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Getting a Good Start

by The "Professor" Gary Bailey

Well, it's time once again to give you guys a little info that will help you out on the track. Before I get into that, just in case you haven't been following the Cooper Webb situation, so far this outdoor season things have been going pretty well other than a couple of not so good starts. Cooper is doing a pretty good job and everyone behind him is doing their part as well: His mechanic, Matt, along with Brad the motor guy and everyone on the Yamaha YamahaLube Star Team certainly have the bikes running awesome; Cooper's physical trainer Gareth Swanepoole has him pretty fit. Team Owner Bobby Regan has the team well-positioned to have all the support Cooper needs. Team Manager Steve Lamson pulls it all together and Rig Manager Peter and Chef Sherry have the race day program running smoothly even with all the extra hospitality, media and fans that success bring into the pit area.

As for me, developing Cooper into a champion and title contender is a work in progress because we learn something new every week. That's what racing is all about. Find your weaknesses and find the fix. We also need to find the other riders strengths. So that's what I've been doing for the last couple of months. So between being at the races, analyzing and practicing there's not been a lot of extra time to write an article.

While I was trying to figure out what to write about several people were texting and emailing me about why their kid can't get a good start. So now that we have a week off it seemed like a good time to get down to it.

I know I did a start article about a year ago and with the amateur regionals coming up and the importance of starts, I thought it might be time to give a little more info on how to get a good start. I also did an article on Traction vs. Reaction which also deals with starts.

Here are some things we need to consider:

  • What size bike do you ride?
  • What is the terrain like?
  • What are the conditions?
  • What kind of a starter are you?

All of these considerations determine where you should lineup on the start line. This is about reaction and traction. But, no matter what you learn here if you don't practice it every time you go riding it's not going to stay with you. Every time you ride you should do at least 10 to 20 starts. It's probably best to do your starts at the end of the day because it is a little hard on clutches.

One of the first things I'm going to suggest is to watch some of the other starts on race day so that you have some idea where the holeshots are coming from. Then, look at the area behind the gate and also pay attention to what the line or the grooves look like out in front of the gate. Try to pick the line that goes the straightest and also looks like it has the most traction.

Before we get into technique, let's pause and let me tell you like it is: No matter how good your technique is if you line up on that line not thinking that you are the best and not knowing that you've done your homework it's going to be difficult to pull the holeshot. Believing you can do it is important, but knowing no one is more prepared than you is equally important.

Try to practice starts for the race coming up on the same conditions as you're going to have at the race. It's also not a bad idea to plan on it raining or being a little extra muddy. You need to be ready for everything. A start is a simple drag race. Watch the light when it turns green or watch the gate when it moves and go. Did I say drag race? The main difference in a drag race and a motocross start is that in a motocross start you have different conditions all the time. So, to be a consistently good starter, you must know how to adapt to each of those conditions and adjust accordingly.

Let's focus on reaction. Some riders like to watch the gate, some like to watch the pin that trips the gate, and others just like to kind of look forward and let their peripheral vision tell them when to go. My suggestion is try different ways to see which works best for you so that you get the quickest reaction. Okay, now for technique. First thing you are going to need to know is what gear to start in. That's going to change a little depending on what size bike and what the start surface is like. Most bikes start in second gear. However, on a 65cc the gears are really close together, so it could be second or third gear depending on what the start surface is like. If it's sand or concrete, then third gear is a good idea so you don't get too much tire spin. If there's real good traction, you may consider second gear so you get a better jump out of the gate.

If you're still riding a two-stroke, particularly a 125, don't rule out first gear. Many times first gear will give you a better jump, but it's not going to work well if it's deep sandy stuff. However, on most starts and on most bikes, second gear is the gear to start in.

Pros know that the jump out of the gate is a very important part of the start. If the guys on both sides of you get a jump first they are going to close you off. The gear is important but there are other things that are even more important.

  1. Body positioning and how you use your body
  2. How you use your clutch
  3. Where your RPM's are.

Now how do we sit on the bike? Again this may change a little depending on the bike and depending on the traction where you're starting. For the most part, sit forward toward the gas cap and keep your head over the front end. Depending on the bike and the traction your head or your helmet face piece should be at or in front of the bar pad. Your arms should be up and out to keep more weight on the front end. This will also help you have more control. Be sure you grip or squeeze the bike with your legs and also with your boots.

Most important thing is that both riders are hooked up from the drop of the gate. The front wheel is up so the wheel won't touch the gate. Traction, traction, traction.

Here you can see that both riders are locked into the bike with their legs and boots.

The trick here is to control the traction and the wheelie.

Just in case you didn't know one rider is on a 450 and the other a 250. If you are on a 450 you will more than likely need to be further over the bars and head lower.

As long as you have good traction and things are going well, don't move. Stay locked in and in control. 250 or 450 if done right you can stay close until horse power takes over.
The reason for gripping the bike with your legs and with your boots is so you can control the bike better as you go over the gate and down the start line. First gripping with your boot in front of the pegs and against the frame will help keep your feet locked into the bike so they don't come loose and fly out. It's important to stay locked in because you are going to use your hips and your lower body to control the motorcycle coming off of the start. Think of what it takes to ride a bicycle with no hands using your lower body, that's what you're going to do when you come off of the gate to have good control.

Now that you have good body positioning, you need to get your RPMs, your clutch and your front brake right. That's right I said front brake. Let's start with the front brake first because we can't do much until we understand how to use it and why to use it. The reason we're using the front brake is so that we can let the clutch out closer to the release point without moving forward. The reason we want to release the clutch closer to the release point is so that when the gate drops we have more control over the rear wheel and the traction.

Let me explain this a little deeper. When you have the front brake on and the clutch almost to the point that it wants to go forward the chain is tight. When the chain is tight you are going to get more of a tractor effect as you let the clutch out. And, as you start letting the clutch out you're going to have instant movement and be able to control it better. Do not spin the rear wheel before the gate drops. This will take some practice.

Now that we have a good position on the bike, we know about the front brake and we know about the getting clutch set at the release point, let's talk about the throttle. For most bikes don't be afraid to hold it wide open. If the traction is good and your body positioning is good, how you let out the clutch is going to be the key. If you are on a 450, you may not want to hold it wide open. Try different throttle settings, but remember you never want it to bog. If you have to choose between a little tire spin or a bog, I would go for the tire spin; however, it's best if you have neither one of those.

So, let's talk about getting over the gate. The best starters very seldom touch the gate with their front wheel. When the gate drops they get hooked up with the front wheel light so the wheel doesn't touch the gate. Two good things happen here. The first is you have traction right from the start. The other reason that's good because when the front wheel hits the gate it tends to pop the front end up having a big effect on your start. A real good thing about having the front end up when you go over the gate is that the rear end is not going to have as much of a tendency, if any, to kick up when it crosses the gate. Treat it like any other bump on the racetrack and how it effects the bike when you go over it. You're going to wheelie it, and keep the gas on.

If you want to know more about prepping your gate check out the article I previously did on VT, Behind the Gate.

Now that we got over the gate and everyone has done it perfectly it's going to be a drag race to the turn. Who is going to get there first if we are all equal? It's going to be the guy that gets the most traction the quickest and holds it on the longest with the biggest commitment. No different than any other drag race, react quicker, get hooked up better, and want it more. Get in a small wheelie and control it better than everyone else all the way down the start.

Starts without a doubt are the most important part of the race.

The start is the only time you can pass every rider on the gate in two seconds. Crazy, without a doubt the start is the most important part of the race, yet when it comes to practice, the start is the most neglected.

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
    RideRed June 26, 2014 at 1:03 pm

    Nice tips! Once you have sound technique, it's all about having confidence.

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