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Gary Bailey Trackside - Better Whoops

by The "Professor" Gary Bailey


Why talk about whoops now? Well, after watching Anaheim1 SX and seeing so many riders go down in the whoops, I thought it was time. Watching Anaheim also got me thinking about all the riders I‘ve seen struggle in the whoops until they learned what they needed to do for more confidence and control.

I am not sure why whoops are called whoops. I think whoops is short for whoop de doos. But, I suspect the real reason is because when things go wrong in the whoops, we go oops or whoops or maybe more like oh …. You know, we’ve all been there.

Why they are called whoops doesn’t really matter. What does matter is that you need to know how to ride whoops, so you can be safer and faster. If you are good in the whoops, it can give you a big advantage.

Even if you don’t have many whoops where you ride, you still need to know how to ride whoops. For sure you don’t want to show up for a big race and psych yourself out because you are intimidated by whoops.

The biggest mistake riders make in the whoops is getting too far back on the bike while trying to keep the front wheel light. Instead of getting back on the bike in the whoops, you should keep your head forward (with your visor as close as possible over your number plate for as long as possible), keep the bike flat, and let your front wheel hit the top of each whoop. When you do this you must learn to trust the front end and let the front wheel hit each whoop. The more you let the front wheel hit each whoop, the more the bike will rebound and this helps keep the front end light. I know it seems counterintuitive to get forward on the bike in the whoops to be lighter on the front end, but this is how the forks of the bike work like a pogo stick with compression then rebound. Resist the urge to get back and trust yourself to get forward and let the bike work like it is designed to do.

It is also very important that you keep the front wheel out of the bottom of the whoops. If the front end goes in the bottom, it will compress the forks and then rebound back at you slowing forward momentum and wreck your timing. Well, I should say ruin your timing, let’s not use that word wreck when talking about the whoops.

Another mistake is that riders want to carry the front wheel as far as they can. Then, when the bike sets down, the front wheel is in the wrong place and the bike becomes a bucking bronco.

If you are going to go faster, you will need to come into each whoop with the front down, but on the top of the whoop, which will cause the rear to be up a little. This is good for speed.  In the whoops what slows the forward momentum more than anything is the rear wheel impact into each whoop. If the rear wheel is up a little, then it will not impact into each whoop as much and you will be able to maintain your speed in the whoops. You only want the rear wheel to barely touch the top, just to give drive. This will work if you are not wide open, but the faster you go, the easier it is to stay on top of the whoops and just skim through them.

Yet another common mistake riders make in the whoops is having the wrong power. No matter what speed you like in the whoops, it is important that you have a steady to increasing power. If you chop the throttle, you are asking for a disaster, much like what would happen if you were trying to do a wheelie, turned the throttle off and tried to keep the front wheel up. We all know that is NOT going to work.

Another mistake riders make in the whoops is riding in the arches of their boots or flat -footed. You should ride on the balls of your feet as much as possible, but it is especially important in the whoops. Riding on the balls of your feet in the whoops helps the bike work better by making you lighter on the pegs. The advantage of being lighter on the pegs, is that it will let the rear end come up easier and not hit so hard into the face of the whoops. Riding on the balls of your feet will also change the balance on the bike and keep you a little more in the center of the bike.

Finally, a big mistake riders make is not keeping their knees behind the pegs. Why is that a big mistake? Well, because the more your knees are behind the pegs, the more control you will have over the rear end of the bike. The bike has two movements from the foot pegs: (1) it rocks nose up and nose down and (2) it swaps in the rear end.  If your knees are in front of the pegs instead of behind the pegs, it lets the back end swap more and also it is harder to grip the bike. But with your knees back behind the pegs, you can control the amount of the back end swap more and maintain better control.

Over the years there have been a number of good whoops riders. So, who are my three current picks for best in the whoops based just on what I saw last week at Anaheim? Probably Villopoto, Canard and Stewart. Why? I like that they stayed flatter, were more over the front, and had less rear wheel impact. I think this is what made them so quick in the whoops at Anaheim. Of the three, Canard may be my first pick.

Canard comes in with the bike flat, on the balls of his feet, with his head forward. And I like the finger on the clutch.
After coming off the first whoop the bike is still flat, this means the rear wheel will not impact the next whoop so the bike will keep a good forward momentum. I still like the finger on the clutch so you can control the power to the rear wheel and be ready if you have a problem.
Bike is still flat win, win, win.
Bike still flat, light on the pegs, finger still there. Looking good.
Everything is still the same, and so is the forward momentum. Staying forward is important. As you go through the whoops you will tend to be pulled back, so you need to focus on staying forward.
Every whoop is the same and that’s what it takes, perfection when and where you can.
If you can hold this look all the way through the whoops, it’s hard to get beat there.
Coming to the end and there was not much that changed all the way. That’s why I like Trey
Catching Villopoto part of the way through the whoops, his bike is flat, he is on the balls of the feet and forward.
Same as Trey, things are looking good and he is carrying a good forward momentum.
Keeping the bike flat is a must and this is why I like the way Ryan rides through the whoops.
Staying forward and light on the pegs is a must. You have to trust the front end and use it
Here Dungey is on the balls of the feet, head forward with knees back. However, I think the front end is too high. Why do I think that? Because this is going to make the rear end go too deep in the bottom letting it slam into the face of the next whoop and slow forward momentum a little.
This is what will happen when you have the front end a little high and the rear slams the whoop. It will throw the front down a little forcing you to the rear. I like the fact he has a finger on the clutch.
Again we are looking that the same thing front end a little high and we may see the same result.
This is what happens once the rocking starts, it’s hard to change. As long as you are that far back, it’s hard to be light on the pegs and level the bike out.
Again big impact, so how do you stop it? Move forward.
As you can see Ryan has moved forward and is lighter on the pegs. Sure would like to see right arm up.
Now by moving forward,the bike is getting flatter. This is also a lot less work when you can stay level.
Things are looking better at this pojnt. From here to the end of the whoops the bike can stay flat.
Here Stewart comes in a little back on the bike, but is on the balls of the feet and his head is forward.
What I like about Stewart is even though he is back a little I like where his arms are and this helps him keep his head forward.
At this point Stewart is for sure on the balls of the feet with the knees back and keeping head forward.
This is when you need to trust the front forks and know that if you stay on the power it will be ok.
I like this look, aggressive and in control of the situation.
At the end, finger on the front brake and ready for the turn. That’s why you need to come out of the whoops in control.
Only one photo, so not necessarily a pattern, but in this one shot you can see there is a lot of work going on here and the rear end is going to drop into the bottoms of the whoops slowing the momentum. When you are on the rear of the bike, you can’t be light on the pegs.
Kevin may be my fifth pick for getting through the whoops. He may be a little far back, but he knows how to keep the bike flat.

Well, that’s it for now. Hope this helps your whoops. Don’t try to do this all at once and don’t go faster than you are ready to. Have fun and be safe.

Thank you for checking out this article. Other similar articles can be found in the archive section. I hope all of my articles help you become a better, safer rider no matter what your skill level. Because I am in semi retirement after 43-years teaching full-time, I only do private one-on-one coaching or with a small group of riders. Most of my time is spent in Virginia, however, if you are on the west coast I do spend some of the winter months in California visiting my kids and grandkids. If you are interested in scheduling a coaching session shoot me an email or go to my website. You can come to the mountain or the mountain will come to you!

That's it for now, until next time, good luck with your training and remember, if you have a question, log on to the Virtual Trainer Expert Forum and have your question answered by a panel of experts. In addition, be sure and check out the Racer X Virtual Trainer archive section. Your complete one-stop information zone for motocross fitness. VT Signature

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  1. Gravatar
    Grimm January 18, 2011 at 10:56 am

    Straight and to the point , the only way we need it. Thank you Mr Bailey.

  2. Gravatar
    Josh January 18, 2011 at 1:35 pm

    Hey Bailey,
    My only question is since Windham and Millsaps are taller, wouldn't the form be more toward the back of the bike (or atleast look like it) because they look to have the elbows bent and are forward and Millsaps especially in his lites years was the best in the whoops. Atleast Colleen used to talk about it at MTF (although she may be biased). My only reason for the question is because at 6' tall I also would have to be similar and in both pictures it appeared that the bike was flat.

  3. Gravatar
    Bill January 18, 2011 at 3:23 pm

    I like the part about knees behind the pegs. In my mind I see RC saving it in the whoops with his knees behind the pegs although at his height it may have been hard to get his knees back untill his feet came off the pegs.

  4. Gravatar
    MonkeyButt January 18, 2011 at 3:44 pm

    For my 2c, u would be correct. I see no way that I could stay that far forward using stock forks. Period. Even my old KTM 520 did not have enuff beans to keep the front end light if I was over it in whoops. Tall people have too much leverage.
    Old school: I am 6'2" and pretty darn adept at whoops, but my keys on a 2T have always been to enter a gear high / slipping the clutch / holding the throttle locked in the meat of the powerband. I seldom change the throttle, but rather use the clutch to regulate traction/adjust the power, pretty much like u do for holeshots. For my body I stay on the balls of my feet with my weight as LOW as possible and as far back as possible.
    Maay be with some really primo forks I could allow the front end to bump the whoops like that, but even then I am skeptical. Like u, I know of no tall rider who does it...

  5. Gravatar
    Professor Bailey January 18, 2011 at 7:36 pm

    You guys are good, love the fact you are looking at this stuff. That makes me want to do more. Love to see riders get better and be safer.
    Ok here it is no matter your size this works. Now that you talked about Davie, remember when he was fast in whoops? Well, I was working with Davie at that time and had been since he was on mini's thats why he rode that way, and it worked.... Really good. After he broke his leg and came back I never worked with him because someone else was helping him. If he would go back to that he would be that good in the whoops again. Maybe you remember That Travis Pastrana kid in the whoops he was the fastest and the best in the whoops, oh by the way, I did worked with Travis the entire time he did motocross and supercross. Travis is tall and was tall on the mini's and he rode with his legs almost straight and over the front end. You need to be in the center of the bike as much as possible. Oh yes if you are tall your butt will be back a little more. Important if your hand grip is wrong and you start in to the whoops with your arm down it gets worse as you go through the whoops.
    Sure the better the forks the better the bike will work. I work with riders on all size bikes and all ages and they make it work. Thanks guys hope this helps.

  6. Gravatar
    Professor Bailey January 18, 2011 at 7:45 pm

    Oh MonkeyButt What you are doing with the throttle and clutch, works. This way you can control the power and the speed while keeping the throttle on. And you can do the front into the whoop. You don't need a lot of power if you let the forks do more of the work.

  7. Gravatar
    Doug January 19, 2011 at 1:07 am

    When I think of whoops aside from Pastrana one other name stands out. Mike Jones, I remember in his Arenacross days he was the best in the whoops. But I do have a question for you, you keep talking about hitting the front tire on the top of each whoop. But what if the spacing of the whoops does not allow for that to happen? Say they are to close together for that to be possible.

  8. Gravatar
    Professor bailey January 19, 2011 at 11:19 pm

    Every set of whoops are different, too close can't be a problem. However if one is a little lower then you may miss that one. Or if they are way far apart like 20' or more. Then you can't keep the bike flat if that is the case,so you need to keep the front end up and light. Again where you set the front wheel is very important, set the wheel just on the top. Not on the face or on the back side. In this situation you will get back a little. Remember I said a little.

  9. Gravatar
    Josh February 26, 2011 at 9:33 am

    Thanks, and I know this is a little bit of a late entry, but after watching San Diego last weekend I realized Stewart is almost always NOT on his toes. He frequently is on the arch of his foot. Even in the sixth picture of him you can see that. Now I'm sure that everywhere I've been taught you are supposed to be on your toes. Is there something I am missing or is Stewart just a creature of poor habit, and possibly human as well?

  10. Gravatar
    gary bailey February 26, 2011 at 4:02 pm

    Thats a good call Josh, and you are right. First of all no one is perfect, not even JS. True he is not on the balls of the feet some times, then some times he is. What I can tell you is that the suspension works better if you are on the balls of your feet than when you are in your arches. I think that James is just plan fast and aggressive and does not go for text book perfect. RC was a little the same, just get there as quick as you can. What works for James is not going to work for everyone. Try to go that fast and see how it works out. Sometimes he looks better in the whoops than other times and some times he is on the balls on the feet. What I can tell you is if he was always on the balls of his feet he would be better and faster. So good for the other guys that he is not always on the balls.

  11. Gravatar
    gary bailey February 26, 2011 at 4:07 pm

    Oh by the way, that last photo is at the end of the whoops and he is going for the rear brake for the corner.

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