Motocross is one of the most exciting, demanding and technical sports out there. If you’ve ridden BMX or mountain bikes and are ready to step up a level, then MX is the sport for you. However, alongside the sheer thrill of riding dirt trails or the hurly burly of race day, there are also plenty of ways that you can injure yourself if you don’t learn how to stay safe while riding MX.
The right bike
If you’re getting into riding MX because you love speed, then you’ll automatically want to buy the most powerful bike you can get your hands on. However, there are some good reasons why you should consider a 250cc 2 or 4 stroke first, rather than a 500cc monster, mostly due to safety - both for yourself and for other riders.
If you’re just getting started in the sport, you’ll get plenty of torque from a 4 stroke but you’ll need to make sure that it’s the right size for you. Struggling to control a bike that is too big or too small is a recipe for disaster, as it will be hard to control the brakes and to steer correctly. Take a mechanic with you when you go to look at bikes, and make sure you can easily reach all the controls and feel comfortable in the saddle.
Once you’ve bought your bike, then make sure you maintain it properly and give it an inspection every time you go out for a ride. Test your tyre pressure, brakes and other controls and never ride if you have any issues with loose wiring or broken components.
Get the gear right
Once you’ve decided on a bike, you need to get hold of the right gear, focusing on your helmet and boots. A good helmet is crucial, so be prepared to pay for quality and make sure that you have it properly fitted. Your boots will protect your lower legs, ankles and feet from contact, so invest in proper motorbike boots.
If you’re riding competitively, good goggles are essential to protect your eyesight and you’ll need some decent protection in the form of a neck and knee brace and a chest and back protector. Crashes are a fact of life in MX so the better protected you are from sprains, twists and crush injuries to internal organs, the better your riding experience. Finally, make sure that the rest of your gear is lightweight and made from resistant materials that provide good all over cover to minimise road rash.
Go to school
While you can hone your handling technique riding trails on a mountain bike, a session at MX school will increase your skills, which can be vital for staying safe. Specialist coaching can be a pricey option but it’s a good opportunity to try out different bikes and to really get into your groove riding on the track as quickly as possible. The more comfortable you are, the more confident you are and the safer you’ll be. Additionally, many ex-pros and elite riders offer coaching sessions, which is an invaluable way to learn tips and tricks from the best.
The best way to reinforce your new skills is by putting them into practice, and the conditioning you get from regular hours on the MX bike is crucial towards your improvement as a rider. It’s almost impossible to replicate race conditions in a gym, whereas getting out and riding helps you work on your weaknesses and improve your overall skill set, which is a great way to stay safe in race conditions.
Stay in control
Hours of off-road practice should also make you realistic about the types of conditions that you can handle confidently. Always ride when you’re in control of the situation and avoid poor conditions such as snow and ice, as well as difficult terrain. You should never ride if you’re under the influence of drink or drugs.
Staying safe on the track
Although ‘staying safe’ and ‘riding an MX race’ might seem incompatible, the sport of MX isn’t about being reckless and endangering life and limb. In fact, an MX race is always a contest of skill, as well as mental and physical strength, where accidents and injuries should be kept to a minimum.
You’ll need to have your proper race gear, and have your bike prepped and suspension valved to your height and weight. But MX is also about mental skills and toughness so you should also walk every inch of the course before the race and memorise it as well as you can. Take note of any hazards that could potentially cause a crash and plot your line to avoid them. Don’t be afraid to ask more experienced riders for their advice as this is often the best way to learn how to safely negotiate a course.
You need to be at the top of your game to get the best out of your race, so make sure that you take the time to do some stretching and relaxation exercises. Staying loose and confident can have a real effect on your race, and while it’s ok to feel the excitement of pre-race butterflies, if you can stay calm and relaxed you’ll have a better - and safer - race experience without the dreaded arm pump, which can lock your limbs and leave you unable to properly control your bike.
Finally, always hold your line during the race. While slower riders should generally keep to the right side of the track, if you do find yourself on the left-hand side and you hear a faster rider coming up behind you, stay where you are. Remember, the faster rider can see you and pick a line accordingly: if you move off your line then you’re likely to cause an accident.
Take a friend
Whether you’re racing or just enjoying a day off-road, always ride or travel with a friend, that way, in an emergency, you’ll have someone you trust who can help you out!