Learning the basics is the foundation of a strong skill set in any sport, and this is especially true for riding dirt bikes. Mastering them is necessary to learn more advanced techniques and continue improving. Here are some dirt bike riding tips for beginners that you can utilize each time you swing your leg over a motorcycle.
If you have a kid’s clutchless trailbike, neutral will be all the way at the bottom of the shift pattern—so with the engine off, just tap the shift lever down with your foot until it won’t click down further. For bikes with a clutch, it’s usually first gear that’s on the very bottom, with neutral a half click up between first and second.
The trick here is to roll the bike forward and backward, with the clutch out and engine off. A bike in gear will only roll a few inches, then “bump” against the gear—putting this slight load on the transmission will allow it to easily drop down to the next gear with a tap. Otherwise what feels like the bottom gear could be a position or two above. It can help to pull in the clutch when finessing that half click up into neutral. Once you find neutral, the bike will roll smoothly.
Kickstart Your Bike
With a little practice, you can flip your kickstart lever out with the bottom of the toe of your boot (no need to reach down). When kickstarting, be sure you’re starting from the very top of the stroke and give a strong, smooth kick all the way through —don’t stomp on it and don’t stab at it. For some bikes (small engine two-strokes), sometimes you’ll want to do quick, repeated kicks (three should do it), but for most bikes, one full, deliberate movement through the whole arc is best. If your bike has a hot start lever, use it when the bike is hot; just hold it open (lever in) until the bike fires up, then release it immediately.
It’s natural to twist your wrist as you kick. Don’t do that with a racing four-stroke with an FCR carburetor (the FCR carb will flood the engine). Though sometimes those bikes do like the tiniest crack of steady throttle to fire up.
Clearing A Flooded Engine
If your engine is flooded (with fuel), twist the throttle wide open and hold it there. Kick the engine through like this, never shutting off the throttle until the engine fires to life. Beware this can cause a kickback—another reason you always wear boots even when just starting up your bike. Bikes with FCR carburetors will flood if you (or someone who loves motorcycles or hates you) twist the throttle when the bike is off, so resist that urge to play with it.
Use Your Choke
For carbureted bikes, when your bike is cold, and more particularly when the air is cold, put on your choke if the engine doesn’t want to start (this is a knob or lever on your carb that usually comes out or up for “on.” Some kids’ bike have the nob by the handlebar). Kick the bike without twisting the throttle. On a two-stroke, turn off the choke once the bike starts. On a four-stroke, you can run it for a minute but don’t ride with the choke engaged.
How To Put Your Dirt Bike In Gear
With the motor running, pull in the clutch and click the shift lever into first gear. For clutchless kids’ bikes, make sure the engine is at a steady, mild idle—otherwise the bike will jump forward when you put it in gear. Some bikes for very small kids (like the Yamaha PW50) are always in gear, so make sure Junior doesn’t twist the throttle climbing on the bike (have him climb on from the left side).
Okay, now your engine is running, you’re in gear, and you’re ready to take off. Now keep that clutch all the way in with your left hand, and with your right hand very carefully scroll down...
Let Out The Clutch
Get the engine up to a steady rpm at about 1/8 throttle (just a quick idle). Let out the clutch smoothly, slower than you think. Train your right hand to just hold the throttle steady so you can concentrate on your left hand (practice this in neutral, with the engine running, if you can’t hold the throttle steady). You should cover about ten feet of moving forward with the clutch partially engaged before it is fully out. If the engine starts to die, slow the clutch, don’t twist the throttle. It’s okay to use four fingers to start, but switch to two as soon as you have this down. For kids on clutchless bikes, apply this smoothness to rolling on the throttle.
Use The Clutch
The clutch is an amazing thing, and your first lesson in its talents is that it can be your panic button. If anything goes wrong while learning, pull in the clutch. This will disengage power to the rear wheel.
The throttle has more “go” than the brakes have “no,” so stopping the power to the rear wheel is key. You can’t trust your right hand to shut off the gas—it’s a spaz. If something goes wrong, pull in the clutch, and don’t worry about engine noise.
You have permission to not be smooth here—just pull the lever in fast, all the way to the grip. In panic while learning, always pull in the clutch first, then get on the brakes second. You think the clutch is your enemy, but really, it’s your best friend.
Don’t take your fingers off the clutch lever once you’re moving forward. Try, from the start, to develop the habit of keeping one or two fingers on it at all times. Start using this proper technique from your first ride.
Twist The Throttle
Once you’re moving along, smoothly ease on a little more throttle. They key here is not to play “catch up.” That is, if you shut the throttle off from nerves, don’t regain bravery and try to quickly get the throttle back to where you had just had it. Reapply throttle again slowly, or, if you’re nervous, just stop and start over. Remember your mantra—be smooth.
When learning to get moving, don’t be too quick to pull your feet up; walk along with the bike. You should cover about 10 feet while slowly letting out the clutch. During this 10 feet, paddle along with your feet. If you pull your feet up onto the pegs too quickly, you will want to let out the clutch too quickly.
Once you’re riding along nicely in first gear, it’s time to try second. Get a little momentum going at about 1/3 throttle, roll the throttle off, then pull the clutch in. Now shift up, let the clutch out smoothly, and roll the throttle back to where it was. (On future rides, you will see that you can shift up by letting off the throttle and using no clutch, or power shift with only the clutch while still hard on the throttle.) If you hit neutral while learning, don’t stomp the shifter back into first, just slow to a stop and start up again. For clutchless bikes, just let off the throttle, shift up, then roll the throttle back on.
For downshifting, you don’t need to use the clutch. Dropping down a gear will raise the engine rpm and create compression braking—this will slow the bike. The higher the rpm, the more compression braking you will have. Just tap down the shifter, one gear at a time.
The front brake has more braking power than the rear, but it is more intimidating to learn. You don’t want to lock up either wheel in most cases, and never the front—you will lose balance and the front will wash away from you.
Practice braking with both brakes, separately and together. Let of the gas and get your weight back before you start braking; learn to balance against the decelerating bike. Practice braking while standing and while sitting.
When sitting forward on the seat, lift your foot of the peg and manipulate the rear brake pedal with the ball/ toe of your foot with your foot of the peg. Hold yourself in place with your legs, not your hands, while braking.
Once you have the feel of the front brake down, use only two fingers. Eventually get the feel for just using one. For kids learning on bikes with drum brakes, they may need to stay with two fingers. Once you have more experience, teach yourself to ride with that finger or fingers on the front brake at all times so you always have it available.
Remember your mantra—be smooth. Smooth on, and smooth off. As you start riding faster, focus on doing your most aggressive braking while the bike is upright, not leaning over hard as you enter a corner.
This is self-explanatory, but remember to pull in the clutch before you stop. During your first few rides, don’t stop facing uphill, it will be tougher to get started again. If you have to stop along a slope, stop with the kickstarter facing downhill so you can more easily restart your bike. And once stopped, turn of the engine with the kill switch; don’t “pop the clutch” to kill the motor.