Standing: When, Where, and Why?
One of the most frequently asked questions by new off road riders is “should I stand, or should I sit?” Whether you are a brand new rider learning in the dirt, or a seasoned street rider learning to ride off-road, one of the most important things you should learn and practice is standing while riding. Standing while riding does more than make you look cool and allow you to stretch your legs – it will keep you balanced and in control of your motorcycle. If you are a brand new dirt rider, I suggest trying to stand while riding off-road as much as possible to get comfortable. At first standing while riding may seem clumsy and unnatural. Over time and with plenty of practice it will become second nature. Being able to decide when to sit, stand, or paddle your bike through a section will conserve energy, and leave you a more skilled off-road rider at the end of the day.
Posture and bike ergonomics:
This topic deserves a post of its own, but we will hit the high points for now. First and foremost, it is important to set your motorcycle up so that it is comfortable to ride while both standing and sitting. This usually takes a little adjusting. Typically, folks will need to bring their gear shifter and rear brake lever up slightly, and their clutch and front brake levers down slightly. Handlebars should be in line with the front forks, and risers should not be considered unless the length from the foot pegs to the end of the handlebars is less than half the length of your height.
You should stand with the balls of your feet on or near the foot pegs, knees somewhat bent, and your body leaning slightly forwards towards the handlebars. Be sure to keep a slight bend in your arms, your elbows up, and only one or two fingers on the clutch and front brake. Keep your head and eyes up and looking in the direction you want to go. Standing with the tips of your toes near the controls will make it easier to reach the gear shift lever and rear brake, necessary for shifting and braking while standing, but will give you slightly less balance and control through very technical terrain.
Many new off-road riders have trouble with unwanted throttle and steering input while standing. This largely due to improper bike set up, and can be solved by analyzing your riding posture and controls. It is important to note that if you cannot comfortably use the controls, you will not feel comfortable standing and riding. It might take a little trial and error to find the adjustment that is right for you.
(Riding posture and controls set-up are two important things that should be carefully analyzed before trying to ride while standing. Remember to always keep your head and eyes looking up where you want to go and remember to relax, It’s supposed to be fun!)
For most people, sitting is the most natural position on the motorcycle. You are conserving the most energy by sitting, and have less distance to fall if you do have a crash. Typically, you sit when you are navigating long and relatively smooth sections or tighter corners on smooth terrain. Sliding back on the seat while sitting can help with acceleration as well. Due to the increased weight over the rear tire, traction will be improved. When you think about sitting while riding off-road, think of flat track racers and their ability to accelerate quickly and slide around corners.
(If the terrain is smooth you can sit to conserve energy. By sliding back and weighting the rear you will increase traction, an action necessary for hard acceleration.)
Standing takes a bit more energy, but allows your body a wide range of motion to aid in balancing the motorcycle. Keeping your legs slightly bent will act like suspension as you cross obstacles in the trail, saving your back from injuries resulting from the jarring. While standing you will be able to quickly shift your weight forwards and backwards as needed to maintain traction for hills and obstacles, and side to side as needed for balance. Standing allows you to easily weight and de-weight (compressing and decompressing the suspension), a necessary technique for crossing larger obstacles.
Majority of the time while standing you will want your knees to be loose, and away from the tank of the motorcycle. This will allow the motorcycle and your body to move independently. In certain circumstances, like hard acceleration/braking or descending steep hills, you may grip the tank with your knees to keep your body on the motorcycle and reduce fatigue in your arms.
Your body movements and weight transfer will affect your motorcycle more while standing than sitting, giving you the ability to quickly adjust for trail conditions. You will find that while standing you will have more control in technical terrain, allowing the motorcycle to work (move) under you. Check out some videos of trials riders standing and using their body positioning to remain balanced through very technical sections.
(Rocks, roots, ruts, and other obstacles are best traversed while standing. Be sure to bend your knees and elbows, and keep your body loose.)
If you have ever watched the top Exteme Enduro racers like Graham Jarvis, Cody Webb, or Johnny Walker; you will notice they stand most of the time. However, when they get to a section that becomes too difficult or risky to remain standing on the motorcycle, they will sit and begin to paddle their way through the section. Paddling is done at slower speeds, through very technical or slippery terrain. It is important to note that paddling means to remain sitting on the seat of the bike and use your legs to dab on either side to remain upright. Paddling does not mean you are trying to push your way through with your legs. You should allow the motorcycle to do the work and only use your legs as balance – think training wheels here. Most of the time when paddling, you will want your bottom towards the rear of the bike to keep weight on the rear wheel for increased traction.
(Paddling is best for those very technical or high risk sections. Be sure only to do this at low speeds. Paddling through a section is sometimes the best (and safest) option!)
Deciding whether to sit or stand:
It all really comes down to the rider to practice sitting and standing in varying terrain to determine what works the best. I have found that for the most part, sitting in the smoother sections, standing through the technical sections, and paddling through the very technical sections will be the best course of action. You will need to become comfortable riding both while standing and sitting before you can swap back and forth without much thought. When you get to the point where you can ride any terrain while sitting or standing, then you can decide how to get through each section as quickly and safely as possible. Being able to swap seamlessly between each technique to maximize traction will greatly increase your speed and have you leaving your riding buddies in the dust!