Feb 07 2012

Mastering Starts

Listen to any pro’s interview and they will always say they need to work on start.  The start is one of the single most important aspects of winning.  If you can holeshot, you just saved yourself a lot of tear offs.  Shawn Simpson (European GP MX2 racer) has once said that “Getting the holeshot is 50% of any race.  If you don’t get away with the top three, you have lost 15 seconds or so by the end of the first lap, not to mention getting filled with roost and having to pass a lot of other crazy fast riders.”

So, what is a solid way to get good starts?  First of all, you have to see yourself getting the holeshot.  Like I said in my visualization article, see yourself getting the start from your perspective, then through the eyes of a spectator.  If you can conquer this mental monster, you have beat half of the guys on the line who doubt their abilities.  Now, don’t get cocky; just know you have as good a chance of coming out first as any other rider on the gate.

Most of the gates now are dirt; even the Supercross and National races are all natural.  For me, I always had an easier time with dirt because I could “feel” my rear wheel spinning.  I have had the best results with gates that have the straightest rut outside of the gate.  When you come off the line, you don’t want to follow a sideways rut from a 450 Beginner.  You will lose forward drive and momentum.  So, if you are allowed, try and get a peek before your class lines up.  Be warned however, that the shortest distance to the first turn is not always the fastest line.  You have to take into consideration of getting cut off or pushed out.  That is why you want to look for the straightest line.

Once my gate is picked out, you have two choices for prep.  You can either put some more dirt back into the rut and pack that down or you can clear the loose dirt out of the rut and pack it down.  Both have drawbacks.  If you put dirt in the rut, you run the risk of not packing it hard enough and your rear wheel will just spin.  However, if you choose to clear it out and pack it, your rut will be deeper and you have a greater chance of wheeling out of the gate; this forces you to slip the clutch and loose drive.  Each gate and every soil is different.  Experimenting with different scenarios would be a smart thing to do each time you ride.

Now that you are set up on your gate, start to go over the visualization again.  Get into that “zone”.  For dirt starts, a solid spot on the seat is that “dip”.  Maybe a little bit further up depending on your weight.  You want your weight shifted forward, but not too much because you will spin the rear wheel if you are too far forward.  When that 30 second board goes sideways, it’s time to get those RPMs up.  When looking at the gate, some people say to look at the pin holding the gate up, others look at the actual gate itself.  However, it is up to you.

As for throttle amount, I like a little more than half throttle at the gate.  That way I can still get on the gas harder (if need be) or if I mess up, I can still let off a bit.  A good way to tell if you have the clutch out enough is when your chain tightens up.  This is the point where the clutch is almost un-engaged and all you have to do is GENTLY let it out.  When you let the clutch out, don’t dump it and stab the throttle.  You want everything to be in motion, smooth motion.

For 250f’s, you can get away with 2nd gear.  For the bigger bikes, it is personal preference.  Once you are out of the gate, you want to keep both feet down (start with both feet down on the gate, placing all your weight on the seat) throughout the gear you started in.  If I started in second, I want to keep both feet down until I have to shift up.  When I need to shift up, I bring both feet up.  Shifting with your heel is spotty at best.  Try to get it normally.

It’s a lot to take in, but this is a broken down process.  Try it a few times and it will get easier.

Dec 13 2011

Headshake Solutions

When I first started riding big bikes, I was so stoked to finally have all of the power I wanted.  However, with great power, comes great responsibility…courtesy of Uncle Ben from Spiderman.  Sometimes, we can get ahead of ourselves on a rougher track and the braking bumps fight back.  Most of the time, the chop and speed result in head shake.  This uncontrollable shaking can be thwarted with a few adjustments.

One of the most common reasons for head shake is fatigue.  When you are fatigued, your form goes out the window and it gets worse as the moto progresses.  Your elbows drop and you cannot get enough leverage to keep the bars straight.  As you get more and more head shake, you begin to grip harder with your hands and the forearms pump up to bricks.  Sound about right?  When your upper body feels like rubber, the need to grip with your legs becomes even greater.  Again, the quadriceps and hamstrings are a much larger muscle group that can support greater loads of stress for longer periods of times.  Start the moto out with a conscience effort of using your legs more than your arms and you will be better off.

Another problem is RPM range.  The relationship between the motor and suspension is pretty crazy when you really think about it.  When you hear pros run through whoops and moguls, they are running a higher gear.  The RPMs are lower and take some of the load off of the forks and shock.  They travel smoother and won’t bind, which gives you that bouncing effect through the rough stuff.  If you shift down AFTER the braking bumps, you allow your suspension to ride with you, instead of against you.  The forks will travel through the entire stroke and do their job; soak up the terrain.

Weight distribution is also important.  Maintaining your attack position through the rough chop will help keep your elbows up and in good form.  This attack position will place your weight evenly over the bike, allowing you to make changes if need be.  As I have said before, riding on the balls of your feet will give you some extra “suspension” and forces you to grip the bike with your legs.

By throwing good form and the right gear together, head shake will be a thing of the past.  Of course, making sure your sag is set on the shock and your clickers are dialed is important, but the rider can make a big difference.  As always, remember the basics and keep it fun.

Dec 12 2011

Effective Braking for Faster Cornering

Everyone can go fast by hold the throttle pinned on the straights, but it’s when it comes time to slow down that separates the pros from the amateurs.  Next time you are at your local track, watch the fast guys around the track; they are either on the gas or braking.  Slower riders tend to have a bad habit of letting off before the corner and then braking.  However, teaching yourself to hold it on longer isn’t enough.  Learning how and when to use both brakes effectively will help take your corner speed to the next level.

Telling yourself to hold the gas on a split second longer is easier said than done, but it can be a life saver on the start.  Unlike road racing, there are no markers to tell us how close the corner is.  However, we can use simple objects like rocks, fencing or foliage.  Finding a marker can help you visualize your spot on the track and help you hold the throttle down longer.

Many people have their own theory on how to brake properly.  Some prefer just the front while others like the back.  I believe that there is no definite answer.  Each brake has different purposes.  The front brake is great for diving into inside ruts and coming to a stop quickly, while the rear keeps the rear wheel planted to the ground and keeps your momentum up.  Another interesting thing that seems to help me is to “push” the bike in the ground.  Trying to weight front or rear down will put more force on the ground to get that extra friction for added stopping power.

One thing that aids in your momentum and drive is to avoid locking the brakes.  When you lock up the rear brake, there is no control over the traction and where the wheel goes.  All of your RPMs drop and it just creates braking bumps even faster.  Your best bet is to “chatter” the rear.  This is a method where the rear wheel is spinning, but at a much slower rate.  This is great for maintaining drive in deep soil and it squats the rear end down to avoid swapping out.

Each situation is different, but remembering how your brakes control deceleration, you can utilize each one to its maximum potential.  If you have an outside line in a corner that looks good, use more rear brake than front.  For insides, you would be better off grabbing the front and getting that front end down.  Becoming comfortable with both brakes can allow you to have faster entry speed in any corner.



Sep 29 2011

Setting up for Corners Mid-Flight

Saving time on the track is always a priority.  If you can master a technique to get faster, you better take advantage of it.  When things get tight during racing, it’s the little things that add up and make a big difference in the end, especially if you can set up for corner more efficiently.  When the outside is not available or you need to make a pass on the inside, sometimes setting up mid air for a corner can help get that pass made.

If there is a berm already there, you don’t have to do this, but if the inside is flat off the downside, this technique will come in handy.  You want to make sure that you have the jump sized up before trying to sit down and set up mid air.  If you come up short or over shoot it, this will hurt.  Especially guys.  Once you have everything timed right, you want to loosen up in the air, trying to get the back end of the bike out just slightly.  You can let the outside leg out and lean in to get the rear end moving.

As you approach the down side, you want to start moving into the correct position for the corner.  You don’t necessarily have to be seated in the air, but as long as you are ready for the landing and corner, this transition will be smooth.  When you land, make sure that your inside leg is ready for the forces of gravity; keep it high and stiff.

If traction is not a problem, you can apply a handful of throttle and accelerate towards the corner.  Remember to keep weight on the outside foot peg and outside elbow up as this will plant you into ground for more traction.   If the downside is harder, you will have to apply the throttle with grace as you don’t want to the rear end to break loose.

This is something that you should start small on and on a jump you are comfortable with.  No sense in trying this on a new jump and getting hurt.


Sep 23 2011

Saving Energy on the Track

With heart rates constantly through the roof, moto is no doubt one of most physically demanding sports on the face of the planet.  Your heart is pumping just from the adrenaline, but throw in a rough track, huge jumps and some whoops, you will definitely work every energy system in your body.  Although it is still hot as hell down here in the Deep South (not hell, just Florida), things seem to be cooling down for the rest of the country.  However, just because it is not as hot, fatigue will creep up on you before you know.  Save yourself some pain and read on!

One of the most important things to remember is to stand up.  I know this is probably a no brainer, but some people will still ride as though the track is still smooth.  Most of the time, you will have to stand up later into corners and then get up sooner when exiting.  For rougher corners, it is even a good idea to stand up through the whole turn and look to the edges of the track for smoother lines.  Many European riders will do this because the course gets so brutal, if you sit down; your back will take all of the impact.  This is not the best idea because your back could tense up and result in some serious pain.

This next tip goes hand and hand with standing up: gripping with your legs.  I have said many times before that you will save yourself from arm pump and getting tired quickly if you squeeze the tank.  The quadriceps are large enough to take the impact from a rough course and they can handle this stress much better than your forearms and biceps/triceps.  You almost want to think of your arms as hinges to your core.  Relaxing your grip on jumps will also keep your “hinges” from cramping and pumping up too much.  To help get through extra tricky sections; you can even apply pressure to one side of the tank with your leg to help steer the bike.

If you watched the 250’s, then you saw Barcia killing it everywhere.  Other than his crazy style, he was doing something that caught my eye more than a few times during the second moto.  If you notice, he was riding on his back wheel, a lot.  The deep holes and moguls were not as bad when he could get the front wheel up.  The back wheel would just roll over the bump and the rear shock absorbs the tire’s vertical travel.  If you go through a rough section with both wheels down, it just rocks you back and forth.  I am not saying to do a full blown wheelie here, but just getting your front tire to skim or get over the rough stuff will make life much easier.  Remember that riding in a high gear will help the suspension work properly in the chop and provide you with more traction to get the front tire up.

One final tip is to just relax!  If you know that the track is rough, just accept it and ride.  When you tense up, any bump and hole you hit is sent throughout your entire body.  If your breathing is deep and even, you should be able to roll your shoulders back and ride smoother.  By your rolling them back, you can keep that attack position much easier and you open up the diaphragm for this more efficient breathing.  Like I said earlier, this is not hard stuff.  Keep it simple and remember the basics!

Aug 29 2011

Long Ruts on Straights

Nothing reminds me of motocross more than a rutted up, fast, flowing track.  This is the pinnacle obstacle that separates the men from the boys.  If you watched Southwick this past weekend, then you saw the insane ruts in the moist New England sand.  Most beginners find themselves nervous approaching long ruts and often end up on the ground.  It doesn’t matter if a rut is in a corner, on a straight or on the face of a jump, you will encounter one sooner or later.  Some look at this as a burden, but you can actually use these to your advantage.

A lot of people can go fast on a straightaway.  It’s pretty simple; open the throttle as far as possible.  That’s generally how ruts get formed on straights.  People actually use the power of their bikes and it trenches out the soil.  Obviously, the main line will get dug the deepest.  In the beginning of the day, this won’t be a bad choice to use.  It just depends on how it sets you up for the next section.  However, a majority of the time, the main line usually gets too deep and ends up slowing you down.

When the whole straight gets rutted out, things start to get a little tricky.  The middle of the track is going to have deeper ruts than the edges of the track.  So, by taking the edges of the track, you can avoid the choppy mess made by the slower riders and you can save your energy for more important times in the moto.

As with any rut, approaching it with both wheels in line is very important.  You want to keep both wheels in the rut, preventing you from getting cross rutted.  You also maintain your momentum and forward drive, as well.  Once, you have both wheels lined up, keeping your head up and vision ahead is very important.  Staring at the ground right in front of you will only send you one place, the dirt.  That is not where you want to be.  A good guide is to keep your vision a few bike lengths ahead of you.  The faster you go, the further you want to look.

Depending on how deep the ruts are, a good idea is to ride on the balls of your feet (and point your toes in, gripping the cases).  This prevents your feet from getting caught in the rut and ripping your leg off the peg.  As always, you want to be gripping the bike with your knees and applying steady, consistent throttle.  As you get to the end of the straight, there are more than likely going to be braking bumps.  This is where you want to start shifting your weight back slightly to keep you from going over the bars.

Like I said, if you can conquer ruts, you can conquer anything.  It is mind over matter and just keeping good form and looking ahead.  Stay loose and relax; you’ll get through them sooner than you think.