This article or video, should you choose to watch it, will show you 3 essential, but also basic techniques to have good throttle control on a dirt bike to prevent crashes that could end up hurting you.
What is throttle control on a dirt bike?
Throttle control is knowing how much throttle to apply at the appropriate rate without losing traction or control.
For example, poor throttle control would be turning the throttle too much and too quickly, causing the rear tire to spin and slide out. This not only makes it harder to control your dirt bike, but it’s wasting horsepower and slowing you down – meaning you won’t accelerate as quickly as a “slower dirt bike”.
Why is throttle control important?
Good vs bad throttle control can be the difference between staying in control and accelerating faster to get up a hill or over a log versus sliding out of control and losing momentum halfway up a hill.
Getting the most traction possible with proper throttle control is one of the basic techniques to riding a dirt bike with control while using less energy.
How do I know if my throttle control is bad?
These are some common signs that you have poor throttle control on a dirt bike:
- You accidentally wheelie at least once every time you ride
- Your rear end slides out when you accelerate
- You lose momentum halfway up a hill when your buddy makes it look easy getting up to the top
- You stall more often on tighter trails at low speeds
- Your dirt bike feels “jerky” or on/off when using the throttle at slow speeds
How do you hold a dirt bike throttle?
It’s a common habit to put your hands on the handlebars with your elbows too low. When your elbows are too low, you don’t have as much leverage, making it harder to control your dirt bike, especially when turning.
It’s like using a breaker bar to break a nut loose – much easier than a shorter wrench because you have more leverage. Below shows you proper body position for holding the throttle and clutch on the handlebars while sitting.
What is “whiskey throttle” on a dirt bike?
Whiskey throttle is when you turn the throttle too far, lose control, and wheelie or loop out – the dirt bike either flies out from under you or you ride into something (usually the nearest tree, fence, or vehicle).
The term “whiskey throttle” comes from the ‘cowboy’ era where guys drank too much whiskey/alcohol and then got on their horse and yanked too hard on the reins, causing the horse to accelerate quickly and the rider to fly off the back.
How do you not whiskey throttle a dirt bike?
There are two major reasons why people “whiskey throttle” and crash. The first is from having “too much bike”. If you’re new to dirt bikes or just getting back into riding off-road, it’s easy to make the mistake of wanting a race bike, such as a Yamaha YZ250 or KTM 300 XC so that you don’t have to worry about “outgrowing” a beginner bike quickly.
This not only kills your confidence on the trails because you’re trying to tame the power of the bike, rather than practicing proper techniques, but it’s more dangerous because it’s much easier to grab a handful of throttle and hit a tree so quickly that you don’t even know what happened,
The second is caused by poor technique with your body position. The easiest way to prevent whiskey throttle on a dirt bike is by scooting forward on the seat when you accelerate. Watch the video below to understand why and how.
Dirt bike throttle control while standing
Whiskey throttle is more likely to happen while standing if you’re “reacting” to what the bike does. When you’re standing in the wrong position or pulling on the handlebars after accelerating, you’re putting too much stress on your arms and hands, making it easier to “whiskey throttle” and give it too much gas.
To reduce whiskey throttle while standing, you need to “anticipate” what the bike will do by shifting your body forward on the bike when accelerating so that gravity won’t push you to the rear of the bike – if you can’t relax your hands, this is a sign that you’re not properly balanced on the dirt bike!
Do you have to let go of the throttle when shifting on a dirt bike?
There are a few ways to shift gears on a dirt bike, but the two safest ways require you to let off the throttle slightly when shifting. When you let go of the throttle (let off by stop accelerating), this takes the “load” off of the transmission gears, making it easier to shift into the next gear.
To make a smooth shift (up or down a gear) shifting needs to be a fluid motion, so as you’re letting off of the throttle you’re already moving the shifter up or down, and then quickly getting back on the throttle.
What is the throttle control rule? Don’t break traction, don’t wheelie, smooth?
While most people think it’s “cool” to whack the throttle and watch the roost shoot out, it’s anything but “proper”. When you have poor throttle control, you’re more likely to slide out and crash, or just accelerate slower because the rear tire is spinning.
So, my throttle control rule is: Only apply as much throttle as needed to accelerate without breaking traction (rear end getting sideways) or doing a wheelie.
This is done by smoothly turning the throttle – more slippery conditions require you to apply less throttle at a slower rate because there’s less traction (think hardpack, mud, or soft sand).
How do you practice smooth throttle control?
To practice smooth throttle control, find a straight and open area and then work on accelerating by smoothly turning the throttle. You can do this in 1st, 2nd, or 3rd gear.
Start by slowly rolling on the throttle, and then each consecutive time you can turn the throttle quicker. Pay attention to how the bike reacts and if the rear wheel starts to spin. Once you get an idea of how much throttle you can apply in each gear, then you can practice on different terrain where there is more or less traction.
Best mods to improve your throttle control
While I HIGHLY encourage you to focus on learning the basic techniques because they will give you the most confidence, there are some aftermarket parts that can help smooth out the power if you still find it difficult to control the throttle, especially while trail riding on tight single-track trails.
The throttle tamer (Amazon) is a simple part that smooths out the throttle from zero to ½ throttle inputs, making it feel less jerky (on/off) when accelerating from a stop or on a tight trail at low speeds.
It’s pretty easy to install, and if you decide to go back to the original throttle tube assembly, that’s easy to do. It’s not going to make a huge difference compared to stock, especially if you have a CRF450RL (Amazon) and you’re a beginner, but it’s enough to notice a difference.
Another common mod to “slow” the power down is by adding a flywheel weight (Amazon) to the stock flywheel or by replacing it altogether with a heavier one. This doesn’t change the power, but it affects the inertia of the engine.
Since it increases the overall mass (weight) of the rotating engine assembly, it doesn’t rev as quickly. This makes accelerating slightly smoother and can actually give you more traction, which is why it’s a common mod for off-road/enduro racing – like if you add it to a YZ250 MX bike (Amazon)
A heavier flywheel also makes the engine RPM drop at a slower rate, which means you’re less likely to stall. Beginner trail bikes already have a heavy flywheel that does this, but race bikes can be improved if you want to slow down how quickly the engine revs up and down.
Wrist and arm position
How you hold the throttle is important for good control. I see many newbies with their wrists and/elbows in the wrong position; and that is that they’re too low.
Your elbows should be up high enough so that you have the most leverage and range of motion to control the bike. Your hand should grip the throttle so that you can comfortably twist it all the way to wide open throttle.
Dirt bike throttle position – what is it?
Dirt bikes have a ¼ turn throttle, but you’ll only use a portion of it the majority of the time. A ¼ turn throttle simply means that it rotates about 90 degrees around the handlebar to give you a “full throttle” position.
When just starting out, you should only use small inputs – ⅛-¼ of throttle. This looks very small when watching your hand turn the throttle, but it’s enough to accelerate at a moderate speed.
Dirt bike throttle adjustment
Does your dirt bike feel like the throttle response is jerky? There’s a chance that the throttle needs an adjustment. It’s a cable-operated throttle, so it should be adjusted to have the slightest amount of slack in the cable.
If there’s too much slack, then you’ll have a big delay from when you twist the throttle to when the bike accelerates. This can not only be annoying, but also dangerous. If you need to get over a log and you give it gas, that slight hesitation may be just enough to not allow you to get the wheel over the log.
How to have complete control riding a dirt bike
Learning proper throttle control is key to being a safe and skilled trail rider, but that’s just one piece to the puzzle. There’s a whole collection of skills and knowledge that must be learned and practiced to have complete confidence and control riding off-road.
I’d like to help you get started so that you can start building your confidence today. Tap here for lessons from my riding school on proper riding technique.