Juliana Bicycles

Lessons from My Moto

Kelli Emmett on how skills on a dirt bike transfer to riding her mountain bike

I’ve been obsessed with dirt bikes since I was a little girl. I was the tomboy who followed my brother around and played all the same sports and mimicked everything he did. He raced motocross and mountain bikes. I raced mountain bikes and rode motorcycles.

I remember when my Dad would leave for work, I’d steal his dirt bike and ride around the family farm pretending to be a motocross racer. Fifteen years later, I bought a dirt bike because I wanted to do something besides cycling, but my intentions were never to use it as a training tool. The bike was my outlet to explore mountain passes and new trails during my offseason in Colorado. When I raced cross country, I would only ride my dirt bike during the offseason so it wouldn’t potentially jeopardize my training. As I transitioned to Enduro racing, I felt the dirt bike could be used to improve upper body strength and technique.

Although there are slight differences between riding motorcycles and riding mountain bikes, the basic skills are still the same. I have to admit, though, while I’m not sure riding my dirt bike has taught me new mountain bike skills, it has strengthened certain mountain bike techniques that were in need of improvement. One of the major perks of riding a dirt bike is that you can repeat and practice the same movement throughout a ride without worrying about the fatigue of pedaling uphill.

Here are several more benefits and techniques you can gain from riding dirt bikes:

Increased Strength
Moving and picking up a 250-pound bike will undoubtedly increase your overall strength. You’ll use many of the same muscle groups as mountain biking and you’ll also need more strength to do the same movements.
When riding your moto on trails, it’s important to stand up as much as possible to allow the bike to move beneath you—this is very similar to riding your mountain bike. Because I’m constantly standing on my dirt bike, my quads can feel sore to the touch. Dirt biking on technical trails is very fatiguing and many times harder than racing an Enduro event on a mountain bike. I’ve noticed after a few days of riding my moto, I’m able to move my mountain bike around more easily because it feels so light and nimble.

Faster Line Choice
Line choices are different on a dirt bike because you have additional suspension to easily ride over rougher terrain than you’d be able to tackle on your mountain bike. Riding a moto teaches you to look far ahead and quickly navigate lines at speed—much like descending on a mountain bike. The biggest difference between the two is that you need to remind yourself to look for smoother lines on your mountain bike or you might find yourself in a world of trouble.

Chin Up, Look Ahead 

Do you stall-out on rocky obstacles or almost come to a stop at the apex of corners when you’re mountain biking? If so, it’s because you’re either looking down at the obstacle or down at the apex of the corner. You may run into exactly the same issue when you’re riding a dirt bike. If you’re climbing up a rocky hill it’s very important to keep your head up, your eyes looking ahead, and to ride all the way through the obstacle or the corner. I’ve noticed that practicing these techniques on my dirt bike has improved my climbing skills and cornering speeds on my mountain bike.  


A video posted by Kelli Emmett (@kelliemmett) on

Heavy Feet, Light hands

After years of racing cross-country on my mountain bike, I realized that I wasn’t applying enough pressure to my pedals. I would try to steer my bike with my upper body without using the lower half of my body to control the bike. You can get away with this technique on a mountain bike but because dirt bikes are so heavy it takes more than just turning your handlebars to turn the bike. You need to engage your core, move your hips laterally, and apply pressure to your outside foot in the corners—similar to the movements required to corner effectively on your mountain bike.

Stay Loose

This technique is identical between a dirt bike and a mountain bike. When we get outside of our comfort zone, we tend to become tense and tempted to curl up into a little ball to protect ourselves. When this happens, a mental separation forms between your bike and your body and it becomes harder to adapt to sudden movements of your bike. If you feel yourself tensing up, remind yourself to take a deep breath, stay loose, and let the bike move underneath you.

Comfort at High Speed

Dirt bikes usually weigh a couple hundred pounds more than mountain bikes, so traveling at higher speeds can feel less intimidating (added weight usually means added stability). Therefore, you’ll feel more comfortable riding a moto at higher speeds than your mountain bike. After spending time on my dirt bike, I’ve become desensitized to high speeds, so I feel more comfortable riding my mountain bike even faster.

Sven Martin

Posted on: November 01 — 2016 | All News