Learn Motocross Basics (or Refresh!)

Hey guys Professor Bailey here. Man what a crazy winter! When is it going to be over? It seems like just when the weather looks like it is going to be a nice warm day, you still can’t ride because it’s too wet. Unless, of course you just like the mud or you decide even mud is better than this cold, rainy, icy stuff. In fact it’s snowing here again today even though just two days ago it was sunny and 70 degrees. For those of you that are in the north, I am sure that you’re ready to ride.

If you’re one of the lucky ones to be down in the southern states or out west you have probably been riding most of the winter. Well, fortunately I was one of the lucky ones that got to spend most of the winter months out in California but then when the West Coast Supercross races took a break, I needed to head back east to Virginia to help some of my east coast guys. Now you would think that the first part of March would be a good time to do that? But this year that’s not the case. One day it’s 60Β° the next day it’s 32 and snow.

Well, on the good days we’ve had I have been pretty busy with a few of my regular riders and a few new ones. When I first watch them ride this time of year, I give them a bit of a free pass on form because I figure they are a little rusty after a long winter or maybe they are so happy to finally get to ride that they are just enjoying the moment and not thinking too much about form. But, after a little time on the track, the free pass is over and it’s time to get to work.

It all comes down to this; practice. What is it? Practice is not a race. It’s also not time to go out and just bust out laps. It’s time to figure out where your problems are and what you need to do to fix them. Then you must have the discipline to go work on that problem until you have it better. Like all other sports, practice is not going out and playing the game, rather, in practice, whether it be baseball, soccer, basketball or any other sport, practice is when you work on drills to improve your skills. In motocross too this is what practice should be. Unfortunately, for most though, they practice motocross by just riding laps and this not what you should be doing and will not improve your motocross skills. Rather, you will just repeat the same bad form and bad habits lap after lap.

Let’s start with my little guys first. I think sometimes the number one problem with them is focus or lack thereof. Many of the things that we have worked on in the past are not happening. Some of that is because they’re young and some is because they’ve had a few months off of the bike and they forget faster than when it has just been a few days. Well, either way it’s time to fix things.

As for the older riders, it’s more a matter that they are just out there trying to go fast and not trying to figure out how to carry better momentum around the racetrack. That’s right I said carry better momentum. It’s easy to say go faster because that is what we all want to do. But carrying better momentum is what we want to think about when we hit the racetrack. So let’s look at some things that you can do to help get prepared for your season quicker.

How about the start? By far, the most neglected part of practice; yet, the most important part of the race. When working on starts, be sure you have the right gear so the bike is not bogging. Keep the RPMs as high as possible and use the clutch to determine how much traction you will get. Don’t be afraid of the throttle power. Be more aware of how fast you let the clutch out. If you want your starts to get better think traction, traction, traction. You need to control the wheelie and be sure you were going in a straight-line. If you get a good reaction and you’re not hooked up you’re not going to be first off of the turn.

The start is about reaction and traction. The more you go in a straight line and control the traction and the wheelie the more chance you are going to be up front on the start.
After looking at this photo you may want to go back and look at the start again so you can see what these three looked like out of the gate.

Okay, here we go
Put the bike in gear, sit forward, get your head over the bars, hold the front brake on, bring your RPMs up, let the clutch out to the point that the bike almost wants to go forward, taking all slack out of the chain. Do not spin the rear wheel, put your feet in front of the pegs and locked in tight against the pegs and the frame. Watch the gate and work for traction coming over the gate so the front wheel does not touch the gate. Now, try to carry that front wheel as long as you can in some kind of a wheelie. Once you have a wheelie, you need to learn to control it and use your lower body and your hips to control the bike. I like to think of it as riding a bicycle with no hands and how you’re going to control and steer that bicycle.

Now, the first turn
Come in hard but don’t over brake. Use both the front and rear break so that you can run in deeper. Look for a hole or an opening if you’re not in first place, and take it. The more you can stay to the inside, generally the better. If you go wide it’s a longer distance, it also allows the other riders to get a chance to come back on the inside or take you out.

When it comes to the first turn, it’s a matter of who wants it the most and who can make it happen.

In most turns do not pull the clutch in going into the corner. The compression of the motor is one of your stopping devices along with the front and the rear brake. So use that to your advantage. Be sure your finger is on the clutch when entering the corner so you’re ready for what ever happens. If all goes well in the center the corner squeeze the clutch a little bit then give it a nice controlled feed on the exit. That feed would be very similar to what you would do on the start. Then once again as you exit the corner do the same as you would on the start and be looking for traction. Everyone is going to be trying to go fast. The one that’s hooked up the most is probably going to get there first.

No matter where you are on the track (other than a power slide) you want to get hooked up as soon as you can. Just like coming off the start.
At almost the same place on the track this photo tells me when both riders are wide open who is likely to get there first.

I like to think of corners a little bit like NASCAR and what it takes to go fast. Or I should say carry better momentum around the racetrack. Lines are very important. Try to go outside in, instead of the typical motocross inside out. Open up your arc and keep a good arc. You may not follow NASCAR so think about when you drive a go kart. You never run down the very inside and then slam on the brakes in a go kart. Rather, you come in from the very outside, keep a nice arc around the corner and try to hold the inside as much as possible on the exit while still carrying good momentum.

For some reason in motocross we don’t think too much about a little swap in the center or exiting the corner. But every little swap is loss of traction and a loss of forward momentum. If you watch NASCAR it’s really easy to understand. At 200 miles per hour if a car gets slightly loose you can easily go from first to 15th in a split second. On a motocross track you lose the same amount of time the only difference is you don’t have a bunch of riders side-by-side so it’s not obvious when it happens when you’re all alone.

Coming in from the outside when ever possible then back to the inside will let you carry more momentum into and through the corner. This is a lot like NASCAR, road racing or go karting.

Next, race every inch of the racetrack. From the landing of a jump to the next turn, from turn to turn, from a turn to the face of the next jump, from a jump to the whoops, and from the whoops to the next turn. Ask yourself on every piece of the racetrack, “If this were the start and at the end of this section was the finish, would I win that race?”

Stay forward as much as possible. The more forward you are the more aggressive you can be. The more aggressive you are the more you need to be forward. The control of the front end of the bike is done from the front, head forward, arms out as much is possible. The control of the back end of the bike is done with your hips and your legs. If you can’t get the front end to do what you want it to do you won’t need to worry about what the back is doing.

Keeping your body in a very neutral body position will give you more control over the front and rear end of the bike.
Stay forward, be light on the bike and spot your landing.
With this forward body position not only will you have more control over the bike but you can be more aggressive on your landing.

When working on jumping make sure that you have a completely neutral body position as much as possible. Again the more you stay neutral with your head forward the more control you will have over what the bike is doing. The more neutral your position the more you will be able to control the attitude of the bike; front end high or front end low. Rather than just going out and hitting every jump fast, work more on getting the bike to do what you want it to do, experimenting with it over each jump. Everywhere on the racetrack be a little creative. Try new and different things. Remember whatever track your practicing on is probably not the racetrack you going to race on, at least not every week.

When doing whoops that are no more than a bike and a half apart you need to try to keep the bike as flat as possible so the bike will not rock back and forth. You don’t want the to miss the top with the front wheel and you don’t want the rear to slam into the faces.
When the whoops or rollers are more than two bike lengths apart you will then need to wheelie and set your front wheel on the top of each one. Keeping the front wheel out of the bottoms will let you carry better momentum through the rollers.

When it comes to whoops and rollers, don’t be intimidated and don’t try to just hit them wide open. Again, stay neutral and use the front end of the bike to be sure that it doesn’t go down into the bottoms. Don’t try at first to do them faster. Try to do them better and the speed will follow. I don’t care what level rider you are just try to let your front wheel barely touch the tops of each whoop. Be on the balls of your feet, keep your head forward as much as possible and squeeze the bike with your legs. Remember if your front wheel touches the top of each one the rebounding forks will almost get it to the next one by itself. But, you must keep the power on and keep it steady as much as possible. As you get more comfortable and as you start going faster try to keep the bike is level as possible. Keeping the bike level will keep the back end out of the holes allowing you to carry better momentum across the top of the whoops. All of these techniques will change slightly according to whether there are whoops or rollers and how far apart they are spaced.

Only perfect practice makes perfect
So, I thought I was done with this article, then I started thinking. What are the real problems? There are those who know what to do and there are those who don’t. I believe there are a lot of riders who know what to do but for some reason choose not to.

Let me give you some examples. I can take my 50 and 65 riders plus some 85 riders and ask them a question like. “Can you tell me what Ryan Dungey, Ryan Villopoto and James Stewart do in this particular situation?” And they have no clue. But crazy, they can tell me what helmet, what goggles, the brand of riding gear and what boots they wear.

Now, as for the older riders on bigger bikes the answer is a little bit different. After watching them make a few runs through a section, I ask. “Do you have any idea what Ryan Villopoto would do through this section?” The answer usually goes something like this. “Well yeah” and they proceed to explain to me how Villopoto would do it and what he would look like. So, then as I hold the motorcycle, I say, “Show me how he would look.” And, most of the time they change their position on the bike and move to that look. Now, comes the next question. “So do you look anything like that when you go through here?” The answer is almost always, “No.” Then the question becomes, “If you look nothing like the top five riders or even the top 10 riders is it even possible that you can do what they do?”

Let me start this by saying, if you’re not a Ryan Villopoto fan, I am just using that name because he’s pretty damn good and he’s also got the number one plate. So, whoever your favorite rider is, just insert his name.

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