so much, on such a high level. He does it alone and I have never seen this in my time in motocross and still now, after so many years and so many injuries, he is still super motivated. Sometimes I think he is like a machine. I have never seen a rider go from the first lap and after 45 minutes, he is still doing the same lap times. As a coach, I follow this closely and I video the guy on the first lap of a moto and then the last lap, Jeffrey is doing the same speed after 45 minutes as that very first lap, it is incredible.
MXLarge: I know watching his races, he always puts on more speed with 10 minutes to go in the moto. He always makes a charge in that final 10 minutes.
Van Den Berk: Geoff, he isn’t going faster in that last 10 minutes, but the others are going slower, and he keeps the same pace, so it looks like he is going faster, but actually, he is not doing anything different, but he can maintain the same speed the whole moto. That is his strength. That is what I like the most about Jeffrey, this isn’t talent, this is from hard work.
MXLarge: I know a lot of champions get injured and miss titles, yourself, Stefan (Everts) missed out on a few through injury, so many guys missed out on titles through injuries, but do you think if Jeffrey hadn’t been so unlucky with his brittle bones, he would be the greatest of all time?
Van Den Berk: Yes, yes, 100% it is like that. You need luck in life, and I see riders who have had 300 GPs and crash a lot and never break anything. This is about luck, so it isn’t just he doesn’t do it good, you need luck in life.
MXlarge: Do you have an opinion on why he gets hurt so much, why his bones seem so brittle?
Van Den Berk: No, I have no opinion on that. I know he has broken so many bones that when he is about to crash, maybe his body is stiff from all the injuries, but I really don’t know the answer to that. He is a top athlete, trains many hours, he just needs luck.
MXLarge: What have you learnt from him about his racing strategy?
Van Den Berk: What I also learnt from him, he always has a plan, and he knows at a moment in a moto, he knows where he can get to in the field. He calculates this, always a plan and that is a good thing that he always has that plan. If you look at all the riders, in the second half of the moto, they are half a second or a second down on their times from the first part of the race, with Jeffrey, his times stay the same, as I said earlier, he doesn’t slow down for the whole moto. He knows, how longer the heat, how bigger the difference. This is the work he put in the last 20 years. He was pushing himself like this when he was eight or nine years old. Another rider can’t compete with that, because with Jeffrey, he has had this since he was a kid.