Vernon’s Chris Sorokovsky entered Alberta’s Badlands as an underdog. He left with something bordering on cult-hero status among the off-road motorcycle community.
In a sport where the top riders show up to events in motor homes, hauling bike trailers, spare bikes, mechanics and more sponsorship than Tiger Woods, Sorokovsky rolled into Xtinction, one of Canada’s most challenging off-road enduro races, with his pickup truck and a $19 popup tent.
If that wasn’t enough to earn some pitying stares, his choice of motorcycle, a two-stroke Honda AF500, earned him quizzical looks and a certain maverick distinction amongst the competitors. Most riders went with 300- to 350-cc, four-stroke engines, geared for better straightaway speed and handling.
But once the action got underway, the laughter soon stopped as Sorokovsky rode his workhorse Honda into a qualifying spot, finishing 24th out of nearly 60 riders. He then placed a respectable 27th in a field of 40 in the finals.
“I just wanted to qualify and get into the main event. I figured I could do it, I just didn’t know how fast I could do it,” said Sorokovsky, a Seaton grad who works full time at North Enderby Timber.
“It’s (Honda) not necessarily the faster bike, but for overall riding it’s a lot more fun, cheaper to maintain. It’s like an old-school muscle car, basically.
“A lot of them (top riders) are really fast, but they’re not that good at the tough stuff. There’s races within the race where you’re battling a group of people… you’re separate almost.”
More than accolades or the $5,000 first-place prize, it was the race course itself that drew Sorokovsky to Alberta. Xtinction is renowned, and likely feared, for its near-vertical ascents in the Badlands portion of the race. Under the scorching heat, the uphills were like baked clay, with ruts worn by the passing bikes.
Riders who fail to crest the slopes have to act fast to avoid having their bikes slide back down the steep inclines, or worse yet, they have to scramble out of the way if they happen to dismount below the bike.
“The hills are what I came for,” said Sorokovsky, a member of the Penticton Off-road Motorcycle Club (PORC), now based in Vernon.
“You’re working hard; if you don’t make it up, you’re dragging your bike.”
Racers try to compete as many laps of the 15- to 20-kilometre Xtinction course (Sorokovsky said no one is really sure of the actual distance) in a two-hour span.
Sorokovsky’s mother, Paula, went to the event, located near Brooks, to cheer on her son. She stood on the sidelines, torn between exultation and dread.
“I spent the whole day either screaming or holding my breath,” said Paula, who was unable to contain her pride when her son, who became known as the “kid on the 500,” started turning heads.
“Everyone was so shocked.”
But Paula isn’t overly surprised by Chris’s success. He lives to ride, loves to tinker with bike mechanics, and spends his downtime riding up in the Becker and Bardolph Lakes area above Vernon Hill, even in winter.
One look at his bedroom confirms his passion for off-road motorcycles.
“He has his (nine-foot) work bench, his bike and his bed,” said Paula.
After his gutsy performance at Xtinction, not only did many of the other race teams come over to congratulate Sorokovsky, he also received a few sponsorship offers. The only thing stopping him from accepting them are his principles.
“I don’t know whether I’m going to take them or not because if I don’t like the product I’m not going to be able to be sponsored by it,” he said.
The oldest of five siblings (two brothers and two sisters), Sorokovsky has ridden motorcycles since he was five. After a brief hiatus as a teenager, he is back in the bike saddle.
When asked what made him return to racing, Sorokovsky shrugged: “Having money and a truck.”