Chinese New Year special series: The Pianist on Two Wheels
© All photos, including featured cover, provided by Kim Chen
This week, we continue with the Chinese New Year special series featuring Chinese female riders. We give you the story of Ling “Kim” CHEN.
For a lot of people in motorsport, racing is a way of life, and the paddock becomes their second family. But for Kim, motorsport, and her family life, have been running as two parallel lines in her life side by side.
On the left – Motorsport
Growing up in a village (with a village name that literally translates to brave warriors) in Jiangsu Province, China, the motorcycle had been a way of commuting for Kim. Riding on her parents’ motorcycles, she could get around for groceries, or go out to have fun during the summer holidays. But overall, a motorcycle didn’t leave an impression bigger than a bicycle or a tricycle.
Then things changed in 2010 when Kim was introduced to motocross. Her childhood friends took her to the hills where they were training. When Kim saw how they were flying in the air, she realized a motorcycle could be the fun itself, rather than just the vehicle taking you to a fun place. “My friend told me they were motorcycling, and took me to where they were practicing. Wow. They were flying higher than my roof. I didn’t know riding a motorcycle could be like that. So the next time I went to their MX track, I also wanted to try.”
Trying motocross for the first time was only a month before Kim’s first motocross race. “I was training with them for about a month, I think I was only there 5 or 6 times. Then they told me there was a team looking for a female rider, and they thought I was good on the bike and I should go and race. So I went!”
Friends got Kim into motocross, then the same group of friends took her roadracing, and motorsport stuck with her from then on. “My friends moved from motocross to trial then to roadracing. I went with them to the circuit, and again I tried to do what there were doing. They gave me a helmet and a used racing leather. The leather was actually too big for me, so I put a lot of clothes under it. I didn’t even know how to corner at first.”
Her roadracing career also kicked off very quickly after not many times on a bike on track. It resulted in some crashes, but Kim had always been fast. “I trained for like twice at this circuit in Yangzhou, Jiangsu Province. Then I was asked to race in a single-make series by Aprilia. I crashed twice in one race, but still finished with a good result. I just had this thought in my head – no one should be in front of me! In 2014, a team in Shanghai invited me to train with them. Again, after only riding with them a few times, someone else got injured, so I stepped in. I feel like racing has been my training.”
Coming from motocross, it made Kim more flexible and agile in roadracing. “In roadracing, you lean left or right in the corners. But in motocross, your body and your bike can get into a variety of positions. You also need a good feeling on an MX bike, because the track you are on is constantly changing, you will need your whole body to control the bike. I always liked motocross, you can race on any hills. When I was in motocross, they didn’t have a separate category for amateurs, I was racing with the pros, they were flying over my head!”
Kim’s career was always kicked off in the most unexpected ways, and she mostly taught herself to ride and race because of the short period of time she was allowed to prepare. Racing itself forged her racing techniques and style, but some of her racing spirits came from watching the finest young riders in the world battle wheel-to-wheel. “I never had a real coach who taught me the basics. I also ride in a different style from others so it’s difficult to learn from others. But if there is something I don’t understand I could still ask people, and then I figure it out on my bike. I like watching Moto3. I may not be able to learn much about riding techniques from them, but I sure learn how they fight. Every time I watch them race with each other so closely, I feel like I could do the same.”
On the right – family
While motorsport unfolded in Kim’s life in the last 10 years, everything outside of the paddock was also rolling forward.
Motocross came to Kim when she was not at the happiest in her marriage. Then when she just gave birth to her daughter and got her divorce, roadracing found its way into her life. Had Kim and motorsport found each other under other circumstances, things might have worked out differently. “When I went to the racing circuit with my friends, it was six months after my daughter was born. While I’m racing, I also have to take care of my small child and support my parents. I can’t spend all my time at the circuit and work for a team. The economics simply can’t support my life and my family. If I were younger or had no family responsibilities, I could have had a different career.”
Kim’s work which provides for her family and her racing is also related to motorcycles. She is the event organizer for three motorcycle dealerships (Kawasaki, KTM, and CF) in Nanjing, Jiangsu Province. Her busy schedule also contributes to her ‘racing as training’ style. “I have at least 10 races a year, I’ll use the free practice and qualifying sessions as training for myself. I’m busy between April and December every year for work. The good thing about my current work though is that I don’t have to be in the dealership every day. I can sort things out and respond to their needs remotely. Then during the events, I could lead our customers on a motorcycle riding trip, or be the coach to teach them riding techniques.”
Being one of the most experienced female riders in China, Kim also helped to bring more women into motorcycling. “A few years ago I helped a circuit in Nanjing organize a training event for women. It was one day of training, then one day of race simulation.” However, one young woman who may not follow this path is her eight-year-old daughter. “When she was an infant, I did think about grooming her into a rider. I’ve taken her to minimoto events for kids, she simply wasn’t interested in it. Besides, it requires a lot of money and time invested to develop a rider. China’s motorsport economics and my own financial situation doesn’t really make it feasible for me. My own schedule doesn’t really give me much room in terms of time either, I could only see her once a month. Had my family situation been different, there might have been a way to raise my daughter as a rider.”
When Kim is neither racing nor working, she would still love riding a motorcycle. She has traveled in Taiwan, Hainan, Xinjiang, and places in Thailand on rental motorcycles. “I really loved traveling on motorcycles. When I’m old and not racing, I’d probably go traveling for two weeks on a motorcycle every other month.”
Kim says her racing number 11 is her favorite number, it looks like a pair of parallel lines. It’s like people in life, you don’t have to cross paths, you can simply be next to each other forever. Her family and motorcycles have been like a pair of parallel lines. She may not have achieved a professional racing career because of her family circumstances, but she has always been there next to motorcycling, and she will be there forever.
It’s Lantern Festival next Friday (Feb. 26). We will conclude the Chinese New Year special series with the story of Tianshuang “Olivia” JIA – 2020 Ducati China Panigale Cup Champion.
– End –
Leave a Reply