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Gary Bailey Trackside: Perfect Practice

by The "Professor" Gary Bailey


Before I get to what I want to talk about, I want to assure you that I am not selling anything here. As I read articles and watch videos I always ask myself, is this written to help someone or is it to brag or to get the reader to buy their stuff? I write articles because I love motocross and I hope that by sharing my knowledge it will help someone. But, I won’t write every week just to be writing something. I ponder what to write and only write when I think I have something to contribute.

As always, writing a new article is a challenge: in deciding what to discuss the question is, what will be most helpful to the average rider. With so much information available to help riders in magazines and online it makes me wonder why riders have so many problems. I believe the answer is because riders do not apply what they read to their riding when they get to the track to practice. Most of the time when I go to a practice track, I do not see much practicing taking place. What I see most of the time is riders just riding around the track. I jokingly refer to it as wasting gas.

Even for those weekend riders who are at the track just because they love to ride, I ask myself, "Why do they not have better riding skills?" While they may not want to be racers, I still wonder why, for their own safety, they wouldn’t want to be better on the track. How can you ride and not want to be a better rider or at least look the part? Is the problem that they don’t care or they don’t take the time to read this stuff? Is the problem that they don’t understand what it is that everyone is saying? What is the problem and what is the answer?

As I am looking at any photo I am looking for anything I can see or learn. When I go to the races, I will take as many 2000 photos and as much video as I can so that later I can study it to see why one rider is faster on a given day than the others. In this shot I am looking to see if the finger is on the clutch and which one. Then ask myself why or why not? Then, if the finger is on the clutch, I look to see if he is using the clutch, how much? when? and why? I would continue to analyze where is his head? Is the head forward? Is it turned in? What about his arms? What about the inside leg? What about the outside foot? If he is braking, is it both brakes or just one and why? When does he start braking? When does he stop braking? And what part of the corner is he in when he is braking? Is there a rut or is it flat? And last do I like this look? Does the rider look in control or sketchy? All of these things are what I question when I see a picture. These are the details I study.

When I have a new student I ask them if they look at motocross magazines and the answer is almost always, yes. So, then I ask, what is that they look at? The answer is usually the pictures. Good, so then I probe further and ask what are they looking at? This is the part where they usually shrug their shoulders as if to say I don’t know.

So, I start asking questions about the popular riders. Okay, so you’ve seen lots of cool pictures of Chad Reed, what can you tell me about Reed? Does he use his clutch? If so, how many fingers does he use and which ones? Does he ride on the balls of his feet? What can you tell me about his body position, his arms and legs? The answer is almost always the same; "I don’t know."

I then ask the student about Villopoto, Dungey or Stewart………. After looking at all the photos, the new students usually don’t have a clue. What they can tell me is what kind of gear the pro riders wear and what brand bike the pros ride. Oh, and sometimes they will tell me they like a particular rider’s style, but when pressed they don’t know what it is that they like about it.

Oh yeah, I get it. Well, yeah, he is fast, but why? Again, I will get a shrug. And typically that is where the conversation usually ends and the teaching starts.

In every photo there are things to learn. I would start with do I like what this rider looks like or not? Then, why? Here I like the outside foot on the ball so he can weight the outside peg better and be more ready. I like the inside leg not too far out and in tight to the bike. I like the finger on the clutch to help control the power and traction. I would also pay attention to how forward he is on the seat. Love this look and it looks even better with that #1 plate.

If you want to get better, then you need to start looking at the best and do what they do and look like they look. We can talk about how and what to do so you can become a better rider, but if you are not going to take the time to go work on it you are not going to change.

That’s life!

When I first looked at this photo two things caught my eye: first, the front wheel is off the ground showing me traction; and the other thing is, the others are watching to see what he is doing. As with any start, getting hooked up is the most important thing. You can have the best bike with the most power, but if you don’t get traction you are going nowhere fast. So, I am looking at the finger on the front brake and the fingers on the clutch, is it one or two fingers and why? What are his feet and legs doing? Where is his head and what kind of soil is it? And from this, I start analyzing. What does this picture tell us and what should we change if there is more or less traction

First, maybe you need to think about all other sports. In all other sports, you don’t go to practice and just play a scrimmage game every day. You go to practice and work on drills and skills that will make you play the game better. Playing eighteen holes of golf every day is not going to make you a better golfer if your grip and swing are not right. So you practice by hitting buckets of golf balls and putting and chipping.  Likewise, you won’t become a better soccer, football, baseball, basketball player if all you do at practice is just play the game. Instead you practice plays and drills and skills like kicking, pitching, throwing, catching, and tackling. All sports are the same; you need to find all the tricks and skills that you need to be the best and work on them so you will be the best at those techniques when you play the game.

Motocross should be no different from all other sports. You should practice the skills of the sport of motocross when you practice, skills like:

  1. starts on sand
  2. starts on concrete
  3. gate reaction time
  4. smooth shifting
  5. using the clutch for proper power application
  6. braking going into a corner
  7. setting a corner up
  8. applying the clutch smoothly as you exit a corner
  9. maneuvering through deep sand
  10. riding deep ruts
  11. using your head to help steer the bike
  12. jumping singles, tabletops, doubles and triples
  13. timing a rhythm section with different combinations
  14. picking lines
  15. jumping into whoops
  16. proper form when riding whoops
  17. skimming deep whoops
  18. wheeling through whoops
  19. passing and
  20. blocking a pass – just to name a few.

How many of these skills did you work on the last time you went to open practice?

When you go to practice you need to do just that, practice. Don’t go out and just ride the track. Work on the things you are not good at.

And, even if you practice at the same track and do not have access to a variety of tracks you can ride the same track somewhere other than the main groove. As I look at most tracks, it’s about 20 feet wide, but there is one line about 3 to 4 feet wide all the way around.

Just this last weekend, I watched a race between two pretty good amateur riders that I know well. The way they started the race is the way they finished. Five laps of follow the leader. One playing block, while the other never tried to setup a pass. Round and round they went. You can’t pass if you are in the same line. Oh yeah, sure there were a couple of futile attempts to go inside, but all these attempts amounted to were getting up there in position to pass, slamming on the brakes and losing all forward momentum in the meantime. You need to work on setup and lines when you are practicing. Inside outside, outside inside, work the whole track. See how fast you can go not riding the main line.

ONLY PERFECT PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT. You need to have a plan when you go to ride. Know what you need to do and work on it. If you are just going to ride and just have fun, that’s ok. But call it that, call it going riding, don’t call it practice.

But, if you are going to practice, then practice. You can’t fix every thing at the same time. Pick one thing and focus on that one thing until you know you are better. This could be boring because you may need to do a turn 50 or even 100 times until you have it right or at least better. That is why they are called practice drills, it requires repetition to drill it in your head and make it stick.

Trying to think about too many new things at the same time when you practice may be a problem as well. Don’t try to fix it all at once. Don’t overwhelm yourself trying to work on form, getting on the wall of a rut, feeding the clutch and your setup for the turn all at the same time … that may be a bit too much.

Hope this helps you with some ideas to make a plan so you can have productive practice.

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
    Damon Whimple November 08, 2012 at 6:51 pm

    Went to Gary Bailey MX school and he is diffently the "professor".....these articles help!!!!!!!!!!!!thanks

  2. Gravatar
    Mike207 November 08, 2012 at 9:25 pm

    Awesome article Gary!

  3. Gravatar
    ACMX November 14, 2012 at 8:57 am

    So good article!! Thanks a lot

  4. Gravatar
    dave shelton November 16, 2012 at 1:47 pm

    I met you a few times out in Cal and in Phx. but one of those times we talked about the old video that you had done. I don't think many are left. It had in it your "balance training aid" of a small CR on a spring that was mounted into the ground...
    I think the video was made in the early 80's..

    I would still like to have it if you can find it..

    thanks for always having the passion to help.


  5. Gravatar
    Professor November 20, 2012 at 1:56 pm

    Dave, here is the deal, was the 80s and all those are on VHS and not sure if there are any still around. Would need to find master then transfer to a DVD. Hope all is well and thanks guys for your comments.

  6. Gravatar
    Simmons February 19, 2013 at 8:21 am

    Great Article. I like the way Gary thinks.

  7. Gravatar
    Lukáš March 28, 2013 at 3:18 pm

    Super, Im Lukas, in Czech republic :D

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