Motorcycles In The Dirt©

by Ramey ‘Coach’ Stroud

When I am coaching off-road riders I often see guys trying to muscle the bike around. There is a common tendency among men to try to force the bike into certain directions or attitudes. After many years of experimenting, I found that the subject of the traction was a great place to start our discussion of body mechanics. The reason is that a rider’s position can add to or take away traction.

A first step in body mechanics is to get students to recognize the difference between strength and balance. The following is a visualization I sometimes use to help make that connection:

Have you ever been with a hot date and ended up on the dance floor? High energy dancing feels great and is lots of fun. But have you ever experienced that wonderful feeling of dancing close and slow with a companion who makes your heart pound? Can you remember the music, that really great song that brought you together?Remember? Did everyone else around you seem to fade away? There was only you, your partner, the music, time and space. It felt great!

Do you remember how relaxed and natural you felt? Moving to the music didn’t require any thought, you just moved. Do you remember holding you partner close? Not in a bear hug but rather a relaxed, intimate closeness. Remember those great feelings.

Now think about dancing with your motorcycle in the same way. (The next part of the visualization is a preview of things discussed in the book. So don’t worry if it all doesn’t make sense right now. It will come.)

Every practice session, every trail, every road, every city, every country has its own tempo. Try to sense that rhythm- feel it, it is there. You do it every time you get into traffic. Commuters are in a hurry and fight for space. Highway drivers set a long, easy pace on cruise control. I’ve felt the rhythm on dozens of motocross and road racetracks. It’s a cadence that is as natural and regular as breathing. So be aware of your breathing. Use it to set a mental tempo while you ride. Don’t hold your breath, it stops the music.

Use the energy of the bike to do what you want. It is a wonderfully designed machine that has more power than you can imagine. Use your muscles for balance, for riding to the music. Invite the power of the bike.

Here’s how it will feel to tango with your bike. Take a minute to daydream with me. You are in the desert on a beautiful, sunny morning. It’s warm but not too hot. You can smell the chaparral brush. The sand is golden and is blown into rings around the base of the cactus. You put on your riding gear and it feels good, a perfect fit. Your helmet and goggles are clean, your gloves tight. You swing a leg over knowing your bike is ready to go. It starts immediately and sounds rock-solid.

Today it’s just you and your bike. The desert stretches out forever in front of your eyes. Finger tips lightly on the levers and grips. Clutch in, left toe down. Head up and chin back. Eyes soaking up the surface before you. Your upper body folds forward at the waist as you roll-on the gas and clutch-out. You start to roll forward. You’re standing on the sand with the bike between your legs and the rear wheel spins a little as it looks for traction. You paddle your feet in the sand a few steps and then step up on the footpegs. Soon the front wheel floats on top of the sand. You stand back with strong but relaxed legs. Your knees are slightly bent and you feel the gas tank and seat on both sides. With an open chest your relaxed elbows are up. You can feel the broad muscles of your back. The light tension in the core of your body feels good. You are breathing, seeing, and feeling the engine pulsate.

Up through the gears and across the dunes. Your handlebars wobble a few inches from side to side as your front tire plows lightly through the sand. You relax and let the bars move– it’s part of the music. Once in a while you step down on a foot peg to move left or right. You roll the throttle on to crest a small sand ridge and then gently roll off just a little to stay on top of the sand. Your body moves forward and back, left and right to the rhythm of the desert.

You’re warmed up and feeling good. Everything is perfect. You start to play among the tumble weeds still attached to their roots waiting for the next windstorm. Look to the right, step down on the right peg and roll on the throttle. Breath– keep the rhythm. The bike leans right and goes right under power. Keep the front end light. The rear wheels spins and slides out a little to the left. You step down on the left peg and are back centered. Look ahead, you’re centered and tall. Soak up the ripples with your bent legs. Stay out of the ruts.

Look left. Step left. Roll on the gas. Effortlessly the bike slides left under power. Right. Left. Right. Left. Up. Down. Back and forth like that wonderful night at the dance. Remember? Breath… Relax… Use the power of the bike. Enjoy. Do it some more.


At this point most riders get the message but don’t always know how to do the dance. That’s OK for now. We have a lot of material to be discussed and exercises to be done. The goal of this story is simply to help your create a mental picture connected to a life experience. So your initial visualization may be something other than dancing and the motorcycle connection might be a mountain ride or a track session rather than the desert. The main objective at this point is simply to recognize the difference between strength and balance. ¬†Remember: Invite movement, don’t force it.