TEN THINGS ABOUT GETTING THE PERFECT START
(1) Homework. Study the gate in the race before yours. Try to learn not only how fast the gate drops but when the starter is most likely to pull the trigger. This will make you more alert and better prepared for the start of your moto. Pay careful attention to how long the 30-second board is up until the gate drops. A good 30-second board tip is to watch how fast the person holding the board scurries off the track, because the gate isn’t going to drop until that person is safely on the sidelines. For the best reaction time, you want to look at what part of the gate moves first. If you can see the pin that holds the gate up, that will give you a split-second edge.
(2) Mental preparation. The mental aspect is huge in racing. The track changes throughout the day, and that means that the first turn changes also. Study the dirt conditions in the first turn and note the lines the riders getting holeshots are using. This will give you a game plan as you stampede towards the first turn. The worst thing you can do is to start a race without knowing exactly what you are going to do. Don’t make it up on the fly. Is there a big bump on the exit of the first turn? Is the inside rut getting deeper as the day wears on? Can you take the outside line and pull off a holeshot. Ask yourself these questions, and the answers will help you get a good start.
(3) Gate pick. When picking your gate, it is best to choose condition over position. The condition of the dirt behind and in front of the gate matters more than where your gate is relative to the first corner. Of course, there are lots of poorly designed first turns that favor nothing but the inside starting spots. If the start is short and the turn is narrow, then choosing the outside gate may not be the best decision. Watch the motos before yours to see where the holeshots are coming from. Normally, a pattern develops. The best gate has good traction and a straight rut without any bumps.
(4) Holeshot device. On dirt starts we always recommend a holeshot device, but not on concrete starts. In the dirt, your holeshot device helps you keep the front end on the ground. Every rider’s sweet spot for mounting his holeshot device is different. Top pros tend to run them really low to be able to explode out of the gate without any front-wheel lift. The downside of a low holeshot device is that it takes much more effort to set it as well as to get it released. Holeshot devices that offer two different-set heights are great, as not all dirt start conditions are the same. On dirt that is dry or hard-packed, it’s best to use the higher setting. The tackier the dirt, the lower the holeshot device should be set.
(5) Gear. Choosing the right gear to start in depends on what bike you are on and the condition of the starting gate; however, 9 times out of 10, second gear is the gear of choice. Being able to do practice starts before your race will help you get a feel for the grip of the contact patch, what gear to choose and when to shift into the next gear. Your first shift is critically important. Knowing when your engine has peaked and being able to power shift into the next gear (meaning using little clutch and full throttle) will make the upshift seamless.
(6) Foot position. Always start with your feet in front of the pegs. When you let out the clutch, it’s natural for your body to slide backwards. Having your feet in front of the pegs gives you something to grip onto and keeps you in the right position. It is best to start with both feet down instead of one foot on the pegs and one down. With both feet down, it is easier to keep the bike balanced and less likely that your weight will be thrown to one side.
(7) Body position. Spending a lot of time doing practice starts will teach you where the best position is to put your butt. Most riders keep their bodies centered on the seat—not too far forward and not too far back. They adjust their upper bodies and heads according to how much traction there is behind the gate. More traction will require more weight on the front wheel, meaning that you lean forward with your torso. For gates with less traction, you’ll need to sit more upright. On concrete, it depends on your throttle control and the surface of the concrete. If it is coarse concrete that was brushed or grooved before it set, sitting up straight usually does the trick. On concrete that is very smooth, you might need to slide back on the seat a few inches. You can test the tackiness of the concrete by chirping the rear wheel to see how much grip there is. By “chirping,” we mean doing a false start. Do everything you would in a regular start situation, but when you let out the clutch and it grabs, pull it back in and make sure to have your finger over the front brake so you don’t hit or jump the gate. This chirping will allow you to gauge how much traction you have so you can rotate your torso forward or backward to find the prime position.
(8) Squeeze. Squeezing with your legs can help improve your starts dramatically. The reason to squeeze your bike on the starts is the same reason you squeeze it while you’re racing—to keep control of the bike. For the perfect start, you want to come out of the gate in a straight line, with the front tire on the ground, and never let off. To help you squeeze the bike, point your toes inward as soon as you get your feet on the pegs. Pointing your toes towards each other gives you more leverage to squeeze harder.
(9) Where to look. The best strategy is to turn your head slightly to the side, because your brain responds quicker when you see something in your peripheral vision. Looking down at your gate is not as good as looking at the gate next to you.
(10) Getting the holeshot. Once you’ve executed the perfect jump off the gate, continue to squeeze with your legs and look up at the first turn. Try not to get intimidated by the bikes next to you. Looking ahead will help you see that the first turn is yours for the taking.