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Gary Bailey Trackside: Use Your Head

by The "Professor" Gary Bailey


Not sure where to start with this one, so I guess we need to go back to the 1970s. The rider: Mike Bell. I remember standing in a turn at practice one day watching Mike go through the turn with his head turned in while going around the corner and it looked weird. I had never seen this before. When I say turned in, I mean his head was leaned to the inside of the turn. It was so weird looking because all other riders at the time went through the turns with their head more upright or else head out. Something clicked with me, when I realized that while we were all watching Mike that day and saying how weird his head turned in looked, we were also saying, “Man I can’t believe how fast he can get around that tight rutted turn.” Maybe Mike Bell was on to something, so I kept watching for this.

In the 1980s, there was a little of this head-in-thing going on here and there, but not like Mikes. That is until the late 1980s and this kid, of all names ironically named Mike, showed up. This time the rider was Mike Kiedrowski and the head-in thing was back. With Kiedrowski and other riders, I saw the head-in technique more and more and it worked again. I noted that when riders leaned their head in towards the corner, the bike would turn tighter.

The concept is: look where you want to go and you will go there.

Then came the late 1980s and 1990s. This time the rider was The King, Jeremy McGrath. Jeremy took a lot of things to the next level and the head-in technique was one of them. Jeremy made the head-leaned-in technique look so right and with him it all finally made sense. The concept is: look where you want to go and you will go there.

Why does this head-in technique work? Well, let’s do an experiment. Start walking, think about going to the right, and then lean your head and shoulders to the right and at the same time lean a little forward. If you do this, you will notice that your head and shoulders will make you go to the right. Now try this, start walking, think about going to the right, and now lean your upper body to the right and your head to the left. Are you still going right? Or, are you now going left in the direction you have leaned your head?

Here is another experiment, but make sure you do it on an open road with no traffic. As you drive along on a two-lane road, look to the left to the center line instead of straight ahead. Did you notice that your car drifted left? That is why when you meet an oncoming car on a two-lane road you look forward or to the white line on the right to keep you from drifting into the oncoming lane.

So, when and why should you try the head-in technique? First, you should use the head-in technique anytime you want to stay more to the inside of a turn and on the exit. In these situations, you should turn your head in. If the front wheel is turned to the inside of the turn, you can put your head in.

But be careful, this head-in technique should only be used when the front wheel is not going to wash out from lack of traction. The head-in technique will not work on a flat tracking corner where you are sliding around the turn with the back end kicked out. At this point, the front wheel would be turned out not in.

Think about this. When you are on the motorcycle look at the front fender and line your helmet visor up with the front fender. Now, as you are riding and start to turn while leaning the bike, turn your helmet and visor the same as the front fender. When you do this, your upper body will go where the front fender is pointed. If you are having a little problem making the front stick, you may not be over the front enough.

So, why don’t more current riders use the head-in technique? That is a tough one to answer. It is a little weird feeling at first and it takes a little getting use to, but it is not hard to master and it works. Granted, it is not normal to turn your head in, it requires a conscious effort to do so.

Up until now you probably have not even thought about trying this head-in technique because like all things that are different, if you don’t see the top guys doing it, then you don’t. If more of the top guys were using the head-in technique more, then everyone would be doing it. When Jeremy was using the head-in technique, you saw it more, just like shifting with the side of the boot off the start. When Jeremy used the side of the boot to shift and was getting the hole-shot, everyone started trying it. If the top guys are using the clutch or not using it, everyone is doing it. I remember when Carmichael rolled his bars way back and riders started rolling theirs back because they thought that’s why he was winning. Over the forty plus years I have studied motocross, I have concluded that generation after generation, motocross riders follow a “monkey see, monkey do” mentality and are very much copycats of whatever the top riders are doing.

So, will the head-in technique work for you? Yes, next time you practice, give it a try. If the front wheel is turned in and there is traction on the front, put your head in and you will go more inside. Someone will always take the lead and the rest will follow. It might as well be you in the lead

Love this photo of Jeremy laying the bike over in the air, head in and turning in the air
Even on the asphalt if the front wheel is turned in the head should be as well.
Again head is in line with the front fender. Why would you lean your head any other way?
Stay forward, head over the front and keep your head inline with the front fender. If you want to go more inside, lean your head and shoulders in and the bike will follow.
Here is a shot of Villapoto and as you can see the head is in to help the bike stay more inside and not go wide.
Here is a shot of Millsaps at Daytona with the head in. Another thing I like about this head in is it also makes it easier to keep your outside arm up and out for more control.
Many riders have their head out at this point making it harder to hold the inside. Dungey shows what you should look like.
Putting your head in at this point in the turn will make your bike turn quicker.
This is how you should look in a rutted turn. Get on the wall of the berm, lay the bike over and put the head in and your bike will not try to go over the berm.
I like this look and I think it should stay that way to the end of the rut as long as the rut keeps turning.
Another good-looking corner with the head in and again the visor is in line with the front fender. If the head is more upright and out the bike will want to go wide.
This bike is more likely to want to go over the burm because it will tend to stand up more.
Here is a normal look with the head at this point. Again the head is in line with the front fender. It would not work if you tried to put the head in here.
At this point in the turn when the rear end is coming out, don’t lean your head in. Keep the visor in line with the fender but you can lean your body in to help the bike keep turning to the inside. In this power slide the front end will be turned out so your head would not lean in. At this point you are steering the bike with the rear end not the front.

All corners are different so play with it in any corner you are having trouble with. If you keep going wide try head-in. If you think this looks cool, it is. Good Luck and Have Fun!

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
    tc May 12, 2011 at 9:58 am

    Cairoli does this head in technique to perfection. When I first saw him do it I thought it was just part of his style...

  2. Gravatar
    gary bailey May 12, 2011 at 1:29 pm

    Good call tc, yes it is part of his style and i love a lot of what he does. As a matter of fact he is one that does it well.

  3. Gravatar
    jairtime May 12, 2011 at 1:31 pm

    A guy named Randy Cannon used to go around turns with that technique back in 1972. It made me give the technique a try. In rut berms, your sight line can be perpendicular to your bike's sagittal plane where your tires' contact patches touch the rut. You can also use the technique to move laterally on the bike to anticipate decreasing radius ruts or increasing radius ruts, squiggly ruts, etc.

  4. Gravatar
    DR484 May 13, 2011 at 9:58 am

    Great article. I can still remember the first time I saw this technique and it was Ryan Hughes at Glen Helen back when he was racing the AMA Nationals. Ryan was leaning his head so far in that I too thought it was a quirky riding style.
    Another supporting point, think of your head as a big heavy counter weight. It's the furthest point from the ground so of course you will want to lean it in the direction you want to go as it would have the most influence on your lean angle and turn.

  5. Gravatar
    Frenchie May 13, 2011 at 10:02 am

    Funny this article shows up today. That is exactly what I worked on yesterday during a supermoto class...

  6. Gravatar
    serg May 20, 2011 at 10:02 pm

    you should let jeff ward school ya...he beat the shit out y'all frenchies before, supermotoing!!! that was awesome! go usa!

  7. Gravatar
    Greg Marino December 14, 2011 at 4:25 pm

    Well...I tried this...but here's the...and I don't want to call it a "problem" Gary. "In short", with what I guess you'd consider a "short" neck and the bottom of SHOEI helmet sitting directly on top on my LEATT neck brace. Impossible to perform. So, I took the LEATT off...and felt REALLY naked...but did as you suggested for several laps with badly rutted corners and...Oh, my! BTW Gary. The Leatt and chest protector scenario is adjusted purposely so, the helmet lightly rests on the neck brace. At 53 and 2 neck surgeries, this works nicely with a direct support to the neck under normal riding and WHEN I crash...people place bets on me...the impact causes minimal compression of the neck. Thanks for your dedication to our sport!

  8. Gravatar
    Rick Connerly December 14, 2011 at 4:27 pm

    Figures #800 would be doing it wrong. COME ON MIKE! LISTEN TO FOLKS! We know you've got what it takes!

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