How To Ride a Dirt Bike
Dirt Bike Techniques – the 5 most important.
If you’re learning how to ride a dirt bike you can save yourself a lot of time by avoiding these 5 most common mistakes! Everyone knows that bad habits (techniques) are hard to break. The smart thing is learning the correct techniques when you begin riding a dirt bike. Through my many years of teaching motocross I think the most common and hard to break bad habits are listed below in order from 5 to 1, with number 1 being the most common and hardest to break.
#5. Looking ahead.
I’ve done lessons for many riders who have been riding for more than 5 years and still don’t look far enough ahead, especially in corners. The basic rule is to look at the next most important object that’s coming up as early as possible. This maybe the beginning of a rut, the entrance of a corner, a big bump, the takeoff of a jump, est. As you’re riding a motocross track your vision is covering the ground just before you go over it. You have to focus your vision on certain things of major importance; like mentioned earlier. But what can happen to the untrained rider is that they focus their vision on these things too late and/or too long. This causes them to ride too close in front of their front fender, which makes them ride the track every ten or twenty feet instead of blending the sections together more smoothly and with better lines. I think this practice method of being aware how far you’re looking ahead is one that even the best riders should be aware of and practice.
When you train yourself to be comfortable at looking a little further ahead it allows you to have more time to react to things and therefore go faster. You will go faster but it doesn’t seem like you are going faster. Vision, depth perception and peripheral vision are all very important. These are things that improve with more and more riding. How fast the brain can process all this information and react to it is a talent that is at the top of the importance list. So open it up and see the entire track out in front of you. Ride with your eyes up toward the top of your goggles.
One thing I quickly notice at my motocross schools is what riders are looking ahead and which riders are not. This is because when I signal one rider at a time to come off the practice drill I can see right away if they have tunnel vision or if they are using their peripheral vision as well. I’ve had riders that notice my arm motion to wave them off the drill when I’m 40 yards away. I’ve had other riders not able to notice me after several attempts of arm waving even when I’m standing right beside the track. Don’t get stuck in tunnel vision, look ahead and use your peripheral vision as well.
#4 Standing – on the Balls or Arches of the feet.
There are only 2 ways to place your feet on the footpegs, either on the balls of the feet or on the arches. The most common way is on the arches. Just check the bottoms of your boots. I’ll tell you right up front that being comfortable riding on the balls of the feet takes a lot of practice. But when a rider does become comfortable with this technique there are three benefits to it. # 1 you have more body travel, #2 you won’t hit the shifter or rear brake by accident and #3 you won’t get your feet ripped off the foot pegs from your toe hitting the dirt. As I said, for this technique to become natural its takes a lot of the correct type of practice. So don’t throw it out the window if you really want to learn the correct way.
It’s kind of like downhill skiing. It’s easier to keep your feet farther apart when you are a beginner but the pros keep their skis closer together. One place the pros are always on the balls of their feet is through the whoops. If it can be done through the whoops it can be done anywhere on the track.
The only acceptation is if you’re going to land hard from a jump or even case a jump. In this case you would want to be on the arches of your feet so you don’t sprain your ankles. Just make sure you have your toes pointed out a little so you don’t hit the shifter or rear brake by accident. It all comes with knowing the correct techniques and a lot of quality practice time. Have you checked the bottoms of your boots lately?
Riders, even older riders, can learn new techniques and break bad habits. There are practice strategies and methods to do it. But most riders don’t want to change, don’t believe they can and don’t know how.
Once my pro career was over (1985) I started doing motocross schools. It wasn’t until then that I started to realize how many bad habits I had. I wanted to correct them because I had to in order to teach well. If I could do it after all those years of racing anyone can. The key is you have to want to.
It’s easier to do what you already know how to do. These habits are programmed into your subconscious and you just do them automatically. In order to do something different it takes a lot more mental and physical effort. Most riders go to the practice track and do laps. That’s okay sometimes but not all the time. Problem is they’re making the same mistakes (bad techniques) over and over, not learning anything better. Anyway, that’s a big subject. Oh yea, that’s why I produced 28 Motocross Technique and Training DVDs/Streams and still growing.
#3 Riding in the Central Location.
It’s better to keep your elbows up and out away from your sides because it gives you better leverage factors over the bike. Try this simple test to feel the difference. Sit on your bike and hold the handlebars with a low grip and low elbows. Then move your upper body back and forth as hard as you can, then do the same from side to side. Now grab the handlebars with a high over grip and high elbows. Perform the same two tests. Which way feels like you have more leverage over the bike? And keep in mind that factor multiplies when you standup.
Another body position technique is sitting forward. The reason you want to sit forward is because you want to sit right over the pivot point of the bike, in the central location. This way if you lean your upper body forward you are putting more weight to the front of the pivot point, if you lean your upper body back you are putting more weight behind the pivot point. When you are sitting back too far (behind the pivot point) your weight will most likely stay behind the pivot point even when you lean forward.
If you haven’t been doing these and other body position techniques correctly they may not feel good to you at first but after you get used to them you’ll develop more control and therefore be able to ride better and faster. The correct Body Positions and Movements are definitely a ground floor foundation that needs to be perfected if you want to advance. It’s so important that I started my new Volume 3 Technique DVD Series with all the techniques relating to Body Positions and Movements.
Learn these techniques and many more from the Body Positions and Movements Techniques DVD.
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Quote from The Winningest SX Racer of all time… Gary, thanks for your personal help throughout my career. Your methods and strategies made my practice and training time much more effective. – Jeremy McGrath
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#2 Using the Rear Brake While Standing.
Since Standing is in our top five most important techniques to get comfortable with from the get go, it only makes sense that using the rear brake while standing would also be in our top 5, coming in at #2. Most beginners will learn to use the rear brake while sitting first. I’ve seen many riders that will not use the rear brake after riding for 3 years. Many will stand but won’t use the rear brake until they sit down. This technique is okay at slower speeds when the ground is smooth. However, at higher speeds and especially when the track conditions are rough, it’s necessary to being standing with your body positon back while using the rear brake. The correct way to do this technique is to have the arch of your foot on the footpeg. Make that foot pivot on the peg in order to control the rear brake. Of course you should be using the front brake as well. As a matter of fact, this is where your hardest braking should be taking place. Then as you get further into the corner the bike will be leaning and you should be controlling the brakes, lighter and lighter all the way to the “Transition” (where you go from braking to accelerating).
#1 Riding with a High Overgrip on the Handlebars.
Having the proper grip on the handle grips is extremely important. This is the most common bad technique and definitely the most difficult bad habit to break. This is because the feeling of the handlebars gives you the most control and safety. For the pros who have developed this technique correctly it’s as natural as putting their hands in the pockets of his or her well-worn, loose fitting pair of pants. For the untrained beginner it’s as unnatural as putting his or her hands into the pockets of a skin tight pair of pants. Over grip (regrip) is for accelerating. When in the proper over grip hand position the angle of the top of your hands are a little steeper than your forearms. Your forearms should be at a 45 degree angle to the ground. This means that your wrists are bent a little so while your forearms are at a 45 degree angle your hands are over gripping a little more from there. This way you have the freedom to move into the forward body position whether sitting or standing for accelerating. You can also work the throttle without your arm, elbow and shoulder dropping way down. You can work over top of the M/C; even in front of the handlebars if needed. Without this overgrip this would be impossible.
The other grip position is for braking. This is a little lower than the overgrip (regrip) position. When braking your hands and forearms have to be lined up straight so you have strength to take force against the handlebars; especially over the braking bumps. If you remained in the over grip position your wrist would buckle and your body position could easily be thrown too far forward; maybe even over the handlebars; leaving your face riding on the front fender just before you go all the way over and hit the ground while knocking the wind out of yourself. Trust me; I know; I’ve done it.
Since there are 2 different grip positions you have to know and practice how and when to change. It’s very easy to adjust your over grip to the slightly lower braking grip position. However, changing from the braking grip position to the over grip (called the regrip) takes some time to master. The main reason it’s more difficult is because you have to control the front brake at the same time. Make sure your front brake lever is adjusted a little lower than your clutch. Just before finishing your braking do the regrip. As you get on the gas let your finger slip off the front brake.
Just like any of the techniques you have to understand all these top 5 techniques, be able to do them correctly and do them correctly over and over again until it becomes natural and automatic, until it becomes an automatic reflex reaction; running on auto pilot, my man, auto pilot.
Repetition is the mother of skill; the more you do something the better you get at it. Just make sure you’re doing it over and over again the correct way. Developing bad habits is a waste to time and then you end up spending even more time unlearning them and changing them to the correct habits.
If you’re serious about improving these top 5 techniques you may be interested in my some of my Volume 3 DVDs; DVD # 1 (Body Positions and Movements), DVD #2 (Motocross Braking Techniques) and DVD #5 (Motocross Rutted Corners) for looking ahead and much more!
Habit – The more the path is used the deeper it is etched and the deeper it is etched the more it is used.