In this chapter, Roger DeCoster discusses how to think about your practice sessions in order to maximize your efforts come race day. This is chapter three from Roger’s 1993 Handbook “How To Win,'”which was originally published in Dirt Bike Magazine. For chapters One and Two, click here.
RIDE, RIDE, RIDE!
Practice makes, well, better
By Roger DeCoster
It seems like you hear a lot about cross-training these days–you know, participating in one sport in order to train for another. Cross-training is fine if you’re trying to sell shoes. For motocross, though, the best way to get better is to ride motocross. You hardly ever see future brain surgeons in law school.
Ride as often as possible. You can’t ride too much–top racers often ride five times a week. We know, it’s hard to get away on a daily basis because there isn’t enough time after school or work, especially if you live a long way from a track. If you think about it, though, there probably is a way to ride at least once during the week. That will be a huge advantage come race day. Riders who only get out on weekends have to deal with that five-day layoff and waste time learning to ride again every time they get on a bike. One day during the week will make you a much better rider. Two days will make you better yet, but that might be pushing your luck. After all, if you lose your job, it tends to hurt your racing career more than anything.
Riding a motorcycle is fun. Even practicing is fun, as long as you feel you’re getting better all the time. When you stop getting better, that’s when practicing stops being fun and burnout sets in. So you should keep certain tips in mind, just to keep your practice sessions productive.
Work on your weaknesses. If you have a choice between tracks, choose the one that you don’t like. Almost any weakness can be turned into a strength. If you don’t like tight turns, then lay out a track that has a lot of them. Do them over and over. Once you are more comfortable with them mentally, you will be able to use them to make up time in a race. You will also find that when you do something well, you begin to look forward to it. That way, your least-favorite sections eventually will become your favorites.
Find someone to film you. If you have access to a video camera, you have a big advantage. Riders often think they look one way when, in fact, they look quite different. Seeing yourself ride is almost like hearing your own voice on tape. Pay close attention to your body position. It will help you identify mistakes and bad habits.
Pay attention to other riders. If you are having trouble with a section, watch someone else to see how he does it. On race day, watch the fast guys. I used to study Torsten Hallman over the jumps because he stayed low and landed without losing too much momentum. I watched Sylvain Geboers on sand courses because he could ride the biggest sand rollers so smoothly that his rear wheel never came off the ground. His body hardly moved up and down. Joel Robert was excellent on smooth, slippery tracks. He could carry the longest, smoothest off-camber slides-if he had grown up in the U.S., he would have made a great dirt track rider.
Pay attention to yourself. When you are in a difficult section, try to visualize how a top rider would tackle it. How are you doing things differently? You will find that the faster riders keep their feet on the pegs more, and that they put very little weight on the seat. Remember, your legs are the greatest shock absorbers of all. They can read terrain and adjust for it, if they are in shape.
Don’t disregard your instincts. If you have found your own line or your own way of doing something, by all means keep on doing it. If it feels right, chances are it is right. Creativity is one of the biggest differences between good riders and great ones.
Schedule your time. Spend 20 minutes play-riding, doing new things and warming up. Then put in a 20- to 30-minute moto. Ride hard and try not to make mistakes. Take note of the places where you are having trouble. Rest briefly, then go and practice those weak spots. Finally run another, shorter moto before you go home. Try to put together everything you have learned.
Don’t practice when you are tired. If you aren ‘t in good shape and you ride a 30-minute moto, you will end up practicing bad habits. If you push yourself beyond your limits, chances are you will fall and hurt yourself. Nothing messes up a good program like an injury.
OKAY, SOME CROSS-TRAINING IS FINE
Does it help to ride or race in other forms of motorcycling? Yes, to a point. I believe participating in any kind of motorcycle sport is better than not riding at all. Other forms of riding can actually help some aspects of MXing. Trials, for example, requires very good balance and fine throttle control–qualities that are most important in slippery conditions.
Some people believe that if you ride enduros it will make you slower on an MX course. I think this is true only if you start riding enduros instead of MX. If you ride enduros in addition to MX, the extra riding time can only help.
One thing is important to remember, though. If you only have a certain amount of time for riding, and you want to become a better motocrosser, then you had better ride motocross . There’s nothing quite like it.