Jeffrey Herlings - The Pinnacle of Speed in Motocross?

Motocross News  |  13 October 2021

Jeffrey Herlings - The Pinnacle of Speed in Motocross? main image

It's an argument as old as the sport of motocross itself - who is the fastest racer in the world? Throughout the history of motocross, plenty of names have been thrown in the ring, many with valid claims to the title. The likes of Bob Hannah, Stefan Everts, Ricky Johnson, and Roger Decoster dominated over the earlier years of our sport, while in more recent times stars like Ricky Carmichael, Antonio Cairoli, James Stewart Jr., Ryan Dungey, and Ryan Villopoto established themselves as true icons of motocross racing.

The current global talent pool is as deep as it's ever been, with riders like Tim Gajser, Eli Tomac, Dylan Ferrandis, Romain Febvre, Ken Roczen, Jorge Prado, and (still) Cairoli just a few of the headline acts in today's MXGP and Pro Motocross open class championships. One name, however, seems to sit a cut above the rest in the general consensus of 'the fastest rider on the planet' - Factory Red Bull KTM star Jeffrey Herlings.

Jeffrey Herlings Red Bull KTM

Image: Samo Vidic / Red Bull Content Pool

With the apt nickname of 'The Bullet', Herlings is a four-time World Champion with Red Bull KTM, winning the MX2 World Championships in 2012, 2013, and 2016, while also claiming the prestigious MXGP World Championship in 2018. While his career has seen plenty of silverware and race wins, he's followed, in many ways, a similar path to that of James Stewart - win or wreck. While he's no doubt been one of the fastest riders in the field for over a decade now, crashes and injuries have derailed more of his championship campaigns than not. It's been a lesson hard learned for the Dutch superstar, but now, in 2021, he seems to have a better handle on his overall racecraft, which spells danger for his competition.

The most obvious threat to the claim of Herlings being the fastest rider in the world is HRC man Tim Gajser, if only because we get to see the two of them battle it out week in, week out in the MXGP Championship. Gajser himself is a four-time World Champion, with a 2015 MX2 title to go along with his 2016, 2019, and 2020 MXGP titles.

Jeffrey Herlings Tim Gajser MXGP

Image: Samo Vidic / Red Bull Content Pool

As with Herlings, Gajser has proven his speed can quickly unravel into disaster. But watching these two race head to head in 2021 has been something to behold, both showing that on their day they can be the fastest in the field by some distance. While Cairoli, Febvre, and Prado have taken overall and moto wins throughout the season, the outright speed and general consistency of Herlings and Gajser have shown they're a class above, despite a host of unfortunate circumstances they've had to deal with throughout the season. Provided they can stay healthy (or at least somewhere close to it), it's hard to imagine the 2021 title going to anyone else.

In terms of who is the fastest rider title, however, there is plenty of opposition from American soil. Newly crowned Pro Motocross champion Dylan Ferrandis, along with three-time champion Eli Tomac and two-time champion Ken Roczen, would be the most likely challengers, and it's a match-up we literally cannot wait to see. While we have seen these guys battle it out in the odd MXGP race and MXoN events in recent years (with mixed results for all involved), the last such occasion was a flooded MXoN circuit in Assen in 2019, so we're well overdue for another showdown.

With many big names not contending the 2021 Motocross of Nations event in Italy due to COVID-19 challenges, all eyes have turned to Red Bud, where we'll see the 2022 running of the "Olympics of Motocross", with hopefully a stacked lineup of the fastest riders in the world battling for glory, and the unofficial title of world's best. Here's hoping Tomac, Ferrandis, Roczen, Cooper Webb, Chase Sexton, and the rest of the AMA field lines up on home soil against the best of the rest of the world!

Herlings Cairoli Prado Red Bull KTM

Image: Samo Vidic / Red Bull Content Pool

On the subject of Nations, Herlings was one of the very few who did line up at the 2021 event, absolutely dominating the field to take the MX Open class victory with 1-1 scores, with The Netherlands ending up second behind Cairoli's Italy. While his results on the day were certainly telling, his attitude towards the whole event tells a deeper story of the competitive nature of Herlings. Herlings had typically raced the MXGP class of the event, though in 2021 was lining up in the MX Open class, and he was questioned why in the lead up to the event:

"Glenn (Herlings' dutch teammate) asked to race the MXGP class as he wanted the break in between the moto's, so I was happy to let him do that if it's best for the team. It makes no difference to me!" - Jeffrey Herlings

Clearly unphased by the demands of yet another race on the busy calendar, Herlings went out on the morning of practice and qualifying and put in a full 30-minute moto, before going on to dominate the MX Open qualifying race. He followed up on race day with two easy wins, finally securing the 1-1 finish that has eluded him in the recent years of strong Dutch performances at the event.

Jeffrey Herlings Wins

Image: Samo Vidic / Red Bull Content Pool

With so many factors going into it, we know it's near impossible to find a definitive answer to the question of who is the fastest. Different conditions, different bikes, different days, different events, any one of the above riders (and perhaps a bunch more) could come out on top in racing. And isn't that the best thing about motocross?! You never know who is going to turn up on the day and get the win. Still, if you want to get into it and HAD to choose a rider lining up against the best in the world, we think Herlings would be a pretty damn safe bet!

Check out the Red Bull Motorsports series Behind The Bullet below for a glimpse into the life of Jeffrey Herlings:

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