Everybody seems to have their own opinion on how to do starts properly. From coaches to professional racers, even mums and dads like to get in the mix and suggest their secret technique that will certainly end up in a holeshot…
I have heard people say many times in my years of racing that there are two parts to a race. The race from the start gate to the first corner, and the race from the first corner to the finish line. And, of course if you win the first part of the race to the first turn, then your second part of the race to the chequered flag is ten fold easier. Yes I know it is a particularly obvious statement, but it does go a long way in explaining the emphasis put on the start and first turn of any race.
Practice Makes Perfect!
It was 1996, Round 2 of the AMA Supercross Series at Anaheim, California. We were about half way through our second round of morning practice when, due to a bit of arm pump I decided to pull in and have a chat to my mechanic and make some suspension changes. While my mechanic altered the setup to the bike, I noticed something interesting that was going on out on the track. Jeremy McGrath, the current points leader and, at that point three time AMA Supercross Champion was pulling in after each lap and doing a practice start. I don’t mean three, four, five times, I’m talking every single lap of the twenty minute session. The other point I found interesting was that his main competitors Jeff Emig, Ryan Hughes and even his own team-mate at the time Steve Lamson were lucky to do even one practice start. Later in the night when the lights came on and Anaheim Stadium filled to capacity, does it come as any surprise that Jeremy McGrath holeshot every race and lead every lap of the evening??
Traction is the Key!
It does not matter whether you are starting on dirt, concrete, or metal grates the one main factor to bring into consideration when doing a race start is traction… I have started on concrete that has a really coarse texture and in dry conditions was one of the grippiest starts that I have ever started on. Likewise, a smooth concrete pad is like riding on ice for a moto-cross bike and you can times that by two if you add a little water to the concrete. Dirt starts can also be extremely grippy like an indoor supercross for example, and ultra slick like a hard pack start grid in the wet. What I’m trying to say here is that you can’t just have a quick look at your start area and decide that it is grippy because it’s a dirt gate, or slippery because it’s a concrete gate. Only after a close up examination of the gate and numerous practice starts will you be able to determine just how much traction you will have jumping out of the gate. From there you will make that all important decision on body position and throttle control.
Slippery Start Technique!
When starting on a gate with very little traction there are a few things to consider. First of all your body weight! Riders need to understand that if they are extremely light then this will be a disadvantage for them jumping out of slippery gates. On the other hand, their power to weight ratio will be better going down the straight. On the opposite end of the spectrum, a heavy rider will have added traction out of a slippery gate, but not such a good power to weight ratio down the straight. Lighter riders especially need to work on technique and throttle control to limit wheel spin off those slippery starts. Here is the list in point form for Slippery Start Technique:
- Upper body stays vertical, straight up and down. Resist the temptation to bring your body forward over the crossbar pad as you take off.
- Smooth throttle control is essential. Too much throttle will start the rear wheel spinning.
- Dumping the clutch will start the rear wheel spinning also so be nice and smooth with the clutch release.
- Both legs down and just touching the ground in front of the footpegs. If you can’t touch the ground with both feet at least with your toes then use some blocks. (I suggest both feet on the ground for perfect balance side to side, which prevents sliding sideways off the gate.)
- Get ready to bring your body weight forward quickly if you are going from a slippery concrete gate to a grippy motocross track, otherwise you will loft the front wheel once you get off the gate or possibly even loop out. But be patient, and make sure you don’t bring that upper body forward until the rear wheel leaves the concrete. As that back wheel reaches the dirt roll that throttle on. You can even add a little punch of the clutch to fast-track that acceleration if the dirt is nice and tacky.
Grippy Start Technique!
Here is where it gets tricky. Not so much from the technique aspect, but from a strength and intensity aspect. To break it down to it’s most simple form, the trick to grippy starts is not getting thrown off the back, and there is a million and one different techniques out there that riders use to try to keep the front wheel down while driving out of the gate. Here is the technique that I learnt many years ago while training with Jeremy McGrath in the States, and it is the technique I still teach to this day
- The secret to this technique is the locking of your heels in between your footpegs and levers. By gripping the bike extremely tight with your legs while also lifting up with your heels under the footpeg mounts will help pull your bum down onto the seat and lock you into position. Remember, the number one cause for riders lofting their front wheel off a start is their bum sliding back as they takeoff.
- The upper body is much more forward with the grippy starts with elbows nice and high.
- With the grippy surface you can be a lot more aggressive with the clutch and throttle to try to jump out as quick as possible.
- Get ready to unhook you feet and bring them up to the pegs as soon as it is time to change up a gear! If you unhook your feet too quickly while the bike is still driving in the meaty part of its power then the front wheel will pop up immediately.
- Practice is the key to any technique and I went through many clutches in my practice bike before getting it down pat.
New Metal Grate Starting Grids
The new metal starting grates that we are seeing popping up all around the world at big championship events were brought in to achieve two things. To create an even platform for competitors to start from, while also providing a transportable start grid that doesn’t need maintenance.
The metal grates are obviously extremely grippy! However there have been circumstances where riders have spun up dramatically on them. And while it is rare, it can still happen! Generally, the metal grates provide a very grippy and consistent starting surface that requires a strong starting technique. And even in very wet conditions you’ll still be wanting to lock in that holeshot devise in attempt to keep that front end down!
So now you have a few more things to try in your quest for consistent holeshots. One more thing to note is that practicing a bunch of grippy starts with the right technique is a lot harder on your clutch than practicing your slippery start technique. So unless you have a practice bike with a decent parts budget you might want to limit your grippy practice starts. Good luck!