If you don't already know - the start is the most important part of a Motocross race. The pros always mention the start when asked what they need to do in the Main. Supercross commentators Ralph Sheen and Jeff Emig include the start in the three keys to the race and Grant Langston always has it in the three keys to a Motocross race, as well. Obviously, all the racers try to get the best start possible, but what makes the difference between a holeshot, midpack, or worse? It's a combination of many things working in harmony!
What do the old western gunfighters and a Motocross racer have in common? A gun fighter needs a quick draw with smooth, precise timing and excellent control in order to hit the target before the target hits him. In Motocross, a rider also needs quick, smooth and precise timing, not with a draw and trigger finger, but with the clutch, throttle and body movements. And, if you mess up at least you won't get shot but you may get run over in the first corner.
Clutch control, throttle control and body movement make up the three most important aspects to the start. Let's look at each one separately and all the detailed techniques that go with them.
Clutch control serves as the most important aspect to the start because it begins at the gate drop. Holding on to the grip and controlling the clutch independently doesn't end at the start however clutch control can certainly make or break a race before the first turn. Therefore, I teach using your three outside fingers on the clutch while you hold onto the grip with your index finger. This way your three outside fingers allow you to have strong clutch control while your index finger keeps your upper body position forward as you launch out of the gate. If you didn't use any fingers on the grip you couldn't pull and hold yourself forward. Or if you only used one finger on the clutch you wouldn't have good strong clutch control for a perfect start. If this setup proves awkward use your first two fingers on the clutch and grip with your ring and pinky finger.
At the gate, pull the clutch in and select first or second gear then let the clutch out slightly (feathering) until it starts to engage. Now pull it back in just the slightest bit under engagement. This is where you want to hold the clutch. This way it begins to engage as soon as you start letting it out. With this clutch setting technique you know the bike is in gear and the clutch is ready - not too far out and not too far in - but just right for the holeshot.
It's very important to control the clutch all the way out. Don't just start slipping it out then let it go. And don't release the clutch in a jerky motion. When done correctly it's a quick controlled release from the dead stopped position, then as the rear wheel goes over the gate you should control a slight pause of power so the rear wheel doesn't spin too much on the gate. As the rear wheel clears the gate the clutch and throttle deliver more power.
Give enough gas from the stopped position when the gate drops to enable a little power wheelie (no more than 6 inches high) over the gate. Crossing over the gate with the front wheel actually slows you down. This delicate dance has you holding the throttle in one position according to traction and feeding the power to the rear wheel with the clutch. Feeding power to the rear wheel with the clutch gives an instant response. If you rely on the throttle the power goes through the carburetor (throttle body) delaying the response to the rear wheel. If the front wheel starts to rise too much slip the clutch a bit to bring it back down. Control the clutch all the way out at all times during the start.
While seated in the proper position, grab the handlebars with a lot of over grip. This is important so you can keep your upper body open and work from over the handlebars not behind them. This allows you to get more of your body weight up and over the front of the bike enabling you to keep the front end down more effectively. This open body framework also provides better leverage for moving your body side to side across the handlebars, which gives you more control to keep the bike straight. Additionally, you get better leverage between your body and the motorcycle. If you fail to do this and start with a low grip you have less control.
Lastly, ruts usually form behind and in front of the gate. Line up straight with the rear wheel centered inside the rut. If you misalign the front wheel or don't center the rear wheel down in the rut expect to get sideways and lose a lot of time right from the get go. It helps to prepare the rut before you set your bike inside. Kick the dirt around and make it smooth and packed. Build up a little ramp at the front rut where it meets the gate so you get better traction as you spin over the gate.
I hope this article gives you some tools for practicing your starts. Getting to that checkered flag is a lot easier when you grab the holeshot!
If you're serious about improving your starts and race results you my want to have a look at my Volume 2, DVD # 2 (How To Win Starts). It has all the starting techniques, practice methods and strategies to make you a Holeshot Artist! Use this discount code (GSMXSDVDSALE) to get 20 percent off. Order online.
Ride hard, ride smart and have fun,
About Gary Semics:
Learn our GSMXS time tested and proven practice and training methods to improve your riding skills and race results. How? Through our hands on Motocross School Group and Private classes, with 10 GSMXS Certified Instructors located in six countries. Through our Techniques and Training DVDs (currently 28 titles)