Everyone remembers their first time.
It was probably a bit scary, most definitely exhilarating and likely pretty quick. You might have been the type that wanted everything perfect so you dressed up and wore the appropriate protection. Or perhaps you threw caution to the wind because you just couldn't wait, diving right in knowing it'll be just a short spin around the block.
That memory is etched in stone which you'll fondly recall years later once you've gained experience and can ride for hours.
But, for the uninitiated, throwing your leg over a dirt bike for the first time can be intimidating especially if you're used to watching the pros work their way around a track on a 200 pound machine like it was a feather. If you've never been on a dirt bike, don't worry, you're light years away from that. However, a good first experience can be the difference between a lifetime of enjoyment versus swearing off this great pastime forever.
So, we're here to help!
There really is no bona fide instruction manual on how to ride a dirt bike but with some advice and preparation your first time on this powered machine should go a lot smoother and keep you begging for more.
First off, it is advisable to find a companion with maturity and understanding. Whether you hook up with a riding instructor or a friend with loads of experience, knowing where to put your feet, how to sit and hold on goes a lot further in the flesh rather than on paper.
It's a good idea to take a friend or someone who knows what they are doing and can provide pointers and offer suggestions
If you're just tuning in, riding gear is a must even if you're just going to take a slow roll around the track. You'll quickly realize a dirt bike is a far cry from a bicycle, therefore, play it safe and wear all the necessary gear. No, you don't need to dress up unless you really want to since you can buy all that later but wear a helmet, riding boots, gloves and goggles at a minimum. There's a saying in Motocross "Dress for the crash, not for the ride." Take it to heart.
You don't have to be dressed to the nines like this rider but wear the right protection
Yes, you can borrow your buddy's gear but make sure it fits. Wearing a helmet that is too big or just plain uncomfortable won't do you a bit of good. Boots should be a snug fit, not too tight and certainly not loose. Goggles should fit securely over the helmet and your gloves should allow for adequate movement of your hands. Wear long pants and a shirt with sleeves. Don't wear shoes or flip-flops.
Choose the Right Partner
You're not alone in this dance on two wheels. Eventually, you become one with your dirt bike, but hopping on a high-octane 450 beast is probably not the wisest decision when choosing your first ride. If you've ever tried hanging on to a mechanical bull you probably got thrown off rather quickly, and maybe even immediately. The same goes for a large bore dirt bike so we'd suggest something smaller like a 125cc bike so you're not completely overwhelmed and overpowered. However, if you're of a certain age check out:
Find an area way from people and obstacles when riding for the first time
There's only two ways to start a dirt bike. It's either through a kick start or electronic start. If the bike you're using has an electronic start simply push the button and the engine roars to life. Very easy.
Some bikes make you work at it, so if you have to kick start your ride this is a bit tricky as you literally have to push down on a pedal to get the engine going. You've probably seen it done a hundred times in the movies but usually one solid kick towards the ground gets the pistons moving. It's on the right side of the dirt bike and is spring loaded so it automatically moves out of the way.
However, bike models can vary on the correct method so either check out the owner's manual for more explicit instructions or since you're likely using a friend's bike, just ask.
Now that your dirt bike is ready to roll knowing how to keep it upright is half the battle. Riding a dirt bike is similar to your mountain or road bike but body position is much more important. First off, can your feet touch the ground? If no, you didn't choose the right bike!
Notice the length of the seat. You won't use all of it. Snuggle up where the forward part of the seat connects with the gas tank. Grab the handle bars and lean forward. This prevents you from looping out once you "step on the gas."
Once you're moving along, keep your knees bent and elbows bent with your elbows out and up. STAND UP. Yes, it might feel more natural and even safer to sit as it gives you the illusion of control but it couldn't be further from the truth. For more tips, read 5 Mistakes Dirt Bike Beginners Make.
Standing up is how you want to ride a dirt bike
Your right hand grip is the throttle or gas and the handle is for the front brake. Your left hand grip is simply a grip and the handle is for the clutch. The rear brake is controlled by a pedal in front of the right foot peg. The shift pedal, which puts the bike in gear, is on the left side in front of the left foot peg. Homework: Read this most excellent article on How to Use a Clutch on a Dirt Bike. For extra credit or just general information check out Dirt Bike Handlebars & Controls Explained.
You've probably heard the pros start a race in second gear. You won't do this. You'll start in first gear. Grasp the clutch handle on the handlebars then step on the clutch pedal with your left foot pushing it down. You're now in first gear. Get ready. Oh, keep the clutch handle compressed!
Rolling the Throttle
Do NOT roll the throttle all the way. That's akin to stepping on the gas and no matter how far forward your body is on the bike you will loop out ending your day prematurely. This is where first timers get hurt the most. Coming in a close second is rolling the throttle, still too far, enabling you to stay mounted on an out of control bike where you have a meet and greet with a tree or something else impermeable in the area. In fact, just in case, go somewhere private where no one else is around and nothing is even remotely close that you can bump into.
This could happen on your first time especially if you open the throttle
Roll the throttle very slowly and let the clutch out just as slow. Embrace that heart racing feeling as... the bike stalls out. Don't be surprised if this happens. It happens to everyone. This is better than jetting out of control sending you into panic mode which typically results in a broken bike and/or physical injury. Eventually you'll get the hang of the delicate balance between the clutch and throttle, and the ground beneath you begins to move. You can't keep your feet dragging so...
You've got two foot pegs on each side of the bike. Put the balls of your foot on the pegs which gives you not only better riding control but quickest access to the brake and clutch pedals. As stated earlier, on the left side in front of the peg is the gear shift pedal which you'll operate using your left foot so you'll need to position your foot accordingly to engage the shift. In order to engage second gear, you have to use your foot (along with the clutch handle) and this time push up on the clutch pedal. The same rule applies for third, fourth and fifth gear so find your comfort zone with your foot to change gears efficiently.
I'm Moving, Now What?
It's all up to you now. If you feel comfortable, ride for as long as you want. Most likely though you'll be so excited that it happened but still a bit apprehensive therefore you might want to stop, catch your breath and realize you finally did it!
Now that your first time is over, from here it's all about practicing, learning technique and building your stamina. If you're like most people, you'll now want to ride as often as possible, even every day. Yes, it's that fun.
Try and find others to ride with or take a class
As you get acquainted with riding, stop borrowing your friend's and get your own bike. You'll discover some adjustments make your ride more comfortable and easier. You can modify the position of the handlebars and how it lines up with the fork tube, fit the clutch and brake handles to your hand-size, and fine-tune the suspension settings to your liking.
Finding others with experience, group riding and even taking a class to learn more about the ins-and-outs of dirt bike riding can enhance the enjoyment and get you up to speed, literally.
For additional reading: