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Observations and Improvements from a beginner.


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I posted this over on KTMTalk, but since this is my other dirt bike forum that I frequent, I thought I would post it here too and maybe get some valuable input on it.

Howdy folks.

A brief history to give you an idea of my skills.

Started out at about 13 years old on a 70s dual sport Suzuki 100 2-stroke. Didn't ride it all that much as we never went anywhere and the pasture got old fairly quickly.

Got into street bikes at 16. '71 Triumph Bonneville, then 96 YZF600 (crotch rocket). Layoff for about 7 years, then a Ducati 996, Honda GL500 and Honda CB360. All easily flat footed bikes, never hugely aggressive but I was getting better at cornering, the basics of looking ahead where you want to go, etc.

30 years old now. Last year I got a 2000 XR200R, which felt a teensy bit tall (considering I was used to flat footing everything) but definately doable. I did some horsetrading with it and managed to get a 1998 KTM 300 MXC.

I would say that I'm a beginner in the dirt who knows the basics of motorcycling, how to ride decently, won't generally embarass myself, can ride semi-quickly on the street, but is no expert.

This new KTM was HUGE!! I was tippy toe, and I mean REALLY tippy toe on it. Generally I was touching one foot, but not the other. I'm 5'9", about 190 lbs. When I'd ride it, I felt like I was on TOP of this giant, crazed beast, ready to kill me in an instant. MUCH scarier than my Ducati 996. I never felt a part of the bike. I practiced with it around the property, even took it out once for a couple hours to Capital Forest (WA state) park. It beat the tar out of me. My hands cramped constantly, and this standing while riding thing is driving me nuts. How do I stand, yet NOT grip with my hands against surges and bounces? My knees aren't that strong!!! And WHERE the heck do I grip?? Friends and family came by. Looked at it, and said "WHY IS THAT BIKE SO TALL!!!!???" and "who would want to ride that beast? Your feet don't even touch!" and I found myself agreeing with them. I was growing more and more frustrated trying to ride it.

Now today. I've been studying, asking some questions, reading and trying to find a new approach to riding and practicing. I decided to load up the bike and take it to an area about 20 minutes from me that's supposed to be fairly decent.

Wow. My whole world flipped upside down. In 3 hours I've grown 3x better and learned probably more than I ever have before on a dirt bike. I still have so much to learn it's not even funny, but I have a basic understanding of so many things that I didn't before, even if it's just an inkling.

So here's my observations on what I learned today. Maybe another beginner will learn something from them.

1. Balance.

I set out to do several things:

  • Force myself to keep my feet on the pegs and off the ground as long and as often as possible.
  • Stand up as often as possible, but allow myself to sit down at times too. I told myself "I really don't need to stand for the next 3 hours even when riding on the logging roads. It's okay to sit once in a while."
  • Pay more attention to where I felt balanced standing, than on whether my head was exactly over the bars.
  • Loosen my grip on the bars as often as possible. I don't have to ride with 3 fingers on each lever in order to have a loose grip.

I was blown away by how massively this helped me. I concentrated on balance and where I felt the most in control of the bike, rather than how tightly I was gripping with my knees, or where exactly my feet placement was.

I made it a point to force myself to put my feet up on the pegs sooner and more often than I normally would. Starting out in the middle of a hill? That's okay. Let's try feet up as soon as possible, rather than letting them glide along the ground til I felt confident like I used to do. Lets try standing in a solid and balanced crouch as soon as possible too, even if I wasn't 100% confident yet. Just get those feet up and see what happens...

Woah. Speaking of feet... They were tight to the bike! I've always had a problem of riding with my feet too far out on the pegs. To the point where I have to lift my foot and bring it in to hit the rear brake. Now suddenly, my feet where tucked in and felt perfectly in tune with the bike and with my balance. The rear brake lever was EXACTLY right. Felt perfect, easily touched and controlled as my balance and feet were already where they needed to be. It wasn't just my knees hugging the bike, it was my entire lower body. Yet I could comfortably stand, or crouch above the bike. My upper body felt fluid, moving better with where my balance was. Downhill I was further back, uphill I was naturally way over the bars and confident and in control. I could losen my grip with my lower body fairly easily for large rocks, yet grab and anticipate when I needed to.

2. The bike IS NOT too tall.

Sure it's tall. Sometimes hard to hop on when it's on a sideways sloping hill. Sometimes a little hard to get positioned right for kickstarting. But it's not TOO tall. After concentrating so much on balance, I suddenly felt much more integrated with the bike. It almost seemed the bike was about 3 inches lower suddenly, even though I was the only one that had changed. It's all about balance and confidence. If I can hop on the bike and manage to kick start it without it leaning against anything, it's really not that tall. And when I'm riding through the ruts, bumps, whoops etc, and discover that yes, I did manage to dab a very balanced and solid foot when needed, it's not too tall. I know, dabbing is generally considered bad form, and sounds like it goes against my number 1 point, but face it, there's always going to be at least a couple times on the trails when you're going to have to stop for some reason, even if you're not dabbing. And that's where your feet are going to need to contact the ground somehow. And for my skills, right now I'm not that concerned with a dab here and there provided I'm going along with my number 1 point as much as possible.

About an hour through the 3 hour ride I suddenly noticed something else. Two things actually.

I was having a Blast!!. It was FUN! Not work and concentrating on practice exactly right every single second of the ride.

And....

I was going a lot faster than I ever had previously. I'm sure i wouldn't amaze most people on here with my speed, but I was noticeably faster. And, CONFIDENT too! I'm still not ready to leap 50 foot ravines or do a 180 degree wheelie with only 6 inches of single track and a 200ft dropoff, but I had a huge confidence boost. I found myself thinking that the trails I started on and struggled with when I arrived 3 hours earlier would be so simple now and ached to try them again.

I learned a LOT today. And I did it by setting two distinct goals in my mind, while reminding myself "it's not necessary to do it perfectly, only to try for my goals and to make sure I have FUN at the same time." If I wasn't having fun, I backed off.

I still have huge amounts of the simple stuff to learn. I'm still going to be falling quite often every time I go out. I'm still going to struggle with quite a lot of things. But now, I should be having FUN when I'm doing it! :banana:

So, there's my observations. I welcome any comments and suggestions, and hopefully someone else can learn a little too.

P1050418Large.jpg

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Well I am a lot shorter than you (5'3") When I first started getting into dirtbikes two years ago, I started on a small wheel TTR 125. I could flat foot that thing but it was boring to ride almost instantly. I eventually switched to the XR 200 which at first felt huge because I could only touch on my tippy toes with both feet. Where I ride its mainly in the forest and it is all hills so no flat land. I constantly dumped the bike over at first. Then I jumped to the KDX. This sits at least a few inches taller in the seat area. When I test rode the bike the guy was looking at me strange as i struggled to even swing my leg over let alone kick start it. The first thing I did was cut 2-3" out of the seat. Still pretty plush in comparison to my buddies CR 125 but now I can touch at least one tippy toe. I am getting pretty good at keeping it balanced on the uneven ground but its pretty funny watching me because I have to lean the bike over to the left to start it. Then balance for a second while I shift all my weight to the right so I can drop it in gear. So for anyone that can touch with both feet. You certainly have an advantage and dont take it for granted!

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I would think that many people who start dirtbiking as adults have had similar experiences.

I had wanted a dirtbike for almost 20 years since I was a kid. I had ridden on the street for a few years, rode mountain bikes for over 10 years and I thought it would be much easier to learn how to ride a dirtbike. I knew how to ride, knew how to read a trail fairly well, was very athletic, so at age 28, I bought myself a brand new 2001 Yamaha WR 426. I am the same height and weight as you and can't touch the ground without having to hang half off the seat. To say this bike has a steep learning curve would be the understatement of the year. It is tall, has tons of power, way more than a total rookie can easily tame, can be a beast to manhandle and after my first few miles of real trail (back in 2001) I wanted to drive it into the woods, drop it on the side and walk back to camp.

But, I just took things slowly and concentrated on relaxing, balance and having fun without over-analyzing every single thing (a big problem for me) and I eventually learned how to ride the bike. I still have the big blue beast and and love every single minute I get to ride it.

Eventually you will be able to ride and throw the bike around like you were born on it. Have fun and keep at it.

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I only mentioned the gear because I started out with minimal gear, and realized as I started buying gear and wearing it, that it can shorten the learning curve. You won't become a pro by simply wearing every piece of gear availiabe, but you'll feel more confident and be able to take more risks that are neccessary to progressing. The first time I had a decent get off completely geared up I realized that I could never ride without and feel safe again. If you do wear gear, please just disregard my ramble.

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I would think that many people who start dirtbiking as adults have had similar experiences.

I had wanted a dirtbike for almost 20 years since I was a kid. I had ridden on the street for a few years, rode mountain bikes for over 10 years and I thought it would be much easier to learn how to ride a dirtbike. I knew how to ride, knew how to read a trail fairly well, was very athletic, so at age 28, I bought myself a brand new 2001 Yamaha WR 426. I am the same height and weight as you and can't touch the ground without having to hang half off the seat. To say this bike has a steep learning curve would be the understatement of the year. It is tall, has tons of power, way more than a total rookie can easily tame, can be a beast to manhandle and after my first few miles of real trail (back in 2001) I wanted to drive it into the woods, drop it on the side and walk back to camp.

But, I just took things slowly and concentrated on relaxing, balance and having fun without over-analyzing every single thing (a big problem for me) and I eventually learned how to ride the bike. I still have the big blue beast and and love every single minute I get to ride it.

Eventually you will be able to ride and throw the bike around like you were born on it. Have fun and keep at it.

almost the same for me but a used yz125 and i was 30. 5'9" but with short legs. i have to tip the bike to put toes on the ground. the best thing that happen to me was i went ridding with people well over my skill level in terrain over my skill level. they were family of a friend and they helped me along with tips, somebody in front to watch and to try and keep up with. they still had to wait on me some but from that trip i got more confidence, skill, and felt more comfortable than ever before.

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helmet - check

boots - check

long pants - check

sure we'd love to see everyone in full kit, but think about all teh boneheads you see whipping around the pits without even a helmet on...... He's got teh basics... cut the guy some slack.

Great observations Rip...enjoy the ride

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As you gain more and more experience and seat time, the bike will not be tall at all . i have a couple 300's and ride the same stuff as you and have had to develop really really good throttle control as i barely touch tippy toes being 5'6". of course, i have been riding for 42 years so dont give it much thought.

Joe

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helmet - check

boots - check

long pants - check

sure we'd love to see everyone in full kit, but think about all teh boneheads you see whipping around the pits without even a helmet on...... He's got teh basics... cut the guy some slack.

Great observations Rip...enjoy the ride

I was't trying to be rude, Just saying that my confidence level shot up once I started wearing gear. Now I'm at the point to where my confidence comes from my ability, But when I had no ability, my confidence to progress came from my gear. Especially now, I wont ride if I don't have some knee gaurds of some kind.

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Went out today for a 4 hour ride, helmet, gloves, pants and mx boots. The boots saved my shin from being busted and the gloves did their job when I gassed it, lost the rear then highsided onto the rocks. Had I been wearing one of those body armor suits, I would not be dealing with the mangled skin on my forearm and shoulder from landing on the rocks. I'm a noob, and was messing around trying to feel the rear sliding and it got outa hand fast. I'm riding in rocky desert conditions so it's a bit different from the PNW but protection is great if you can afford it. Consider it... for me that gear is going to be a necessity. Highsiding is not a controlled fall (most of the time) where you can roll out of it... it throws you awkwardly and you land however you land... today wasn't pretty at all.

I feel you might need to crash a few times to know the limit and capability of your bike... not sure if that's how it works as I'm new to bikes. But situations arise while on the trail where you don't know if you can lean over that lil bit more to make the corner you came too hot into. Having protective gear helps it to hurt a lot less!

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That picture was taken the ride before the one I posted about.

I rode with helmet, gloves, heaviest work boots I own, and a long sleeve shirt over short usually. (If it's not too hugely hot I'd throw on a thick jean jacket)

At the time of my post I had ordered a RockGardn armor set, chest/shoulders/elbow which got here the day after my post. I also bought myself some knee/shin guards. Now I just really need some good boots.

So far I'm appreciating the shin and elbow protection the most. I was getting pretty nasty whacks in both places from falls and the occasional kickstarter slip/snap back.

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Good job on mastering new skills and taking up a great sport. I restarted the dirt bike gig at age 40, having last rode a trail bike when I was in my teens. Glad to hear you have most of the protection. I was not so smart and delayed purchasing all the gear at once because I am pretty frugal. I bought more gear as I injured or bruised a new part of my body - not smart at all. Afer helmet and goggles, the most important protective feature in my mind is the boots. Read my recent post titled atgatt and you will see why.

https://thumpertalk.com/forum/showthread.php?t=916635

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When I first started riding I made the mistake of doing some play riding after doing some bike maintenence w/o my boots on, I fell down pretty slow to the right. The throttle got stuffed in the dirt, the bike reved out and then stalled. All I could focus on was the immense pain in my foot, my shoe, being soft and pliable got wedged inbetween the spokes and the brake caliper. The balled up mess of my shoe/toes stuck between the spokes and the caliper stalled the bike from full rev. Thanfully it was a 250 2t and not a 450. the pain was so intense and I couldnt get my foot out, I had to get the bike flipped onto its other side, put the bike in Nuetral and spin the wheel backwards to get my foot out. I get the bike started even though it hurt like hell. Ride home, limp into the bathroom and run the water in the tub, I'm fully expecting to see mangled toes. Thankfully "all" I did was tear off 2 toenails and break my three smallest toes and shreds skin off.

Now I cant even bring my self to start my bike without a pair of boots on.

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welcome to the world of dirt :bonk:

i used to ride a couple high powered street bikes before i swapped to dirt..i was riding a TL1000R stripped down and street fightered out with WAY too many mods to list. lets just say 175-ish with no body work or wind screen was common place on my commute to work. and then there was my stunted out cbr600 not much top speed but with +9 on the rear wheelies were subliminal:lol:

anyways my point is this: after five years of street riding i had to UNLEARN a lot of things....

i had grown accustomed to being firm, smooth, and steady on my riding inputs which translated to me being way to stiff on the dirt.

its not that your knees are too weak. you stand up and walk all day long dont you?

when you stand up dont stand straight legged keep them bent... not so much stand as more like a crouch i guess. and dont put all your weight on your arms all the time. your not arm wrestling with your bike, its not a competition for dominance. you gotta let the bike do its thing and trust in your suspension and put in the right rider inputs at the right time.....much more of a fluid style than standard street riding.

it will be tuff to untrain some of your street instincts TRUST me i had issues. dirt bikes have a whole different kind of traction going on...the front end WILL slide around on you, the ass end will be ALL OVER the place (especially on a 2smoke) when the wick is turned up. i had problems of tensing up thinking i was gonna kiss pavement anytime things started to get fun.

be open to learning everything you can. go ride with some buds who are veteran dirt riders and watch how they react to different terrain type watch their riding style and body posture and try to intergrate what will work for your riding style.

most importantly HAVE FUN! and wear gear man it really is worth investing in a quality set of boots and helmet. im am glad to say that after about two summers of dirt riding im now a solid 4th gear trail rider out in my favorite trails (elko NV). keep up at it and you will be golden in no time:thumbsup:

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