There is nothing that compares to mountain dirt bike riding. The technical terrain combined with breathtaking views, river crossings, and the smell of pine can be found almost nowhere else. But an incomparable ride like that can quickly turn into disaster if you’re unprepared. Here are some tips on how to prepare your bike to safely conquer those single tracks.
Bike Preparation
Handguards and a skid plate are Michael Jordan’s Secret Stuff when single-track riding. When I say handguards, I don’t mean the flimsy roost and mudguards. I mean the handguards with a metal brace that stretch from the end of your handlebars and come around to clamp on the front of your bars. This type of handguard is meant to not only protect your hand from tree branches and brush, but from tree trunks and boulders. Without exaggeration, handguards have saved me from dozens of broken fingers and, as an added bonus, they’ll protect your levers from breaking. Nobody wants a broken front brake or clutch lever when they’re 20 miles out on a tight and technical single-track.
When mountain single track riding, you’ll approach gnarly obstacles like big rock step-ups, drop-offs, and the occasional (or very frequent) logs and tree roots. Inevitably, the bottom of your bike will get banged up and the last thing you want is a crack in your crankcase or a hole in your motor when miles from camp, so INSTALL A SKID PLATE. For those unfamiliar with what a skid plate is, it is an impact-resistant material affixed to the underside of a vehicle. They will prevent damage to the underside of your bike and will give you the confidence you need to take on tough terrain without worrying about damaging your bike.
A trials tire isn’t as essential as handguards for the beginner single-track rider, but it will make a big difference when it comes to technical riding. A trials tire has a flatter crown for a bigger contact patch, the lugs have a more uniform shape, and the tread pattern is more condensed. Typically, trials tires also have a more flexible sidewall and a lower durometer rubber compound, meaning they are more “sticky.” In short, when you reach those long, rocky hill climbs, you’ll be glad you have it.
A spark arrestor is a must-have for a couple of reasons, but first, what is a spark arrestor? It’s a metal screen that rests inside the tailpipe of your dirt bike to prevent any sparks from escaping and lighting a wildfire. In many mountain areas, it’s illegal to ride without one. Even though it isn’t very likely, don’t be responsible for starting a wildfire. So if you don’t have a spark arrestor, get one. For the most part, it doesn’t affect performance and they are cheap and easy to install. Often times you can just replace the end cap of your tailpipe or just remove it and install a screen. If you bought a more trail-ready dirt bike, it probably already has one. For those riding a motocross bike, it probably doesn’t (spark arrestors usually aren’t required on a motocross track). If you are unsure, just grab something long and skinny like a metal hanger, and stick it down the end of your tailpipe. If it stops part way in, you have one. If you can slide the hanger all the way down the end of your tailpipe, you most likely don’t have one.
Keep your radiator fluid topped off and, if possible, install a radiator fan. When riding mountain single tricks, you will spend the majority of your time in a low gear. Your bike will be working hard at low speeds which means it will likely overheat. If you’re riding slowly in a tough area, and all of a sudden your bike starts smoking, don’t freak out. It’s most likely radiator fluid boiling up through your overflow due to your bike being too hot. Just stop for a few minutes and give your bike a chance to cool off. If you find this is happening often, consider installing a radiator fan (or going faster 😬). A radiator fan will automatically begin to blow air and cool down your bike if it starts overheating.
Change the gearing on your bike or consider buying a smaller bike. As I mentioned earlier, you will spend the majority of your time in first, second, and third gear. And having a long first gear (like most motocross bikes) will only make technical trails more tough. You’ll be forced to use the clutch all the time which could potentially cause issues to the bike, and also tire out your hand and forearms. Another alternative is to ride a smaller bike. I know plenty of people who invest in a second smaller bike that is lighter weight and geared lower just for mountain single-tracks.
Single-track pro tips and tricks
Purchasing two bikes isn’t a possibility for everyone. But there are some minor changes that can make a difference in single-track riding. Try changing to a smaller wheel size such as an 18” instead of a 19”. Play with sprocket sizes as well. Need a little more torque and less on the top end? Go up a couple of teeth on your rear sprocket. I like to ride a 49 in the desert to give me more top end and something like a 51 on single tracks and more hard enduro trails.
Parker Dolbin