You never know who you’ll meet any given day at the track… A few weeks ago at the North East 24hr Race in Andover, NY while chatting with another womens 24hr team, I noticed a woman in the next pit over; in her race gear having a rest snacking on berries. There was a rather large Kawasaki profiling nearby – obviously her 24 hr steed. I felt compelled to say HI and have a visit… Her name was Lissa and she was taking a break while the other half of her Duo Team (her husband Rob Aldakimov) was kicking up dust out on the track. I really enjoyed meeting her – she had some real history to share in the sport…even been to Six Days! I felt like I could sit and chat with her for hours but I had to get back to the team – I made a mental note to make sure to reach out to her after the race and so via social networking I found her and am super stoked to share some of her colorful story with the DBGA Community!
Special Note… Don’t waste a chance to make a new acquaintance – stop and say hi!… Most riders are friendly and would love to chat 🙂
Meet Lissa Arsenault – Aldakimov!
What is your hometown and how old are you?
“I’m from Millville, NJ originally but now call Pemberton Twp in the Pine Barrens of NJ my home. I have a grateful 36 years on this earth so far.”
When did you start riding?…
“My Grandfather when I was about eight years old gave my older brother an old ’65 Peugeot moped that he could no longer ride. I managed to weasel my way in to ride it a few times which felt natural, but due to a rusty fuel tank and the fuel filter & carburetor constantly clogging up, it was eventually scrapped. My father really didn’t care for motorcycles so once the moped was gone, I knew I couldn’t ask for one.”
As a teen, I saved my babysitting money and bought my first dirtbike, a ’75 Kawasaki F11 250, which didn’t run. I tried to fix it but eventually broke down & took it to a local little repair shop. He quoted me a price to repair it for three times more then what I bought it for, but he had a running ’79 Suzuki TS100 sitting there for sale for less then that. I bought it & brought it home (my older brother helping me pick it up, I wasn’t old enough to drive yet), much to my Dad’s dismay since now I had a “running” motorcycle!”
How were you introduced to the sport?
“Locally riding in a sand pit all the time was pretty boring and the woods beckoned me, but nobody would ride with me beyond the sand pits. By this time I had purchased a hammered ’90 Honda XR250R, but it had disc brakes and actual functional suspension components! In search of other woods rider’s, I discovered the East Coast Enduro Association through some local racers and race flyers. I sent emails out to two local clubs and I joined the first one that got back to me, Competition Dirt Riders… As an Enduro club that also hosted an Hare Scramble, they welcomed me in with open arms at 19 years old.
Tell us about your racing history…
I did my first race – the Delaware Hare Scramble in April of, I think in ’99 after seeing a flyer at the local bike shop. At 18 years old and having never left the state on my own yet, I loaded my bike, grabbed a map and drove south to Delaware. I got soooo lost & wound up in Newark, DE. I managed to get a local at a gas station who was heading in that direction to let me tag along until eventually I found the arrows leading to the event. I showed up too late to sign up, but they told me to ask Charlie Stapleford if I could ride anyway and he let me. I got lost, stuck and everything in-between on that course, but it was awesome!
I did several other Hare Scramble’s after that until I was introduced to Enduros by one of our club members. With some convincing, I tried the Delaware Enduro in ’00. We both rode the Dual-Sport class so I wouldn’t have to be concerned with “houring out” but just finishing, which at around 100 ground miles, I did!
What really attracted me to Enduros was the more technical trail and the amount of seat time…I always felt like I didn’t get to ride long enough at Hare Scrambles but not at the Enduros!
By ’01 I did half a season of racing and a full season of Enduros in ’02 winning the Women’s Class that year. In ’03, I started the season in C-250 and “pointed out” in four races (and won that class for the year too) and had to race in B-250. I continued racing full Enduro seasons in the ECEA and doing well overall in the B class, taking some class wins and finishing as high as 2nd place overall for year-end points (and 5th in B-250 in the National Enduros in ’05 while only doing two National events). Even though in the late 2000’s I had to skip most of some of the seasons…(moved one year, broke my foot the following season, then changed jobs another year!) but I still managed to “point out” of the B class through the AMA and received my A card in early ’09.
My last full season of racing (ECEA Enduro’s) was in ’10 where I managed a 6th overall for year
end points in A-250 on a bike I didn’t quite jive with (had my two worst wrecks during this season). Since then, I’m back on my favorite bikes (modded 300cc kitted ’04 KX250) and have done at least a race or two (if I’m lucky) each year since, but I just can’t afford to compete like I would love too right now. I’m holding out hope for being able to swing full seasons (18 or so races) again within the next two or so years.”
You raced the ISDE?…When, where and what was that experience like for you?
“It was ’03 and I don’t recall entirely how the idea about qualifying to go came about, but I didn’t think I should go at first. My good riding buddy, Bob Eppinger (who’s no longer with us – he passed before I got to show him the skunk striped helmet), basically convinced me. He said “He’d give his left nut to go,” and to just do it. My boyfriend at that time (now husband), built my confidence up, helped me become very proficient at working on my bikes and convinced me that I could do this regardless of how much I discredited myself.
Back then, ISDE didn’t have a Women’s Class, so we had to compete as a Club Team. I was still newer to racing when I went to the ISDE in Fortaleza, Brazil in ’03. It was an experience of a lifetime, but I harbor the disappointment of how it turned out, not just for me but the whole Women’s Team that year. Unfortunately I have never been able to afford to go back and redeem myself. The fuel situation (horrible fuel quality) & course markings (or lack of as some of the locals were pulling them down during the event), between getting lost, emptying my Camelback & running out of gas on the beach more then a few miles from the gas stop in 90+ degree heat, was disappointing. My teammates, Mandi Mastin & Heidi Landon both suffered bad crashes that ended our bid.
No experience is a bad one, I did come away from this having learned a lot.”
Being a female in a male dominated sport – did you ever experience bad sportsmanship from male riders?
“Yes! Totally! Seeing women racing off-road has become quite the norm now-a-days, but it wasn’t when I started. I recall one of the AMA officials at the ’03 ISDE referring to the Women’s Classes & Team as the “Special Olympics” to my mother & me. I had guys in local events early on protest me because I’d beat them.
Once I came into what looked like a check at an event, but there was no visible flags and the three guys standing there wouldn’t talk to me or mark my card, so I rode off. I asked my buddy who was racing on my minute with me at the reset only a mile or so after that if it was a check …and it was!
These are just some of the more blatant examples of misogyny I experienced, but I can not mention these issues without mentioning all the love & support I have also received along the way!
I’m ok with the push back I experienced earlier on (all though it’s gotten considerably better in more recent years), because it wasn’t an issue of me. It was their personal issue! I grew-up coming from a very strong Mom who did what it took to get things done regardless of traditional gender roles. I have never really known where a “women’s place” is because our place has always been anywhere we wanted it to be.”
Is there a woman in the sport that you admire?…
“I grew-up admiring, racing wise, Kathy “Steel Butt” Campbell. She was the first women in the ECEA to become an “A” rider back in a time when the Women’s Classes were still called PowderPuff. I got into racing about the time she retired and though I’ve seen her at her club events a couple of times, GMER, I’ve always been too shy to approach her and tell her that she’s been my inspiration.”
Do you have a favorite riding/racing memory?
“Most of them are good, any day on the bike is better than work! Most recently would be from the Hancock 2-Day dual-sport. My husband, who’s an fast A rider and always has been faster then me, let me lead in a long section and he said short of trying to ride over his head to try and reel me in, I was gone! He was proud of me though I have mixed feelings about screwing up our pecking order, lol!”
What was it like teaming up with your husband to race the North East 24hr Race?
“Working as an team is nothing new for my husband & me. Since ’01, getting to the races was always been a team affair (I’m the official tire changer)! As I became more adept at building and working on the bikes, we’d work tag-team to get them ready for the races. We’re almost always on the same page and we can ride each other’s bike setups even though they’re a bit different. He is my all-time favorite teammate!”
…have you guys done this sorta race before?
“We did the Northeast 24 Hour last year and came in 2nd which was great considering it was only the 2nd race I did last year and the only one Rob did all year. We’d love to do more endurance events like this, but outside of Perry Mountain, this is the only one in the whole Mid-Atlantic & North East.”
Tell us about your bike…
“That’s a loaded question, I could gush for hours about my green machines! We have 16 currently in the garage, but my two babies are a ’03 Kawasaki KX250 (ISDE bike) & my absolute favorite, my ’04 KX250.
The ’04 is a big-bore 300cc, head work with higher compression & jetted for 110 leaded race gas and exhausting through an FMF “Gnarly” expansion chamber & Pro Circuit Type 296 silencer (stealth mode quietness!). I run an E-Line 200 watt lighting coil for lights & flywheel effect (keeps it chugging at zero rpm’s). Works Enduro Rider does the valving for the ’03 KX250 forks up front & ’07 KX250 shock on the rear I use. I topped it off with a 18″ rear rim, WER steering stabilizer & Fasst Co. Flexx Bars. A lot of the goodies on the bike I modified or made myself (seat cover, ICO mount, front brake line tab, air box tabs & braces, etc).
It’s a very underrated bike (having worked in the motorcycle industry for about a decade and having had the opportunity to ride a bunch of different bikes). It’s an phenomenal chassis, very dampened, corners like a razor but stable and has a fantastic power delivery for woods conversion, especially now that it’s a 300!
Where would you like to see Lissain 5 years?…
Living the dream! Racing full seasons again, hopefully, maybe qualifying for another ISDE (and having enough funds to go). Continuing helping the Pine Barrens Adventure Camp teaching newbies how to utilize their Adventure bikes off-road. Just being healthy, happy & hitting life at 100%!
Do you have any thoughts on where the sport is heading regarding womens racing?
“I can see the change in acceptance of girls racing with more and younger girls at the starting lines. How with each passing generation the boundaries that each prior generation broke being built upon by the following. With that said, the younger generations needs to understand and respect the push-back that the pioneers of our sport faced and the determination they had to persevere against that adversity. They opened those doors of acceptance that we take for granted today. I don’t trust the mainstream magazines to give us our due (granted the amount of women racers, though growing, is still dwarfed by the amount of men, particularly off-road) but I hope the recognition that is deserved will be given in due time.”
Is there somewhere in-particular that you feel improvements are needed to build ridership?
“I’ve seen over the years a lot of the Dad’s I competed against getting their daughters into racing. I think parents seeing other women racers opens their minds up to the possibilities that dirtbikes and racing aren’t exclusive to men. That a father & daughter as well as mother & daughter can share that bonding time that dirtbikes and racing offer. I believe more women racers encourage & inspire others to try their hand at it. It’s a social mentality thing, eliminating gender roles, which opens up opportunities & possibilities for both men & women! I feel this will ultimately improve ridership.”
Best advice you were given regarding riding?
“In order to finish first, first you must finish.”
What words of advice would you give a new rider?
“With so much focus on the riding aspect, the bike & it’s set-up is so often overlooked, even by some really fast guys! Learn how to work on your bike. Learn it inside & out. Know what proper jetting feels like, what sounds are normal and what isn’t. Learn about proper suspension setup and tuning, play with the clickers. Read as much as possible and get a good understanding of how it all meshes. Carry a fanny pack with the common tools for your bike, be self-sufficient! This has saved me so many times. I can tell when my bike is off, or has a new vibration, or change a tube trail side, or swap a clutch at a lunch stop, or make a repair after a crash & keep going!”
What is your Dream Bike?
I have it right now, but if Kawasaki wanted to take the work out of it for me and build a KX300 2str on the older chassis & engine platform, I’d be eternally grateful!
Who would you like to give a Shout Out to?
“First & foremost, I gotta thank my husband. I learned a lot from him and he’s always been my biggest supporter! My Mom for the toughness. My Dad & my siblings because they’re crazy & awesome! And lastly, Grandpop Butter for my love of motors!”