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Riding Tips for a new rider

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Howdy All,

I'm new here and new to dirt biking. I embarked on this sport toward the end of last summer on a Yamaha XT 225, but decided this year to trade her in for a smaller, more manageable TTR125 (which suits my 5' 3" frame).

My question is about technique in trail riding. It's difficult to find much in terms of what skill sets to focus on and build when starting out (other than generic clutch, throttle and brake control). So, what should I be focusing on when I ride? So far, I try to practice making turns-- tighter and tighter each time--- so that I can master balance and throttle control. I've also started playing with trying to anchor the front of my bike (one foot on the ground) while feathering the throttle so that, if in a pinch, I could spin the back end of my bike around to complete a turn. I'm pretty methodical in my approach to dirt biking/snowmobiling etc... so I'm curious if any of you have other "lessons" or tips that I can practice as I try to build my skill and confidence with my new hobby. 

Any ideas are appreciated.

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lots of instructional videos on YouTube for MX and Enduro riding techniques. One of the biggest differences between Novice riders and fast Intermediates is the amount of time spent standing on the pegs vs sitting on the seat....

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My first advice would be to take it easy.
A good thing is figure eights. Do them as slow and tight as possible. Then try to ride with one hand only very slowly of course. Also try only one foot.
Try to hop over very small obstacles. Practice slow wheelies and pivot turns.

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Check out OZ DRZ's vids on youtube. Heres a link to his "how to ride a dirt bike" playlists https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCJAvmhgP0h1AEKY8vTEJPJg/playlists?view=50&shelf_id=10&sort=dd  Really great stuff hes put together. 

Gary Semics videos are also really good but cost money. He "hosts" the MX Riding Technique page here. While his stuff is MX oriented, all the skills can be used on the trails as well, especially the basics. 

It is totally worth the time to continually do the bare basic drills on a regular basis. Great way to warm up before you go out for a ride. Even if you don't have time to go for a ride, spending 15-20 min doing a couple drills in the back yard is time well spent. Seat time is what makes you a better rider, seat time and then spending that time working on proper technique. 

Edited by SenorThumpy
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These are some great resources and ideas. I'll definitely check out the YouTube videos for some ideas. I know it will take some time to figure out how to leverage my weight and balance to get the bike to properly maneuver over obstacles. Luckily there are some easier trails just near my house to practice on. Even though the female rider population around here is a little sparse, I'm hoping to be able to study some techniques and then practice them so I can slowly get better. 

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1 hour ago, Stephysue said:

These are some great resources and ideas. I'll definitely check out the YouTube videos for some ideas. I know it will take some time to figure out how to leverage my weight and balance to get the bike to properly maneuver over obstacles. Luckily there are some easier trails just near my house to practice on. Even though the female rider population around here is a little sparse, I'm hoping to be able to study some techniques and then practice them so I can slowly get better. 

If you take your time and work on the basics, you'll do just fine. You want to push yourself but not put yourself in a dangerous situation that you can't handle... sometimes finding that line is the hardest part about riding. At the end of the day, as long as you're having fun you're doing it right.

What do you have for gear and bike protection? Nothing worse than seeing some progress and then having to take time off due to injury or a smashed up bike when it could have been prevented. 

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I've got riding pants, elbow protection, helmet and goggles (of course), riding boots, and am currently shopping for knee braces and chest protection that's suited for women. I took a few tumbles off my bike last year and am familiar with the propensity for injury. I'm 35 and finding, quickly, my recovery isn't quite what it used to be in my younger years :)

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Practice standing up while riding.  Practice shifting gears while standing, as well as braking while standing.  The only way to learn to ride standing up is to ride standing up.  

Clutch control and listening to the engine so you know what it is doing and what it needs i.e. more clutch or more throttle or both.

Use your legs as part of the suspension.  Be pro-active to obstacles, not reactive.  You want to evaluate an obstacle and understand what the bike is going to do as it goes over that obstacle and prepare yourself to absorb the bump rather than be thrown around by the bike.

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The best way to get better at riding is... RIDE. Just ride and ride often. Cjsnhe positions frequently. Stand, sit, stand, sit. Learn tl masyer your machone on both. Never be afraid to try something at least once... If you don't make it over that wet log, no biggie. That steep rocky hill... Well, you'll either make it up or end up super strong... Mud bogs... Look mom, no kickstand! Everything I've learned about riding in 25 years has been trial and error. It's a good way to learn your own limits as well. Nike... Just do it!

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Try to ride standing as much as possible only sitting when you come to a tight turn or some really steep hill climbs. 

Practice slow riding drills and balance drills. 

Work on shifting while standing. 

Work on using both brakes. Many new riders don't use their rear brake enough. 

Watch videos on how to do a slow wheelie and practice getting your tire off the ground. 

Practice looking down the trail instead of focusing on the terrain close to you. Especially on technical stuff. 

Play with your standing position a bunch to find the right balance and control. 

Find corners and obstacles that you can repeat a bunch of times until you get better. 

At least buy some cheap shin and knee guards until you get the braces. 

Try to only use one or two finger on you front brake. Practice riding with one finger always on the brake lever. 

Make sure your clutch engages well before the lever reaches the bars so you can just use one or two fingers to pull it and leave the rest of your fingers wrapped on the grips. Practice riding with one finger on the cluch lever. 

Check your tire PSI. At your size you should be running pretty low pressure. I would say 8 to 10 PSI but others may have differing opinions. Running low pressure does increase your chances of getting a pinch flat but i think it is worth the trade off for the added grip. You can buy a digital PSI gauge cheap and check before each ride. 

Have fun!

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I started out on a ttr125, and that was an excellence choice. My piece of advice is to just take it easy. Sometimes when things get sketchy, people tend to get tense and yank on the throttle, which usually doesn't end well. It really helps if you ride with someone that is a bit faster than you. It forces you to push yourself just a little bit harder than you would on your own. Also, my brother taught me to jump while I was on my ttr. If you can, find a small jump (maybe a foot or two tall), and just get familiar with getting your wheels off the ground. The jump should be small enough that if you don't land quite right it shouldn't be a big deal. Lastly, just ride! There's a lot of learning that happens as you go. No riding situation is going to be the exact same, so getting out and riding helps you get familiar with how to handle certain obstacles. Have fun! And when you're tall enough, I highly recommend getting a race bike. The difference is like night and day.

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Thank you all SO MUCH for all of this feedback- I'm definitely going to take your suggestions and put them into practice. I think the balancing exercises are going to help a ton. I'm hoping after some more practice (and the selection of some knee guards that will fit!) I'll feel more confident on my bike and will be able to shake the fear of falling :) 

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Thank you all SO MUCH for all of this feedback- I'm definitely going to take your suggestions and put them into practice. I think the balancing exercises are going to help a ton. I'm hoping after some more practice (and the selection of some knee guards that will fit!) I'll feel more confident on my bike and will be able to shake the fear of falling  

Start riding a bicycle as much as possible. On days you can't get out of town to ride your motorcycle, you can get out for an hour on your bike. It will help your balance, fitness and two wheeled coordination bigly. I try and commute on mine most days.
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On 3/24/2017 at 8:01 AM, Stephysue said:

I've got riding pants, elbow protection, helmet and goggles (of course), riding boots , and am currently shopping for knee braces and chest protection that's suited for women. I took a few tumbles off my bike last year and am familiar with the propensity for injury. I'm 35 and finding, quickly, my recovery isn't quite what it used to be in my younger years :)

It sounds like you are set to go.  Lots of thought and experience went into the answers that I see here.  I particularly like the figure 8's.   do them long and faster,  and slower and tighter until you stall.  I suggest doing them drill style each time you ride,  and do them before you ride,  so you aren't so likely to delete them.  You can do them on variety of terrain too, from parking lots (highly suggested to turn you into a flattracking supermoto sort in the future, yep you are going to be sliding on asphalt),  to sand and rocks.   Being able to keep up momentum by a cornering speed that is both relaxed and faster makes everything a lot easier,  especially with a small motor and altitude limiting power. 

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I have ridden with some fast folks who always stand.  I have also ridden with some fast folks who nearly always sit.

I have ridden with some fast folks who are completely ripped and run marathons for fun.  I have also ridden with some fast folks who are 60 years old, 250+ pounds, with a massive beer belly.

I have ridden with some fast folks who could balance on their bike for minutes on in.  I have also ridden with some fast folks that it's a wonder they made it out of bed in the morning.

I have ridden with some fast folks who always pick a great line up a hill.  And then there's me, who always manages to pick the WORST line up a hill.

 

What's the point here?  The point is that there's lots of techniques and things to do that will make you a better rider, but they're definitely not required to be plenty fast.  A few weeks back, I got my behind spanked by some 60-year-old guys sporting beer bellies and virtually never standing.  So don't think that just because you master some of those skills that you will automatically be better than someone else that doesn't ride like that.  There is no "magic pill".

HOWEVER, there is one skill that every single fast rider I've ever ridden with has mastered, and every person I know that hasn't mastered it is definitely not a good rider.  That skill is:  CLUTCH CONTROL.  The importance of being able to exactly manipulate your clutch to get the precise amount of torque onto your tire at any given time cannot be understated.  It is CRITICAL.  

When you need to go super slow, like in the woods where trees are narrower than your bars, or on super tight turns, slipping the clutch allows you to more precisely control your speed.  Being able to clutch slightly more or slightly less to vary your speed if you lose your balance can often bail you out.

On a hill climb, slipping the clutch allows the power to be put on the ground more smoothly, resulting in better traction.   This is especially true on a restart when you've stopped.

On bumpy stuff, again, slipping the clutch allows for much smoother power output on the ground, which means the back tire is less likely to bite and jump all over the place.

To precisely loft the front tire over logs, rocks, roots, bumps, etc, you have to very precisely engage and disengage the clutch to get the needed power to pull the front tire, but not so much as you loop out or sail over the obstacle way too fast.  Being able to do this on command, without even thinking about it, is a necessity in trail riding when you may not know ahead of time about every obstacle on the trail.  DO NOT use throttle / engine power to loft.  This is a very bad habit, and will sooner-or-later get you in trouble, especially on a more powerful bike.  

Coming out of turns, slipping the clutch allows the engine to stay up closer to it's max power, allowing you to accelerate faster out of the turn.  If there's acceleration whoops leaving the turn, being on the clutch a bit helps smooth out the hits a bit.

 

All of the other things mentioned in this thread are definitely good tips.  But I'd HIGHLY recommend that the very FIRST thing you get really good at is precisely controlling the clutch.  Practice, practice, practice.  And you can certainly practice other skills at the same time.  Doing very slow lock-to-lock turns works on both your balance / steering precision, as well as your clutch control for modulating your speed.  Practice lofting the front tire for a solid hour.  Just go out into a field and try to get the front tire 6" off the ground, and immediately sit it back down.  (There's surely some videos out there on the proper technique for it.  Just DON'T use your throttle to do it, use the clutch.)  Do this over and over and over and over.

Remember, amateurs practice until they get it right; professionals practice until they can't get it wrong.  I don't think there's a better example of this than clutch control.  Practice clutch control until you never stall it, can always loft on command, and never have an issue going very slow, and your riding ability will go up 10-fold.  There is no single skill that separates the men from the boys (and ladies from the girls) than knowing how to properly use the clutch.

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On 3/24/2017 at 0:01 PM, Stephysue said:

I've got riding pants, elbow protection, helmet and goggles (of course), riding boots , and am currently shopping for knee braces and chest protection that's suited for women. I took a few tumbles off my bike last year and am familiar with the propensity for injury. I'm 35 and finding, quickly, my recovery isn't quite what it used to be in my younger years :)

Good deal! I'm 30 and am slowly acknowledging the fact that I no longer bounce off the ground like I did in my teens and early 20s. I used to slam on my skateboard and laugh... last time I got on a board and slammed it took me a couple seconds to get up and there was certainly no laughing. 

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