How to Practice Motocross
by Aldon Baker
Practicing with friends and even your closest competition is a great way to improve skill and get faster on your motorcycle.
photo: Aldon Baker Instagram
One of the biggest mistakes I see amateurs and even pros make is that they do not know how to practice. Most people think practice is just going to the track and riding for a couple of hours. That certainly can't hurt, but unless you have time to burn going to the practice track without a plan can be a waste of time. This is especially important for the weekend warrior who may only have one day each week to practice. An effective practice session should consist of more than just pounding out lap after lap. Having an good plan before you reach the track is critical. Most amateurs think that the pros, even though they get to ride almost everyday, just ride once they hit the track. This couldn't be further from the truth, at least with my guys and in this article I will share with you some of the things that we do once we get to the practice track.
Evaluate Your Skills
The first step in having a successful practice session is to evaluate your strengths and weaknesses from the previous race week. It is extremely important to determine your weak points so that you can highlight those during practice and work on improving those areas while maintaining the things that you do well. All aspects of the previous race need to be replayed in your mind to determine what needs improved. Everything from corning, braking and jumping, to speed, endurance and mental preparation must be examined to develop a good plan for the upcoming week. Other key factors that are often overlooked in developing a good plan is the terrain of the next race track (sandy, hilly, hard pack, etc.), the upcoming weather (forecast for hot, cold, wet, or dry), pre-race preparation details (is your gear ready), and travel (when do you have to leave?). Once you evaluate all of these aspects of your racing, you can then formulate a clear plan of action for your practice session.
Make Flexible Plans
Once you hit the practice track it is important to maximize your time on the track. Even though you laid out a plan prior to leaving, you have to evaluate the track conditions and situation once you arrive at the track. If you are lucky enough to ride on your own track or the track of a friend, make sure the track is prepped and ready. Having your own private track to ride on can be an advantage, but can also be a disadvantage if the track does not get prepped to race day standards. Practicing on hard pack dusty conditions will do you no good if on race day the track is groomed with soft dirt that develops deep ruts. If you practice at an open facility, evaluate the number of riders on the track along with how long each session will last to determine which skills and drills you can work on. And don't skip a practice day just because the weather is not perfect. Chances are you will have to race more often than not in less than ideal circumstances so use these days to improve a skill that you may otherwise never work on. With this information you should be able to take your initial plan and adapt it to get the most out of your practice session.
Using a stop watch to track a rider's progress (whether it be a full lap or sections) is the only way to accurately measure speed on the motorcycle.
Photo: Tim Crytser
Even though it is tempting to start busting out laps right of the bat, I feel that a more effective way to practice is to split the track into sections. By doing this you can work on each turn, jump and straight away perfecting those areas before moving on. This will also give you a chance to work on the areas that you feel are deficient by slowing things down and allowing you to concentrate on those areas. Unlike race day, practice is a time to be analytic about your riding focusing on improving your riding technique. Good quality practice (and repetition) is the only way to develop proper skill through reflexes and reactions. Practice makes perfect unless you are practicing the wrong technique in the first place! The focus in this portion of practice is to limit mistakes. Once a portion of the track has been mastered, you can then move on to the next section until the entire track has been mastered.
Once you master each section (20-30 minutes at most for a section) take a break, and then come back and start putting laps together. If you have multiple days to practice, use the early part of the week to work on speed by doing short, fast motos. If your motos are 15 minutes long, then you should concentrate on 5 minute motos early in the week. Maybe 2 or 3 laps at most. Keep doing short sprint-type motos until you can complete a moto mistake free. If you are having difficulty with a particular section, cut the track back into sections and work on mastering that section. If you have multiple days to ride, build on what you did the previous day by adding time to the moto and increasing the number of motos. The emphasis is still on smooth, fast, mistake free motos. Once you can complete a moto mistake free, you can move on to longer motos up to the time it takes you to complete a race on race day.
What Time is It?
If you can learn to wrench like a pro, you will gain a huge advantage over other riders...even those more talented!
photo: Brandon Parrish
Perfecting skills that you are weak on is the only way to become fast on all parts of the track. Take a whoop section for instance. The only way to master the whoops is to practice going through the whoops over and over again. Breaking the track into sections and even smaller parts like whoops or turns will allow you to perfect small parts of the track without having to conquer the entire track at once. Again, having someone hold a stop watch on you is the true measure of improvement. Concentrate on perfect technique and before you know it your lap times will get lower and lower; guaranteed! Starts are another area of practice that get overlooked. The start of the race is the only chance you have to pass every rider on the track; it doesn't get any more important than that! Starts are hard to practice due to the increased wear-and-tear on the bike. It's hard enough for the pros and even harder for weekend warriors. Practice starts at the end of your practice session for at least 20 to 30 minutes. If you are serious, you can simulate starts by buying an individual start gate and be sure to ride through the first turn. Again, it is very important to time your starts and log your results.
Starts are the most important part of a race and least practiced element at the practice track. repeat after me...."Work on starts.....work on starts!
photo: Ryan Villopoto Facebook
Part of every practice session should also be committed to bike setup. Pros have mechanics, so you will have to learn this skill on your own. One of the biggest advantages the weekend warrior can gain over his opponent is in bike setup. The place to learn is at the practice track NOT on race day. Experiment with the suspension settings, different tires and tire pressures, handle bar positions, jetting, etc. to learn how each adjustment effects the handling characteristics of your bike. This is important to learn so that on race day you can make intelligent adjustments to your bike as the track changes. Along with physical training, bike setup can be a huge equalizing factor for the less skilled rider.
Whether you get to practice 5 days a week or just one, having a clear plan of what you need to work on in practice before you get to the track is key. If you put these few simple techniques of developing a plan, practicing skills, working on sections, and learning bike set-up, I am sure your lap times and performance will improve on race day. If you want to be faster than everyone else, not only do you have to train harder than them, you have to train smarter as well. Cheers for now!
About the Author: If you follow motocross at all you know Aldon Baker's name. If you are new to the sport just know that Aldon is hands down the most successful trainer in the industry having worked with the biggest names in motocross including Ricky Carmichael, James Stewart, Ryan Villopoto, Ken Roczen, Adam Cianciarulo, Jake Weimer, and Ben Townley to name a few. He has even ventured outside of motocross and trained the Hayden brothers in MotoGP as well as Daytona 500 winner Jamie McMurray. Aldon graciously shares his insight from time to time on Virtual Trainer (link to his feature) in the form of articles and interviews. That's all we really know about the guy!
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.