I was recently asked to talk about the benefits of motocross riding as a form of cross training for road racing. It’s a very good subject as a lot of road racers make use of a motocross bike to help improve their road racing skills. Why is motocross such a good cross training tool, you ask? Let’s take a look.
We have all met them—the new road racer or trackday rider who shows up out of nowhere and starts turning reasonably quick laptimes with some mad bike handling skills. You approach them cautiously and ask, “How long have you been road racing?” and they reply with, “This is my first time on the racetrack”. You dig a little deeper and you learn they have been riding motocross for the last 10 years. No wonder their riding skills are so impressive!
Traction & Bike Handling Skills
One of the biggest things a motocross bike can do is teach you how to understand how traction works, by allowing the rear wheel to spin out from underneath you. Motocross bikes are constantly moving all over the place and can feel relatively unstable compared to a road race bike that’s dialed in at every corner. Riding motocross teaches you improved bike handling skills as you begin to understand how tires hook up when they lose traction. Combine the looser traction with a motocross track where conditions are constantly changing every lap, and the rider is forced to adapt to ever changing traction. On a road course, we’re spoiled with a paved racetrack that does not (generally) change from one lap to the next, and our suspension is normally so dialed in that we react with shock and surprise if the rear wheel ever steps out from us. If you’ve spent any time on a motocross or supermoto bike, you know that sliding is perfectly normal and the motorcycle should regain traction if you allow the tires and suspension to do their job.
Agility & Muscle Memory
There’s no question that motocross riding takes a lot of hand/eye coordination as you negotiate your way around jumps, ruts and berms at speed. The increased agility is a great way to improve your coordination and fine motor skills in between track days or road racing weekends. In general, it’s a lot easier and cheaper to get to a motocross track for practice than it is to get to a trackday. If you’re lucky, you’ve got some trails or a track as close as your backyard. I alluded to it in one of my earlier training blogs, but no matter how much training you’ve been doing in the gym over the winter, there is still no greater training tool than seat time. Spending valuable time on a motorcycle of any kind, be it pavement or dirt, will help to improve your muscle memory and bike handling skills. Given the season is often longer, motocross keeps your bike handling skills fresh during those long spring and fall months when the road racing tracks are closed for the season, or during long breaks between your next trackday or race weekend.
Mix it Up; Relieve Boredom
Even though you probably love road racing and you spent 150% of your time focused on improving your track riding skills, sometimes it’s healthy to switch it up and give your brain and your body a mental escape. In fact, if you read our current print issue (Volume 15 Issue 1, available on newsstands now), you’ll see that I spoke to MotoGP star Ben Spies about his training habits. While Ben spends a great deal of time riding his bicycle to remain in top shape for MotoGP, he admitted that sometimes he’ll just ride his bicycle for fun, to switch off completely from motorcycle racing. Motocross can provide the same great escape. There’s nothing more fun than messing around in the dirt with some friends for a day. Plus, if you have a mishap, it’s usually a lot easier on your pocketbook!
May Help Prevent Injury
Another benefit of cross training is that by training more than one specific muscle group, you’re also improving your body’s overall strength and balance. Motocross is among one of the most physically demanding sports around, and by cross training on a dirt bike you’ll increase your overall conditioning, thereby reducing the risk of injury.
When is it not a good time to ride motocross?
Now that we’ve established that cross training on a motocross bike can help improve bike handling skills, agility and muscle memory, change up your day to day routine and perhaps prevent injury, we need to ask ourselves, “When is it not a good time to train on a motocross bike?” Generally, there is no bad time to cross train; however, if you’re in the hunt for a championship, you may wish to refrain from cross training on your MX bike, at least until the championship is locked up and the season is over. Despite what I said above about motocross cross training helping to prevent injury, MX continues to be a dangerous activity and one must always be mindful of the risk of injury, an injury that could put a damper on your plans for a championship. You would hate to end your roadracing season early because you landed that jump all wrong at the motocross track.
Despite the small risks, motocross remains a great cross training tool to help improve your trackday riding or road racing. The improved bike handling skills, agility and muscle memory will no doubt make you a better rider all around. Time spent in the dirt will give you a nice escape from the day to day routine of road racing and keep things fun and interesting. Who knows, you might even see your laptimes drop by a second or two!