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In the early days of motocross, riders kept their body weight as far back as humanly possible. Viewing old race footage reveals that some of the greatest stars of the sport sat on the rear fender and guided the bike around by the rear wheel. It wasn’t until the ‘80s that riding styles began to change. Why did riders stay so far back for so long? The ergonomics of the bike demanded it. With limited suspension travel, riders from the early ‘70s sought the safety of the driven rear wheel. As suspension travel began to increase in the late ’70s, motocross racers began to move forward. By the ‘80s, the popularity of the "attack position" slowly but surely moved motocrossers over the front of the bike.

Although body position is relative to the angle of the bike in relationship to the horizon, a modern rider’s "centered" position is no longer in the center—but closer to the front wheel. Why the change?

(1) Front suspension improvements. Modern front fork design, stiffer spring rates and effective anti-bottoming devices allow a modern rider a greater margin of safety than the oil-damped, six-inch travel forks of the ‘70s. In the formative years of motocross, only Maico riders could trust their forks not to bottom out and pitch them over the bars.

(2) Steeper geometry has forced the rider’s weight to the front of the bike in order to magnify bite. Bikes of 25 years ago had slack head angles, rearward weight biases and low centers of gravity. Bikes from two decades ago had 31-degree head angles. The latest bikes have 27-degree or steeper angles. Additionally, new bikes are taller, weighted more to the fore and tippy. Staying forward helps counterbalance the radical geometry.

(3) Track designs have drifted away from fast sweeping corners, high-speed straights and natural terrain in favor of tighter supercross-style turns, often with deep ruts or berms (made deeper than in the past by long travel suspension) and artificial jumps. Since staying forward enhances cornering, modern riders have been drawn to the front by the complexity of modern track designs.

Body position is determined by terrain, vehicle reaction and rider input. When going uphill, a rider will always move forward because of the rearward weight shift. Downhill riding demands that the rider move rearward to compensate for fork compression, weight shift and gravity.
Apart from terrain changes, the attitude of the bike also affects rider positioning. Acceleration will blow the rider backwards, braking will shove him forward, jumps will lift him out of the saddle and landing will compress him into the seat. A savvy rider understands these forces and works with them.

What are the rules of the road? They are not complicated, but require effort, practice and concentration. Here they are.

Rule One: Where should your body be? As a rule of thumb, you should sit as far forward as you can. Jam yourself up on the gas tank. You can never be too far forward (largely because it is physically impossible to get tucked in tight enough and still ride the bike). Situational awareness will allow you to adjust your body position so that you aren’t locked forward on the bike, but it’s easier to move back than it is to move forward—so stay forward.

Rule two: What should you do with your arms? Raise your elbows up-and-out to make room for your chest. Keep your elbows as high as you can. How high? Higher than you feel comfortable with. In corners, make a conscious effort to keep your outside elbow as high as possible.

Rule three: Where should you put your legs? Most beginning riders like to sit on a bike the same way they sit in a BarcoLounger. This is wrong! When traveling at speed you are not watching the videobox, so slide your body forward until your knees are bent at a 45-degree angle (when sitting at the dinner table your legs should be at 90-degrees).

Rule four: What about your head? Lead with your face. The first part of your body to break through the air should be your nose. Take the time to look down when riding—you should see the top of your triple clamps (on occasion you should be able to read your own front number plate).
When blasting through berms, make every effort to keep your face forward and your back arched. Most riders tend to lean back in berms. This is wrong. Leaning back takes weight off the front wheel and allows the bike to climb up and out of the berm.

Rule five: What if I’m not in good enough shape to stay forward? Most riders aren’t strong enough to pull themselves forward, push themselves back, stand when exiting turns or sit at the last second, but you don’t have to be strong if you are smart. If you follow "Rule Number One" and always sit as far forward as possible, you can use the centrifugal, centripetal and inertial forces of the motorcycle to move you around. For example, stay standing until you enter the corner and then utilize the deceleration of braking to push your body forward and down. On the exit of the turn, wait until an acceleration bump lifts your body out of the saddle and ride that energy into a standing position. The forces of acceleration and braking (not to mention the adrenaline of fear) will aid you in responding in the correct direction.

Rule six: What if I sit forward already? Few riders sit as far forward as they should (or think they do), but if you are one of the few—be proud. But, also try to put everything together. (1) Sit as far forward as possible in the corners. (2) Stand whenever you aren’t turning. (3) Keep your elbows up (especially the outside elbow in a turn). (4) Sit down at the very last second when entering a turn and stand as soon as you have the bike lined up coming out of a turn. (5) Keep your legs bent. Your legs are the pistons that drive your body. Use them to stand, slide, balance and grip the tank.


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