Multiple World Champion Steffi Laier has been racing since she was four years old. She talks about her experiences in America, Europe and Africa, about staying on top form without a fitness plan, and powering through injuries.
WHEEL SISTERS: Steffi, please introduce yourself.
Steffi: I live currently in Belgium but I am from Dielheim, Germany; Bike Rider (Motocross international)
WHEEL SISTERS: Steffi, at the age of 4 you got your first bike from your parents and at the age of 5 you started your motorsport career with the first races. You are a 14 times world title winner (4x FIM WMX World Champion, 3x WMA int. World Champion, 7x Dubya World Vets Champion), a 12 times winner of European Championships and you’ve gained many other prizes. Can you describe your way to the top. How did you get introduced to motorsport? Your father was an amateur racer in cross discipline, right?
Steffi: Yes, right, it all started with my dad. My dad was an amateur rider and raced for fun. I actually don’t know if he was a good rider or not because I was still a baby. My parents always took me to his races and, obviously, I was always so curious about the bikes that I started to bug my parents to get me a little bike as well. I got one on my 4th birthday. My dad thought it would not last long, but, yeah, he thought wrong and it turned out that I became one of the most successful female motocross riders in history.
My first race was still at the age of 4 at my home track but it was not officially allowed in Germany at that time (you had to be 5 years old to participate in a race). I didn’t know how to start or what a race would be like. So I went into the start body position at the start gate immediately when I was starting behind, even though it didn’t start yet and I had a look at the guy’s front wheel next to me. Of course death last and I crashed about 24598 times. My parents and my uncle literally ran next to me around the track *lol*. I was so pissed and from then on, I started to practice more and more. I finished my first official race at the age of 5 on the podium with the boys – it was the German Championship 50cc. I don’t know anymore if it was my first or second year on the 50cc but I finished as first best German and only girl in the German Championship 50cc (first an Italian, 2nd a French, 3rd me).
Actually, in every class I needed to move to a bigger bike because I was always too tall for my age, so that meant I was always the youngest but most of the time the tallest. I had never the privilege to stay long in a class with my age, maybe that’s the reason why I became stronger. I always had to race with much older boys who had more experience already. So, I was just getting towards the top and I needed to leave because the bike was getting too small. That meant I actually never drove at the front at big championships – I never got the chance because I was too tall. What I still remember is that I was the only and best girl to finish at the ADAC German Junior Championship 80cc. I had podiums at that championship and my best year was a place 7 overall in the championship. No other girls have achieved that yet!
In my 125cc years I had the chance to ride as the first girl in the ADAC German Supercross Series at the KTM Millennium Team. It was a good experience but I found out that supercross is not my thing, in other words it didn’t go well. It was in Stuttgart, on a Saturday. I missed out on the main race by less than a second and on Sunday I was in the main and was going to ride in the evening with thousands of spectators but at my last timed lap a rider in front of me jumped too short, I jumped into him and the rider behind me jumped into me and the dream was over. I had another try in Munich but I had a heavy crash in the practice and it was over again. After that no more supercross for me 😉
The only good thing that came out of it was that I met someone with a connection that gave me the opportunity to ride in the USA. Only a year later, I was riding in the USA where I stayed for 3 consecutive years. As I was only 15 years old at the time it was not that easy. My parents and me couldn’t really speak the language but we had great support and we just did it.
In 2001, 2002 and 2003 I won the WMA-AMA international World Championship. In 2003 I became the only person to win every single race from the WMA-AMA National Championship.
After 2003 there were no more goals for me in motocross in Europe so I changed to Enduro Championships. In my first year I won the German Enduro Championship and I became Enduro European Champion in 2004.
In 2005 things changed with the FIM Women’s Motocross World Cup. We went there without any expectations but I went home as FIM World Champion.
Looking back, I could have been World Champion more times but there were always some things against me that stopped it from happening. Just a little review:
In 2006 I was studying at university and thought the practice I did was enough but it wasn’t, so I ended up Vice World Champion.
2007 was just bad, my bike broke during the first WC race and I broke my thumb ligament one week before the last WC race. At the end of the year I was invited to the international race in Namibia and finished 3rd with the men.
In 2008, one week before the first WC race, I rode in a local race and another guy thought he could use me as a break point and jumped into me. Result: AC shoulder dislocation. I did try to ride but it was not possible because I was in so much pain, so I missed the first race. Two weeks later I was racing again with a lot of pain. This year was one of my best years – I won almost every race but, yeah, I missed the first one. On top of that, at the very last race I was leading by 25 seconds then, in the last 10 minutes, my rear shock broke (in Lierop, hell of a sand) so I spent the last 10 minutes driving without rear shock on the sand. I still finished 6th but I was broken after that. Again Vice World Champion.
2009, 2010 and 2011 were finally my years to become World Champion.
In 2010 I was awarded FIM Motorsport Woman of the Year.
In 2012 I made bad decisions and met some not very good people. Everything changed and on top of that I broke my femur.
In 2013 I was 3rd in the World Championship
In 2014 I was 4th in the World Championship
Then I took some years off the World Championship.
Meanwhile I became 2 times IMBA European Champion and the first and only girl to become Belgium Nationals MX2 Champion with the men.
In 2016 I was on top again and then I broke my right humerus.
In 2018 I was 5th in the World Championship as the oldest and biggest privateer, without any mechanic or any luxe at the races.
In 2019 I became FIM European Women’s Champion
There are still a lot more championships I won as a kid but those are the most impressive. I am proud that I can say that we achieved this all alone with my sponsors without having a ton of money; just with dedication and willpower.
Female rally motocross rider Steffi is a 14 times world title winner and set the focus now on mentoring and teaching young girls.
WHEEL SISTERS: How did you get sponsors?
Steffi: When I was young, we didn’t think about getting sponsorship anywhere, we just went to the races and did everything by ourselves. When I rode a 60cc I already had some little dealer sponsorships like getting discounts but that was quite normal. The first serious sponsorships followed after I went to the USA and won everything there. Then it all started, sponsors came and asked if they could support me and it just got more over the years. The more I won and the more successful I became, the more and better support I got.
WHEEL SISTERS: You drove not only in Europe but also in America and Africa. How different is the organisation and the atmosphere of the races in these countries?
Steffi: In comparison to America (I am speaking about the US Nationals) we are quite small in Europe, even the World Championship is not as spectacular as the Nationals in the USA. I mean both are very nice, I enjoyed every moment I spent driving in the World Championship and I am pleased that I could do that but the best atmosphere and woooaaww effect is at the races in the USA. Also, the international race I drove at in Namibia was something completely different. This was great fun and an amazing experience but absolutely nothing in comparison, it was a small race with just invited international riders from Europe. Not a lot of spectators, no advertisement, no TV, no merchandising stands, just like a normal family race. Don’t get me wrong, I like those races very much, I like to race in different countries but when I have to compare those three events I would say the US Nationals is the most spectacular event – but in the World Championship you have the most countries coming together. It’s the same with the organisation – the US Nationals and World Championship are just perfectly organised and that race in Namibia was more like a friend’s race. Conclusion: different countries, different habits.
WHEEL SISTERS: Over the last years, you had to travel a lot and your free time was very limited. How did you prepare yourself for the races (mental training, strength or endurance training, a diet plan) and keep yourself fit between the races?
Steffi: Actually, a lot of people ask me that. To be honest I don’t follow a diet plan or fitness plan I just decided myself how I feel and listen to my body. I spoke with a lot of trainers and they all wanted to give me a hell of a training schedule. I tried that but after a month or two I was more tired than before. I decided just to do what I personally think is good for me and I guess it works. Every human is different of course, everyone has their preferences and hates – and a big difference in the motocross sport, which a lot of male trainers just forget, is that a female body is different to a male body! I still believe that you and only you know yourself the best. You can have a guide to point you in the right direction and tell you what to try but when it doesn’t feel good or doesn’t work out you always need to listen to your body and your inner self. Sorry that’s maybe difficult to understand but believe me I tried a lot and forced myself to believe that it was good for me. Since I changed that I feel better and ride my bike better as well. Of course, with young riders it’s different and easier but when you are a little older don’t practice yourself death. I’ve seen this happen too often.
Steffis first race was at the age of 4. In 2010 she was awarded FIM Motorsport Woman of the Year.
WHEEL SISTERS: Who are the people around you that give you the necessary support?
Steffi: Besides my sponsors, of course, who provide me with the necessary stuff, I get a great deal of personal support from my parents, who always believe in me and have never stopped me from doing anything. Some years ago, I got to know an incredible person, who was also a very good amateur rider (one of the best female Belgium riders). She became my best friend, mental couch and a very big helper at the races. Without her everything that happened over the past few years would not have been possible.
WHEEL SISTERS: You raced against boys and girls? Is there a difference if you compare the races? Are boys more aggressive? Are girls more selfless?
Steffi: Yeah of course boys are way more aggressive than girls. Some girls have an aggressive riding style but most of them just don’t ride like that. I would say boys act first then think afterwards. Like with a block pass, that means the rider in front of you takes the outside line of a corner, you take the inside line of that corner and if you are fast enough you force that rider to stop while you push your rear wheel against their front wheel – and sometimes it can go wrong when you touch that rider and they crash. Anyway, if I do that with men, I will have an answer back for sure ;-) I would say that overall boys/men take more risks than girls/women.
WHEEL SISTERS: Do you prepare your bike yourself, or do you have a mechanic team?
Steffi: I used to but I now do everything myself apart from the engine. I wash, prepare and change my tires myself. A good friend and an excellent mechanic services my engine and helps if there are problems I can’t solve alone.
“You can say when I go riding the bike, I always already know I will have pain in that arm soon or later that day. I’ve never said this before but I think if other riders had that problem they would have stopped riding”, Steffi about her injuries.
WHEEL SISTERS: In general: What is your education and your job?
Steffi: I have a degree as a state certified business assistant and spent a year studying at university. At the moment, I work as a mailman, this gives me a lot of time in the afternoon to teach motocross and of course still ride myself.
WHEEL SISTERS: What has had the biggest impact on improving your riding skills?
Steffi: Of course, a good basis was what I learned from and with my dad. He always pushed me to my limits but knew exactly what my limits were. The icing on the cake was the years working together with Harry Everts (who was also 4 times World Champion). I was working with him when I was riding the World Championship, he was with me when I became World Champion for the 2nd, 3rd and 4th time.
WHEEL SISTERS: You have had a few bad experiences with sexism as a female racer. Would you like to tell us about them? How have you dealt with the situation?
Steffi: I now understand that this all came from the dads of the boys when I was riding with them and beat them. Their ego couldn’t stand me being faster than their little boy. I was the only girl riding back then, so it was not normal that a girl was faster than all the guys. Of course, sometimes it went so far that riders rode unfairly against me while I didn’t do anything wrong. Got some nice injuries from that and didn’t have many friends at that time. But it only made me stronger and who I am now. In 2015 I rode the National MX2 Championship in Belgium with only men. They gave me their fullest respect and nothing was unfair. In the end I was the first and only foreign girl to win that championship and nobody was disrespectful towards me. So times did change and girls now get more respect.
WHEEL SISTERS: How about injuries? Can you tell us about your worst injuries of your racing career? How was your way back to strength?
Steffi: My worst injuries were actually a femur fracture and a humerus fracture. I have no negative effects and no problems at all from the femur facture but my humerus is another story. Not a lot of people know that because I am not a cry baby. I still have that metal in my humerus and I wish that had never happened but you can’t turn back time. I’ve had pain in my arm ever since. I can’t hold up a 10kg weight with that arm and every hole, every strange move with my bike hurts me a lot. When it’s cold I have the most problems. Sometimes when I go riding and I ride a lot I can’t jump on the bike the next day because I need to give my arm a rest. You can say when I go riding the bike, I always already know I will have pain in that arm soon or later that day. I’ve never said this before but I think if other riders had that problem they would have stopped riding. Coming back took a long time with both injuries as my bones don’t heal very well. My femur took one year to heal but I rode again after seven and a half months, my humerus took five months but I rode again after nine weeks to defend my title. I can tell you that was one hell of a ride!
WHEEL SISTERS: Apart from all your prizes: What are you most proud of?
Steffi: Of course I’m proud of all my titles but one I am particularly proud of because no other female motocross rider has it and it’s not possible to get it anymore is FIM Woman Rider of the Year 2010 – and this was chosen online by voting.
Steffi is a part of the program MX for Kids in Belgium which is organised by the big federation. Kids between 7-14 years without any experience can book a day to learn how to ride motocross.
WHEEL SISTERS: What does motorsport give you personally? What aspects of it do you love the most?
Steffi: I love still having new challenges and the adrenaline you feel when you manage a big obstacle. Just standing with 40 riders on one start line and trying to catch the first corner first. I can’t describe it but I always feel fulfilled after a heavy practice session. It still makes me satisfied to be a bit better than the rest and appreciate when people come and watch me ride. I just like it that I am good at something that not everyone can do and or dares to do. I like that people still look up to me in motocross sport. I like that I am a bit famous in the motocross scene in addition to my normal life.
WHEEL SISTERS: For this year, you have decided to participate only in races for fun. You will not be part of a whole championship. Do you miss the travels and the feeling that you have to gain points?
Steffi: At the beginning of the year I did chose that but later on I decided to participate in the European Championship. As we now have the problem with Covid-19, I miss racing of course but meanwhile I have another project running.
WHEEL SISTERS: You also set your focus on mentoring and teaching young female drivers. Can you tell us a bit more of your plans?
Steffi: My plans are to motivate more female riders in particular to start motocross. I am a part of the program MX for Kids in Belgium which is organised by the big federation. Kids between 7-14 years without any experience can book a day to learn how to ride motocross. We provide everything they need like clothes, boots, helmets and of course the bikes. It’s great to see how much they enjoy it. Beside that I do personal teaching for individual riders. They can choose which track they want to ride on and I coach and help them to improve their riding style, speed or other tricks.
WHEEL SISTERS: What advice would you give girls or women wanting to get into motorsport?
Steffi: Never give up. I know it’s difficult to get into motorsport but if you really like it and want to try it you should not hesitate to do it. Always follow your dreams even when it’s not a girls-like sport/world. You can do it, you are a powergirl!