This post was kindly contributed by Martin Varrand.
Learning how to ride off-road is all part of the experience. You cannot possibly know everything you need to know on day one. However, as a beginner, there are certain things that you can be aware of that will help you develop faster as a rider, and keep you safe.
There are a wealth of top tips articles out there that focus on techniques of riding that are more advanced, or even beyond the skills of the amateur rider. What is far more useful as a beginner are basic guidelines that you can use as a foundation to build on. After much deliberation, these are the top 5 tips for anyone starting to ride dirt bikes, motocross, enduro and adventure.
1. Wear proper protective gear
You would be surprised to see how many people turn up at a dirt bike track with inadequate gear. As a minimum, anyone riding off-road should have proper dirt bike goggles, gloves, boots, and an approved helmet. Appropriate gloves and boots will help you maintain contact with your dirt bike.
Consider adding a good chest protector to your arsenal if you can afford it. In order of importance, consider a chest and back protector first, followed by knee braces, and later on a neck brace.
2. Start slow, and with the proper 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 rider must develop muscle memory so that movements become second nature. By riding too fast, you will increase the number of times that you will fall, and you will start developing bad habits that will impede you later.
Cornering, jumps, racing lines, hill climbs, and even the various surfaces you will ride on all have a related technique. Watch videos and read blogs to understand the principles of a given method. Once you can visualize the technique in your mind, take it out into the dirt. Start slowly and gradually increase speed. All the while, maintaining the technique. As soon as you start to feel you are out of control and sacrificing technique for speed, slow down. By approaching riding in this disciplined way, you will get faster much more quickly.
3. Do not ride alone.
Dirt bike riding is a sport that carries a high element of risk. It is not wise to ride alone at any time. When you are a beginner, this rule is even more important to follow. Whether at the track, in the dunes, woods or on trails, have someone with you. Another rider is the ideal companion. If they are more advanced, then even better still. You will learn a lot from following someone else. If you cannot find another rider, then have a friend drive the van and be there to time your laps, or be at base camp.
4. Learn the basic dirt bike maintenance techniques
Your bike is an extension of you. You need to understand how it works, what it is telling you, and what it might need. From a purely practical viewpoint, a basic understanding of mechanics will keep you riding for longer should something go wrong on riding day. As a minimum, you will need to know how to do the following:
- Change a tire or tube
- Change or clean spark plugs
- Replace a chain link
- Adjust spokes
- Change or clean an air filter
- Adjust your suspension
There are always more experienced riders around who are happy to advise at the track. It is part of your development to learn these basics for yourself. The best place to learn them is in the warmth and comfort of your garage. Stripping your bike, cleaning it and “rehearsing” trackside maintenance should be as relevant to you as learning how to corner.
5. Practice, practice, practice
The single most important tip for any skill is to put the hours in!
The theory of ten thousand hours states that any human can become successful at any given task by carrying it out for the equivalent of 20 hours a week, over ten years. Most of us do not have that amount of time to put into dirt biking. The theory is sound, though. The better you want to be at something, the more time you need to put into it. Is it that simple?
The evidence would seem to be that it is that simple. The human body is an incredible machine. Our brain is a supercomputer. By programming the mind with the right information, and continually practicing, we bed those skills in. This goes beyond just “knowing” how to do something. At a deeper level, we develop the physical strength and power in the right muscles. We even develop specific neural networks in the brain which connect the correct wires for us to think fast, and react, to dirt bike situations. While some may have a genetic advantage by being smaller and lighter, this is really only important when it comes to racing. The single most important ingredient to becoming a good dirt bike rider is passion. The desire to ride in all weathers, and at every opportunity is far more critical than any mysterious “gift”.
You have the passion. That is why you are reading this. So what are you waiting for? Get it on!