TEN THINGS ABOUT MASTERING DEEP RUTS
Australian racer Dan Alamangos checks out an REM Glen Helen rut. Fair dinkum! Photo: Debbi Tamietti
(1) Momentum. How do AMA National riders make long, deep, curving ruts look so easy? It all starts with their commitment to carrying momentum into a corner. Physics tells us that the faster a rider is going, the more stable he will be. Think of momentum as it applies to Wall of Death riders in those sideshow iron cages. Momentum harnesses the gyroscopic forces of both the wheels and engine. You can develop more speed in rutted corners by practicing them instead of avoiding them. Remember, commitment is key. The harder you brake, the less stability you will have.
(2) Don’t shift. A good practice technique to master deep ruts is to forgo downshifting into a rutted corner. This is a poor man’s traction- control system. Keeping your bike in a taller gear makes the chassis calmer as it approaches the corner by lessening decompression braking and sudden weight shifts. It is important to remember to exit the corner in a higher gear. The engine might want to bog down at the apex, but even a slight increase in throttle input can make the exit of the corner pain-free, fast and smooth.
(3) What brakes? Whatever you do, don’t hit the rear brake in a rut. This will not only kill momentum, it will make the chassis stand up. When the chassis stands up, it throws your balance off. Your legs will get off kilter and your lead leg will be pulled back in case you have to dab to keep from falling over. To prevent this, do all your braking before you sit down for the corner. When you transition from standing up to sitting down, move your foot on the brake side of the bike from the center of the footpeg rearward so that the ball of your foot is on the footpegs. This will prevent your foot from accidentally hitting the rear brake or getting knocked off the peg by the sides of the rut. You need to maintain contact with the bike.
(4) Smooth. The more consistent your throttle hand is, the smoother the bike will be in ruts. Don’t get on and off the gas multiple times in a rutted corner. Every time you hit the gas, the bike will climb up the wall of the rut. And every time you shut it off, the bike will fall down into the rut.
You gotta believe. You gotta look ahead. You gotta weight the outside peg.
(5) Lean with it. The best way to commit to a rut is to not only lean your body but also your head. This is a technique that Jeremy McGrath perfected. Where your head goes, the body and bike will follow. It goes without saying that standing in a rut is better than sitting. If you can stand all the way through a rutted corner, do so. If you can’t, at least try to avoid sitting as long as possible.
(6) Drag. A more advanced technique that is very useful in ruts is front-brake drag. This technique does two things. First, it prevents use of the rear brake in a corner. Second, it keeps your front wheel tacked to the ground like glue. It is always a good idea to keep one finger over the front brake lever to modulate pressure on the front wheel.
(7) Ride the wave. Many deep ruts have a shape similar to an ocean wave. The taller and steeper the rut is, the better it will hold a bike when the correct speed is generated. The steeper the angle of the sides, the faster a rider can go through the rut. The best way to gauge lean angle is to check how high the other rider’s tire tracks are in the rut. This will give you an idea of where you are. Remember, the steeper the angle, the more speed you’ll need.
(8) Eyes forward and inward. Never look at your front wheel. Think of a rut as a slot-car track. Once your front wheel is in the rut, you are essentially on rails. Always look ahead at the end of the rut and never look to the outside of a rutted corner. Always look to where the rut is going, not where you are now. You can’t do anything about what’s happening 6 inches in front of you, so you need to focus on where you’ll be when your reaction time kicks in. If you watch the top riders, they have their eyes up and focused on the future, not the past.
(9) Weight it out. Placing pressure on the outside peg when in a rut will keep the bike planted. It will also help steer you to the exit of the corner. The easiest way to get this skill down is to place the ball of your foot on the footpeg. Turn your toe inward and press your outside knee against the gas tank. This will automatically place pressure on the outside peg.
(10) Trajectory. On the approach to a rutted corner, the main line racers use (known as the goat trail) usually ends up being a straight shot to the rut. This approach leads to over-braking and kills momentum. Think of the superb corner speed of MotoGP road racers. They don’t go straight from corner to corner. They arc into a corner to make the turn less abrupt. Motocrossers can do the same thing when sweeping into a deeply rutted turn by moving slightly to the outside as they approach the rut and then bending the bike towards the inside. We aren’t talking about moving over 10 feet to the side—just 1 or 2 feet can smooth out the entrance of a rutted corner and enable you to carry more speed through it.