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✔ Article reviewed by Ethan Orenstein. Bringing motorcycles back from the dead since 2013. Learn More.

How to Ride a Dirt Bike

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Once you’ve got a dirt bike, you’ll need to learn to ride! 

If you know how to ride a bicycle, you’ve got a leg up. If you are already familiar with riding a motorcycle, you’ll be a master of the dirt in no time!

This guide will go over some of the basics of learning to ride a dirt bike, and provide you with some key points to remember. 

Is a dirt bike hard to ride?

Learning to ride a dirt bike is not too difficult. 

Most beginners will be able to pick up the basics in their first session. 

A great way to jump start your skills is by completing a Motorcycle Safety Foundation Basic Rider Course or by taking a dirt bike riding class. 

How to Ride a Dirt Bike for Beginners

Below, you’ll find some tips to help you get familiar with your bike and get you ready to ride.

Remember, start slow and simple, and move on to higher speeds and more difficult terrain as you get comfortable with the basic operation and control of your dirt bike. 

Choosing the Right Bike

First, you’ll need to be sure to choose the right bike that correlates to your height and riding experience. 

You should select a dirt bike that allows you to:

  • Comfortably reach the controls. 
  • Plant the balls of both feet on the ground when stopped.
  • Maneuver the bike safely. 

Beginners will also want to choose a dirt bike with a smaller engine (less CCs).

For more information about sizing your dirt bike, check out our guide. 

You can also learn more about how much a dirt bike will cost you.

Riding Gear

Next, you’ll need to equip yourself with the appropriate riding safety gear. 

Riding dirt bikes and motorcycles can be dangerous. If you go down, you’re going to want to be protected. 

Proper riding gear includes:

  • A dirt bike helmet.
  • Eye protection.
  • Protective gloves. 
  • Protective boots. 
  • Protective pants and jacket.

Riding Position

The riding position for off-road dirt bike riding is a bit different from your riding position for a street motorcycle. 

Here are some things to keep in mind when approaching obstacles off road:

  • Stand on the foot pegs with your butt slightly off the seat and your knees bent. 
  • Position the ball of your foot on the foot peg.
  • Stand and bend to absorb shocks as you ride over rough terrain. 
  • Ride with your elbows slightly more parallel to the handlebars than you would a standard motorcycle.
  • Keep your eyes up and chin forward. 

For more relaxed riding, you can maintain more of a casual riding position with an upright posture, arms slightly bent, and your knees against the tank. 

Starting a Dirt Bike

With the proper bike and the right safety gear, you’re ready to start up the bike. 

Starting a dirt bike is pretty simple. You’ll need to:

  • Put the bike in neutral gear. 
  • Insert the key.
  • Hit the electric starter or use the kickstarter, whichever your bike is equipped with. 
  • Use the choke, when starting a carbureted dirt bike. 
  • Let the engine warm up to operating temperature. 

Riding a Dirt Bike with a Clutch

While many dirt bikes for children feature a clutchless design, most dirt bikes have a clutch. 

Working the clutch on your dirt bike is just like shifting gears on a motorcycle.

The clutch lever is located on the left side of the handlebars, and your gear shifter is located near your left foot peg. 

To work the dirt bike clutch and shift gears, you’ll need to:

  • Squeeze in the clutch lever.
  • Use the gear shifter to shift up or down. 
  • Roll on the throttle as you smoothly let the clutch lever back out. 
  • Continue riding.

The key to good shifting is smooth operation of both the clutch and the throttle simultaneously. 

Most dirt bikes feature 5-speed transmissions with a 1 down, 4 up shift pattern.

  • 1st gear is all the way down. 
  • Neutral is a half shift up from 1st. 
  • Then 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th are up. 

On kids’ bikes and clutchless bikes, neutral is typically all the way at the bottom, followed by gears 1, 2, and 3 up. 

When starting from a stop, you’ll need to:

  • Shift into first while holding the clutch lever in. 
  • Gradually let go of the clutch lever as you roll on the throttle.

Letting out the clutch too fast, failing to give it gas, or giving it too much gas will kill the engine and stall out. 

You’ll need to get used to learning when to shift up and down. This takes some practice, but over time, you’ll know when to shift based on your engine’s sound and speed. 

As the engine gets louder and the RPMs increase, you’ll shift up. If your engine is lugging, you may be in too high of a gear. 

Using the Throttle

Your throttle is located on your right-side handgrip. 

Rolling it backwards opens it and makes you accelerate. 

Rolling it forwards closes it and allows you to slow down. 

Again, open and close the throttle smoothly when accelerating. 

Using the Brakes 

Your front brake lever is located on your right side handgrip, and the rear brake pedal is located near your right foot. 

Just like the throttle and clutch, you should operate the brakes smoothly without jamming on either one. 

Engaging the brakes too quickly or too hard will lock up your wheels and cause you to lose control. 

When riding a street motorcycle, you’re going to always want to use both brakes at the same time. On a dirt bike, there may be times when you only need to use the rear brake. 

How to Corner a Dirt Bike

All of the above will get you pretty comfortable riding in a straight line. 

Next up, you’ll need to work on your turns and cornering. 

Unlike cornering and turning on a street motorcycle, a dirt bike will have you facing all different types of corner shapes and surfaces. 

First, you’ll need to identify your path through the corner. Be aware of obstacles, bumps, divots, or ruts in the dirt. 

Next, you should do any braking, shifting, and slowing down before you enter the corner. 

Use your head to look where you want to go as you press in the direction of the corner and lean with the bike. 

Use your throttle to ride through and accelerate out of the corner. 

Keep a low center of gravity, and avoid “fighting” your dirt bike through the turn. 

Practice extending your inside leg, while putting weight on the outside footpeg.

Take some time to practice both seated and standing cornering so you’ll be ready to take on any terrain. 

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Content Editor: Ethan Orenstein

Ethan is not just any motorcycle enthusiast. With a decade of experience riding, maintaining, and restoring a range of motorcycles, Ethan brings a wealth of knowledge to the table. Many of the tips and tricks shared on this site are born from hours spent wrenching on personal bikes. Paired with his experience as a journalist covering DMV & insurance topics, MotorcycleZombies.com is a must-visit site for any home-mechanic. Every article has been carefully reviewed and edited to ensure accuracy, authenticity, and simplicity - all to help bring your bike back from the dead and onto the road.

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