When you first start out on a dirt bike, I highly recommend that you find yourself a nice dirt flat track that you can practice on without any spectators.
By doing this you can get used to the bikes controls and its weight and how it handles without any pressure.
Do this for a while before moving onto harder tracks.
You have to learn how to walk before you can run!
I won’t harp on about protective gear in this article because it isn’t about that.
And if you have got to this stage it means that you have all your protective gear ready to go anyway.
What I will say though is that if you are riding during the day time then you will need to protect your vision from glare so you can see where you are going and don’t crash.
So, make sure you are using tinted lenses in your goggles so you aren’t blinded when you are learning how to ride a dirt bike.
So the first step is to start the bike. If it is electric start then all you have to do is the following –
- Get on the bike and have both feet on the ground.
- Turn the key ignition to ON.
- Open the choke on the carburetor or fuel system.
- Open the fuel tap under the gas tank.
- Use the gear lever to put the bike into neutral. (More about gear changing below).
- Press the START button.
and the bike will (should) start.
- After the bike has warmed up a bit close off the choke and the bike will idle without revving. If the engine stops, it means that the engine is still cold and you will need to warm it up some more before turning the choke off.
If you have a kick start, follow these steps –
- Jump on the bike and put both feet on the ground.
- Open the choke on the carburetor or fuel system.
- Open the fuel tap under the gas tank.
- Use the gear lever to put the bike into neutral with your left foot and then put your left foot up on the peg.
- Pull out the kick start lever with your hand and put your left foot on it while your right foot is on the ground holding up the bike.
- Stand up while holding onto the handlebars and kick the lever using your weight to push down on the kick lever and the strength of your leg.
- Repeat until the bike starts.
- Turn off the choke after you have warmed the bike up.
Most dirt bikes have 5 gears and the sequence is as follows –
|5th gear||1 click up|
|4th gear||1 click up|
|3rd gear||1 click up|
|2nd gear||1 click up|
|Neutral gear||1/2 click up/down|
|1st gear||1 click down|
How to Find FIRST and NEUTRAL gears.
To find FIRST gear, just keep clicking down the gear lever until it doesn’t click down anymore, This means you have found FIRST gear.
After you have found FIRST gear, you can then find NEUTRAL by clicking up the gear lever by half and you will find NEUTRAL.
To figure out if you have found NEUTRAL correctly, roll the bike back and forwards with your legs while you are sitting on the bike.
If the bike rolls freely, you have found NEUTRAL. If it doesn’t roll freely you are still either in FIRST gear or you have clicked up too much and have put the bike into SECOND gear.
If you have lost NEUTRAL gear, just click back down gears until you find first, then click up halfway to find NEUTRAL again.
This can take a little practise but after a few tries it will become like second nature.
You can practice this without the engine running as well.
If you do have the engine running though, keep the clutch in when practising with the gears otherwise the bike will instantly stall.
You need the clutch to do a few things on a dirt bike.
a. The first way is to use the clutch for standing still while in gear.
Lets say you ride a dual sport bike and you are sitting in traffic waiting for the traffic lights to turn green but you do not want to find NEUTRAL because you may have to take off at any moment.
The best way to sit at the lights is having the bike in FIRST gear while holding the clutch completely in.
You can stand as long as you like in gear with the clutch in on a dirt bike.
This is a simple and effective way of standing still on a dirt bike without having to find NEUTRAL gear.
b. The second way is to use the clutch for taking off.
If you start your bike and put it straight into FIRST gear without using the clutch, the bike will stall.
The purpose of the clutch is to disconnect the engine from the drive chain so you can ease the power on slowly.
To take off, use these steps –
- Pull the clutch in.
- Put the bike into FIRST gear.
- Give the bike a bit of revs but not too much.
- Slowly release the clutch and you feel the power start to feed into the drive chain which will move the bike forward.
- Once the bike is in motion you can release the clutch completely and you are good to go!
c. The third way to use the clutch is to change gears while in motion.
When the bike is moving forward and picking up speed you will need to change gears to go faster.
To do this use the following steps –
- Drop your revs to zero with the throttle.
- Pull the clutch in with your left fingers.
- Shift the gear shifter into the next gear with your foot. To go faster, shift up, to slow down, shift down.
- Release the clutch.
- Put the revs back on.
When you get good at changing gears, the above steps should be done so quickly that you won’t even know that you are doing it.
Some riders claim that you don’t need to use the clutch to change gears. I disagree with this opinion for a couple of reasons.
Firstly, gears don’t like being forced into a another gear, especially while you are revving hard. Damage to the gearbox will occur over time from not using the clutch.
Secondly, mastering the clutch is a great habit to get into and proper clutch work will make you a faster rider. Just ask any pro rider about clutch work and they will attest some of their speed to the way they use the clutch.
d. The fourth way to use the clutch is to milk the bike for more power.
I like to call this method ‘fan-ning’, because you can ‘fan’ the clutch to get you out of tight situations or to get more power out of the bike.
So lets say you are riding up a hill and you are almost to the top but the engine is ready to stall. By fanning the clutch in and out in a measured way, you can get that extra power out of the bike to work its way to the top of the hill.
Also, if you are taking a corner and you have lagged the engine too much by being in the wrong gear, a quick fan of the clutch can get the revs up high to get the bike moving at the right pace again.
Also you can use the fan technique to work your bike out of a mud hole. the constant revving up of the bike will give you enough power to become unstuck.
Unlike cars, where fan-ning the clutch can easily overheat the engine and causing it to break down, a dirt bikes clutch system is designed to cop a real beating and a dirt bike can be fanned by the clutch all day long without damaging it.
e. The fifth way to use the clutch is to do wheelies.
The clutch can give you a quick boost of power which is perfect for popping wheel stands.
To do this just ride your bike normally in 2nd or 3rd gear, pull in the clutch and rev the engine.
Then shift your weight to the back of the bike and release the clutch quickly. The front wheel will pop up if you do it right.
The throttle on a dirt bike is just like the accelerator in a car.
The more you push (or twist), the more power you will have going through the machine.
The throttle is on a spring which means that if you release the throttle from your grip, it will snap back to zero revs.
The throttle on a dirt bike has an instant response so you need to be very precise with it.
Most of the time you will be working with zero to mid range revving range while you are starting out. Leave maximum revs for when you have more riding experience.
Dirt bikes don’t have techometers and so you will need to change gears based on the feel of the bike. When the bike starts revving too high, then it’s time to shift up a gear to gain more speed.
This is another easy process that will become second nature to you after a few rides.
Dirt bikes have both front and rear brakes. The rear brake control is a pedal that sits right next to your right foot.
The front brake control is a lever that sits on the right side of the handlebars.
The brakes are really easy to use and stopping a dirt bike is no problem at all.
The easiest way to stop a bike is just to jam on the rear brake and the back wheel will slide until you have stopped.
But there is a way better way to do it and the wheels shouldn’t be sliding at all if you are doing it properly.
The best way to stop a bike is to use the front and back brake at a ratio of 70/30, meaning that you need to use the front brake with 70% pressure and the back brake with 30%.
This ratio will make the bike stop in the shortest amount of space without any wheels sliding. It is the same ratio used by road bikers.
If your front wheel starts sliding, you are using too much pressure on the front brake.
So make sure you find that balance of back and front brake and you will be amazed at how more efficiently you can ride.
Ask a pro rider about braking technique and they will tell you that your braking skills can literally win or lose races.
If you take a look at a dirt bike seat carefully you will notice that there is plenty of room to move around.
That is because it is really important to shift your weight around A LOT when a riding a dirt bike.
For instance, when taking off quickly, shift your bike to the front of the bike to keep the weight on front wheel.
If you are riding through sand, shifting your weight to the back of the bike will keep the front wheel light so it doesn’t bog into the sand.
Riding around flat corners at speed means that you need to sit on the very sides of the seat so you can remain upright while pushing your weight onto the outer peg.
My point here is you should be shifting around on the seat constantly when Riding. Don’t just sit in one spot.
Experiment with shifting your weight around and watch your riding improve.
There is quite a lot of information about using a dirt bike seat properly and too much to put in this article, so I have written a blog post about how to sit on a dirt bike that you can read here.
Sitting up on the pegs is the best way to ride a dirt bike. You should only sit down on the seat on flat roads.
Standing up on the pegs means that you are using your legs as shock absorbers to get over bumps and other obstacles.
The stand up position is called the ‘attack position’ and it will make you ready for any obstacle that comes along.
So get used to standing up on those pegs as you will be doing it a lot.
When you are first starting out, cornering is really easy on a dirt bike.
You simple turn the bike into the corner just as you would with a bicycle, nice and easy.
As you start moving faster however, you need to learn a few techniques to get around a corner fast.
This is another large topic so if you want to learn more I have written a blog post about how to corner faster on a dirt bike here.
All dirt bikes have a kills switch that you can reach on your thumb that kills the electricity moving through the spark plug.
This means that the engine will stop instantly when you press the kill switch.
As a newbie, always remember that the kill switch is available to use if you get in trouble or don’t like what is happening on the dirt bike.
You can also just jam on the brakes while you are in gear and the bike will stall and stop very quickly.
I can keep going but the above are the basics that you need to learn how to ride a dirt bike.
If you have any questions please email me or comment below and I will get back to you when I get home from riding.