Breakdown: Glen Helen Technique

Breakdown Glen Helen Technique

May 27, 2015 10:30am

This week’s Breakdown gets back to a little photo analysis. A lot can be learned from studying the what, why, and how of a rider’s technique. They say a photo is worth a thousand words, but I’m going to try to keep each one shorter than that.

Justin Barcia is shown here in a typical turn-down maneuver to keep his AutoTrader.com/Toyota/JGR Yamaha low to the ground. Glen Helen is notorious for small jumps before climbing higher in a section. The key is to keep the bike on the ground and maximize acceleration. The higher the bike jumps, the more it will compress upon landing. The more it compresses, the more it will rebound back up afterwards. All of those are bad. Ideally, Barcia will barely leave the ground, and his rear tire will maintain contact and never stop digging up that next hill. To accomplish that, he’s turning the handlebars as the bike crests the rise, and instead of that momentum carrying him upward, he scrubs the speed off and stays lower. This move is used so often that it seems commonplace, but it really is a highly technical move. Instructing a novice rider to find the nearest jump, turn his handlebars to one side, lean off the bike as hard as you can, and hope for the best will usually end up in an ambulance ride. Justin is making it look easy here.

Photo: Cudby

This is Ryan Dungey’s version of the same technique on the same jump. He’s leaned over a bit more and is staying a bit lower. One thing to notice here is that his left hand is positioned in such a way as to push the bike downwards. He’s trying to gain leverage on the handlebars by raising his elbow upwards. To understand better, pretend you have your hands on a set of handlebars in this position and are pushing downwards. Next, bring your elbow inwards towards your body and then try to push down. It’s more difficult to do, right? By raising his elbow, he gains much more strength and leverage over the bike and its trajectory. Science, people.

Photo: Cudby

Ryan is shown here accelerating hard down the long start straight. He’s leaning pretty hard on the outside of the bike to add some traction, and using the ball of his foot, instead of his heel, so he can apply even more pressure to the peg through his calf and ankle. His clutch finger is at the ready to maintain RPM in the deep Glen Helen loam.

Photo: Cudby

Here’s Jeremy Martin showing why he’s the reigning national champion. He’s doing several things correctly in this picture. First, his foot is out and leading the way. He’s making a big pivot out of the berm here and about to turn hard to the left. As you can see the berm continues on much further, indicating that there is a right-hand turn following this section, and he wants to set himself up to enter from the outside. His finger is on the clutch to build RPM and explode out of the berm. Lastly, check out where his eyes are focused. He’s looking far down the track at where he is going, not where he actually is.

Photo: Cudby

Race winner Marvin Musquin is hard on the brakes here. This is the long down-hill in the middle of the track that actually didn’t get that rough compared to most years. At the bottom there was a tight inside line and a long, fast sweeping outside line as well. This picture gives an idea of the actual angle of these up-hills and down-hills, as television does them no justice.

Photo: Cudby

Here’s Marvelous Marv ripping a big holeshot in moto one. He’s leaning back to get every bit of traction on that rear tire and keep that 250 roaring. Interesting that his left foot is at the ready to grab the next gear, and his hand is nowhere near the clutch, which is standard operating procedure for a good start. Just behind Musquin, Adam Cianciarulo is seconds from disaster.

Photo: Cudby

This photo really captures Musquin’s style. He moves around quite a bit on the bike, putting his weight where he wants it. He’s leaning forward while nearing the landing in an effort to push the front wheel down. It’s also common to tap the rear brake; both are effective ways to drop the front end.

Photo: Cudby

Another of Marvin, this time he’s leaving a rut earlier than those before him did. The rut may have an upcoming hole he may be trying to avoid, or he may be attempting to set himself up for the next turn. His foot is planted, allowing him to drag the front wheel out of that rut and give him leverage to lift with. This is not usually a recommended move, as he’s upsetting his momentum through the turn, but when a rider of Musquin’s caliber makes a deliberate move such as this, there’s always a reason.

Photo: Cudby

Das champ, Ken Roczen, is pictured mid-ascent up Mt. St. Helens. As you can see, it’s challenging to climb the biggest hill of the series. There are two jumps en route, which only complicates things further. Momentum is the key, and as you can see from Roczen’s roost, he is full noise and looking for more. He’s doing his best to stay forward on the bike even though gravity and the force of sixty horsepower are pulling him off the back.

Photo: Cudby

Eli Tomac has simply been on fire in the first two rounds. He has been flawless thus far and has to be causing a few sleepless nights for those wearing orange. He’s in full attack position here, preparing for a few man-made braking bumps before a hard left turn. His feet are off the pegs just a touch, allowing the bike to float across obstacles as much as possible. If he anticipates a hard landing or big bump, he will immediately grip the bike with his knees in preparation. All signs point to smooth sailing at the moment though.

Photo: Cudby

This is the backside of the jump that Barcia, Dungey, and Martin were shown on above. Tomac is leaving the ground far before the crest, which has a few benefits. He’ll land closer to the take-off of the jump instead of launching out onto the flat area, allowing him to accelerate off of flat ground instead of on the incline of the next hill. Also, he won’t have to brake at all at the crest, which would kill his momentum. Instead, he’s gliding over that crest and maintaining all of that speed. Finally, this move looks really, really cool when executed this well.

Photo: Cudby

This is up close and personal to what we just saw from afar in the picture above. He’s still leaned over from his pre-jump and is about to land with copious amounts of throttle. His left index finger is about to unleash hell on the Glen Helen countryside.

Photo: Cudby

There was a time when Eli Tomac would have been star-struck in this spot. Those days are long gone. It is impressive to watch Eli come up on riders. His only thought is how to get around them in the quickest time possible. He has a clear speed advantage on the field right now, and his confidence is growing with every moto. In this particular shot, Tomac is using the outside line on the start straight, which was longer but the dirt was more compact. Reed is more in the middle, which allowed him to protect the inside but was also deeper loam. Even if I didn’t know that to be true, this picture hints at it. Tomac is able to carry a wheelie in the harder dirt while Reed’s bike is laboring in the soft stuff. Tomac is also standing to get leverage on the bike, driving his weight through the pegs. He’ll stand earlier and stay standing later than a lot of the other riders, a big advantage on rough outdoor tracks.

Photo: Cudby

This picture is of Racer X editor-at-large and PulpMX owner, Steve Matthes. Steve looks to be racing at some sort of carnival or provincial fair in his native Manitoba. Steve looks to be at his fighting weight here, although his technique leaves a bit to be desired. He’s hunched over quite a bit, much like a vet rider on the last lap of a two-hour moto. The crowd at the event is standing room only and surely all cheering for our boy, Steve.