Everyone thinks they’re fast out there, but we all make mistakes that slow us down...not you? Well, we beg to differ! We’ve taken the time to talk to some of the sport’s best trainers and racers to get an idea of the top mistakes that slow many riders down, whether on the track or trail.
Destry Abbott, Gary Bailey, Donnie Hansen, Ryan Hughes, Millsaps Training Facility and others all have contributed to these tips so take a look to see what’s slowing you down!
#1 - YOUR BIKE IS TOO BIG FOR YOUR SKILLS
Photo: Destry Abbott training students and DA8 Training Facility
Most of our experts noted this as a reason that riders are slower than they should (or could) be as handling a bigger machine requires a lot of skill.
“Professor” Gary Bailey, one of the legends of motocross and father of national champion David, has achieved such goals as an Inter-AMA win and two AMA 250cc motocross national victories finishing fourth in the series in 1974. Bailey has trained thousands of accomplished racers at the Gary Bailey MX School. He said:
“For sure most riders want too big of a bike to start out. Too much power can get you in big trouble."
Ryan Hughes, MX Pro Trainer at Ryno Power Gym and Factory Rider for Kawasaki, Honda and KTM also agreed, saying:
“So many times I see a rider riding the same bike that Ryan Dungey rides. That rider knows the bike is capable to handle Ryan's speed, so they then try and mimic how Ryan rides that bike. Unfortunately, it often does not end well because in order to ride at those same speeds, a rider must ride over his head and ability.”
So, when picking out your ride, make sure you use your head and not your heart. You can always move up...but it’s seldom that you see riders or racers wanting to move down in size or displacement.
#2 - YOUR BIKE ISN’T PROPERLY PREPARED TO RIDE
Photo: MTF Technician installs new tires
Another common mistake cited by our experts that slows riders down is many don’t properly maintain their rides.
From loose chains and bald tires to worn grips, there are many items which need consistent maintenance to perform at their optimal levels. Our panel agreed that they see many riders who have all new gear but worn out machines.
Gary Bailey said: “Riders don't check their bike often to see if it is really safe to be on the track or even to ride.”
Bryan Johnson, Head Trainer at Millsaps Training Facility, had this to say: "The number one mistake we see all the time is riders who don't properly maintain their practice bike. Their race bike is usually primed but in reality far more hours are put on a practice bike. So many guys end up getting hurt from an avoidable mechanical failure. Worn tires, chain and chain sliders and guides, sprockets and brake pads are just some examples"
#3 - YOU AREN’T IN TIP-TOP SHAPE
Photo: Ryan Hughes in full-on training mode
It goes without saying that motocross and off-road riding are very physically strenuous and challenging activities to participate in. The stress and strain on your body is immense and no amount of new bike goodies is going to make up for being overweight, getting a bad night’s sleep, or a strained muscle.
Our panel agreed that many riders are not physically prepared to take on the rigors of riding or racing, but that this could be avoided.
Donnie Hansen, Head Trainer at DHMA, Motorcycle Hall of Fame Inductee, Honda Factory Rider, AMA 250cc Supercross Champion, Trophee and Motocross des Nations Champion, AMA Rookie of the Year and father of pro racer Josh, said: “Lack of training before riding or racing prevents riders from getting the most out of their bike and experience.”
Ryan Hughes had this to say: When I go to the track I see so many riders, especially vet riders, which are in no shape to be riding a motorcycle even when they do it every weekend. Riders will complain that the track is too rough, spend all their money on making the bike better and hope all the safety equipment they are wearing is going to save them.
Hughes continued: It seems no one wants to take the responsibility of being better and safer riders upon themselves. Most would rather point the finger at everything else when they get injured riding. The consequences are they same for every rider, but can actually be even higher for the rider that is unprepared.”
#4 - YOU DON’T KNOW WHERE YOU’RE RIDING
Photo: Donnie Hansen coaching Ken Roczen and Jake Weimer
Many riders will show up at a new track or riding area knowing very little about the terrain or conditions. Specialty terrain requires special equipment and experience and you won’t get that by reading what others say...hands-on practice is where it’s at.
Knowing where to brake for that next corner or running the right suspension setting only come from trial and error and remember - when it comes to racing - for some other riders it’s their home track, they’ve ridden it for years, you haven’t so you’re at a disadvantage.
Destry Abbott, Head Trainer at DA8 Training Facility, Monster Energy Kawasaki rider with 5 AMA Hare and Hound Championships, 7 Gold Medals at ISDE and 5 time Best In The Desert Championships under his belt among other achievements had this to say: “Make sure you practice for whatever type of terrain you know you'll encounter in your upcoming race. For example if it's a sandy race, you should practice riding in sand as much as possible before the event so that you feel good and confident for that type of terrain.”
#5 - YOU DON’T HAVE EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO GO FAST
Photo: A welcoming pit with food, drinks (and bored girlfriend) at Southwick
This tip may seem a bit less obvious but many riders and racers agreed that part of being fast and going long is having the little things. Maybe a cold drink between laps or a bite to eat like a banana.
You wouldn’t believe how many riders don’t bring enough food or water when they ride. Potential issues like dehydration, heat exhaustion, and muscle strain are all compounded when you can’t find relief like a cold drink or a comfy place to sit out of the hot sun..
Destry Abbott: “The little things are big for me as well! Like having your goggles prepared, drinks, pit stop items, etc. I always like to be at the event and not feel rushed. It's nice to enjoy the moment and focus on the race, versus all the things you still need to do."
# 6 - YOUR SUSPENSION ISN’T PROPERLY TUNED
Photo: Race Tech adjusting suspensions
Many riders and racers spend big bucks on suspension and then don’t set them up properly for different terrain types. Riding with suspension that’s too soft or harsh just tires you out and is inherently dangerous!
Because the science of adjusting suspensions isn’t as easy as making a ham sandwich, some riders just set it and forget it. This is just stupid...your suspension needs to work for you, not against you.
Donnie Hansen: “Front and rear suspension not balanced properly causing the bike not to handle or turn properly and race sag and the shock not measured out properly” are just some of the problems he advises his students to watch out for."
Destry Abbott offered this: “If you've ever talked to one of my mechanics, they would all say I'm really picky when it comes to my bike set-up (more suspension than anything). Dialing in suspension for the race terrain prior to getting to the event is huge and will play a major part in your overall race results!”
#7 - YOU NEED TO BE SMARTER, FASTER...AND TOUGHER!
Photo: Ryan Hughes training AMA Pro Christian Craig
Destry Abbott agrees that many riders still have a lot to learn...but don’t know how to “teach themselves” and he offered this: “Have a purpose on what you need to accomplish before each event and what you need to do with your training, and to your bike to make it happen. With this type of structure you'll get a lot better results, and won't be heading into your races unprepared.”
When we spoke with Ryan Hughes, he was all about riding technique and when we listened to what he said, we realized many of us have been doing some things wrong. It’s hard to “un-train” yourself and shed those bad habit, so it’s great to have someone else watch you, take videos and for you to review your progress.
Ryan offered these thoughts that apply to all riders: “Let me ask you: how do you train, how do you ride, how do you eat, how do you think, how do you stretch, how do you rest? All these points are really important in helping you become a better and safer rider. You must take all these aspects into account.”
He continued: “Your body must be able to withstand the ride and withstand the crash because both are part of the sport. Being your own best advocate is important. Only you are responsible for your preparation that may one day save you. Take the responsibility into your own hands and don’t put it into anything or anyone else’s.”
Now that you've gotten a taste of what the pro's have to say...want to learn more?
Here are some links:
We'd like to take an opportunity to thank our contributors, who are legends in this sport and can help you attain your goals:
Donnie Hansen at Donnie Hansen Motocross Academy (highly recommended)