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How To Ride Dirt

By Lowell Anderson

One of my work buddies recently managed to wrangle a dirt bike from his brother-in-law. This is great news for me because living in the middle of nowhere, I am always looking for friends to ride with. So he is pumped about having the bike, and I have been giving some thought about where to take him to teach him the basics.

I have had the opportunity to teach quite a few people the basics of riding, and it is always a fulfilling/fun experience when things go well. It’s not so fun when the new rider falls, gets hurt, starts crying, or starts losing confidence too quickly. Yes, I have had a few kids start crying…they usually don’t stick with it too long. I have also seen a few adults start crying, but that’s usually due to an accident or extreme pain…You’ll have that.

If you have never ridden a dirt bike, and you watch the guys on TV, you normally think the same things I originally thought ....”I can do that”… This thought is the same thought you have to keep in your head as you are learning to ride. Unfortunately, it is also the thought that can quickly change to “I can’t do that”… faster than you can actually say it. I have learned a few things along the way that can help if you are looking to teach a child, or an adult to ride. If they stick with it, it can be something they’ll enjoy for the rest of their lives. 

The first thing is to be sure they have all the proper protection. This is something I refuse to skimp on, especially when I'm teaching kids. Usually, the kids have nice gear, a helmet, and boots. That is a good start, but they also must have knee and shin protection. I had a kid fall on a track a few years back and land his knee on a small rock.  That small rock shattered his kneecap into pieces. It was a long recovery for him and he quit riding a. Not worth it. I felt terrible because I should have known better, but I didn’t check that day.

I also make sure that they are in a large enough area to learn. If your child decides to accidentally hit the gas, they need to have enough area to think and slow down. Don’t try to teach your child in your backyard unless you have a few acres of land. If I am teaching a child, I usually use some kind of throttle governor on the bike. This will keep them from going too fast in the beginning, and the governor can be adjusted back as the rider learns.

Teach them to start and stop properly. This is easy for auto clutch bikes, but making the rider start and stop over and over again, is not a bad idea. Keep the new rider away from any obstacles in the beginning. Let them get used to the controls and how to react. Knowing how to ride and control the bike is one thing, but knowing what to do when the bike is out of control is another. Once they have that, then they can slowly learn how to ride over hills and obstacles. 

Another thing I like to do is follow the rider. Getting on a bike and following them will help you see where they need help, and also will allow you to call out instructions if something goes wrong.  Many times I’ve had to yell “Let go of the throttle! Let go of the throttle!” and if I was too far away for the rider to hear me…well…ts

If you are teaching an adult rider, make sure you consider their physical condition. New riders expend a ton of energy just trying to stay on the bike. If they get too tired they will start making mistakes that can be very dangerous.  Take plenty of breaks.

Finally, keep encouraging them, and be patient. I had a hell of a time learning to ride a dirt bike in the beginning, and the people that were teaching me had to endure me falling over again and again. They stuck with me, so I stuck with riding. Now I can’t imagine not riding.

(Originally published in Go For A Ride Magazine – April 2011)