Top 7 Mistakes You’ll Make If You’re New To Dirt Bike Riding

Do you want to learn how to become a better rider quickly? While everyone has to start somewhere, there’s ways to accelerate your riding skill in less time. 

This article covers the top 7 mistakes I see new riders make when it comes to riding their dirt bike.

It’s said that you learn best from your own mistakes, but I’ve always preferred to learn from other people’s mistakes! 

Learning proper riding technique won’t automatically make you a better, faster rider, but it will make the process smoother and easier. It’s better to gain the knowledge now then try to re-learn it later when you’ve already formed poor habits. 

So, without further ado, here are the Top 7 Mistakes New Dirt Bike Riders Make:

  • Body position
  • Poor clutch control
  • Looking at the wrong spot
  • Hanging on too tight
  • Not balanced
  • Fingers in the wrong spot
  • Starting on the wrong bike

Body Position On The Bike

When you’re first learning how to ride a dirt bike, it’s important to have your weight more towards the front of the seat. How many videos have you seen of first time riders getting on a bike and looping out right away? It’s usually on too big and powerful of a dirt bike for a beginner, but a lot of it could’ve been prevented if they didn’t sit far back on the seat. 

Once they started giving it gas, they slid back even further because they didn’t anticipate the acceleration. Now they’re trying to hang on to the handlebars and their right wrist twists the throttle even more… end result? The peanut gallery and videographer laughing. 

Proper Way To Position Yourself

Depending on where you are riding (tight single track trails vs open desert), your body position should be changing often.

The more you can stand, the better. But, it’s okay to sit if it’s faster, such as weaving around trees in a tight woods trail. 

When standing the balls of your feet should be on the footpegs. You should be in a neutral attack position with your knees slightly bent and weight close to the center of the bike. 

Riding Uphill

Depending on how steep of a hill you’re going up, you want to have your weight more towards the front of the bike to prevent looping out. Standing up will allow you to move more of your weight around and balance more easily if the terrain is rough.

Sitting down is easy because it requires less energy, but you won’t be able to recover and move your body as quickly if you get bucked around going up a technical hill climb.

Riding Downhill

Going down a steep hill you want your butt back as far as possible to prevent your bike from doing an endo. This will also help give you traction and stability with both wheels. 

Cornering

It’s almost always best to move forward on the seat while cornering. Putting your weight on the front-end will compress the forks and allow it to turn more easily. This is because the geometry (of the bike chassis) changes and creates a geometry that promotes a quicker (better) turning bike. 

The only time you don’t want to be forward is when the terrain is soft and your front wheel is sinking in. 

Clutch Control

Clutch control is one of the most important skills to learn if you want to become a better dirt bike rider. Too many new riders learn “just enough” about how to use their clutch and then move on to “riding fast”. 

Slowing down and taking some extra time to feel the clutch work and finding that “stall point” will go a long way in your riding career. 

Proper clutch control is especially important when riding technical single track trails. It’s the difference between keeping the bike going over a large rock section and stalling it and tipping over. Poor clutch control will also overheat your bike in a few minutes or less. 

For more help on learning better clutch control read this article (coming soon).

Looking At The Wrong Spot

“You look where you go” is the old adage, and that’s definitely true when it comes to riding your dirt bike. New riders tend to look down just ahead of the front fender. 

You want to look at the ground or obstacle you’re going to ride over, but you need to see it long before you get to it. . Look ahead to where you want to go and it will be much easier to get there. The faster you go, the further head you need to look.

You should also know that it’s a bad idea to look at the things you don’t want to hit. Like a tree.

If you’re afraid to hit it and you can’t help but stare at it, you’ll probably end up hitting it.

Dirt bike riding is a mental sport just about as much as it is a physical sport.

Having fun and simply relaxing (not tensing up) are two key factors to improving your riding skill.

Hanging On Too Tight

Speaking of tensing up, you’re probably going to hang on too tight if you’re new to dirt biking. Gripping the handlebars is a common mistake (I still do it after decades of riding!), but it causes you to tense up. Once you’re tense, it’s much harder to ride efficiently.

You’ll start losing the ability to quickly use the controls (clutch and brake) in case of emergency as your arms begin to pump up. 

What do I do then?! Relax. Obviously you can’t completely let go of the handlebars, but you’d be surprised how little pressure you can use and still hang on to the bars. Gripping with your knees is a proper technique to reduce the amount of arm strength to hold on.

If you’re struggling with arm-pump, check out these simple hacks to help prevent it while riding.

Bad Balance

Have you ridden a dirt bike before? Then you know what it feels like to tip over.

Riding on 2 wheels has very little in common with driving on 4 wheels. But that’s what makes it so great.

The faster you go, the easier it is to balance. 

So if you just ride fast, then you don’t have to worry about balancing, right?

Yep. Until you get off balance.

All it takes is hitting a small rock or a log and you lose your stability. 

This is similar to the mistake of not learning the clutch. Practicing balance drills and riding slow will help you when you get into trouble at faster speeds.

Fingers In The Wrong Spot

Transitioning from your arms to your fingers, I hope you can learn from this mistake.

Back when I took the MSF course (to get my street bike endorsement) they were teaching to use all 4 fingers on the clutch and brake!

This is terrible advice.

Unless you suffer from weak hands, I always tell new riders that I’m teaching to only use 1 or 2 fingers on the clutch and front brake levers.

1 is best, but sometimes the clutch/brake is too stiff for smaller hands, so 2 fingers is fine. Using more than that actually does more harm than good.

Using all 4 fingers to pull the clutch or brake in greatly reduces your grip on the handlebar. You only have your thumb left to hang on, and that is a recipe for your hand slipping off on a hard impact.

Another pro tip that I teach long term students is to always keep a finger on the clutch and brake lever. 

If you have a finger on the lever, then your reaction time to pulling in the clutch or brake is greatly reduced. This alone has saved me from stalling or flying off the trail more times than I can count.

It’s awkward and can be difficult at first, but just force yourself to make it a habit and it won’t take long. I feel weird if I don’t have a finger on each lever nowadays.

Starting On The Wrong Bike

I’ve seen so many people go out and start on a motocross bike or a 300cc enduro bike right away. Yeah, you’ll never grow out of it, but the problem is that you’ll take a lot longer to grow “into” it.

It’s much easier to start on a slower, and slightly smaller dirt bike. You will be able to understand how the bike works and controls without having to worry about it getting away from you with one quick twist of the throttle.

What Is The Right Size Dirt Bike For Me?

There is a chart for dirt bike sizes based on your age and height, but those are really just estimates. A good bike to start out on has smooth, predictable power and is easy to ride.

For a complete guide and list of great beginner bikes click here.

Kelley Fager

I help new riders learn how to safely ride and understand how to tune and fix their dirt bike in their garage.

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