This post was kindly contributed by Martin Varrand.
Learn to ride off road is part of the experience. You can’t know everything you need to know on day one. However, as a beginner, there are a few things you can be aware of that will help you develop faster as a pilot and protect yourself.
There are loads of top tips articles that focus on more advanced riding techniques, even beyond the skills of the amateur rider. What’s much more useful as a beginner are the basic guidelines that you can use as a foundation to build upon. After much deliberation, here are the top 5 tips for anyone starting out in motocross, motocross, enduro and adventure riding.
1. Wear proper protective gear
You’d be surprised how many people show up at a motocross track with inadequate gear. At a minimum, anyone riding off-road should have approved goggles, gloves, boots, and helmet. Proper gloves and boots will help you maintain contact with your dirt bike.
Consider adding a good breastplate to your arsenal if you can afford it. In order of importance, consider chest and back protection first, followed by knee pads, and later a neck brace.
2. Start slowly and with the right technique
One of the biggest questions I see on forums is “how can I ride my dirt bike faster”?
Well, the answer may surprise you. I believe you will learn to ride faster by learning to ride slowly. The majority of beginners limit their skills and development by trying to ride too fast, too soon. A new cyclist must develop their muscle memory so that the movements become second nature. Driving too fast will increase the number of falls and start developing bad habits that will hinder you later.
The turns, jumps, racing lines, climbs, and even the different surfaces you’ll be riding on all have related technique. Watch videos and read blogs to understand the principles of a given method. Once you can visualize the technique in your mind, get it out in the dirt. Start slow and gradually increase the speed. While maintaining technique. As soon as you start to feel like you’re losing control and sacrificing technique for speed, slow down. By approaching riding in this disciplined manner, you will become faster much faster.
3. Don’t ride alone.
Mountain biking is a sport with a high element of risk. It is not wise to ride alone at all times. When you are a beginner, this rule is even more important to follow. Whether at the track, in the dunes, in the woods or on the trails, have someone with you. Another jumper is the perfect companion. If they are more advanced, even better. You will learn a lot by following someone else. If you can’t find another driver, have a friend drive the van and be there to time your laps, or be at base camp.
4. Learn basic dirt bike maintenance techniques
Your bike is an extension of you. You need to understand how it works, what it tells you, and what it might need. From a purely practical point of view, a basic understanding of mechanics will allow you to ride longer if something goes wrong on the day of the ride. At a minimum, you will need to know how to do the following things:
- Changing a tire or inner tube
- Change or clean spark plugs
- Replace a chain link
- Adjust radii
- Change or clean an air filter
- Adjust your suspensions
There are always more experienced riders who are happy to advise you on the track. Learning these basics on your own is part of your development. The best place to learn them is in the warmth and comfort of your garage. Stripping your bike, cleaning it, and “rehearsing” trailside maintenance should be as relevant to you as learning how to corner.
5. Practice, practice, practice
The most important tip for any skill is to put in the hours!
The Ten Thousand Hour Theory states that any human can be successful at any given task by performing it for the equivalent of 20 hours per week, for ten years. Most of us don’t have that much time to devote to mountain biking. The theory is sound, though. The better you want to be at something, the more time you need to spend on it. Is it so simple?
The proof seems to be that it is as simple as that. The human body is an incredible machine. Our brain is a supercomputer. By programming the mind with the right information and practicing continuously, we integrate these skills. It goes beyond just “knowing” how to do something. On a deeper level, we are developing physical strength and the power of the right muscles. We even develop specific neural networks in the brain that connect the right wires so we can think quickly and react to dirt bike situations. While some may have a genetic advantage in being smaller and lighter, that really only matters when it comes to racing. The most important ingredient to becoming a good motocross rider is passion. The desire to ride in any weather and on any occasion is far more critical than any mysterious “gift”.
You have the passion. This is why you are reading this. So what are you waiting for? Get it!