The Library of All Knowledge

Getting Started.

So you've seen some off-road riding on TV? Freestyle, motocross or rally coverage? Well it takes a lot of work to get to that point, but the good news is that getting started with the fun stuff is fast and easy. This article is for the absolute novice when it comes to riding.

The ride.

This is where you have to be honest with yourself, I mean really honest. It's cool to see Ricky Carmichael on the slickest Honda CR-250 or Jeremy McGrath on a sweet KTM 250MXC. But face it, you're not the kind of rider that can use that kind of horsepower. So look at a bike you can ride and have fun with.

The things you should consider are seat height, weight, displacement of the engine, engine type, (two or four stroke), electric or kickstart, transmission, sound levels, riding, and frequency of use.

Seat height is crucial in control especially for a beginner. You should ideally get a bike so that you can plant both feet on the ground. Talk to the salesperson at the shop or other riders about this. There is a bit of adjustment that can be done to help out seat height such as setting the suspension and modifying the seat. As a beginner you will be putting a foot down a lot, so a low seat height will help. Conversely don't get a bike that is too low. There will be a lack of clearance when riding in the rough stuff and a low bike is more prone to hanging up in ruts.

Weight is another issue. Heavy bikes can be a pain in the backside to ride. Anyone disputing this can take my DRZ-400E for a test ride. A heavy bike can be harder to control without experience and this is more tiring to inexperienced riders. Also they can be a pain to pull out of ruts and lift up when dropped.

Some people say that there is "no replacement for displacement". I know I'm one of them. But displacement can be a double edged sword. Some of the bigger bikes have a lot of power and this can be hard to control. Controlling a beast takes a lot of throttle control. One of my teammates races a converted motocross bike, a KX-250. He does say that the bike was great, but the rider's concentration had to be "on the ball all the time". This meant that he had to focus on controlling the bike otherwise a lapse would mean trouble. Displacement does make handling tougher obstacles like hills easier, but that is nothing that can be overcome with some skill and practice.

Engine type is starting to become an issue again. There are basically two flavors of engines; two and four stroke.

A four stroke engine is more akin to the engine in your car. There are four seperate stages of the combustion cycle; Intake, compression, detonation and exhaust. (Mechanics like to remember it more like; suck, squeeze, bang and blow.) Four-strokes are heavier since the engine system is more complicated, but on the playbikes, they also provide more controllable power and ease of maintainance.

A two stroke engine is the simplest. The engine takes four componets of a combustion cycle and combines them into two. Compression of one cycle is combined with the intake of the next cycle. The detonation and exhaust cycle also serve to fill the cyclinder with fresh fuel/air mix. The beauty of this system is that it is simple. There are less moving parts in the engine. Also there is a power stroke on every revolution of the crankshaft. This makes the motor accelerate better and provide twice as much horsepower for a similar four stroke engine.

With the latest developments in four-stroke bikes especially the motocross bikes like the Honda CRF-450, Yamaha YZF-450, YZF-250 and the KTM-450 RFS the distinction between four and two stroke is getting blurred in terms of horsepower and performance.

Basically as a novice I would seriously consider a bike that is in the "playbike" category. There are a few playbikes that would be quite good as a racing machine. A Kawasaki KDX-220 is a good example. I raced a KDX-200 in the PNWMA series and did quite well. My bike was seriously modified from stock which made the bike a capable race machine. Honda XR's are a good choice too. Suzuki DRZ-400E and Kawasaki KLX-400 are good choices too, but they can be heavy machines.

The first thing a novice should do when starting out is learn that the race course is a different place than the regular trails. Concentrate on learning to ride smoothy and in control. Learn the skills needed to race. Once you have mastered that, then go to a better bike.

Contents Copyright (C) Michael Fodor 2012.