Last Sunday I took a moto skills clinic with Scott Bright. Scott is the regional KTM sales rep and a pro off-road racer who teaches clinics with pro off-roader Steve Hatch. Scott was raising money to represent the United States at the International Six Days Enduro. Here are some of the things I learned, and some of things Scott reinforced.
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Gregor Halenda has awesome skills. Look at how he’s squeezing and controlling his KTM.
Practice the basics. This was like taking a mountain clinic with me. Scott said it’s all about the fundamentals, everyone is limited by their mastery of the basics, the top pros all do tons of drills, wax on wax off, etc.
“What it all comes down to,” Scott said, “is starts, braking and cornering. There’s some stuff in between, but those are the main skills.” [If you can ignore the rocks, roots, logs, ruts, drops and jumps,] every track or trail comes down to start, brake, turn, start, brake, turn — a few hundred times.
It’s all about expanding your range. I preach this big time. Get comfortable all the way forward and all the way back, and the mid points become natural. In life as on the bike.
Squeeze with your knees. If you’re sitting, squeeze the tank. If you’re standing, squeeze the narrow part of your saddle. “This is the most important skill you can learn,” Scott said. “If this is the only thing you take from today, you will become a way better rider.” He also said those groin muscles are the most important muscles a moto rider can work on. Thigh Master baby!
Darren Murphy, founder of PUSH Industries, knows what to do with his elbows.
Elbows up and out. Way up. Way out. Try to get your forearms parallel with the fork legs. Top riders like David Knight look like their shoulders are out of joint. This totally applies to MTB.
Be strong on the bike. I’ve been riding my MTBs and motos really loosely. I stay in the middle and let the bikes do whatever they want. It works great on MTBs, but when my 275-lb CRF450X deflects off a point of granite, it takes me wherever it wants to. Instead of letting the 275-lb moto and 175-lb body bounce on their own, you want to combine them into a single, greater mass. Hold the bike tightly with your knees and control the front end with your upper body. That way you get one 450-lb mass that likes to barrel straight through everything. Braaap!
Coming out of every turn is another start. Doctor Mark is forward-looking and aggressive in the Arizona desert. Note the lack of air between his knees and the bike.
Look way ahead. Above the first straight. Through the first turn. You cannot look too far ahead. We’ve all heard this before, but it’s the first thing we forget.
Elbows out. Yeah, even farther than that.
3/4 throttle. Hold it steady and modulate with the clutch.
Gentle clutch. Let it out slooowly, so you get good power without too much wheelie. You want max power with the front wheel just skimming the ground. If you start to loop out, don’t chop the throttle; slip the clutch instead. When the clutch is all the way out, open the throttle and step through the gears. braaap Braaap BRAAAP!!!
Feet up asap. Before you start, dangle your feet so your toes are barely on the ground and your calves touch your pegs. As soon as you get going, snap your feet to the pegs. The quicker the better: your legs are heavy; don’t let ’em sway to and fro.
Squeeze the tank with your knees. Lock your feet and you knees — the bike will stop its fishtailing and rocket straight to victory. It’s pretty amazing how well this works.
Pull up on the bars. This levers the rear wheel into the ground for more traction. It also stiffens your upper body and makes the bike go straighter. Kind of like a bicycle power wheelie.
Use both front and rear, mostly front. That’s where the power is. On a bicycle I stay balanced on the pedals and weight both wheels evenly. On a big ol’ moto it’s all about the front.
Think ABS. Keep the tires braking as hard as possible. Not skidding; just barely rolling.
Get way back. Butt over the rear fender. Most riders in the group had a hard time with this.
Squeeze with your knees! Always.
Push the handlebars into the ground. As a mountain biker who likes to keep his hands light, this was new to me. Scott said to flex like Arnold and crush the front end for ultimate traction. Yeah, it works.
Flex every muscle in your upper body. Another surprise, but wow. When I squeezed the brakes and my upper body, I could feel my body connecting to the bike, and the beast hauled to a perfectly controlled, straight stop.
Feet up and rocking: Fireman Jeff rips a nice turn outside Grand Junction. This was before American Supercamp and his KTM450EXC. He’s even better now.
We focused exclusively on fore-aft position. We did some laps sitting on the rear fender — uncontrollable — and some laps sitting on the gas cap — surprisingly easy.
Sit on the cap. You shouldn’t be able to see your seat in front of your crotch. The few inches between sitting in the neutral position and sitting all the way forward makes a world of difference. The farther forward you sit, the more front-end traction you get. I thought I was forward before, but I wasn’t. An inch makes a difference.
BAM! Your approaching the turn. You’re braking as hard as you can, and your weight is all the way back. As you reach your turning point, throw your body forward onto the gas cap. This loads the front end. Use that compression — and traction, and steep head angle — to start your turn. This is like pumping a flat turn on an MTB. Braaap, I mean BAM!
Keep your feet up. This is a matter of style, but it has its benefits: Quicker side-to-side transitions on tight trails. Less weight flopping around (remember, your legs are heavy). Safer for your feet. If you need to dab, go for it. Otherwise, learn to corner feet up.
This is a bit much. Sacha Halenda a year and a half before becoming a dad.
I asked for this one. I’ve had trouble clearing logs and ledges on trails.
It’s like a start … except with more throttle and more clutch. Give it lots of gas and pop the clutch to raise the front end. Don’t modulate with the throttle! Use the clutch. After practicing starts, this was easier than ever.
Set it down with your rear brake. Don’t let the moto decide when to drop the front wheel. You decide — bring it down with that right pedal, just beyond the obstacle.
Up and down over and over. We rode hundreds of yards up down up down up down. After a while it became smoother, then we practiced on embankments and telephone poles.
Put it all together
Pretend it’s a photo shoot. Scott told us to dedicate entire riding sessions (and entire tanks of gas) to doing drills. I told him nobody who rides once a week is gonna do that; what’s his advice for normal people? He said: Pretend there could be a magazine photographer anywhere on your ride. While you ride, focus on perfect form. It’ll make you a better rider, plus it looks cool.
Practice one thing at a time. Do two starts with one focus, two starts with another focus, and so on. I think the same applies to fun rides. Just focus on one thing at a time — elbows, squeezing the tank, whatever — and over time these things become habit.
Have I said BRAAAP!!!???
I love ripping these little “pump tracks” out behind the main MX track. They’re safe and fun, and I feel like they build my skills. Turns out the pros do the same thing.