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The 3 Most Important Factors About Starts

Gary Semics



There are three important aspects of the start. The single most important aspect of the start is the clutch. Excellent clutch control is the key. The other two aspects are throttle control and body movements. Let’s look at each one separately.

1. Clutch control

The following are all the techniques that go into clutch control. You have to hold onto the grip and control the clutch independently. This is true for when you’re riding on the track as well, but for the start, clutch control is even more important then when riding on the track. Therefore I teach using your three outside fingers on the clutch while you hold onto the grip with your index finger. This way your three outside fingers will allow you to have good strong clutch control while your index finger can pull your body position forward as you shoot out of the gate. If you don’t use any fingers on the grip you couldn’t pull and hold yourself forward. Or if you only used one finger on the clutch you wouldn’t have good strong clutch control for a perfect start.

With your three outside fingers on the clutch, pull the clutch in and select first or second gear. Then let the clutch out until it just starts to engage and then pull it back in just the slightest bit under engagement. This is where you want to hold the clutch. This way it will begin to engage as soon as you start letting it out. With this clutch setting technique you will know that the bike is in gear and your clutch will be set and ready, not to far out and not to far in, but just right for the real deal hole shot. It’s very important to control the clutch all the way out. Don’t just start slipping it out and then let it go. And don’t release the clutch in a jerky motion. When done correctly it’s just one controlled smooth release all the way out. You are pretty much holding the throttle in one position according to traction and feeding the power to the rear wheel with the clutch. You see, when you feed the power to the rear wheel with the clutch the response is instant. If you rely on the throttle the power has to go through the engine and the response at the rear wheel can be delayed and not as actuate. Even after you are pretty far out of the gate, if the front wheel starts to rise slip the clutch a bit to bring it back down. Control the clutch all the way out at all times during the start.

Starts are very hard on the clutch because of how much you have to slip the clutch from a dead stop. There should be about 2 mm of play in your clutch lever when the engine is at normal running temperature. If you are doing several starts in a row the clutch will get very hot and have more play in the lever. This is because the extra heat makes the clutch plates expand. You may want to let it cool for a few minutes or you will wear out your clutch plates in a hurry. Make sure your clutch lever is straight and in good shape. A bent lever will hinder your clutch control.

2. Throttle control

The following are all the techniques that go into throttle control. You want to hold your throttle at a high idle. Not too low because the bike might bog when you come out of the start and not too high because you might have to hold it there for a long time and you don’t want the engine to be screaming too long. You don’t want to pump the throttle back and forth neither because you just might be turning it back when the gate drops. So hold it at a nice high idle so the engine is ready to launch. While you’re holding the throttle in this position you should have one finger on the front brake. This is not because you’re dragging the clutch. This is in case your bike tries to coast forward because of a slight downhill start. It’s also there in case you start too early and have to stop before you hit the gate.

3. Body movements

The following are all the techniques for body positioning and movements for starts and there are a lot of them.

Seated position

Let’s start in the middle with seating position. For normal conditions you should sit in the front part of the seat. Not too far forward because if you try to sit on the very front of the seat near the gas cap you will slide back when you start and you are more likely to be off balance when seated this far forward.

Over grip for starting

While seated in the proper position, grab the handlebars with a lot of over grip. This is important so you can keep your upper body open and work from over the handlebars not behind them. This will allow you to get more of your body weight up and over the front of the bike enabling you to keep the front end down more effectively. This open body position will also give you better leverage for moving your body position from side to side across the handlebars, which will give you the control to keep the bike going straight out of the start. This body position will also give you better leverage factors between your body and the motorcycle. If you fail to do this and start with a low grip you will have less control.

As you’re sitting in the front part of the seat and holding the handle grips, with high over grip, have one finger on the front brake and your three outside fingers on the throttle.

When there's a lot of traction the main concern is to keep the front end down. So lean way forward. Keep all your weight on the seat and move your chest up and forward. This will help you get up over the front instead of leaning your chest down to the handlebars. Make sure you keep holding yourself forward as you go.

Keep both feet down with your toes pointing forward in front of the foot pegs and close to the engine so you can feel the foot pegs on the back of your legs. This will help you keep your feet in front of the foot pegs when you go. A common mistake is to let your feet swing back behind the foot pegs when you start. This is bad because you would have too much weight toward the back, you wouldn’t be able to shift and you would have poor balance in this position. So keep your feet in front of the foot pegs and just lift him up off the ground when you go and keep them there until you have to shift. When you have to shift raise your left foot up hard and hit the shifter with the toung of your boot on the way up, shifting into the next gear as you place your feet back on the foot pegs. This technique will give you the best balance and allow you to shift exactly when you need to. But you have to raise your foot up fast and hard, keeping your foot straight forward and you may even need to fold the foot peg a little with the heel of your boot as you make the shift. I know it seems a little crude but it works and you only have to do it once per race. Another common mistake here is to put your feet back on the foot pegs as soon as you start to go. This is a mistake that will take your balance away. So keep those feet down until you have to shift. After you make that first shift stay on the foot pegs and keep hitting your shifting points from there.

Getting the holeshot makes the rest of the race a lot easier. Practice these 3 main starting techniques and you will become a better starter.  Get all the secrets of Winning Starts in my How To Win Starts DVD.   

Gary Semics

Professional Motocross Trainer

If you're serious about improving your motocross skills, checkout my website for additional tips and training resources.


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