Into the World of Dirt Bikes
So, it's winter and you've just finished binge watching all the Crusty Demons of Dirt and catching up on classics like The Great Outdoors (No, not the one with John Candy and Dan Aykroyd), and Bar to Bar 2008-2015. Now you're thinking about diving into the world of dirt bikes, because let's face it what is cooler than riding dirt bikes. The rush of flying 25 feet in the air with nothing underneath you except a bike, just soaring effortlessly above the ground like an eagle. The outcome on the way down is usually the difference maker between someone with experience and one that is about to take an epic dirt nap. I know this because I have been on both ends and taken my share of epic dirt naps. First things first, the bike. Whether you are on your way to your nearest dealer (if you're in Edmonton, AB region, might I suggest CC Cycle in Barrhead, they are awesome.) or perusing the classified, there is one thing I would highly stress to people getting into the sport. Do not get caught up in all the aftermarket add ons and gimmicks. You simply do not need them. These modern moto machines are full of power, more than most will ever be able to even comprehend. Even as a veteran of the sport now for the last 19 years, I still find myself drooling over all the trick parts out there. If your at the dealer, first step is just get the bike. I would highly suggest the the 250 four-stroke as they are more rider friendly and will teach you to become a better rider overall rather than jumping straight onto the 450. If you are leaning more to the classified and wanting a used bike, I would suggest a couple different options. If you are looking to just free ride and play around, I'd personally lean towards a two-stroke. They are substantially less maintenance and cost way less in the long run. They are also way easier to work on if you are out in the bush. That being said, they are still extremely competitive in the amateur ranks even if you are wanting to dabble with racing at the regional motocross track. The other option is if you are wanting to get out and competitively race on the regional circuit, the standard 250/450 4-stroke of today's modern era is always a safe bet as well. It is really going to come down to preference and how much you want to invest up front. (One piece of advise that I got when I first entered the sport and was buying used bikes, was look for the used race bikes. There are many that will shy away from a bike that has previously been raced, but the thing I would like to elaborate on is this: Racers drive hours upon hours to get to the track and perform competitively week in and week out. I have yet to find a racer that has left their bike(s) neglected and unmaintained. We racers don't drive all over the country to show up with a bike that has a 5% chance of running and maybe finishing a race.) Now you've got the bike, what's next? The gear. The first thing on my list is a quality helmet. This probably the most important investment you will make in this sport. There are a plethora of options out there now days, but I personally would never cheap out on my helmet. It could be the difference from eating through a straw the rest of your life or walking away from your inevitable future crash. When you are choosing said helmet, I highly recommend one that has either the SNELL M2015 or ECE 22.05 certification even if you are just planning on just bush riding. Nothing strikes a nerve harder with me then seeing a new person enter the sport with a $9000 bike and a $50 helmet. You should also note that helmets are usually good for one significant crash. If you are the recipient of the aforementioned "dirt nap", remove all the padding in your helmet, and inspect the liner for any indications of compression in the foam. Once done, check to make sure that there is no structural damage to the shell as well. Some of the higher end manufacturers will even re-test the structural integrity of your helmet for you if you ship it down to them and pay a modest fee. Aside from that, i would never recommend purchasing a used helmet. You just never know if it was involved in a crash or not. Next is the boots. I have had many brands in different price ranges and all I can say from my experience is like a helmet, don't cheap out. My first pair of boots I bought were a lower entry level boot, and I learned the hard way of why you don't cheap out. 4 screws and a plate in my ankle later. I don't totally fault the boots, but if you compare my boots now to then, it is easy to see why my foot broke the way it did. However when you are picking out a set of boots, I strongly suggest to try on as many as you can and don't get caught up with what the pro's are wearing. They are paid to wear them, and some of you may remember the old Berik boots Ricky Carmichael wore in 2006, well there was a reason no one wore them at the local tracks. Their production models were less then adequate. Boots are a fickle thing, because you want one that provides lots of quality support, is rigid so that you won't hyperextend your ankles or get any side-to-side flexion but is not so stiff that you can't feel the shifter or brake pedal. There are plenty of options whether it be a hinged boot like the Gaerne SG-12 or a solid boot like the Tech 10's, there are bound to be a high quality mid-range to premium boot to fit your needs and budget. You can always find some good quality used boots as well, as many local racers are usually upgrading every couple years. You may need to replace a couple soles down the way, but that doesn't usually run more than $150 CDN installed.
Now here is the controversial gear related topic that has the motocross industry in civil unrest for the last 4-5 years. Neck braces! Some swear by them and some absolutely refuse to buy into them. It is going to come down to personal preference. I have raced with and without and my upmost opinion now, is that they do more harm than good in the overall. In 2005 before the new style neck braces, my dad strapped on the old neck rolls of the early 2000's... well a lot of good it did as I still managed a compression fracture on my T6 & T7 vertebrae. In 2010 I purchased a Leatt GPX Carbon Pro, rode for a few years had a few crashes, and usually lead to broken clavicle or on the really bad day a broken scapula, ribs and yet again that clavicle. Needless to say I was lucky to not become paralyzed from the spinal piece that rested on your spine (Law suits currently in effect). Later switched to an Atlas Brace, and yes way more comfortable and no spinal column resting on your spine. Was definitely better than prior model I was wearing but still limited mobility. In 2019 decided to take it off after a long discussion with friend Ryan Hughes (Professional MX Rider/Trainer), he explained to me how it hindered proper riding form and caused a lack of vison down the track to see any upcoming obstacles. Took off my brace that year and have never put it on again. I am able to ride with substantially more mobility, have proper riding technique, and gained an extra 4" of upward vision to see down the track better and compensate for upcoming obstacles. Since than I have had some gnarly spills and was able to tuck my head to avoid any potential neck injury, and usually walked away with only minor injuries vs broken clavicles or scapula's. Once again it is rider preference, but for me it's a hard pass. Now for the rest of the gear. Knee pads vs knee braces. Now depending on your type of riding you can go either two options here too. If you are planning on racing, I would recommend the knee braces. There are plenty of off-the-shelf (OTS) knee braces on the market now and can be ascertained for a very reasonable price (between $400-$800), not like the old days of $2600 CDN for custom braces. The other option is knee pads. Now although the new knee pads are far superior to the old shin pad I wore when I first started, they still do not offer the same amount of support I like to have when in a racing scenario. With racing comes a lot of movement on the bike and a higher risk of dabbing your foot in a corner and hyper-extending a knee. Not to mention the constant high speed bumps, chop, and jumps. It will be rider discretion to figure out what fits your own personal needs or not. A chest protector is the next item on my list. Now I personally do not wear a full on chest protector, I find them bulky and extremely hot in the summer months. I personally go for the under jersey roost guard, but I also usually just race in a track setting. If you are planning on bush riding, a full chest protector may be a wise decision as you have a higher risk of coming into contact with sharp brush, and tree limbs and could prevent you from impaling yourself. Again research and go with what is most comfortable for your style and type of riding.
Jersey and Pants... now if flashy is your thing, then you are in luck. Most of the gear now days is full of colour, and made of nice light weight breathable material. I like to look for a set of pants that have either reinforced knees or at the least leather inserts on the insides of the knees to prevent burns from the exhaust header and to prevent knee braces or knee pads from wearing holes through them prematurely. Lastly you have, gloves, goggles and MX socks all of which are going to be rider preference and budget. Now that you have your bike, and gear you are set to get out and enjoy this wonderful sport. It is truly a great family sport and some of the best memories I can remember came from riding and racing with my dad, brother, and just being at the track with my wife, kids and the many moto friends I've made along the way. #dirtbike #motocross #mxlife #mxfamily #newtomotocross #braap