Here are 5 free riding tips that will make you ride both faster and with more control. Please read twice through. Read the first time to familiarize yourself with everything and a second time to understand and apply. There is a lot of information here. To be sure to get the most benefit and increase your speed and control, while reading your second time through take your time and apply each technique one at a time.
I really enjoy helping people to enjoy riding their motorcycle. I am confident that these tips will help you increase your speed and control, as I have helped numerous people in the past nine years of schools. Please feel free to contact me through my website email if you need any further assistance. I am here to serve you in conquering your riding/racing goals.
1. Look Ahead- Most riders, especially beginners do not look far enough ahead. They are focused on the ground in front of the front wheel, when they should be focused further down the trail or the track. Exiting a turn you should be looking straight down the trail/track in front of you to the next turn. If there is an obstacle in that straight away, such as a log, divert your attention back to the log and deal with it as needed. Be sure not to fix your eyes on the obstacle because it can throw off your timing. By looking further ahead you can carry more speed and momentum and you’ll be ready for obstacles the trails or tracks throw at you. In practice get in the habit of coming out of a turn and looking down the straight away to the next turn. In a little bit of time you will carry more speed.
2. Quality Practice- So many of us enjoy just trail riding or pounding laps with their buddies, after all this is the reason we ride our dirt bikes, because its just fun to ride. While doing this you will improve, but at a slower rate compared to quality practice of working on fundamentals. First off, be sure you are using proper form by taking part in a riding school. Then set up some practice drills such as figure eights or an oval to focus on all the variables that come into play for doing a turn properly. Since no turn is alike set up different ones where you can lean the bike over and other ones where you can’t. A good way to set up a tight turn is to use a cone or piece of pcv pipe on the inside of a turn. Maybe logs or jumps are a weakness spend time working on that so that it becomes easy to you. You may find that by working on fundamentals like this that your speed and bike control will increase at a more rapid pace. Think of it like football and baseball practice, do they just get together and play the game? NO! They work on fundamentals of the game.
I would also recommend working in some sprints lasting from 2-3 minutes on a mx track or woods track to bring some cardio conditioning into your riding. Also, remember when working on fundamentals, try to do everything both sitting and standing. This will help you better understand how the bike reacts in different situations when you are sitting or standing. You should also work on fundamental drills at 50-75% of your actual pace. It is extremely hard to learn or perfect something at your speed. You are training your brain how to react physically over and over so that you don’t even think about it. It needs to come natural to you. The quality of your practice is important. Slow down work on your form and proper use of all the controls both sitting and standing and the speed will come a lot easier.
3. Braking Point- Another way to increase your speed is to change your braking point entering a turn. This is done easiest on a small track where you can have a buddy observe you. Let your buddy mark your current braking point with a large orange cone. Have your buddy place the cone where you actuate the brake pedal. Then get a lap time to start with. Next have your buddy move the cones closer to the turn forcing you to brake later for the turn. After spending some time working on this after moving the cones closer to the apex(middle) of the turn and finding your limit. You will know you have found your limit, when you begin to overshoot the turn. Now take another lap time. I guarantee that your lap time will have dropped. Spend at least once a week working on this along with fundamentals.
4. Proper Braking- It has been said that it is not the fastest guy, but the guy that slows down, the least. Proper brake control is crucial to riding fast. I believe that a lot of riders over brake. It is important to understand that the front brake is 65-75% of your braking power. It varies because of soil conditions if its muddy or soft you might want to use less front brake than in perfect conditions. Most beginners have issues with the front brake because they are not confident in using it. It is important to remember that most of all your braking is done entering the turn. So use of the front brake should be done when the bike is upright. You should not be using the front brake when the bike is laid over or you are in the apex of a turn. The front brake should be controlled with one to tow fingers (either your middle or pointer or both). Front brake is a slight squeeze. You want to find where the lever gets hard and do not try to squeeze passed that. Your trying to slow the motorcycle down but not lock up the front wheel. Drills for proper use of the front brake will take some time. Set up a small turn track in an open area and do laps allowing only use of the front brake. After some time you will have mastered proper use of the front brake. Now onto rear braking. It is important to have proper brake pedal adjustment. You want the pedal height to be ¼ to 3/8 of an inch above the foot peg. Use of a straight edge can help with this adjustment. Once you have the height adjusted now you want to adjust the free play. You want the pedal to get hard as it gets level with the foot peg. Now that you have the brake pedal adjusted properly, you need to understand something else that is essential to brake control. Alot of riders have a bad habit of pulling in the clutch then mashing on the rear brake. They have to pull the clutch in because they push on the brake pedal so hard that the bike will stall if they don’t. This is a mistake because you lose all forward momentum and have less control over the motorcycle and the rear wheel is sliding.
You do not want to lock up the rear wheel. You want to slow it down, but not lock it up because once you lock it up you lose all the momentum you gained in the straight away. The next step is to learn to actuate the brake pedal. This is done by holding your knee, inner calf and inside of our foot tight to the bike over top the brake pedal then find the brake pedal and apply pressure to it. This is one of the most important variables in proper brake control. If you have your leg away from the bike and apply pressure to the brake, you are more prone to make the mistake of locking up the rear wheel. So keep your leg tight to the bike when actuating the brake pedal. You should only pull the clutch in when you are in tight technical situations. Learn to slow the motorcycle down using the front brake and rear brake without pulling the clutch in. When you pull the clutch in the bike is now free wheeling, which means coasting faster. This now means you have to brake harder. With the clutch out you now also have engine braking so you don’t have to brake as hard and you can still keep a positive sense of momentum by keeping the wheels turning but still slowing the bike down. Be patient this takes practice but you will be faster
5. Bike Set up- First off I would like to start with things I see on most students bikes at schools that limit their ability and control. Most people have their bars adjusted too far back. When adjusting your bars you should put your bike on a stand and sit on your bike and stand and find a happy medium between both. Most people make the mistake of adjusting their bars from a seated position. So then when they go to stand it’s not comfortable.
The proper riding position whether you are sitting or standing is your head forward over the handlebars with your elbows up. This puts weight on the front wheel, which makes it easier to control. A lot of riders use bar risers for all types of reasons; the most common is tall guys. The high bar raisers creates an issue because it forces the rider back off the front end and makes it harder to keep your elbows up where they should be. I have found this especially common when conducting schools. For instance, a tall guy will come to me with high bar raisers saying he has issue with the front end riding over a berm a lot of the time. Where the rider sits further back on the bike, this unloads the front end and squats the rear pushing the front end out and over a berm. Once we eliminate bar riser the rider now can get up over the front end easier and has less of an issue riding up over the berm. If this sounds like something you might have an issue with then give it a try. Also, to take it another step further, I would recommend a straighter lower handlebar.
This will also help you be able to get over the front end more and be more comfortable sitting and standing compared to a set of sweep back and high bars. I often loan out straight low bars (Pro- taper Suzuki low) to a lot of students to try before they purchase. All students have returned them and purchased them after trying them.
Another thing that is often overlooked is static sag in the rear shock. If the static sag in the rear shock is incorrect it can also affect the balance and turning of your motorcycle. If you have too much static sag in the rear shock it could cause the bike to push in turns if the static sag is too little it could cause the rear to sit high and because of this the front end may knife and feel unstable. I prefer anywhere from 32-38 mm of static sag. Let’s discuss now how to set your static sag. First put your bike on a stand and measure from the axle to a fixed point on your rear fender. Then take your bike off the stand and push p and down on the rear shock then let the shock rest with the rear wheel still on the ground measure again from the rear axle to the same fixed point. As mentioned your should have a difference of 32-28 mm between the two measurements. If your measurement does not fall in between 32-28 mm you will need to adjust the preload on the shock by turning the huge spanner nut on top of the spring. If you have too much static sag, you will need to tighten the spanner nut down on the spring. If you have too much static sag, you will need to loosen up on the spanner nut. Be sure to mark the spanner nut with a magic marker so you can easily keep track of the number of turns you put on the spring. Usually one complete turn on the spanner nut it equivalent to 2 mm of difference. If even after all of this we are still having either a front wheel push issue or a knifing (tucking). Then we may need to move the forks up or down in the fork tube. For instance if the front end keeps riding up high in the berm and pushing over it then you need to push the forks up in the tubes. Moving it up 1/8 of an inch at a time makes a huge difference. If the front end keeps knifing under you then you need to push the fork tubes down in the triple clamps. Be sure to not move further then level with the fork cap.
Another thing I noticed that limits a rider’s control over the motorcycle was that their levers are unevenly positioned on the handlebars. For instance the clutch lever may be super low and the front brake lever may be high. You should be sure that levers are positioned the same. They should be angled so that when you reach for them you can keep your elbows up and not have any uncomfortable kink in your wrist. Also some issues with levers arise when riders cut their bars too short and the levers end up being positioned on the bend of the handlebar. When cutting your handlebars be sure that you have all the proper room for your levers. You can do this by simply sliding the levers as far over as you can without them being on a bend. I do not prefer cutting this much off.
I only cut a ½ inch off of each side. Then after putting hand guards back on I am back to the original length. I have no problems getting through tight trees and still have plenty of leverage. Too short of handlebars also limits control over the motorcycle because it compromises your body position. Riders with too short handle bars have issues with keeping their elbows up where they should be.
I have given a lot of useful information here. As mentioned earlier, I suggest that you read through this a few times to be sure you have a grasp on the material and get the full benefit of it. I may have discussed something you do not have an issue with, but I believe that I have made you understand it better. When I started doing riding schools over nine years ago, it made me a better rider. In order to teach you, I had to think about what I did and put it into words. It also made me reevaluate some things I do that needed to be changed so I could increase my speed and control. That was like I said over nine years ago and in that time I have conducted a lot of private and group classes. Just about two years ago I wanted to reach more people so rather than putting out another long video that loses your interest and isn’t explicit enough, I decided to have an online school where you can learn body position, riding techniques and how to practice from your PC no matter where you live. I have over 46 instructional 2-4 minute video clips that are accessible to you at anytime. You can watch over and over until you fully understand and then go out and practice it on your bike. This definitely gives you tools for better quality of practice, which all my online students have told me.