Learning how to ride the right way and being diligent when you’re first starting out is the best way to improve your skill. If you learn bad habits or try to take shortcuts when getting started, you’ll always be trying to correct your mistakes. When you know the fundamentals, you’ll be able to attempt increasingly difficult rides much faster.
What you should know about riding a motocross bike is that it’s the lightest type of dirt bike you can have. The main purpose of a motocross bike is speed, which makes it more difficult to handle. Some people opt to start on track bikes when learning how to ride because they’re easier to handle and less expensive than motocross bikes. However, if you’re going to learn on a motocross bike, make it a point to start slowly, choose beginner-level tracks and follow all positioning and safety precautions.
How to Start a Motocross Bike
Motocross bikes have both a battery and an engine. To start the bike, you have to first turn on the battery, which will enable the engine to start when you’re ready. To turn on the battery, most bikes have an “on” position that you’ll turn the key to, or they’ll have an “on” button.
Next, decide if you need to use the choke, which manages the amount of air that goes into the carburetor so that the correct amount of air mixes with the fuel. If the weather is warm or the bike has recently been running, you probably won’t need the choke. If the weather is cold or the bike hasn’t been running for a while, you’ll want to pull out the choke. How you do that depends on the bike you have. You may have to flip a switch located under the battery or pull out the choke on the bike’s left side, close to where your leg is when sitting on it.
Getting Into Neutral or First Gear
If you’re using a child’s motocross bike, you probably have an automatic clutch, so simply put the bike in neutral. If the bike doesn’t have a clutch, sit on it and then put your left foot forward to reach the gear shifter. Step down on the lever about six times to make sure you’re in neutral.
If you’re using an adult’s bike, you probably have a manual clutch. Pull in the clutch all the way to disengage the gear and put the bike in neutral. The clutch is the bike’s left handle; it looks like the left hand brake on a bicycle. Next, you have to put the bike into first gear – the process is similar to putting a child’s bike into neutral. Sit on the bike and put your left foot forward to reach the gear shifter. Step on it six times to make sure you’re in first gear.
Starting the Engine
Now it’s time to start the engine while holding the clutch. If you have an older motocross bike, it probably has a kick starter on the right side of the bike. Flip out the kick starter using your hand, then stand on the left foot peg and put your right foot on the starter’s lever. Using force, step down with your right foot to start the bike. If you have a newer bike, there’s probably an electric starter, which only requires you to push a button. With either type of starter, you may have to give the bike a little bit of gas by gently rolling back the throttle, which is the right handle. Just don’t pull the throttle too much, even if the bike doesn’t start right away. If you send too much fuel to the engine, it’ll flood. One last thing: if you pulled the choke out, this is the time to push it back in.
A Quick Overview of the Fuel Tank
Since we’re talking about the throttle, let’s just quickly talk about your fuel tank. Most motocross bikes can run for up to six hours on a tank of fuel, which should be more than enough riding time, especially when you’re just beginning. However, if you accidentally run out of petrol while you’re still on the track, there’s a quick fix. Locate the metal switch on the fuel tank and flip it to the “Reserve” setting. You’ll have enough fuel to get back to your truck.
Clutch Control and Gear Shifting
You’ll change gears on your bike using the shifter, which is located in front of the left foot peg. Most motocross bikes don’t have a display that tells you the gear you’re in, so you’ll have to pay attention to which gear you shifted into. Adult motocross bikes typically have five gears. Here’s how to shift between them:
- You already know how to get into first gear – repeatedly step on the shifter.
- Once you’re in first gear, get to neutral by hooking your toe under the shifter and raising it a little bit, just half a click. This takes some getting used to for new riders, since it’s not a full click, though it may still click a little bit when it gets into position.
- Lift the shifter again to click into second gear, and again for third gear, etc. Each gear is another click, and those clicks are unmistakable (unlike the half-click into neutral).
Children’s motocross bikes usually have just three gears, and the process for shifting gears is pretty much the same. Step on the shifter repeatedly to get into neutral, then click up once for each gear.
Riding the Bike and Shifting Gears
Now it’s time to ride the bike. You’ll start in first gear, and you should still be holding the clutch. To get the bike moving, you have to roll back the throttle as you release the clutch – both actions have to happen simultaneously and slowly. If the clutch is let out too fast, it can lurch forward and shut the engine. If you give it too much gas and then release the throttle, the bike will shoot out of your grip and leave you behind. And if the bike does bolt forward or you feel like you’re going too fast, let go of the throttle, which will stop the bike.
As you start moving in first gear, you’ll want to quickly get into second gear. From there, you’ll know it’s time to switch to the next gear when the engine seems to be working too hard or when you’re between three-quarters and full throttle. If you’re in the wrong gear, there’ll be a lot of strain on your bike. Here’s how to shift up a gear while the bike is moving:
- Keep the throttle exactly where it is.
- Quickly pull in the clutch.
- Put your foot under the gear shifter and pull it up to click into the next gear.
- Quickly let go of the clutch.
Slowing Your Bike Down
There are a few options if you want to slow the bike down:
- To slow way down or come to a stop, pull in the clutch and use the brake.
- To slow down just a tiny bit, tap the brake without using the clutch.
- To keep moving at a slower pace but not come to a stop, step down on the gear shifter to put the bike into a lower gear. You don’t need to use the clutch when shifting down.
Motocross Braking Techniques
Motocross bikes have two brakes, a right hand brake and a right foot brake. Brakes are always on the bike’s right side. Here are the main differences between the two brakes.
Right Hand Brake
The right hand brake is what most beginners use, but it’s best to avoid using this brake as you’re learning. Hand brakes are easy to grab, and if you pull it too hard, you can fly off the bike, even if you’re going slow. When you do start using the hand brake, gently squeeze it just some of the way instead of all the way in. However, even once you’re comfortable with the hand brake, avoid using it when you’re going downhill. This brake controls the bike’s front tyre and presses the front of the bike down to stop it, which can throw you off balance if you’re going downhill.
The motocross bike’s primary brake is the foot brake, which is a lever that’s located a few inches in front of the right foot peg. As you’re sitting, the ball of your foot will be on the foot peg. When you need to use the brake, pick up your foot and move it forward to the brake. While it’ll take a bit more time to get used to when compared to the hand brake, it results in a smoother stop because it controls the bike’s back tire. Even if you’re going fast and you use the foot brake, the bike will probably just fishtail and still stop relatively smoothly – it won’t stop short and throw you off, like the hand brake can.
Beginners should know the proper riding position and practice it as much as possible, even on a casual ride. As you get more used to riding, you’ll know when it’s safe to use a relaxed, natural position. The more aggressive the track, the more of a proper position you need. During easy sections, though, it’s okay to sit and relax for a few seconds, since this positioning is difficult to maintain for a long time. Here’s how to get into the proper standing position:
- Lift your behind a few inches from the seat.
- Stand up on the foot pegs, putting the balls of your feet on the pegs, not your heel.
- Bend your legs slightly.
- Straighten your back a bit.
- Position and square-off your elbows to be parallel to the handlebars.
- Move your head forward until your chin is over the handlebars, and keep your head up.
Standing lets your legs and body take the impact as you bounce on the track. If you were sitting, especially when going over rough terrain, your back and spine would take the impact, which can lead to injury. Plus, a standing position makes it easy to shift your weight as you go over uneven terrain. By sticking your elbows out, you’ll have more power over the bike and you’ll be able to react quickly, especially around turns.
Sitting in the Proper Position
There’s also a proper sitting position to use in between difficult parts of the track:
- Sit on the bike and move close to the fuel tank.
- Put the middle of your feet on the pegs.
- Bend your knees and hold the bike firmly between your legs.
- Lean forward to curve your back a bit.
- Lift your elbows.
- Tighten your core muscles to keep your core strong.
This sitting position will help you conserve energy as you travel on a long, smooth section of the track. When you’re getting started, look for tracks with a lot of smooth sections, since standing on the bike is tiring and takes a lot of getting used to.
Gripping the Handlebars
There’s also a right way to grip the handlebars:
- Keep your grip loose.
- Put your thumbs underneath the handlebars.
- Place your forefingers and middle fingers on the clutch and brake levers. This will give you easy access with your strongest fingers in case you have to react quickly.
- If you find that you’re reaching for the clutch or brake too often, which can interrupt smooth riding, don’t put your fingers on the levers for now. As you get used to riding, you can change to the recommended position.
An experienced rider may use their foot against the ground for stability while riding. Make sure to keep your foot horizontal to the bike, far to the side and away from the peg.
How to Corner
When you know how to corner, you’ll increase your speed and compete better during races. You already know how to get into the correct rider position. Here’s what you need to know to corner like a pro:
- Expect ruts, which are often positioned right in front of a corner.
- Look where you want the bike to go. For example, as you enter a corner, turn your head to look at the middle of the corner.
- Be easy on the throttle as you come into the corner. You don’t want too much speed right now.
- Maintain control and go through the middle of the corner smoothly.
- As you exit the corner, pick up speed. This is a safe time to go fast, and you’ll need the extra speed if there’s an uphill right after the corner.
When you’re learning the basics, look for a short, flat, figure-eight track – you want there to be more curves than straights. Also, practice on as many different tracks as you can – every corner is different. To learn more, check out our article about How to Corner Like a Pro in Motocross Racing.
Crash Like a Pro
Crashing is part of riding a motocross bike, and even though you may hope that you’ll never experience a crash, you have to be prepared for one. Crashing isn’t as straightforward as it sounds, and there are actually ways to crash successfully, minimising danger as much as possible.
It’s common for riders to hurt their foot or shin during a crash, but there’s a simple way to prevent this: don’t stick your foot out if you feel that you’re about to crash. You may think that you’ll stop the bike from tipping by using your foot, but if the bike still tips, it’s going to land on your foot, ankle or leg and bend or crush it.
The gear you wear also plays a role in how injured you get during a crash. You should always wear the following:
- Motocross Clothing such as a Long-sleeved shirt and Pants
- Boots that rise above the ankles
- Protection, including neck braces, elbow and knee guards as well as body protection
By investing in motocross-specific gear, your clothing will have extra protection where abrasions are common.
Remember, even as you get used to your motocross bike, you can’t ride just anywhere. A lot of bikes aren’t street-legal, and your area may have regulations about riding on streets and trails. It’s always best to find a dedicated motocross track to ride on. There are tracks available for riders at all levels.
At first, riding your motocross bike may feel awkward and unnatural. However, after just a few rides, you’ll start to get a feel for your bike and you’ll automatically go through the right motions and get into the proper position. If you can learn great riding habits right from the beginning, you’ll find that your skill level quickly builds, and you’ll be an experienced rider before you know it.