There are many aspects to riding a dirt bike, but there is no doubt that one of the greatest skill sets required is balance. From trials and motocross to flat track and hill-climbing, the ability to control the machine and deal with toaster-sized chop, rutted jumps and snotty boulder fields requires vision, strength, technique, and balance.
When your feet are up on the pegs, you are more efficient and use less energy. We personally enjoy technical enduro and trials, so working on our balance is almost second nature, but older riders with waning low-speed skills rely more on momentum and use the “slam with speed to overcome the ugly” approach. So, how does the average off-road rider improve his or her ability to negotiate logs, rocks and obstacles with a slower, more controlled technique? The ability to balance is key.
Practicing your “static” balance is crucial and, in all honesty, one of the most challenging exercises to accomplish. To do this correctly, you must practice with your engine off so that you are forced to rely on body English to maneuver around on the bike to stay upright and avoid dabbing. With the bike running, you can maintain pressure using the throttle, clutch and brakes to counterbalance if you start to fall in the opposite direction.
So, with the bike turned off, you want to lock the bars in either direction, depending on what feels comfortable. If I’m locking my bars to the right, I’m going to be “weighting” and applying pressure to the opposite side peg and counterbalancing using my right leg if I start to lose balance. If you’re locking the bars to the left side, apply pressure to the front brake to hold yourself in place.
To start, lock your bars and apply pressure to your outside peg, which is the opposite one from the direction you’re turning your bars. Slowly lift the foot you have planted on the ground and try to get both feet on the pegs. With both feet up on the pegs and the bars locked, you want to keep weighting the outside peg while keeping your legs bent and applying pressure to the front brake. For this exercise, it helps if you have a bike stand nearby to step on once you start to tip over. It’s also easier to get your feet up on the pegs from a bike stand rather than having to bring your foot all the way up from the ground to the peg. This drill requires practice and patience and can be very frustrating.
Another great balance practice tip is doing full-lock turns. This exercise is great for learning clutch and throttle control to maintain pressure and balance. You can do these in a figure-eight formation, locking the bars from left to right. When turning the bike to the right, you will be weighting the outside peg (the left one). When doing a full lock to the left, you will be weighting the outside peg (the one on the right). The whole time you want to be applying pressure to the front and rear brakes while using smooth throttle control and lightly slipping the clutch. You want to perform this drill as slowly as you possibly can. When you get more familiar with this drill, it helps to learn to lean and dip the bike even further down into the direction you’re turning. This helps you gain more confidence in letting the bike lean beneath you and teaches you to apply more pressure to the outside peg by counterbalancing your weight.