Safety should be the number one priority when riding on motocross tracks these days. I don’t like having a lot of rules either, but in order to make racing and riding dirt bikes fun for everyone there has to be to some rules outlined so that we can keep accidents and injuries to a minimum. Whether you’re completely new to dirt biking, or if you’re going to the track for the first time, you need to go through these tips so you can know what to expect.
Getting hurt sucks, everyone can agree with that. Although injuries are often inevitable in a highly-competitive scene of motocross, you need to wear protective gear to prevent even more injuries. If you’re going to ride a motocross bike, the very minimum you should wear is a DOT and/or Snell-approved helmet, motocross boots, long-sleeve pants and shirt (or motocross riding gear), some gloves, and goggles. These are just the minimum that you should wear. Some other safety equipment which I strongly recommend are a neck brace, chest protector/body armor, and knee pads/braces.
Properly set up Bike
If your bike isn’t running right or set-up for your kind of riding, you’re going to get worn out, or it will eventually cause an accident. Getting the suspension valved for your weight is key, and will allow you to ride harder and for longer. Maintaining your dirt bike is very important, and is easy to do. Things like regularly changing the oil and filters, making sure all the nuts and bolts are properly torqued, and adjusting the chain and tire pressures can go a long way. It can be the difference between getting first in the race, or crashing halfway through the first lap. If you want more tips on prepping your motocross bike, click here.
Walk the Track
Walking the track before riding is easy to do, and it can give you insight on which lines to take, and which ones not to take. There could be some holes or soft spots that you don’t see while riding, so seeing them before can prevent a major crash. To be even more prepared, follow or ask to follow a faster rider that knows what to look for. There’s a lot of nice riders out there that will give you some hints on the track (or even bike set-up) if you ask them politely. Like the old saying goes, “It pays to know”. So try to make as many friends as possible at the track.
Too many people (including myself when I’m in a hurry) make the mistake of not stretching before going out on the track. After sitting in a vehicle driving to the track, your body and muscles are going to be tight. The worst thing you can do is go out and give it 100% right away; it’s just asking for an accident to happen. Do yourself a favor and stretch for a few minutes before you go out and ride. Staying hydrated and eating healthier foods will also help your body, so start hydrating hours before the race. These simple tasks will also help with reducing arm pump.
Hold Your Line
I cannot say this enough to new dirt bike riders and racers. While the right side of the track is usually the slow lane, DO NOT move out of your lane if you are on the left side and hear another rider coming up from behind. Not only will the other rider crash by running into you if you move, but you will more than likely wipe-out and possibly get hurt as well.
Bring Someone With To The Race
It’s always a good idea to bring a friend or family member to the track with you, whether they race or not. In case you get hurt, there should be someone there that can drive you to the hospital and let your family know about what happened. While most riders are willing to help out an injured rider, I would rather rely on someone I know in the event of an emergency.
One of the most important things you can do is to stay calm and relax, both on and off the track. Motocross racing can be very strenuous, and when your body locks up, it is hard to control the bike. Staying positive and loose will help you ride better and make your day at the track much more enjoyable.
Following these simple steps will make your motocross career last a lot longer. Take the extra few minutes, do things right, and you will be out on the track instead of in a cast.
This is a common question that many riders ask, and it often causes a lot of bickering. What is the best way? Well, that depends on a couple things. Really, it mainly comes down to what kind of riding you do, and rider preference. One way can be faster than another, and one can possibly cause more harm than others… Or can it?
With the Clutch
There are two ways you can shift through the gears while using the clutch. The first one, if you are conscience about the longevity of the transmission in your bike, is probably the easiest on it. When you go to shift, pull in the clutch and let off the throttle simultaneously, then shift and release the clutch. Not only are you taking load off of the transmission by letting off the throttle, but you are also reducing the load by dis-engaging the clutch. This is the most common way of shifting that is taught to new riders. If it is what you are comfortable with, by all means, continue to do so.
The second way to shift with the clutch is usually the fastest, and a lot of professionals do it this way. Instead of letting of the throttle when shifting, you hold it open. Sounds bad? You want to time it right so that it’s still in the power-band when shifting. When you go to shift it up a gear, hold the throttle wide open and give the clutch a quick pull while shifting it up to the next gear at the same time. It’ll sound like it’s over-revving, but it’s only for a split second if you’re fast enough. This is why four-strokes have a rev-limiter; so it stops revving higher before something breaks. Two-strokes don’t have a rev-limiter because they stop revving before anything would happen. Not only is this way of shifting fast, it also keeps the RPM in the meat of the power-band when you get to the next gear.
Without The Clutch
This next one is still easy on the transmission, and the way I usually do it when riding around the farm/trails for fun. It’s the same as the first one, except you are not using the clutch. So it’s just: let off the throttle, shift up a gear, then get back on the throttle to accelerate. For some reason, many people think that dirt bike transmissions are like cars transmissions and say you need to use the clutch to shift, otherwise it will destroy the gears. This is not true, as dirt bikes have a constant-mesh transmission, allowing you to shift up or down through the gears without the need for the clutch. However, you can only shift up or down one gear at a time, unlike a car where you can select any gear at virtually any time.
The last way to shift through the gears is probably the hardest on your transmission. Although it is made to take the abuse, many people would not recommend using this technique. Professionals do it because it’s faster, but they are using race-bikes that are expected to have a much shorter life-span. When going through the gears, keep the throttle wide open, and when the power starts to run out near the end of the RPM range, firmly shift it up to the next gear. This takes a little more practice, as you do not want to shift it while accelerating under a heavy load. Once you get to the end of the power-band, but before redline, is when you want to shift it. The bike will lose a little power at really high RPM, which will reduce enough load off the transmission to allow you to shift it.
In the end, I believe that it’s personal preference and what kind of riding you are doing that should determine how you shift gears on your dirt bike. I am just telling you that it’s not going to blow up your transmission if you shift without using the clutch. I would know, because I’ve been doing it for years with no problems.
This is a good illustration on what your transmission is doing when you shift.
Your first motocross race is always the scariest. There is so much nerve and adrenaline that you don’t feel like yourself. So much, in fact, that you may feel like not racing that day. DON”T listen to that voice!!! You won’t regret racing, as long as you know what you’re doing and don’t go in over your head.
The best way to start out the day of your first race is to get to the track early. Not much is more frustrating than arriving late to the races and having to scramble to get ready, ESPECIALLY for you first motocross race. Before unloading everything, go up to registration and pay for your class of racing (make sure you have a membership if required for that track). Next thing to do is go and walk that track. Even if you rode the track the day before, things may have changed, or there may be a better line that you didn’t see before.
After walking the track, go back and unload your dirt bike and gear if you haven’t already. Hopefully you remembered to pack all of your gear. Then go over your bike and make sure everything is snug and ready to go. Remember to put gas in the tank!!! I know it may sound dumb, but it’s a mistake that many riders make.
About 20 minutes before practice starts, stretch out and hydrate with water, Gatorade, or something similar. NO ENERGY DRINKS!! Then get your gear on and roll/ride your bike over to the starting gate a few minutes early. Practice sessions are usually separated by classes A/B, C/Vet, Womens, 85cc/Supermini/65cc/50cc, so make sure you go out with your class. Start and warm your bike up before you go out on the track to help prevent engine failures.
After practice, come back to your pit and re-hydrate. Then check your bike over again and adjust anything that needs it. Re-fuel if you need it so that you won’t forget about it later.
After all the practices are over most tracks have a race meeting. Go to this so that you aren’t confused. They will tell you any specific rules, tips, how things work (starting gate), how many laps, etc. After the meeting go get a race order if you haven’t already. This will show when your class is up to race so that you can prepare for it in time.
Okay, now the races started and the adrenaline is probably starting to pour on even more. Stay strong and keep loose (stretch out, walk around, but don’t sit and tighten up). About Four classes before yours, you should start to get ready. Hydrate again, go to the bathroom, get your gear on, and make sure you bike is ready to go. By that time your class will probably be 2 motos away. Roll your dirt bike up to the starting gate and stay calm. They will probably pick riders by random for their gate position, so don’t be late.
One moto away…. Your heart is pounding…. You can barely breathe. It’ll be okay. Just roll your bike up to the gate you choose and make sure it’s straight in the groove. By now you probably should have your bike running so that it will be warmed up and ready to go when the gate drops.
The 30-second board is up. Keep breathing, shift your bike into gear (usually first or second), and get up on the tank. Once that board goes sideways look down at the gate because there’s less than five seconds. Once the gate drops the BS stops, so I can’t really help you from there. Just remember to breathe throughout the entire race. It gets hard to do obstacles when you have little strength to hold on.
Hopefully the first moto turned out okay and you’re still intact. You’ll probably be dehydrated so go and drink a bunch of liquids. Once again, no energy drinks! After that, it’s just rinse and repeat. Just make sure you and your bike are ready to go for moto two. Your gate pick will be determined by the result of first moto, so if you were at the end of the pack then you’ll have last gate pick.
Don’t be discouraged if you came in last place. Even if you did, I’m sure you still had a blast, because I know I did on my first race. If you didn’t have fun, then you better go to the doctor because there’s something wrong with you….
Let’s face it, motocross is not a cheap sport. When races cost around $30 per class, then paying for gas (both bike and vehicle), parts that break, memberships, and the list goes on. Although it seems like dirt bike racing is only for the wealthy, especially in this economy, I can help get you get started into this awesome sport by showing you how to find a cheap race bike. Not a beat-up POS, but something that runs or may just need some TLC.
This Is A RACE Bike We’re Talking About Here
Before I go into much detail, there are a couple things I must tell you. If you aren’t willing to do some mechanical work, or even learn how, there’s no use buying a motocross bike. If you want to buy a dirt bike and not have to do much of anything to it, get a Honda XR. Motocross bikes are high-tech race machines, so they will break sooner or later. By keeping up on simple maintenance you will help prevent major failures and big repair bills, though.
Lastly, before I get started, if you are on a budget then do not get a four-stroke motocross bike……. I repeat, DO NOT buy a four-stroke. Although they are easier to ride faster and have many advantages over two-strokes, you don’t want to get one and have to put 2k into it because it ran out of oil or dropped a valve. You’ll be right back where you started. If you really want to stay on a budget then start out with a two-stroke, trust me.
What Bikes Are Good?
Now the reason I said $1500 is because you almost always have to put some money into a used dirt bike. You should be able to find a decent bike for around $1000, so you have 400-500 if it needs any work. There are many good two-strokes to start out on, so finding one shouldn’t be that difficult. The hard part is finding one that hasn’t been beat on and neglected, too much. Yamaha’s have always made great two-strokes, both 125 and 250’s. 2001 and newer were excellent bikes. If you want a 6-speed YZ125 then don’t get a 2002-2004, but that doesn’t mean they are bad bikes. 2005 and newer would be the optimum choice because they switched to all-aluminum frames, but finding a cheap one may take some time.
Your best bet for a Honda is probably a 2000-2001. The CR250 those years has been touted as one of the best in its class. The engine is powerful, suspension is good, and handling is great (even though it’s not quite as good as the 4th gen; 2002 and newer). The aluminum frame CR125 is known by its “slow-as-a-snail” engine just because it has no-bottom end power, and the power-band isn’t as usable as other 125’s. I think this bike would fine for beginners if it’s properly set-up and geared, as the handling is great. There are many things you can do to the CR125 to make it more competitive; most of which are cheap (more on that in a future article). 2005 and newer CR’s finally became good all-around bikes, but by then the four-strokes took over and Honda quit making their two-strokes after 2007.
Suzuki two-strokes are good all-around, but you’ll want a 2001 or newer. Kawasaki didn’t make the greatest 125’s early on, but that could be easily changed, if you put money into them. 2003 and newer are great if you can find them.
What To Look For In A Cheap Dirt Bike?
A cheap bike is fairly easy to find… Finding one that needs the least amount of work is what you’re looking for. Generally, the lower the hours a bike has, the better the shape it will be in. When searching through the classifieds after you decided which bike to get, look for a motocross bike that has been maintained. If the owner actually took care of it, you won’t have to replace as many parts. A stock bike will probably be the best because it won’t have been tampered with. Don’t worry too much if it has modifications though.
Work ‘Em Down!
Once you find a relatively nice bike, the first thing you should do is try and work the person down on his/her price. Remember, patience is key. In most cases, the longer you wait on buying a bike, the more willing the owner will be to go down on their price. Whatever you do, do not let emotions get in the way. I know this may sound dumb when talking about buying a bike, but I know of many people that were too anxious when looking for bikes that they either bought the first one they looked at or didn’t wait for the seller to go down on their price. Do not be discouraged if the first bike or two is not in your budget or is too beat up. YOU DO NOT HAVE TO BUY IT! Just walk away if the owner is being less than honest or if he/she won’t budge on their price (unless of course it’s already a steal).
Going To Look At Your Future Baby…… Maybe?
When you go to look at a bike, there are many things you’ll want to check over. The main parts that wear out or break are: levers, tires, suspension, top-end, brakes, clutch, chain/sprockets, handlebars, radiators, subframe, wheels, and plastics. The cost for these parts add up quickly, but a lot of them are maintenance, so if they are worn/broken then you should deduct some from the price of the bike. Levers, brakes, and sprockets are relatively cheap, but the main areas you should be concerned about are the engine, suspension and chassis (whether they’re worn, damaged, or straight). Also, you may want have the owner take the seat off to get a look at the air filter. If it’s clean then he/she probably takes at least some care of their bike.
P.S. Used two-strokes almost always need a new piston, so that should be one of the first things you do to the bike after buying. Even if the previous owner said it was just rebuilt, it’s a good idea to pull the jug and find out for yourself. I’ve made the mistake of not doing this and it cost me dearly. Besides, you’re only down about $25 in gaskets if it’s fine, and you’ll have a clear-conscience.
Bring Cash, Test The bike, Keep Silent…
After you look the bike over real well, ask if you can ride it. Remember to bring cash because some people won’t let you ride the bike without it. As you’re letting the bike warm up idling, listen for any knocking, rattling, or other unusual noises in the engine. Once the bike is warm take it for a spin, going through all the gears and using the clutch. Everything should be crisp and tight. Signs of a worn-out clutch are slipping, not fully engaging, or whacking the throttle wide open and the clutch disengages. A clutch kit runs around $100-150, possibly more if it needs a basket or hub.
Don’t Jump For Joy Yet
If everything checks out on the test run then proceed by checking over the bike once again just to make sure there’s no major damage. Remember what I said about being patient. The longer you stall while looking at the bike, the higher chance of the seller reducing his/her price or telling you something about the bike he/she didn’t before (very common if the seller has a big mouth). When you make an offer (if you haven’t already over the phone or email), it’s usually best if you go about 200-300 below what they’re asking in cash. Possibly more if you think he/she is willing, based on his/her mood and what they’ve told you. But if they seem pretty firm then offer $100 less. If they really want to sell the bike, money talks.
They Didn’t Take My Offer…..?
Don’t worry if the seller didn’t take your offer. There are several things you can do after this… First of all, there’s a good chance they will counter your offer and go in-between their asking price and what you offered. If it’s still a good deal then go for it. If they don’t take your offer, though, you can offer a little more to see if they bite. Otherwise, if the bike just isn’t worth much more than you offered because it’s so beat up, all you have to do is walk away and find another bike…. There are plenty more out there, it just takes time.
Here’s The Typical Scenario
Let’s say you buy a 2003 YZ125 for $1000 that’s in relatively nice shape. Not that bad of a deal, but it needs a little work. The previous owner said he did the usual oil changes, but that’s about it. It’ll need a new air filter for sure ($20). The chain and sprockets are pretty worn and will need to be replaced soon ($100). Plastics have some scratches but aren’t broken. The levers are bent ($20), and the bars are a little tweaked, but are fine if you bring them back with a little muscle. Brake pads are almost to metal ($50). All fluids should be flushed and replaced: oil, coolant, brake fluid, fork oil ($50). Fortunately the previous owner just replaced the rear tire, and the front still has plenty of tread, so we’ll leave that alone. Now before you go and start tearing parts off this bike and tuning it up, I HIGHLY recommend you get a Manualfor your bike. If you want access to more manuals online, CyclePedia has many to choose from. It will make your work MUCH easier, and you won’t be breaking bolts from improperly torquing them.
Last, but not least, is the engine (Like I said before, I’d recommend taking the top-end off to see what it looks like, even if the previous owner said it was just rebuilt). On this bike the piston has some usual wear marks, but it and the cylinder are not scored. So, we’ll just order a new top-end kit: piston, ring, circlips, and wrist pin ($90), as well as a new top-end gasket kit ($20).
A lot of people hop on a dirt bike (usually one that’s too big/fast for them), rip down the street once, then say that they’ve “Ridden” one… Well, that’s what I call a hot-headed Poser. They prance around, boasting that they owned the sport of dirt biking, and it’s on to the next “sport”….. This is why too many people say that “Motocross is easy”, even though they have no idea what the actual meaning of Motocrossis. In their minds, riding a dirt bike is motocross, so they tried the sport of motocross when they took a bike for a spin down their neighborhood street.
Let me tell you something; a myth that most people (even riders) con themselves into. It’s that the bigger and more powerful bike you have, the faster you will go. In a straight line drag-race, yes, but who can’t ride a straight line? How about on the track, where the real athletes are? Yeah, the torque of a 450cc 4-stroke does make it easier to clear that step-up right after the corner, but it doesn’t necessarily make your lap times lower. More on this later…
I can go through all the gears on my 125cc motocross bikes. Or a 500cc for that matter. If you can’t do that, then you probably don’t belong on a motorcycle. Doing it on the street is one thing. Doing it on the track… Not even comparable. It takes more skill, strength, and endurance to ride on a real motocross track than almost any other sport, and injuries are more so common in this sport that you can almost anticipate one in the future. That’s why it’s a good idea to Get Insurance for Motocross Racing. The top riders in the world are in better shape than 99.9% of athletes. They train harder, longer, and more, as well as practice on their bike (which is more of a workout in itself than many athletes do). Although, the average Joe would have no idea, whether they’ve “ridden” a bike before or not.
I know plenty of people that don’t think motocross is very difficult to participate in. It’s understandable to an extent, because they just don’t know; and probably never will. It’s not something that you can explain either, especially if they play other sports or activities (such as soccer). They often have it in their mind that the sport they do is more straining on the body than others. I’m not saying that you should try and convince them either. Most of them are too stuck up anyway if they believe anyone can race motocross and have success.
Back to the lap times… It doesn’t take a 450cc motocross bike to get the fastest lap times, even though it may help in some areas. Motocross is about 90% rider and 10% bike. Although some may beg to differ, just look at what James Stewart did on an “old and outdated” KX125 2-stroke. This is why I believe a 125 2-stroke is enough power for 99% of riders. Now, one exception is rider size/weight, as some larger guys will do better on a bigger bike because they need more torque to get going. My argument is, if you can’t ride a bike to its full potential, why go bigger? I would personally consider riding 85’s because of my size, but the only adult classes (other than pit bikes) are with full-size bikes. (This is why I’m building an XR100/Motocross Conversion bike over the winter as a play bike, which I’ll cover on a future article…)
So, the act of actually knowing how to and riding a motocross bike is by racing as fast as you can for a certain amount of laps around a motocross track with real jumps, corners, whoops, ruts, braking bumps, natural terrain, etc. (not down your road or a corn field).