The couple sitting next to me on an airline flight weren’t motorcyclists, but motorcycles had helped their son. “We moved to another state when he was just starting junior high school and he didn’t fit in. We got him a dirt bike, and he met a great group of friends.”
True story—and not uncommon—but lurking in the back of the picture is the risk of possible injury. And it’s this risk that sometimes holds parents back when considering bikes for their kids.
My experience in rider training has shown me how proper technique and good-fitting gear significantly reduce risk, but we reached out to The Mystery School’s Rich Oliver (richoliver.net) for more advice on the subject of dirt bike training.
“The first thing that comes to mind when teaching a kid or a new person to ride,” Oliver says, “is the Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) DirtBike School. This class is a great way to see if your child has the desire to ride a motorcycle, and you won’t be buying a bike they don’t like or doesn’t fit them.”
Oliver runs a chapter of the DirtBike program at his ranch in Auberry, California, and provides the motorcycles, gear, and a safe riding area that allows first-time riders to learn on a variety of bikes.
Follow these guidelines that Oliver and I have put together, and you’ll coach like a pro:
• Get students thinking about smoothness and how what they do with the throttle, brakes, and steering directly affects traction.
• Mastering the clutch is one of the biggest hurdles. Teach them to let the clutch lever out to the friction point where the bike is just beginning to roll forward. Then, have them hold it there and let it out over a five-count.
• Find the right size bike so the student can comfortably touch the ground—no matter his or her age. Teach them to sit right up against the tank. If they don’t feel like they can balance the bike when stopped, it will hinder or eliminate all learning.
• The Mystery School uses street-style boots from Cortech that have thinner soles and are more flexible than motocross boots. This allows riders to move their ankles and gives them better feel with the brake, shifter, and pegs. “We suggest that they go to the full motocross boots [and break them in on their own time] later,” Oliver says.
• Most new riders don’t know about the motorcycle and how it operates, so don’t assume they do. Oliver even teaches students which way the throttle turns and has them practice braking by coasting down a slight hill before they even start the engines!
• Allow the student to learn one thing at a time. Don’t pile on too many tasks at once. Don’t move to the next skill until the current skill can be performed competently or is at least well understood.
• Keep the speed down for much longer than you might think is necessary. Spending extra time at low speeds or in first gear allows the rider to build coordination with the control movements that will pay off later at higher speeds.
A final thought from the multi-time AMA champ: “If your children love to ride, use this newfound interest to motivate them in other areas—like getting better grades and cleaning their rooms!”
One of the best places to learn to ride is a Motorcycle Safety Foundation class. There are more than 1,500 locations nationwide. Visit msf-usa.org for more info.