Motocross riders who can’t seem to get a good start often have trouble pinpointing their problem area. Are you starting in the wrong gear for your size bike? Is the terrain different from what you’ve been training on? Are you always a fraction of a second behind the leaders? There are a number of conditions that determine what type of starter you are. No matter what type of surface you are riding on, these tips will help you get the best start possible.
1. Find the seat’s sweet spot
Your body’s positioning will distribute the weight that’s on the bike. Some riders make the mistake of moving back on the seat to try to get more traction. Instead, always sit in the same spot on the seat, keeping your torso erect. Based on where you want the weight distributed, your upper body should be either forward or back in relation to your hips.
2. Become an expert at the bike’s basic controls
The basic controls to master are the clutch, shift lever and throttle. It’s easy to get the bike into gear, but it’s trickier to feed both the clutch and the throttle the right amount of power; plus, you have to have them in sync. Also, how much you use the clutch and throttle depends on the type of dirt you’re on. For starts on hard terrian, you need to exercise even more self-control than on dirt starts. To avoid wheelspin, use less throttle than you would on a dirt start. Wait until your rear wheel is on the dirt before you open the throttle.
3. Know which gear to start in
While most riders start in second gear, if you’re a new rider or you have a small bike engine, consider starting in first gear. (The larger the bike engine, the easier it’ll be to start in second gear.) If you have a large engine and a lot of experience riding, you may be able to start in third gear. The terrain will also determine which gear to start in. For example, on a surface like sand, third gear may result in less wheelspin. As you train, start in different gears to figure out what you like best.
4. Practice over and over
Some of the best motocross starters practiced thousands of times to get their starts right. Make it a habit to practice 10 to 20 times at the end of each training day. When you have a race coming up, practice in the same conditions that you’ll have at the race. Also, practice in slightly muddier conditions in case the course is more wet than you expect. Be ready for anything so that you can quickly adapt to the conditions.
5. Check out the type of dirt on the course
Before your race, head to the starting line to take a close look at the soil. The type of dirt that’s on the course, especially at the starting line, will determine how you should start. Different types of dirt can require different approaches. For example, with soft dirt, you’ll want to go heavier on the throttle; hard-packed dirt requires a lighter touch. You should also get rid of any rocks or debris on your starting pad.
6. Watch other starts
If you have time, watch a few other riders start to determine where the holeshots are (the riders who are getting the strongest starts). Check out their starting pads, then look at the grooves and lines in front of the gate. Choose the line that looks the straightest and that appears to have the most traction. You can also take a video or a sequence of photos of your starts and other starters, then study them at home to analyse where you should improve.
7. Prepare the gate
You should have time to prep your gate, and it’s helpful to shovel a small, straight rut in the dirt, and to straighten out crooked or bumpy parts. A slight rut will give you more grip area between the tyre and the edge of the rut. To get the most traction off the line as possible, pack down the middle and edges. Use a broom to get rid of loose dirt.
If you’re starting from a concrete pad, clean it as much as possible to improve traction. You may be given a broom, but if you don’t have access to one (you’re not technically allowed to bring your own tools), put your gloves on and clear the area with your hands.
8. Focus on the gate release
It’s natural to focus on the gate as you’re waiting for it to move, but it’s better to focus on the small device that releases the gate (the pin that’s located to the right or left of it). The pin moves a fraction of a second before the gate does, but even that one-tenth of a second can make a difference when it comes to reaction time.
Keep in mind that some riders find they react quicker if they watch the gate itself, or if they look ahead and let their peripheral vision catch the cues for when to go. The point is to find the technique that gives you the quickest reaction.
9. Resist the urge to slide back
You know you’re starting off well if your body naturally wants to slide back on the seat. However, you should try to stay put even as the G-force pushes against you. Keep your legs in front of the foot pegs during the start, and squeeze the seat using your inner thighs, which will help you stay put without straining your arms.
Preparation and technique are necessary for getting off to a good start in your next race, but so is confidence. When you line up, tell yourself that you’re the best rider you could be in this moment. Remind yourself of all the training you’ve done, and know that you’ve prepared as much as possible for this race.