t’s already January 2012? Wow, how time flies! It seems that not so long ago, the Supercross Series was just ending and now it’s getting ready to start again. With all the Supercross excitement in the air, listening to the action on a webcast or watching the action on TV that we’ll soon be feasting on some highly competitive, motivated racers, showing how the world’s best master the art of Supercross. I thought that this would be a good time to explain the important techniques of Supercross so that you can better understand and practice the very same things these top riders are doing. How do they make such a difficult thing look so easy?
There are many techniques used in order to race these highly technical Supercross tracks. Motocross in general has 55 techniques as many of you already know if you have my New Motocross Practice Manual (2nd edition) which lists The 55 Absolute Techniques of Motocross. Supercross uses these very same techniques with a few of its own, and even more, should we say preciseness for some of the 55. I mean, let’s face it, when you’re launching off a tall, steep, blind 75 foot triple in traffic you better be very precise with not only your technique but also your judgment and confidence. But we’re not going to be hitting any triples in this riding tip. This riding tip is going to focus on those big man made whoops that are an important factor in all Supercross tracks; now-a-days many motocross tracks also have a whoop section.
I know most of you have seen the Supercross Tracks on TV but have you actually walked any of the tracks? If so you would know that those whoops are much bigger than they appear to be on the TV, they are steep and deep. On average they are about 8 to 10 feet apart from peak to peak. They are about 2 feet deep and like I just mentioned the faces are steep. The 10 or 12 whoops in these whoop sections are not always exactly the same either. Some are a little further apart, bigger or steeper. This means the rider has to adjust for these differences as he goes across them. Then there are the changing conditions of the soil. If the soil is really hard their form won’t change much but they will become slippery if they get a little too wet or dry. Of course when the dirt is on the soft side the form of the whoops will change as they become rutted and cupped out. What is cupped out? Cupped out is when they get a big bump right in the face of the whoop. It’s like a flat, dished out shape caused by the rear wheel hitting so hard into the whoop face. These cupped out rutted whoops develop a sharp lip at the tops. A good supercross racer has to know and feel how to adjust his technique in order to stay fast, smooth and in control over these difficult sections lap after lap.
One of the goals in motocross and supercross is to ride as fast as possible while using the least amount of physical energy possible. This is also the case with whoops but it’s really magic when a racer can do this and still be fast through the whoops. Therefore, many times a rider will have to sacrifice some physical energy and be strong through the whoops. The whoops are the most physically demanding parts of motocross and supercross.
Supercross suspension is much different than outdoor motocross suspension. In general SX suspension is much stiffer with much slower compression and rebound dampening. This is necessary for all the big jumps but mostly for the whoops. There is no way even the best supercross racers could go through these gnarly whoop sections as fast as they do with outdoor suspension. This special SX suspension plays a big part in allowing them to hop, skip, jump and blitz their way across the whoops. Don’t get me wrong though, even with the special SX suspension it’s still very difficult but at least possible. You see, the whoops work the suspension very hard so normal motocross suspension would bottom and rebound so violently that it would work like a pogo stick. This would eject your feet from the footpegs and you from the motorcycle. But don’t worry you don’t have to go out and purchase supercross suspension, just practice on some smaller whoops until you advance to the monster supercross whoops of the Supercross Races. The techniques that I’m going to explain here are the same for both. You’d just have to be more precise with the bigger whoops and have the high dollar SX suspension.
The good news is that there are only 3 techniques for doing whoops. The bad news is these 3 techniques are difficult to master and take some time. The 3 techniques are:
1. Jumping through the whoops.
2. Front wheel placement.
3. Skimming the whoops.
In many whoop sections you can use just one of the techniques all the way through but some sections will best be handled with a combination of two or all three techniques. For instance, you may start jumping into the whoops than skimming out of them or you may start skimming into them then do a few front wheel placements and then jump your way out of them.
1. In order to jump through the whoops you would just take the first one like a normal little jump but your landing has to be precise because as soon as you land you’re going to jump again. There is the compression from landing and a millisecond later the rebound for jumping again. The bike has to land with the front wheel first so both wheels can flow smoothly all the way through the throft of the whoop; both wheels down the back side of the whoop you’re jumping over, all the way down through the bottom and up the face of the next one. If you jump with the front wheel too high the rear wheel with hit into the face of the whoop you’re jumping and stop your momentum. They you won’t be able to clear the next whoop or whoops you’re jumping over. Use your legs and feel your weight on the footpegs. It you need more height and distance in order to clear the whoop or whoops in front of you you’ll need to help the compression and rebound by jumping your body weight into the footpegs on the compression part of the whoop and then jumping your body weight out of the footpegs on the rebound part of the whoop. At the same time deliver the exact amount of power to the rear wheel in order to get the job done with the clutch and throttle. This combined with your body movement to maintain the center of balance will keep you jumping through the whoops with control.
2. Front wheel placement is a very useful whoop technique that usually comes into play when you can’t quit triple a set of whoops. This may be because the whoop you’re jumping from is too small and/or the two whoops you’re jumping over are too big and/or far apart. So instead of trying to triple it the normal way you use front wheel placement. It’s really very similar to the jumping technique but instead of jumping with the front wheel landing first you jump with the front wheel high. This will cause the rear wheel to touch off the top of the second whoop (this is known as a wheel tap) giving you that extra little bit of distance needed to clear the third whoop. If you are indeed going to clear the third whoop with both wheels you will have to wheel tap off the second whoop in a way that changes the angle of the bike and causes it to land on the front wheel first. This is so the rear wheel can also clear the third whoop like explained earlier in Jumping Through the Whoops. If the whoops are small enough to straddle with the front and rear wheel you can continue with the front wheel high and straddle the third whoop, clearing it with the front wheel and letting the rear wheel just clear the 2nd whoop. Of course you won’t be able to straddle the whoops if they are too big because the center frame would hit the top of the whoop and stop your momentum. This technique still takes good clutch and throttle control and good body movements working from the footpegs. You’ll also have to jerk back on the handlebars in order to get the front wheel high enough when you jump off the first whoop and keep control of it when your rear wheel taps off the second one. When learning this technique many beginner riders get it confused with trying to wheelie through the whoops. This is not a wheelie it is a jumping technique with the front end high.
Another strategy that will help you here and also with jumping through the whoops is to look ahead early. Like when you’re just about to hit the first whoop you should be looking for your landing area and just before you land there you should be looking for your next landing area and so on. This will give you the time and depth perception to know and feel how to make your current jump in order to keep it all going. If you don’t look ahead to what’s coming up next you won’t be able to keep the exact landings on target.
3. Skimming the whoops is pretty easy when everything flows together and comes off correctly but when it doesn’t it can get very physically hard, quickly using up that precious physical energy and making you tight. This technique of skimming the whoops (also referred to as hammering or blitzing) is much different than jumping or front wheel placement. You see, when you jump or use front wheel placement there is a compression and rebounding effect that you are using and many times amplifying in order to land where you want and use that compression and rebound energy to jump and land where you want again. But when skimming the whoops you don’t want to compress and rebound, as a matter of fact you want to do quit the opposite, you want to absorb the compression and rebound not only with the suspension but also with your body movement. This will enable you to float the bike across the tops of the whoops and not go down into the bottoms. If you make the mistake of going down into the bottoms of the whoops you are going to have compression and rebound which will stop the skimming process. Therefore the object is to keep the bike level (in relation to the front and rear wheels) this means you don’t want the front wheel higher than the rear wheel and vise versa. Make the front wheel just touch off the tops of the whoops. If it happens to miss one make sure it touches the top of the next whoop without pulling it up higher in order to make it. As the bike stays level and the front wheel touches off the tops of the whoops the rear wheel will be following along and doing the same but it can’t touch as high to the top of the whoop as the front wheel can. Some riders make the mistake of not letting the front wheel touch the top of the whoops hard enough. They end up trying to do a power wheelie through the whoops with the front wheel hardly touching at all. Although this is possible to do on some shorter whoop sections it will not work in most cases. In this case the rider concentrates so much on carrying the front wheel across the whoops he forgets about the rear wheel. The rear wheel ends up getting driven harder and harder down into the whoops, it eventually packs in and hits one so hard that it kicks up violently, causing the rider to hang on for Mr. Tode’s Wild Ride. The bike has to stay level, the front has to share some of the impact, the rear cannot take it all.
To a certain degree the more speed you carry through the whoops the higher the rear wheel can also touch but it’s usually going to hit the whoop a little lower and harder than the front wheel. The important thing is that when the rear wheel hits the whoop you are pulling back on the handlebars with the exact force needed at that instant and be on the power. This will neutralize the rear wheel kick up, drive you forward and keep the bike level. If you didn’t pull back on the handlebars correctly and were not on the power the rear wheel would kick up in the air, slow down your forward momentum, drive the front end down and get you all out of control.
You also want to be in a high enough gear (like 3rd or 4th) so the engine can continue to accelerate across the whoops without topping out and over revving. You see, there is a lot of air time for the rear wheel to travel from whoop to whoop before it gets a bit of traction again. With all this air time it’s very easy for the engine to go into the red line unless you’re in a high enough gear. Just about all of the Supercross Racers use 4th gear through the whoops. But don’t try this until you are ready for it. It’s true you have to carry a lot of speed into big whoops in order to get on top of them and skim but at the same time you can do a big crash if you make a mistake. You know how that works, it’s usually the more speed the harder the crash.
Foot placement on the footpegs is always an important factor in motocross and supercross and this is especially true when skimming the whoops. The common rule in motocross and supercross is that if you’re not using the shifter or rear brake you should be on the balls of your feet. This is between the arch and the toe. The exception to this rule is if you’re landing very hard from a jump you should be on the arches of your feet so you don’t sprain your ankles. There are three benefits to riding on the balls of your feet that you probity already know by now because it is explained in my Motocross Practice Manual, some of my DVDs and some of my other articles. If you paid close attention you’ll see that all the pro riders use the balls of their feet through the whoops. This is easy to do because the shifter or brake is hardly even used through the whoops. The reasons this technique works so well through the whoops is because it gives you more body suspension by bringing in your ankle movement which accounts for about 5 inches of travel, it allows you to move further back on the bike, you won’t hit the shifter or brake by accident and your toes won’t hit the ground and get ripped off the pegs in case there are ruts in the whoops.
It’s also important to set your body so you are strong moving forward and back. If you make the front wheel just touch off the tops of the whoops you won’t need a lot of strength moving forward but if you hit a whoop hard further down in the whoop instead of near the top of the whoop you will need a lot of strength in order to not collapse on the handlebars or get thrown over the bars. If the rear wheel hits a whoop really hard you will need a lot of strength in the rear body movement in order to be able to pull back on the bars hard enough to keep the rear wheel down and keep the bike level. Again, if you do it all correctly, with a smooth rhythm you won’t need a lot of strength but if you get it wrong you better be strong.
Whoops are like anything else in motocross or supercross or in life for that matter; to get good at it you have to practice it a lot over a long period of time. To become one of the world’s best at it, the whoops, the motorcycle and you have to become one.
I know that's a lot of information to comprehend and remember how to practice each one. To make this daunting task possible I have produced 23 Motocross Technique DVDs. There is over 30 years of motocross experience put into these DVDs. The same techniques that the top racers use that I've trained from McGrath to Villopoto. The same techniques that have helped riders win 24 AMA Pro Titles. Now these techniques are shown and explained so you can learn, practice and make them become natural.
Professional Motocross Trainer
If you're serious about improving your motocross skills, checkout my website for additional tips and training resources.