Learn to Ride
5 Mistakes Dirt Bike Beginners Make
Andrew T, MotoSport, 2021
Crash and burn. Or at least just crash. Though sometimes we burn.
Such is the life of a beginning dirt bike rider. Don't even think you're going to saddle up and rip through the whoops. Because you won't. Expect to crash, fall over, stall, even blaze right into a tree or through a thick of shrubbery.
Riding dirt bikes is hard and takes months to figure out and years to master.
But, a lot of first-time riders tend to fall unnecessarily adding insult to certain injury thanks to a number of mistakes that, if avoided, make the learning process a bit less back-breaking and speeds up the riding fun.
Understand that falling off the bike, stalling out or even losing control is part of the game. Beginners do it, as well as the pros. Until you get your bearings, it's going to happen probably every time you ride. Be patient and stick to it. No one is perfect when learning to ride or even race, not even Ryan Villopoto. We all start somewhere and even riders with natural talent bear the scars of their battle against an untamed machine.
Remember your first time on a bicycle? Multiple that experience by a thousand when it comes to a riding a motorcycle. A dirt bike is heavier, faster and more complicated to ride. If your dad or mom, even an older brother helped you that first time on a bike, they probably gave you some advice and instruction based on their own experience. In the same way, we've come up with five mistakes dirt bike beginners make and how to get past them.
Throttle and Clutch Control
Figuring out the throttle - how far to roll it, when to let up - is all about timing. It's the same with working the clutch. But, using them together is like learning to juggle while riding on two wheels. This takes practice, practice and more practice. The common mistake, which is the content for many YouTube videos, is opening the throttle the first time on the bike.
An even bigger mistake many first-time riders make is thinking they've figured it out when they don't. This results in a lot of unnecessary crashes and, for some, time off the bike. Don't blaze out the gate the first time you cruise through a lap. Practice your technique on that lap again, at different speeds, each time stretching your comfort level. Play around with the throttle at different speeds, the clutch at different speeds and then both together. Then come back the next day and do it all again. Many beginners find using a Rekluse clutch kit on their ride a must when learning because it nearly eliminates the juggling battle between the throttle and clutch
If you know how to ride a bicycle you're a step ahead. You've heard the saying "it's like riding a bicycle" when referring to doing something that was hard to learn, but once figured out, always comes back regardless of the time spent away from said activity. The difference in learning to ride on a dirt bike is the sheer weight involved as well as the speed. Don't expect to feel comfortable right away. Beginners tend to sit rather than stand because it's easier, but for many, standing is the better route to take if you want to get the balance act down. In many respects, you need to hand over some control to the dirt bike, which you can't when sitting.
Balance comes into play here but where to position your body when cornering, taking jumps and hitting berms is crucial to prevent losing control of the bike and reduce fatigue. Wrong positioning on your bike is a recipe for hitting the dirt. If you've watched Motocross for a season, you'll notice sometimes rider and bike are nearly parallel with the ground on sharp turns without the rider leaning in any direction. That takes practice. Take it easy until you get the feel of the bike and the best body position for tackling the various obstacles a Motocross track throws at you.
Looking down in front of you is completely natural when riding a dirt bike. Too bad it's completely wrong. This is called object fixation. It happens during a ride when you see an object like a root, boulder or rut and then you fixate on the object to keep from hitting it. What often happens is you ride right into it and crash. In a Moto for example, ruts tend to get the best of beginners but the best choice is to look beyond it and allow yourself and the bike to fall naturally into a flow with the rut. The bottom line is you need to look ahead all the time so you know what's coming. Looking down prevents you from correctly adjusting your throttle and brake controls, balance and positioning. So, if you've got the above three tips figured out none of it matters if you fail to know what's ahead.
In the way golfers tend to forget to keep their heads down when teeing off, dirt bike riders forget to keep their heads up when riding. It is easy to fall into the trap of looking down especially after a long Moto. Strength training is key as is making it a habit to keep your head up at all times. Anticipating what's coming is half the battle and this leads right into the next tip.
If you think dirt bike riding is all about strength, think again. There's a mental game in play and when racing, it's almost 50/50 brawn vs. brain. It helps to be a quick thinker when facing unknown obstacles during trail rides and for remembering the layout of a Motocross track. Lazy riders make mistakes. Race day preparation and learning your route better than the competition can beat the fastest rider who thinks speed is all that's needed to take the checkered flag.
When starting out on a dirt bike, there is a fear factor involved. The thrill of riding a 250 pound machine on two wheels that can travel at speeds in excess of 50 mph is the lure for some but crashing and suffering serious injury removes all the fun for others. The fear is not always easily overcome. Learning from the mistakes of those who've been there and done that speeds up the proficiency time and reduces your chances of a significant crash early in training.
One final bit of advice rests at the starting gate. All the above gets covered in roost if you size up your competition and take yourself out of the race mentally before the gates even drop. Don't think anyone is better than you. Other riders might have a brand new bike and flashy graphics, but that doesn't give them any sort of edge. Mental coaching on the track gets you further ahead when combined with practicing your technique.