Ruts are certainly one of the more daunting obstacles to face on a dirt track. Last month I helped three groups of riders charm these snakes using some crucial skills that I want to remind you of. Perhaps you will be able to relate and refine some of skills yourself.
Often the first thing I notice about many young riders is their tendency to use their middle and ring fingers on the front brake lever, a habit that desperately needs to die. Those riders almost always get all four fingers back on their grip the moment they start turning and miss the goodness that comes with using some front brake deep into a rut or berm. George and Sam were another example of needing work here.
How a rider uses the front brake is like some sacred ritual, and as usual I got the look of horror from George when I told him to use his index finger on the front brake.
“But I find it hard to reach the front brake like this,” he exclaimed, demonstrating without shutting off the throttle. He settled once I showed him how to turn the throttle off with the outside of his hand against his thumb, making it much easier.
Sam’s reaction was a little different though, surprisingly calm about the change. His main focus needed to be on not leaning forward through the turns.
After slowly progressing from berms through to the easier ruts they both got the hang of it pretty quickly. Years of getting off the front brake while turning quickly turned into big gains in rut confidence once some concerted effort went into using some front brake right unto a rut. More entry speed is definitely required, but that is also a good thing.
Gavin was probably the quickest rider of the next group around other parts of the track, yet was affected most by the sirens call of looking down at the tightest part of his ruts. He just looked plain angry while halfway through the turn, like he wanted to smash it out with his front wheel. I was tempted to suggest he custom painted the top of his helmet with a happy face like Valentino Rossi.
Two of the other riders also need to look further ahead through the ruts as well so I gave them my best advice for overcoming this problem.
“I don’t really care what your eyes are looking at while riding through these ruts, so long as you don’t drop your chin. At least you will keep your peripheral vision.” Tinted goggle lenses are much prettier to view than the top of a helmet from my perspective anyway.
Like an angry bull it was a skill that Gavin could not accomplish, until I forced him to ride behind me at snail pace, keeping the back of my helmet in view the whole time. We slowly increased the speed until he was no longer looking down through his ruts and everyone was happy again. Especially that poor innocent rut.
Everyone knows that leaning into a rut is the most important thing, yet usually the hardest. Steve was a classic example, practically bulldogging his bike into submission, only to have it pop out again almost instantly. There were actually two main problems with his approach.
He had a terrible habit of stomping the ground. The moment he was starting to lean enough, BANG, his foot would hit and stand him straight back up again.
I used to teach riders to keep their knee high and leg bent with toes pointed so that their foot could skim the ground, being much more controlled that a solid stomp. However this is far less effective than keeping their whole leg high with toes pointed.
Secondly Steve needed to curb his concerns about stalling. I took a ride on his bike and yes, his 450cc machine was very close to stalling around this tough rut in second gear, but carefully riding the clutch was a much more controlled way of making his first power a smooth one than changing down to first gear and relying on throttle control.
The Right Knot
Tying these skills together, George’s improved front brake use meant he could enter faster with more control. Keeping Gavin’s chin from dropping kept him aware of where the rut went so he knew just when to begin powering. Finally the combined skills of getting Steve’s inside foot way up onto the radiator shroud and controlling his initial throttle use meant that he could now lean over right through the turn before making a nice and fast exit.
One other rider that I coached that day, whose fake name I won’t reveal, was especially amazed at how these skills enabled him to put the front wheel exactly where he wanted to. Putting his leg extra high was the biggest key for him, after which he went from a position of “Who is the idiot who makes these things anyway,” to the point where I nearly thought he was going to give me a man hug. Fortunately I avoided that thanks to the fact that our rut technique can always be improved.