The first thing to learn, is the hardest thing to learn and will take the most time.
But you need to learn it and concentrate on learning it continually until you have become a master. It is the difference between always struggling and calmly leaving everyone behind.
Riding on the road, I coach often, that you need to be smooth and relaxed, not hold on too tight and don’t use the bikes control surfaces for controlling your body movements. Sage advice, but how the hell do you manage that on a dirt bike?
With the almost violent nature of dirt riding, how do you manage that? Is it even important to manage that? Do you need to be smooth on a dirt bike?
The answers are, its hard, very important and yes, you do need to be smooth on a dirt bike.
The world of dirt is quite different and the way to “dance” with your bike instead of fight with it , is a very different beast than the road; it is much more “dynamic” in acceleration, cornering and even straight lines are not a place to relax.
But being in balance and calmly relaxed on the bike is absolutely required. We will talk more about this in later lessons but for the first instance, and to enforce why its’ important, let’s consider “whiskey throttle” and being in front or behind the bike.
“Whiskey throttle” is when the throttle is pulled back, opened, unexpectedly and without the riders intention. This usually is a result of being “behind” the bike and the result is the rider gets more “behind” ending up hanging onto the bars and throttle trying to not fall off the back of the bike and as a result, unable to let go of the throttle. Sometimes until a tree or other obstacle insists that the rider lets go, usually painfully.
This might sound like a very amateur mistake, but it is something most riders have suffered as they are learning and I would suggest that, long into the learning to ride dirt is still a problem at a lower level.
The cause goes like this, you riding “behind” the dynamic balance point of the moving bike.
So let’s quickly look at what “riding, behind the dynamic balance point of the moving bike” means. Well if you stand on your feet, you’re balancing. Now imagine you are standing on a platform that is able to move back and forward, as it changes direction, you’d need to rebalance yourself to counter the force being put on you or fall off.
For instance, when the platform moved forward suddenly if you did not lean slightly into the motion, your feet would move in front of your body and you’d fall backward. The same of course would be true for the platform moving backward, you’d need to be able to lean backward early enough to counter the motion, or you would fall off the front.
Imagine you are standing on your bike, neutrally balanced above the pegs so there is no weight on your hands and your knees only have enough hold to help you balance. Perfect balance.
But then you open the throttle, or go up hill or go down and up, etc. if you don’t adjust your body position, the right amount at the right time you’ll be using the handlebars, seat or anything else you can hold onto to correct your balance. Perhaps inducing “whiskey throttle” or at least causing some other handling problem for you to deal with.
It gets even more complicated when you think that on a dirt bike you often have to think about your “weighting” de-weight to allow a bike to get over something, lift the front, pivot turn, climb a steep hill etc. or weight the front or back for traction or to get that “ZAP” to lift the front or back et al.
During all of this you need to make sure you have control, no “whiskey throttle”, but also no loss of balance that means you are no longer in control of the bike but using it as a thing to hold onto and correct your own balance issue.
So actually being “in front of the bike” being able to maintain your balance independently of the bike at all times becomes critical and feels, on a dirt bike, impossible.
It isn’t and we’ll talk you through how to get that balance and control and stay relaxed. But it is the hardest part of the whole “ride a dirt bike thing”.
It also allows you to “let the bike do the work” which is the second hardest thing to learn on a dirt bike and will keep your energy levels up all day, rather than turn the dirt bike into a human drying rack.
So for now, just be aware, as you learn make sure you are in control of your own balance at all times, that you are able to use your “balanced” position to control the bike, not use it as a means of controlling your body position… .or you will end up with something akin to “whiskey throttle”.
Ride ahead of the bike, know when to lean into acceleration, braking, or even just how to get your weight off the bike and back on in balance.