Chris Smith has made his mark riding small-bore bikes in big events. A member of the winning ?91 Junior Vase team in Czechoslovakia, Smith has five ISDE Gold medals and one silver out of seven tries. He has earned those medals aboard small-bore two-strokes?a class Europeans own?but now he?s facing a new challenge, the 250cc four-stroke class. This won?t be totally alien ground for him, because he?s used to building lots of momentum with tiny pistons, and he cut his moto-teeth on four-strokes.
Smith turned some heads and shocked many two-strokers by making podiums on an almost-stock XR250R in Qualifiers and National Enduros this summer. What he has learned about bike set-up is available to the masses through Works Enduro Rider, and Chris is also passing on his technique through four or five riding schools a year. While Chris was out for the XR shootout, we got him to demonstrate some of his tactics for the DB lens.

Smith?s go-fast plan begins before you ever sling a leg over a bike. In his school, he talks about practice and preparation. You should work on breaking bad habits in practice, not just burning gas and wearing out your bike. Record all changes you make to the bike, so that you can return to them more quickly when you face similar conditions at an event. He also covers pre-race hydration, being positive and focusing on the task at hand. That task is to go faster than the next guy and to have more fun, too.
Like Professor Bailey and Holeshot Hansen, Chris starts with the basics of style?body positioning. Your basic moto-style is a study in aggression with elbows up, weight forward on the bike, fingers on the clutch and front brake, and the balls of your feet on the pegs. Smith stands up as much as possible and looks far ahead on the trail. He likens position on the bike to riding rodeo?clamp on just behind the front shoulders of the bull, because all of the action happens out back. Shift your upper body to make corrections, but once you get too far back, you?re in for a fall. It?s the same with a dirt bike?stay forward to move forward. And maintaining forward momentum is what riding any small-bore is all about. Especially 250cc thumpers.

There?s more to momentum than bumping up against the rev limiter for hours on end. Smith concentrates on finding traction and creating it when grip is scarce. He loads his front end by dragging the front brake through turns, and Chris picks lines that miss the braking bumps. Most riders will enter a turn on the inside then drift out at the exit. Smith does the opposite. He sets up wide, missing all of the braking bumps and carrying more speed, then cuts inside, missing acceleration bumps. Done right, you can even use the last braking bump as a berm for your pivot.
Where most people brake entering a turn, Smith brakes early and in a straight line, then he accelerates all the way around the turn. He concentrates on never locking up either brake and on rolling on the throttle. And Smith never pulls in the clutch for corners, because then you lose that magic four-stroke compression braking. Besides looking for maximum cornering speed, Chris is searching for maximum traction at all times. This means feeling which end is about to slip and shifting his upper body to weight that end.

Every bump you hit tries to soak up your momentum, so Chris looks for lines that miss them completely or minimize their affect on the bike. Smith unloads his weight off of the pegs to preload over bumps and goes so far as to not pull back on the bars for logs. He bounces the front tire into the log (a trials move) to transfer weight back and give the rear tire more traction over the log. Chris also looks for the lowest part or a knot to place the wheel against, so it won?t slip. Then he simply coasts over the downed tree.
Roots and rocks are the same deal?brake and accelerate before and coast over the worst of it. Accelerate where there is traction and float where there is none. This avoids wheelspin, momentum?s worst enemy. Chris goes over rocks instead of between them, using them as ramps. That is, when he can?t avoid them completely by riding the edges of the trail. Smith attacks roots near the base of the tree, because there?s more bark – and traction – to be found there. He also bounces the front end over, as with logs.
Smith deals with ruts by braking beforehand and accelerating through them. He teaches his students to stand up, ride on the balls of their feet, relax and use the upper body to stay straight. Looking well ahead is also very important, because looking immediately past your front fender leads to over-corrections and loss of momentum. Watch Chris ride, and you?ll see him working with the bike and leading it through every situation. He?s being pro-active and even thinking two turns ahead, of how he?s going to set up for the next obstacle.

Victory podiums are tall and slippery, but you can slither up them on a small-bore four-stroke. Chris Smith has, and he can show you how to do it, too. For more information on his riding schools, contact Chris at Works Enduro Rider, 1 Jenny Jump Ave., Great Meadows, NJ 07838; (908)737-6385.


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