Best Be on Your Toes if You are Going to Give It the Finger

Author: Mitch Ladyman

Author: Mitch Ladyman


Think the Exorcist, minus the vomit and spinning heads. Mind on Matter's Neil Price exorcises our dirt bike demons. He cleanses us of all we thought we knew, preparing us for the learning of all we did not know.
Sitting on the sidelines at the tail end of a Level 1 Adventure Bike rider training course a couple of weeks back, I listened to all the trainees bang on and on about Clutch.

Each mused the feeling and feedback they experienced with the subtle use of only one finger. I began to feel a little bit uncomfortable. How could Clutch control have such a profound and emphatic effect on these people?

Current Western Australian and former Australian Trials champion Neil Price spoke about Clutch as if it were some kind of deity: some higher being. I just couldn't comprehend what all the fuss was about. It is just a lever you pull in to change gears, right? Wrong! After two days of rider training with Mind on Matter all I can say is ‘Praise be to Clutch, and its principal disciple Neil Price’.

How did I get here? It was because I wanted to get back to basics and so I sought out the training I needed to achieve that. If you are like me, read on, but before you do, you must commit to cleansing yourself. Accept that you may have to accept that you don't know what you thought you knew about dirt bike riding. Once you have done that, then revel in the freedom and sanctity of just being an 'average' rider, but with so much potential to learn.
Think Anne of Green Gables, then add a CRF450, a KTM450exc, a KTM300exc, a Beta 300 X Trainer, a Beta Evo 250 and a Freeride.
Step 1) Learn Clutch control. The most fundamental thing that I took from this Level 1/2 Enduro Training seminar is that the action of the clutch is infinitely quicker than the action of the motor. When you are riding single trail, this is important. Tenths of a second count and the distance between you and an obstacle disappears fast. A power mono on any dirt bike takes time and requires considerable distance and those are two commodities that are at a premium in enduro.

The bike might thunder forward like stink, but the front will only rise as the power climbs up the curve to its peak. Alternatively, a clutch mono is instantaneous, making it the most logical solution to any obstacle when time and space are limited. I was shocked, but pleasantly surprised to learn how high I could lift the front over such a small distance. I was clutching up full-height monos and dropping the front back down within meters. Clutch is not just a lever, it is a wand one waves that asserts a resounding influence on the attitude and trajectory of a bike.
Think Clutch, think Harry Potter, think "wingardium leviosa".
Step 2) Body position. Coupling the three elements of clutch, bike and rider immediately put us in a space to clear seemingly massive obstacles with confidence; confidence that comes only after doing something successfully over and over and over again.

A week ago, if I'd encountered a log across my path I would have wound off the gas, grabbed a fist full of clutch and brake, bounced down on the handle bars and, working against inertia and compression, tried to pull a mono clear over the log. The result would be any one of the following: 1) I make it over in a mess but managed to wobble my way back into momentum once the back end finally finds the deck 2) I pop too early and drop the front right into the log and go over the handle bars 3) the front clears, the back hits like a sledge hammer, the rebound shoots the bike in the air and I go over the handle bars.

Now, I will wash off speed keeping the bike level, gently pull the clutch in with one finger, let the motor keep it's spin up, squat into the pegs, pause and pull the bars back to my chest, letting the clutch go as I do. Clutch bites, front lifts, taps the log and allows the back end to ride over smoothly and progressively.
Think Happy Gilmore and Chubbs Peterson: "It’s all in the hips" except that it’s all in the legs...and chest....and arms and the clutch and the throttle. Neil and Scotty as our ‘catchers’ gave us all the confidence in the world to do what we never would have done otherwise.
Think you can ride a nice tight figure eight? If the quality of my figure eights could be measured against coffee they are now 100% free trade Arabica where once they were International Roast Caters Blend. Understanding the most basic geometry of body, bike, point of contact, gravity and centrifugal force, as drawn on the white board by Neil with all the finesse of a playschool delegate, has enabled my Freeride and I to run a figure-of-eight on a dinner plate. Body position enables you to lay the bike down further, which makes it turn sharper but maintains the geometry of the forks and front tyre, so the point of contact continues to trail the pivot point of the forks.

This massively improves performance of the tyres and suspension on the dirt you are riding. Prior to training, my initial reaction to falling into a corner was to speed up. But that only results in an exit on the wrong trajectory destroying any chance you have of pinning the next corner. Knowing what I know now, I will simply lean the bike over more and counter that lean with my body. This gave me so much confidence in my front end and its grip charging into a corner. Front-end wash out was always my monster under the mattress. Not anymore, and on my track at home I expect this to shave seconds off my lap times.

Step 3) Body position as it relates to hill climbs. Did you ever see that shower scene in Ace Ventura (based on the far more sinister scene in Neil Jordon's Crying Game), when Ace deals with the shame of the realisation that he has just slept with someone he should not have? Well that is how I felt when I found out that I had been riding hills wrong for so long.

Rather than leaning forward over the bars to keep the front down, I should be sitting back on the seat to maintain traction, because "without traction you have nothing" (to quote the Master, Mr Price). Sit back and keep your mass behind your pegs. Lay forward and keep your centre of gravity low. Feather that clutch with that single finger to give you just the momentum you need as your motor revs freely to give you as much but as little as you need to maintain 100% traction whilst you chug up hills that a goat would think twice about.

And if you must put your feet down, put them down lightly for stability only. Be delicate, like a ballerina, and stay light on your toes. Don't stomp you size 12 Spidis hard into the ground because all you will do is lift the back and break traction.
Think Man from Snowy River but up a hill rather than down one. Robby hanging back whilst chugging forward and Pete doing a Beta job than most.
At the end of the weekend one common theme emerged: it is better to know how to ride your bike better than it is to throw money at your bike hoping that it will take you for a better ride. So, the next time you think about spending $174.95 on Steg Pegz and $239.95 on some Pivot Pegz remember that these go fast bitz may make your bike look better, but they won’t make your bike any faster. Spend the money on training instead and get more out of your bike than you ever imagined it could deliver.

Like the other trainees and those before me, this weekend I purged myself of the evils of poor body position and exorcised my ham-fisted approach to lever control. I absolved myself from my wanton need to churn and I chugged instead. I found grip where there was none, and I found stability midst the turmoil of the terrain I conquered. One of the trainees has done Dakar, Finke, Gas Dash and more international desert safaris than he can count.
The masters machine
In his words the training was the “Best bling I’ve ever bought for my bikeâ€
Feel the serenity

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