Everyone knows the difficulty of breaking bad habits (techniques) especially riding dirt bikes. Using my many years of teaching Motocross I discovered the most common and hard to break bad habits which I list below in order from 5 to 1, with #1 being the most common and hardest to break.

5. Looking Ahead

I have taught many veteran riders who still don't look far enough ahead, especially in corners. The basic rule says to look at the next most important object coming up as early as possible whether it's the beginning of a rut, the entrance of a corner, a big bump, or the takeoff of a jump. The untrained rider focuses their vision on these things too late and/or too long causing them to ride too close in front of their front fender and ride the track every ten or twenty feet instead of blending the sections together more smoothly and with better lines. I think this method of looking ahead is one that even the best riders should continually practice.

When teaching, I quickly notice those riders looking ahead and those looking at the ground because when I signal one rider at a time to come off the practice drill I see if they have tunnel vision or if they use peripheral vision. Some riders notice me waving them off the drill when I'm 40 yards away while other riders don't notice me until after several attempts of arm waving even when I'm standing right beside the track.

Use your vision, depth perception and peripheral vision to train yourself to ride comfortably while looking a little further ahead. This gives you more time to react to obstacles and go faster. The speed your brain processes and reacts to this information develops a very important talent. So look up and see the entire track in front of you. It helps to ride with your eyes up toward the top of your goggles.

4. Standing on the Balls or Arches of the Feet

You can ride on the footpegs either on the balls of the feet or on the arches. Most riders use the arches but those with the best technique ride on the balls of the feet which offers three benefits:

  1. You have more body travel
  2. You won't hit the shifter or rear brake by accident
  3. You won't get your feet ripped off the foot pegs from your toe hitting the dirt

Riding naturally on the balls of your feet takes lots of practice, so don't throw it out the window if you want to learn the correct way. The pros always ride on the balls of their feet through the whoops. If you can ride through the whoops on the balls of your feet you can ride in the same position anywhere on the track.

However, riding on the arches of your feet when landing hard or casing a jump helps prevent ankle sprains. Just make sure your toes point out a little so you don't hit the shifter or rear brake by accident. It all comes with knowing the correct techniques and a lot of quality practice time. Have you checked the bottoms of your boots lately? You can tell where you ride by looking at the wear marks.

3. Ride in the Central Location

Keep your elbows up and out away from your sides so you get better leverage over the bike. Try this simple test to feel the difference. Sit on your bike and hold the handlebars with a low grip and low elbows. Move your upper body back and forth as hard as you can, then do the same from side to side. Now grab the handlebars with a high over grip and high elbows. Perform the same two tests. Which way feels like you have more leverage over the bike? Keep in mind that factor multiplies when standing up.

Now sit forward. Sitting forward positions you right over the pivot point of the bike or the central location. This way if you lean your upper body forward you put more weight to the front of the pivot point, but if you lean your upper body back you put more weight behind the pivot point. When you sit back too far (behind the pivot point) your weight stays behind the pivot point even when you lean forward.

Once you get used to these body positions expect more control to ride better and faster.

2. Use the Rear Brake While Standing

Most beginners learn to use the rear brake while sitting. In fact, I've seen many riders who do not use the rear brake after riding for three years. Many stand but won't use the rear brake until they sit down. This technique works at slower speeds when the ground is smooth. However, at higher speeds and especially with rough track conditions, you need to stand with your body positon back while using the rear brake which requires the arch of your foot on the footpeg. Of course you use the front brake but the hardest braking occurs on the rear brake. As you lean into a corner you should control the brakes, lighter and lighter all the way to the "transition" where you go from braking to accelerating.

1. Grip Position

Proper grip on the handlebars makes up not only the most common bad technique but the most difficult to break because the feeling of the handlebars gives you the most control and safety. For the pros who developed this technique correctly it comes as natural as putting their hands in the pockets of a well-worn, loose fitting pair of pants. For the untrained beginner it feels as unnatural as putting their hands into the pockets of a skin tight pair of pants.

Use over grip (regrip) for accelerating. The proper over grip hand position angles the top of your hands a little steeper than your forearms which should hover at a 45 degree angle to the ground. This requires bending your wrists a little so while your forearms position at a 45 degree angle your hands over grip a little more from there. Now you have the freedom to move into the forward body position whether sitting or standing for accelerating. You can also work the throttle without your arm, elbow and shoulder dropping way down. You can even work over the top of the dirt bike and in front of the handlebars, if needed, something nearly impossible without the use of over grip.

The other grip position locates your hands a little lower than the over grip position for braking. When braking your hands and forearms should line up straight so you have strength to withstand any force against the handlebars, especially over bumps. If you remain in the over grip position your wrist would buckle and your body position could jolt too far forward, possibly sending you over the handlebars, leaving your face riding on the front fender just before you go all the way over and hit the ground while knocking the wind out of yourself. Trust me, I know. I've done it.

Finally, you have to know and practice how and when to change the two different grips. It's very easy to adjust your over grip to the slightly lower braking grip position. However, changing from the braking grip position to the over grip takes time to master because you have to control the front brake at the same time. Therefore, adjust your front brake lever a little lower than your clutch and just before letting up on the brakes switch to the regrip. As you get on the gas let your finger slip off the front brake.

Perform these Top 5 techniques correctly over and over again until they become natural and automatic. Developing bad habits wastes your time and you end up spending even more time unlearning them and changing to the correct habits.

Riders, even veteran riders, can learn new techniques and break bad habits thanks to the various practice strategies and methods. But I've learned most riders don't want to change, don't believe they can or don't know how.

If you're serious about improving these Top 5 techniques I can help you through some of my training videos: Check out Volume 3: DVD # 1 (Body Positions and Movements), DVD #2 (Motocross Braking Techniques) and DVD #5 (Motocross Rutted Corners) for looking ahead and much more at GarySemics.com.

Ride hard, ride smart and have fun,

Gary Semics

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) shipped worldwide or through our Instant Access Video On Demand Streaming platform.