So you’re at an MX meet and you’re hanging out with the pros, desperate to overhear some good tips. Below, we save you the bother by listing some of our favourite tips from the pros that will not only improve your technique but also give you the edge on race day.
Get fit off the bike
If you listen in on any group of MX pros you’re as likely to hear them discussing reps and planks as you are to hear them discussing race tactics. Fitness is the most crucial preparation you can do for a season in MX. For sheer strength and endurance MX is a sport that’s hard to beat, so the more cardio and core you can do before the season starts the better.
Remember to keep weights low and reps high and try cross-training by riding other types of motorbikes - if Guy Martin and Valentino Rossi can play in the dirt then you can get out on the road! Cycling and running are two sports that are great for building endurance, or you could try swimming, or any combination of the three instead.
And for stretching and relaxation, you have to hit the yoga mat. You’ll build focus, concentration and flexibility with yoga, not to mention all that core strength from those planks. It’s also great for helping you to relax when you’re riding and to avoid arm pump, which can be a killer in competition, so make like the Watson brothers and hit the gym!
The pros may not be discussing wrenching tips - they’ve got mechanics for that - but that doesn’t mean you can’t learn a trick or two about keeping your bike in great shape. Try stripping it down every week for a thorough clean and inspection to make sure that the balance of your bike is still good to go.
Keep your chain tensioned a little tighter than the owner’s manual says but not so tight that it binds up the suspension. The aim is to keep it tight enough not to slacken off but not too tight so you split the chain. There should be enough tension on your steering system that the bar doesn’t fall to lock position but still needs a tap.
Final pro tip? Don’t worry about the air in the fork unless you’re going to be riding at significantly higher or lower elevation. If you need to tap the air screw, never do it when it's warm or you’ll put a vacuum in it. If you feel your setup isn’t ideal for you and you could get more out of it, then invest in a professional bike fit.
Go with the flow
Rather than trying to overhear the pros, try closely watching them. You’ll notice a couple of things straight away. A rider like Ryan Dungey doesn’t slam into the corners - he maintains a smooth flow in and out of every obstacle, carrying his momentum with him.
The secret is learning the art of shifting. An extra gear gives you bike greater traction and power, meaning it handles better rather than being at the limit. Watch when the pros shift and try and emulate their moves.
Next is body positioning. Ride on the balls of your feet, never your arches, grip the bike with your legs and hold your elbows up. Relax so that you’re not sitting up straight and you’ll immediately notice an improvement in your riding. If you can put together a good base riding style then speed will follow. Check out some videos of Stefan Everts who has to be ranked as one of the greatest MX riders of all time. His style is impeccable, looking effortless and in control at all times. Riders like Everts and Dungey make it look easy - and it is, after hours and hours of practice.
Another great way to get tips straight from the pros is to attend a top class MX school - not only will you get specialised one-to-one coaching from a pro, but you’ll also put together bike position, bike set-up, picking great lines, starting practice and track drills into a package that will help you go faster next time you hit the track.
Top tips from the pros
Kevin Windham, the great American ex-pro says the number one rule in cyclocross is never to follow, but always to try your own lines because you’ll never overtake another rider if you’re doing what he does. The Fonz has another tip for the start of your race - always prep your start gate by packing the dirt and getting rid of any rubble or debris.
It’s advice Justin Barcia agrees with, adding that if you don’t qualify for a top 3 or 4 gate then always line up inside the rider who picks ahead of you, or pick the best rut to ensure you get out of the gate as fast as possible to grab your best line.
Nearly every pro you meet will tell you the same thing when you ask about start gate rituals. It’s all about staying focused and yet relaxed so breathing is key - take a few deep lungfuls before the race kicks off and you’ll be set up for greatness.
Take the time to get to know the course, that’s the advice of the great Ricky Johnson whose attention to detail won him more than a few titles in his day. Concentrate on the line you’re going to take through the hardest obstacles and how you’re going to hit those lines hard and fast for the best result.
Finally, never give up. Even if you wipe out, get back on your bike if you can and ride it to the finish. If you want to be a Pauls Jonass or an Eli Tomac then you never give up. Even if you ride to the finish alone, there’s no let up in MX - you always ride hard to the chequered flag.