Dirt Bike Racing: How Having Fun Can Make You Faster

I experienced the biggest fun in dirt bike racing when the following things came together:

1) I had the right bike for my strength, weight and skill of riding

2) The bike was properly set up for me and the terrain

3) I was fit enough to not just hang on even in the last lap

4) I managed to get into the “zone”

Racing just puts that little bit of extra adrenaline rush into your system. Your senses become sharper and your concentration is focused. You need that to get fully into your riding.

Then you stop fighting against the bike and the terrain. You become one with the bike. Dancing along the course and flying over obstacles you think “Wow, that’s what I was made for!” It is awesome!!

When you are in that space it actually doesn’t matter if you are doing good or what your competitors are doing. You are just in the now and you experience absolute joy. But funny enough you will always get much better results when you manage to ride like that.

So let’s have a closer look what is needed for that kind of dirt bike racing:

1) Choose your weapon wisely

I started dirt bike racing with a Suzuki DR350. Some of my friends called it lovingly the “heap of iron”. Well, it definitely trained my biceps… The first experience of being one with the bike was on a Yamaha 125 YZ with a fly wheel weight and suspension converted to enduro.

Lots of guys ride much too strong bikes for their fitness and their riding skills. Weather it is the wheelie-itch, the sound or the brute force that leads to that choice I don’t know. But I know that the force wears them out during a race and throws them off when unintentionally grabbing a hand full.

If you are a top rider you probably have to choose your bike according to your sponsors and the class. But if not then you should consider power, terrain, weight, and setup in order to make the choice for the perfect match.

2) Get the setup right

For dirt bike racing the bike should fit you like a glove. So use your adjusters. Get the brake and clutch leaver in the right angle and the right distance to the handle bar according to your hand size. Vary the height of the gear and brake pedal.

The suspension set up is a must for a good ride. Even if you have bought a “ready to race” bike you still have to set the sag and get the right spring rate for your weight. I can’t say that often enough because it is the most underrated topic amongst dirt bike riders. Get your suspension dialled and you won’t believe how fast you can ride and how much fun you will have.

If you don’t have fuel injection get the right carburettor jetting for your altitude. My bike came from Durban and we live in Johannesburg almost 1500m higher. It was much too rich and hardly ran. If it’s to lean you risk damaging the motor.

3) Get fit

Tall and strong people can make up for a lot with brute force. They can lack in skill, they can be on the wrong bike or have a bad suspension set up. But they won’t enjoy dirt bike racing just the same if they are not fit enough.

You need a basic fitness in order to get into the flow - to forget about time and just keep hopping over the obstacles. When your tongue gets caught in the spokes you won’t have the time of your life.

The problem in every sport is the build-up of lactic acid. You can operate your muscles in an aerobic way with a low pulse like walking or light jogging for hours. But as soon as you come into the anaerobic phase lactic acid builds up and you won’t be able to do that forever.

Dirt bike racing can be very intense. A lot of the time you are operating in the anaerobic area. So you have to prepare your body to be able to perform on that level.

So how can you best prepare your body for dirt bike racing?

  • Eat a nourishing diet
  • Ride as often as you can
  • Do some intensive interval training
  • Do some strength training

Why in that order? It doesn’t cost you any more time or money to eat the healthy stuff rather than the unhealthy stuff. But you will definitely notice the difference! If your body get what it needs to perform and regenerate you will be able to train better. Positive side effect: you will have much more energy not just for dirt bike racing but for life in general. What a win! If you just change or improve that sector you will have the biggest benefit.

If you want to become good in playing chess you will not play cards in order to improve. So ride, ride and ride again. While riding you are training the muscles, the skills and your cardiovascular system for exactly that: dirt bike riding. But try to not just toddle along. Ride at 90% of your max pace for 10-15 min and then at 70% for half an hour. Do that 3 times per session. If it doesn’t work out exactly like that it doesn’t matter just make sure that you push yourself for some time. Don’t just rest after that phase but keep going so your body learns to recover while riding.

Next find time to do some intensive interval training. Running works best. You will run intervals that bring up your heart rate in the anaerobic training phase and the pauses in between will not allow you to recover fully. That will raise your lactate tolerance and "in the long run" will allow you to operate with high lactate levels. You need that for dirt bike racing.

Last but not least do some strength training. The stronger you are the less your heart rate will rise when using those muscles. For enduro riding that is arms, shoulders, back and legs.

If you want a really personalized training plan but can't afford a personal trainer then I can recommend the training program "GET FIT RIDE FAST". It has been done by a professional fitness trainer and is specific for dirt bike riding.

Stretch for Arm Pump

Arm pump is often a problem for riders. It is the combination of gripping the handlebar hard and at the same time pulling the clutch or the brake leaver. The blood flow is restricted and toxins accumulate. What helped me the most was to loosen my grip on the handlebar. That you achieve by standing most of the time and then shifting your body forward while accelerating or backward while braking. I also stretch my forearms before the ride and at the service points.

3) Get into the “zone”

This is my favourite topic. It is THE most important thing to do. It is the most fun and it will take your riding to the next level. But it is also the most elusive. To increase your strength I can tell you to push that much weight that many times, 4 times a week and you will definitely get there. It is not the same with getting into the zone. The more you consciously try e.g. think about it the less it will happen. It is the opposite of thinking.

The moment you see the big rock in the middle of the climb and you think “Not over the rock! Not over the rock!” you will be heading right for it. Always focus on what you want. In the example with the rock focus on the path about 2-3 meters above the rock and to the side because that is where you want to ride.

If you want to get into the zone then concentrate on the fun you are having. Because being in there is the ultimate fun. So don’t think “I could have been faster here, or better there”. Jump over some rocks on the side of the trail. Bounce off a little cliff. Stand on your bike and use the foot pegs to shift weight and steer the bike from left to right. Pop a wheelie – whatever blows your hair back. And just keep playing but with a good pace. And before you know it you will be flying.

Another way to ease the way for your consciousness to shift is to train it off the bike. Meditate! Every day as much as 15 minutes will make it a lot more likely for you to get into it when you are on the bike. When it first happened to me I was doing the “5 Tibetans” before the race as a worm up exercise. These are some yoga postures and it obviously helped me to get there. Pure incidence. But Yoga is a wonderful form of getting some stretching in and training your mind at the same time.

If you are a top rider your main focus must be to get the stress out the system and the answer for that is equally to have fun. There is enough pressure in dirt bike racing with sponsorships and competitors. That is why every trainer tells you to “just go out there and have fun”. You can reduce your stress by breathing deep and slow for a minimum of 3 minutes - better is 11 minutes. If you are on the bike and you can’t just breath long and slow it often helps to have a mantra like “just have fun” or “fly like a butterfly sting like a bee” (from the boxer ;-) or find your own mantra that reminds you to be in the moment and focus on the fun factor.

I hope that has given you the inspiration to go and do some dirt bike racing. It is really amazing how on top of the world you can feel even if you come 25th in the amateur’s class. It is the sense of achievement in combination with the beautiful nature, the physical exhaustion and the mental focus that just leaves you in absolute bliss for days after a race. (Don’t be fooled, you will also be in absolute agony from stiff muscles but that doesn’t matter…)

Top of page


Latest Articles:

Important articles