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Trackside: Sit, Stand, and Leg Position

by The "Professor" Gary Bailey

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From the time my son David was a young boy, he always asked me why. He was like a sponge wanting to soak up and understand everything. Why did I set the suspension a particular way? why, why, why? And this same thing that I call the Why factor, the desire to soak up and understand everything about motocross, is the one common trait that I have seen over and over in those few special riders I worked with from a young age like David, Travis Pastrana, Justin Barcia and now Cooper Webb. To me, the Why factor is the X factor of motocross.

I want you, as a rider, to start asking Why which will make you better at the How. As you read this column, do me a favor, don’t think How, think Why. I believe if you understand Why you are doing something, then How you do it means more. I also believe that until you understand Why, you will never be as good at How.

When you watch a race, watch it in a different way. Don’t just say Villopoto is faster in that section than Reed. Ask yourself, Why is he faster. What is he doing differently than the other riders? I always ask Why one rider is better than another on a given day. I look for patterns. Riding techniques constantly change due to changes in the bikes, new technology, different tracks and even the fitness and traits of riders. The key is to take what you see and try to understand Why one way works better than the other.

So with that said, I am now going to talk about whether to sit or stand when riding and cornering and what to do with your inside leg in a corner and Why.


I have actually been looking at the question of whether to sit or stand for quite a while and have reached the conclusion that I prefer sitting when and where you can.


The old standing verses sitting issue has been the subject of debate for a long time. My pictures from the San Diego SX race told me it might be a good time to revisit this topic. Then, the next weekend while out at Pala helping Cooper Webb get ready for the start of amateur nationals and watching some riders there, I decided the subject couldn’t wait any longer. And while we are talking about sitting in the corners, let’s go ahead and talk about the best way to put your leg out in a corner and Why.

Sit or Stand?
I have actually been looking at the question of whether to sit or stand for quite a while and have reached the conclusion that I prefer sitting when and where you can.

Here’s Why and how I reached this conclusion: I look at it this way; if the track is smooth or only has small bumps, sit down, don’t stand up. If you watch riders who stand up on short straight-aways and then sit down just before the corner, you can see the rear wheel stop for a split second, sliding the rear wheel and slowing the bike while giving up a little control as well. This causes a loss of momentum.

At the same time, if you watch the rider who stays seated on the short straight-away, you will see that this rider can be more aggressive out of the first turn and into the next because he can now focus on charging corner to corner. Sitting maintains more traction and allows you to set up for the next corner with more ease. Also, there is no loss of momentum with the rear wheel stopping even for a spilt second as there is with the rider who is transitioning from standing to sitting for the corner.

Think of it this way; if standing on a smooth straight-away were better, then logic tells us that motorcycle road racers on a smooth road track would stand. But road racers do not stand. When was the last time you saw that? Have you ever seen a road racer standing up in say the Daytona 200 between turns? By the same logic if standing on a smooth track were better, then flat trackers would also stand, but they do not stand either.

The only motorcycle racers you ever see standing are motocross racers and the difference is because it is better to stand when it is rough (as motocross tracks are in some places), but not when it is smooth. It follows then that in motocross, you should stand only when the track is rough and you need to. But, you should sit whenever the track is smooth especially on the short straight-aways between corners to help maintain momentum and to be able to charge harder between corners.

Inside Leg Position
Now, let’s turn the discussion to the position of the inside leg when you are sitting in a corner. What should you do with it and Why?

Here is one that is going to take some work to understand and to master because I am about to tell you to undo what you have always done and what you have always been told. You have probably always read or always been told that you should put your inside leg out straight and high. This is not always the best way to hold your leg in a turn.

Why? Well, the most important thing is to keep your foot from catching the ground and this is probably why you thought that putting your leg out straight and high was a good idea. But it is not. The problem with sticking your leg straight out is that it makes your upper body go back which keeps some weight from the front wheel making it harder for the front wheel to stick in the corner.

So, what is better than sticking your leg straight out? It is a technique I call the half-out. First, I will explain what the half-out is and then I will tell you how to do it.

A little history and explanation is necessary to make the point, so please follow me for a minute.

I have seen this half-out technique before but when I started closely watching James Stewart back when he was kicking everyone’s butt in Supercross. I noticed that JS was using it more and better than anyone else. This is why JS could turn on a dime better than anyone at the time. JS was onto something and it made sense when I realized that the half-out is perfectly suited for Supercross and as well at some places on a motocross track. By using this technique, JS was saving time and energy and cornering better.

In Supercross unlike motocross you don’t spend too much time in the corner, so you don’t have a lot of time to make things happen. Also in supercross, there are not a lot of deep ruts so you don’t lay the bike over very far plus you don’t have those big banks on the inside that you need to lift your foot over. So, you do not need your leg as high.

So what is this half-out and how do you do it? Try this little exercise to understand. While you are sitting in the chair put your leg straight out and high, now try to lean forward. That is not too easy to do. Next, while sitting in the chair pick your foot up off the ground with your knee bent and held high and lean forward. You should find that it is easier to stay forward and it is less work. This is the half-out.

When you do the half-out on the bike, be sure to keep your foot tucked in close to the bike. If you keep your foot in tight, you will not catch it on the ground. One other thing I like about this technique is that if your foot touches the ground it will not cause you to lose as much control. By the way this is not new. If you go back to Rick Johnson back in the day, he did that and with a lot of success.

The half-out is best used in a turn without a deep rut where the bike is not laid way over. If you do not need your foot as high, then you can put it half-out, knee bent. If your leg is only half-out, then the upper body won’t be forced as far back on the bike. If you can stay further forward, you will make better corners. Also, because your leg is only half-out, it will not take as long to transition your foot. One small change in technique from holding your leg straight and high to holding it in the half-out position and bent gives you two gains:

  1. Better, more precise cornering
  2. Faster transitions with your foot

Above 4 Photos: Stand, sit? Here is the way it works and Why. First there is no reason to stand up going down this straightaway. That’s right, I said no reason. If it is smooth as it is here, you will have more control sitting and you can be more aggressive while sitting, plus you can work more on your set up for the next turn. A bit of history is helpful to understand how sitting in corners got started. The reason we started standing in motocross is the tracks were getting rough going into the turns and the old suspension we had would not handle it if you were sitting. Well, now days we have much better suspension so it makes it easier to sit through those small bumps.

Above 3 Photos: So Why stand if you don’t need to? When I look at road racers and flat trackers I ask the question if there would be any advantage for them to stand up going down the straightaway and then sit down for the corner. The answer is no, I don’t think so. Those guys are good and they are smart, so if it were better to stand they would be standing and they aren’t.

Above 2 Photos: Depending on how much you are going to lay the bike over will determined how high you will need your leg up so your foot will not touch the ground. A little foot skimming is not all bad as long as you don’t let it catch the ground.

Above 3 Photos: As you come out of the turn, get hooked up stay forward and on the gas. While coming out of the turn, plan your entrance and setup for the next turn. Treat this straightaway like it was a start, stay seated and charging. Then as you set up for the turn, let the bike drift in a little as a flat tracker would do, this way you can set the bike more to the inside as you are coming in. You can’t put your leg out, lay the bike over and commit to the turn if you are standing. A final point to ponder: if the front wheel or the back wheel, or both were to wash out, would you rather be standing or sitting?

Above 2 Photos: Let’s start by looking at some photos that will help you understand what I am saying about the position of your inside leg. Here you are looking at the #34 landing from a jump into a short turn then off another jump. There is not a lot of time here, so putting your leg straight out would take too much time. By putting your leg in the half-out with this look, it takes less time and you can also keep your weight more on the front end.

Above Photo: Looking at this photo I think the leg is too straight and the upper body is too far back making it harder to get the front end to stick in that rut.

Above 5 Photos: With the leg in the half-out position you can keep more weight on the front end to make it stick in the turn. It is also important that you grip with your outside leg to the tank. The more you grip the tank the easier it is to stay forward. You can also use the outside leg to keep the bike laid over. Keep your outside leg tight against the tank. Plus, all of this will work better if you are on the ball of the foot.

Above Photo: In this photo I like the #1's look for sure. I like the #21 but don’t like his head. The #24 can’t hold the inside as well because his head is too far back and the leg is too forward for me. Then there is the #22. I love the head in and how far forward he is, but I am not sure the leg needs to be this far forward. If his leg was more like the #1 and the #21, he could be cutting more to the inside.

Above Photo: Now this it what it should look like. Inside leg, up and in tight, outside leg gripping the tank, head forward, outside arm out for more control, forward on the seat and one finger on the clutch. This is the way it’s done!

Video
So let’s move on to some video and see what it looks like in motion.

Hope you enjoyed this piece on cornering and all the little tips and I hope it helps you make better corners. Now sit down, get that leg half-out and ride safe!

I would like to take a moment to tell you that if you are interested in motocross history, I have a book out called Pioneer to Professor that covers all of my racing days, from 1957 on a 200cc Triumph Cub to my factory Bultaco days and beyond. I have also put together a limited edition book for kids, Motocross A to Z with the help of Thor. Both books can be ordered at garybaileymx.com or you can pick them up at The Legends and Heroes display at the Lucas Oil Motocross nationals and a portion of the proceeds from each book purchased from Legends and Heroes goes to support the Legends and Heroes motocross history tour.

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 gbmx@kimbanet.com 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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Discussion

  1. Gravatar
    Alberto Ferrari March 08, 2012 at 10:09 am

    Matt Walker in a previous Breakdown came to the same conclusion,
    More sit less stand.
    I don't agree. Maybe in a well prepared Sx track or maybe in a high speed bend.
    In every other situation standing is the way.
    The center of gravity is lower - right on the pegs, the leverage is way better.
    I think that a little bit of DH mtb as cross training can help to explain what I mean.
    DH is way technically closer to real MX than MotoGp or Short Track.
    Alberto from Italy



  2. Gravatar
    Bart L March 08, 2012 at 1:24 pm

    I like the piece Gary,

    As a roadracer I see where you're aiming at. I also understand Alberto's concern. As a matter of fact, a road racer will have allmost all of his weight on the peggs to have his center of gravity as close to the CoG of the bike's, to make angle changes more easy (check Casey Stoner hanging off). They however do use the tank as contact and control point to avoid giving unwanted input on the handlebars since it is the handlebars that flicks the bike, not the weight of the rider.
    For MX, standing would indeed lower the CoG, but would also make it nescesarry to use the handlebars to control your bodyweight on the bike, thus making it harder to control the bike when cornering (more contact points gives more feedback en more control). Also the footpegs are positioned more to the rear then the front of the seat, thus decreasing traction.
    To conclude, I agree with Gary that using the seat gives more control and better acceleration, but while changing the lean-angle loading (not standing) the outer footpeg would be benificial.
    (will I get burned now?)

    p.s. Love the WHY part.
    Rgds from the Netherlands

  3. Gravatar
    Patrick Trudel March 08, 2012 at 5:52 pm

    Thank you Gary for confirming that today's bikes like to be driven this way. This gives something useful to visualize during our long Canadian winter break!

    Pat

  4. Gravatar
    Craig Woolard March 08, 2012 at 7:58 pm

    Most of us weekend riders ride MX tracks that have too many braking bumps to sit going into the turn, however, I can see when the track is smooth like most supercross tracks sitting would be an advantage. When riding rougher MX tracks and charging into a corner I have always been under the impression that when you transition from standing to sitting it lowers the bike by compressing the suspension if done at the right time making the bike lower to the ground, thus easier to corner. Any thoughts on this?

  5. Gravatar
    xflyer March 08, 2012 at 9:11 pm

    I really enjoyed the Why and How as well. I will have my son reading that for sure. Speaking of which, he is young (9 yrs old) and he is just does not feel in control entering a corner standing up. His standing technique around the rest of the track is pretty good and employed appropriately. It just seems to overwhelm his abilities to process all the control aspects of standing entering the corner. As mentioned by some above, with large breaking bumps its going to be a must for him to learn. He will be relieved to learn, and I'm relieved to not keep nagging him about it, that sitting down for corner entry does have advantages. One thing though regarding the boot position; I was told (just like getting forward on the seat) that tossing that big ole' boot out there by the front tire throws a couple more pounds on the front tire to aid grip. Maybe this is what Reed feels hence his use of that technique? This is not to dispute your points of how it affects bending forward and if the action causes a couple of pounds of the upper body to move backward then it isn't helping. But, having just employed your seated experiment it doesn't take much bend of the knee and lowering of the foot to allow my upper body to get forward again. Thank You for the pointers.

  6. Gravatar
    Dave Delles March 09, 2012 at 1:28 pm

    These are all great details for racers and riders alike. Thanks for the article and videos. Asking "why" all your life will make you a better person too. I've been following David's career since 1985, I was only 10, but what really made him one of my heros is his drive to succeed at everything he does and is still the most genuine person you've ever met. After all these years I was able to meet him and talk with him at the Malcolm Smith Motorsports Movie nights with the legends last year. He was very open about his life, career, injury, and his involvement with the sport of Motocross/Supercross.

  7. Gravatar
    professor March 10, 2012 at 10:57 pm

    Guys you are not off base, and very interesting as nothing is carved in stone. All tracks and all corners are different. All riders have a different way of riding some are more standup and some are more of a sit down. When RC was winning he did and little more sitting then anyone he was riding against. I am not saying that you should sit all the time. But if the track is smooth as some are then you can be more aggressive corner to corner when you stay seated. Mostly for those short little straights between corners. You do control the bike with the peg and your knees. The majority of your control comes from your lower body for sure. Even when sitting you use the pegs to help control the bike. If the track has bump of course you would stand then sit as you are going over the last bump entering the corner. Here is a cool, fun thing you can do to learn a little more about using your lower body to control the bike. Find a nice down hill, smooth and not to steep. As you start down the hill click up to 4th gear so the bike will roll better. Now take your hands off the bars and ride down the hill using are lower body to control the bike, pegs and knees. After sitting, try it standing, then if that works then try a little side saddle. That's right both feet on the same side. You will now use the knee against the tank and that foot peg to control the bike for sure .This will help you understand how important it is to learn to use your lower body. Thanks guys always good to hear from you.
    One last thing, WHY......

  8. Gravatar
    Mossy March 17, 2012 at 3:02 am

    .Gary Bailey, i read your book. How to ride a minibike 40 years ago and have done nothing but chase better riding and style ever since. I now look at sitting or standing as similar to the front brake. If you lack feel and total confidence in the front brake then you are a crap rider but nothing will slow you down more than over use of the front brake. So being unreal on the front brake is the most improtant thing. Sitting or standing? If you lack the ability to stand stronger longer into the corner and be very comfortable with controls and smooth with body then you have nothing BUT it is way faster to cheat these skills if there not needed and sit, could discuss this stuff in way more detail if you like.

  9. Gravatar
    Azracer243 March 18, 2012 at 1:32 pm

    This concept definitely works. I myself have always been one to sit down. Some(track owners and "faster" riders) would say too much. So, I did try to incorporate some more standing into my riding. While there will no doubt be some sections on the track when you will "have to" stand. The idea of standing more does not work. For myself I definitely feel I can charge more and be more aggressive while sitting. Another technique I use, is the rear brake in high speed sections for more control both sitting or standing. I'll bet that if Mr. Ferrari and anyone else who doubts this concept. Should pay attention to those guys who blow bye them at the track.

    P.S. The track owner who's son was riding in the A class. Thought I should stand more. Well that was back in 06. And I don't think her son races here in Az anymore. And I know her son never did make it pro. I know that there are a million factors that contribute to or hinder ones success. Especially when it comes to racing. I'm just happy to see someone like the professor, supports the sitting position. Good to know that I've at least been doing one thing right. Oh yeah, try the rear brake steering, just watch the brake fade.

  10. Gravatar
    Jake Falck April 12, 2012 at 3:23 pm

    You were saying out-out-in and I was wondering how wide do you go without going to side and loosing time?

  11. Gravatar
    mxtompkins44 November 07, 2013 at 10:57 am

    It's an exception to the rule to remain seated exiting a corner, but sometimes like Gary says, it's better when the track doesn't give you time to stand up like if a jump is out of a corner or if there is a short straight into another corner.

    I agree with Gary that the bike is controlled by lower body, but the advantages of standing far outweigh sitting so most of the time you will be standing into and out of corners.

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