Many of us would like to think that the techniques involved in riding a motorcycle on the street, track or dirt are all the same, which is not the case. True, exactly the same laws of physics apply on the machines in question, though the traction available, nature of the course, and the speeds involved make the two scenarios very different. Motorcycles meant to tackle dirt are built very differently from their street biased cousins. Dirt motorcycles are taller, with flatter handlebars, have a high ground clearance, the engines are mated with shorter gears and the tyres are designed to dig into the surface beneath and kick everything back rather than trying to stick to it. All of those things make riding a dirt bike a very different ball game as compared to a street bike. The techniques involved are very different, and even the very basic things like braking, acceleration, use of throttle, clutch engagement and leaning into corners is done in a very different fashion. To clear the air, you can probably ride a dirt bike in a somewhat similar manner as a street bike, though you won’t be as fast. Riding a street bike like a dirt bike, however, isn’t advisable at all. Here in this article, we will talk about all the techniques involved with dirt riding. We will discuss the methods adopted by dirt riders, and why they’re more effective in going faster on loose surfaces.
1. The riding position
The most visible difference between street and dirt riding is the position of the rider aboard the bike. A street rider would generally be seen sitting bang in the middle of the motorcycle, or moving his weight from side-to-side while cornering. On the contrary, a motocross rider moves around the bike a lot more, stands up at times, shifts his weight forwards in corners and leans opposite the direction of the turn. The handlebars on dirt bikes, along with the overall rider triangle (handlebar, seat, foot-peg position) are very different from street or track motorcycles to facilitate better control. So in essence, the riding position on a dirt bike is a lot more dynamic than on a street bike. A rigorous dirt bike session is much more taxing on the rider than street riding
2. The bike itself
Unlike street and track bikes, which need to achieve very high top speeds in quick time, the requirements of a dirt bike are different. They need loads of low end torque, and rev well. They are relatively short geared as the top speed requirements are not very high. Their chassis and suspension are meant to absorb impacts which would break down a street bike in no time. They also have a higher ground clearance and reinforced foot pegs to allow riders to stand and ride. They don’t focus as much on streamlining with more stress on the chassis geometry, tyres and engine performance within a certain range.
3. Slower speeds, quick acceleration
The traction at hand while dealing with dirt is a lot less as compared with tar. Naturally then, the speeds that you carry on dirt are also less. If you are used to riding on the street or on a racetrack, as a motocross beginner, the first thing you need to know is that your overall speeds would be much less on dirt; so don’t try to match your track speeds on dirt. You will, however, accelerate hard in short bursts a lot more than on the street or on a racetrack. You also have to be more thoughtful with you throttle inputs. Dirt tracks have a lot more inconsistency than paved street or racetrack, and they call for a lot more caution owing to this very fact. Much slower speeds on dirt feel a lot faster owing to these factors and the earlier you realize it, the better for you.
4. Use of brakes
For the street, you’d almost always want to apply the front brakes first, and with a lot of force. With motocross riding, the rear brake plays a lot more important role. While it’s still okay to apply front brakes in a straight line on a dirt bike, while taking a turn, the rear brake acts as a secondary steering. Applying the rear brake and sliding the rear outwards makes the bike turn tighter. This technique is used extensively by motocross riders to carry a lot more speed into a corner and record faster lap times.
5. Weight distribution while turning
As a corner approaches, you’d see motocross riders leaning forward towards the tank. They want the front tyre to have grip, and they want to slide the rear tyre to turn in harder. This is a technique which is quite contrary to street riding. So a Motocross rider rides the peg, moves his weight towards the tank and applies the rear brake to induce a slide while turning the front handlebars often in an opposing lock so as to induce a controlled slide through a corner.
6. Riding the pegs
Unlike street riding, where the rider keeps sitting on the seat or slides across it, dirt riding requires the rider to stand up and ride the pegs for a large amount of time. Using leg joints as suspension to deal with the rough surface underneath works well for balance and control for the rider. Riding the pegs and standing up as the bike goes airborne is also the correct technique to absorb the forces as the bike eventually lands on the surface. In addition, taking corners also involves the rider being upright, almost standing on the pegs.
7. Use of clutch
On street bikes, you generally don’t require to slip the clutch. You disengage the clutch momentarily for a fraction of a second as you up-shift, and maybe blip the throttle along with using the clutch as you downshift. However, with Motocross bikes, there’s extensive use of clutch, as the riders prefer staying in the same gear and using the clutch to increase the revs, make the rear tyre spin harder and get out of the corner in the same gear. Since dirt riding often involves low speed manoeuvring, rather than moving through gears and controlling the speed through throttle, it’s easier to keep the throttle constant and use the clutch to modulate drive to the wheels. The rear brake also comes into play and all these parameters come together very well to enhance the rider’s control over the motorcycle while making the motorcycle go around very tight bends very quickly.
8. Look ahead
With dirt riding, a common mistake that beginner riders make is that they start looking too close ahead of the motorcycle. It’s quite natural, as the obstacles and undulations are just too many to confidently look far. The brief, however, stays similar to that on the street. You have to look ahead, look reasonably far and look where you want to go. You have to scan the surface ahead well in advance and look at the course that you wish to take to avoid those obstacles. Gazing at the closer obstacles would turn into object fixation, and you’ll end up crashing into the very same object that you wanted to avoid.
9. Opposite counterweight
This probably is the very antithesis of what a street rider knows about cornering. Unlike on street where the rider leans inside when cornering, motocross riders would often be seen trying to stand straight with their butts on the outer edge of the seat. Not only that, they also apply counterweight on the outer foot-pegs to get better grip on loose surfaces. It’s all about the traction at hand, and since the front wheel doesn’t have even a fraction of the grip it has on the tar, applying the street technique of leaning ‘with’ the bike would make it wash out. This counter weighting body position is very effective while turning at low to medium speeds on loose surfaces.
While mastering these dirt riding techniques isn’t necessary unless you wish to participate in competitive dirt riding, they really help you improve your control over the bike. It’s not without reason that MotoGP riders are often seen practising dirt riding to enhance their sense of traction, balance, throttle control and braking. However, even if you don’t wish to learn these dirt riding techniques masterfully, learning the basics would still be helpful if ever you have to get off the paved road and make your own way.
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