Trackside: Behind the Gate
by Racer X Virtual Trainer
The First 10 Feet
First of all, I hope everyone is doing well and having fun on their dirt bike. As for me, not much time for riding my dirt bike with all the travel to the Nationals, time at the track, and time studying pictures and footage trying to find all the little things Cooper Webb needs to focus on so we can run up front more. But with such perfect weather this Summer, I have used every excuse I could to jump on my street bike and take a ride.
The Nationals had their ups and downs for Cooper. For sure, we started out good, then some things came apart a little. Most of what went on had to do with the start. Racing Nationals is not like amateur racing where you can get a so so start and work your way up. When you get to the pros, the start is everything. There are some exceptions here as you seem to always have one or two riders that are going to be able to work their way up because they are some two to three seconds faster a lap. However depending on the day, even the best aren't able to work their way to the front. When I look at the first lap chart and then the results, I am finding a plus or minus of two or three places is more the norm. That tells me how important the start is as far as your finish.
Ok, so let's talk about how to get a better start and what you need to do. This discussion is going to be about the first 10 feet as I have done articles on starts before, but never an article focusing on the gate and behind the gate.
The Why-to of Starts
Traction vs. Reaction
Prep The Gate
Be sure your gate goes down all the way. You may even want to watch some gate drops to see if some gates drop faster than another. Yes, some gates are slower than others and some don't fall all the way because they are old or have been run into and are bent.
Decide whether you need to clean or fill the rut behind the gate: What is your biggest problem? Are you wheelieing or spinning? Are you having a wheelie problem?
- If you are having a wheelie problem and wheelieing too much, then put loose dirt in the rut so that you will not hook up as good. This will help when you are getting too much traction and make it easier to keep the front end down more when leaving the gate.
- On the other hand, if you are spinning and need more traction, then staying down to the good dirt can be a better idea, so you may want to clean any loose dirt out of the rut.
No matter which problem you have, you should always have a little ramp up to the gate so your front wheel won't just hit the bar and pop it up in the air as you cross over it. Some riders also like to put a little ramp in the back for the rear wheel so the bike is pointed a little down hill.
Every start is different, so you need to have a plan for whatever the gate on that day looks like. The same start gate at the same track can vary day to day and even moto to moto, so do not assume anything. You should carefully study the gate before each start. Also, keep in mind that the smaller the bike, the smaller the wheels, and the more important the prep behind the gate is.
Just keep in mind that just as your starts are generally better without a gate involved, you should try to neutralize the gate as a factor as much as possible by prepping behind the gate.
Don't Let The Front Wheel Hit The Gate
Most of the best starts come from those that wheelie over the gate. DONT LET THE FRONT WHEEL HIT THE GATE. If your front wheel hits the gate, it will pop up and then when the rear wheel hits the gate, it throws the front end down and then kicks the rear up making you loose control and the wheel spins on the gate.
Let me try to make this a little easier to understand. It's like having a bump or a kicker on the track. If you hit it with the front end down the back is going to try to kick up, so you wheelie that hole or bump and of course you have the gas on so the rear end stays down and on the ground.
Grip The Bike With Your Legs and Boots To Stay Straight and Clean
The straighter and cleaner you get over the gate, the better start you are going to get. Besides the prep behind the gate, be sure you are griping the bike and I don't mean with your hands. I am talking with your legs and boots. Lock yourself in to the bike, so the two become one and so you can control the bike with your lower body. The lower body is holding onto the bike, but the hips are loose.
Think how hard it would be to ride a bicycle with no hands if you were not griping with your lower body: that would not work! When you leave the gate, you need to control the bike more with the lower body. If your feet and legs are flying around, you are not going to go straight.
Prepare To Start and Follow Through After The Start
Every start is a little different as far as the traction itself because of the dirt and track prep, so what you do after the gate may change at every track. But one thing that will not change is that you need to be hooked up better than everyone else.
Prepare to Start
As you get ready for that gate drop lock your body into the bike, put your front brake on, get your RPMs up, set your clutch at the set position and get ready to go. To do this let the clutch out as far as possible just before the bike wants to move and the rear wheel is not spinning. So the next little release you will be moving forward. You want this to be like a tractor trying to get work done. If the wheel is spinning, you are not getting the job done.
Then, as the gate drops, have a good clean follow through. Think of the follow through that you see with a golfer, a bowler, a tennis player or someone shooting a free throw. A start is no different, to have a good start you need to hold your locked in position for the first ten feet so that you will start clean and straight. It's all about preparation and follow through. With perfect practice on your starts and gate prep, you will have PERFECTION.
Don't hit the gate....
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.