Beginner Dirt Bike Riding Tips
Riding dirt bikes is some of the most fun you can have on two wheels. After all, who doesn’t like the idea of exploring trails in the wilderness, railing through a berm, or hitting jumps with family and friends by your side? New to riding? Don’t worry, here’s our favorite beginner dirt bike riding tips & tricks.
Young or old, big, or small, there are dirt bikes to cover every off-road rider and there is a lot of information to digest. We all start somewhere and before we’re roosting like the pros. We need to educate ourselves to help flatten that learning curve.
We’ll be covering all the basics with these helpful beginner dirt bike riding tips — from gear, and bike choice, down to riding fundamentals, we’re going to get you pointed in the right direction for your upcoming ride.
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First Bike Choices: Start Small and Think Big
One of the most common mistakes new riders make is failing to pick an appropriate starter bike. In many cases, beginner riders will choose a motorcycle that’s too powerful, too big, and too intimidating. This only hinders your ability to develop foundational skills and thrive over your riding career.
The logic behind starting with a bigger dirt bike is that a rider can “grow into it”. While that strategy has worked for some people, in most cases, it simply makes getting into off-road riding challenging.
Learning fundamental skills such as throttle, clutch, and brake control is exponentially more difficult on machines designed for experienced riders. Typically, that means larger-displacement motorcycles that boast higher engine performance, weight, and price tags.
We suggest new riders “start small and think big.” A low-displacement dirt bike will often have a lower seat height, allowing an easier reach to the ground, offering welcoming engine performance, and have a reasonable introductory cost.
Taller teens and adults should avoid getting anything above a 300cc trail bike as their first off-road motorcycle. If we’re talking about motocross specifically, then lighter riders shouldn’t go above 125cc while adults can most likely begin on a 250cc MX bike due to their size.
Shorter and younger riders should consider 110cc, 140cc, and 230cc options as they’re all aimed directly at new riders. Meanwhile, kids have a wealth of options starting as low as 50cc. Visit a reputable local dealer and try things on for size before putting your cash down.
Wearing proper safety equipment is the difference between brushing off a hard hit and visiting the hospital. Whether you’re riding motocross, trails, or dual sport, we recommend investing in high-quality U.S. DOT-approved helmets, durable goggles, armor, knee braces, boots, and riding apparel.
High-end riding equipment can be cost-prohibitive, especially for new riders just getting their feet wet in the sport. Beginner armor sets, riding pants, and jerseys will save riders quite a bit, but no one should skimp on helmets or boots. Buy the highest-quality and safest options within your budget.
Clutch and Throttle Control
Mastering the clutch and throttle is crucial for any rider as we constantly manipulate them while riding. It all comes down to timing and understanding when to disengage the clutch, roll the throttle on or off, shift through the gears, or blend the clutch and throttle simultaneously.
Practice makes perfect, and it’s best to take things slow with any new skill or motorcycle. Start by sitting on the motorcycle while it’s not running and become familiar with all its controls. Where are the front and rear brakes? Where are the clutch and shift levers? Locate the start button (or kick starter) and kill switch. Then familiarize yourself with the shift pattern — 1, N, 2, 3, 4, 5 is a typical transmission layout, though yours may differ.
Get your bike ready to roll and fire up the engine with the transmission in neutral. Pull in the clutch lever and press down into first gear. Slowly release the clutch lever until you feel the engagement point. This is also called the friction zone, where the clutch begins engaging, and power is transferred to the rear wheel.
Feed the clutch lever out until the motorcycle rolls forward under its power and paddle along with your feet. Pull in the clutch again after a few feet. Repeat that a handful of times before adding throttle to help initiate your start. A small amount of throttle can go a long way. Always remember to make your inputs as smooth and progressive as possible. As you begin rolling, completely release the clutch lever and use the throttle to slowly accelerate, selecting the next gear as you feel the engine wind out.
It won’t take long before you add more throttle and explore by shifting up and down through the gearbox. Always use the clutch when selecting a different gear. This approach helps prolong the life of your transmission and clutch when not using advanced clutch-less shifting techniques.
There’s much more to riding a dirt bike than simply sitting on it, and the pros make it look easy. Experienced riders constantly move in the saddle, shifting their weight when accelerating, cornering, jumping, or stopping.
You’ll see riders often standing or sitting at any given time and we know what you’re about to ask, “when do I stand or sit on a dirt bike?” Well, the answer is that it depends. Speaking broadly, standing can help when riding on rocky, bumpy, or fast terrain. Sitting down conserves energy, and you’ll want to use that when on relatively flat roads, but it can be useful when cornering and negotiating slow, technical sections.
We call standing while riding the “attack position,” and it will feel awkward at first: Keep practicing and building stamina because standing offers the most feedback and control when riding off-road. There are several benefits from riding like this, but chief among them is the ability to keep your weight centered on the bike, adjust your weight to different areas of the motorcycle quickly, and above all else, use your legs to help absorb hits.
Get into the attack position by standing on the balls of your feet, knees slightly bent and gently squeezing the seat for stabilization, elbows held high, and your head over your handlebars. Riding tense will make you fight the bike’s movement and tire you out quickly. Above all, you must stay loose and let the motorcycle move freely.
In extremely slippery, technical, and slow-going terrain, riders may sit and “paddle” with their legs because they’re not moving fast enough to balance correctly. Sitting is useful as well and lets us relax, which is important on long rides. But it is also useful when cornering or loading the rear wheel for additional grip while accelerating.
Cornering is all about weight distribution and helping the motorcycle generate grip. There are a few steadfast rules with turning, even if the techniques might vary from each type of corner, such as flat turns, berms, or rutted corners. Always be smooth with your braking and throttle inputs, and most importantly, load the outside footpeg.
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In most cases, we want our weight forward towards the fuel tank. This creates better traction and get the bike to turn. Off-road riding usually doesn’t allow you to lean with the motorcycle unless you’re using a berm or rut in a corner.
Riders will use their core strength to sit upright as the bike leans left or right. As we initiate the turn, it’s crucial to distribute your body weight through the outside footpeg with your outer elbow held high. If you’re turning right, the bike will lean right, while you sit upright and with half your butt on the left side of the seat.
Also, make sure that you lift your inside leg towards the front mudguard to keep your boot from catching the ground. Not only does this bias more weight towards the front wheel, but it reduces the chance of catching your boot and causing an injury.
Berms and rutted turns have positive camber and allow you to lean with the bike, sitting in the center of the seat. Everything else still applies, and true beginners won’t be hard-charging berms or rutted corners yet.
You go where you look when riding motorcycles. Even veteran riders need remind themselves to look far down the trail or track.
Always scan back and forth, far beyond the front fender, since you’ll be able to identify and anticipate obstacles ahead. It’s easy to get fatigued and drop our eyes when riding, leading to severe problems as the pace picks up.
Your brakes are potent, especially when using knobby tires that dig into the dirt, creating loads of traction. Your front brake will provide far more stopping force than the rear, but they are equally important and must be used strategically.
Newer riders should never forget to be smooth and progressive with their braking inputs. Jamming on the brakes will break traction, lock the wheel, and cause a tumble. Progressively loading the levers will allow the suspension to compress and the tires to bite confidently.
Become familiar with braking by practicing at low speeds, applying each brake independently, and learning when the wheels will lock up. Different surfaces provide different levels of grip. Slightly damp dirt offers far more braking potential and traction than mud and your braking pressure will need to be adjusted. Practice using the brakes simultaneously and learning to modulate pressure.
Practice, Practice, Practice
It doesn’t matter what discipline you happen to do, trail riding, enduro, motocross — it all takes practice and dedication. The good news is that even our favorite pros had to start at the same place with practicing the basics. So, get geared up and start honing your skills with some of these beginner dirt bike riding tips!
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