The Complete Beginner’s Guide To Motocross

Whether you're looking to start motocross racing, or just hit your local track; we've got you covered. Read our ultimate guide to starting motocross.

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If you love bikes, any form of motorsport, or you’re just a self-confessed Adrenaline Junkie – starting motocross is for you.

Our beginners guide to motocross is going to help kickstart your new hobby.

I’ve been riding and racing motocross for over 17 years, and in the next 10 minutes I’ll explain the most important aspects of getting started in motocross riding and racing.

And, we’ve even included some cool motocross training videos from professional riders to help you learn to ride – fast.

Looking for something specific? Skip straight through to the relevant section in our guide.

Motocross Gear Guide For Beginners

Welcome to our motocross gear guide.

Decided on the perfect bike to start motocross?

Perfect.

Now you need you need to fill that kit bag and get out riding!

But, we don’t want to just focus on gear that looks the part.

Most motocross gear is designed to keep you safe, so we need to looking at which brands offer you the best protection, for the least amount of money.

Here’s what you need.

  1. A [High Quality!] Helmet

Cheap helmets from “no-name” brands don’t cut it.

I don’t care what anyone says. 

In fact, if you check out regulations for race organisations in your area (AMA for US, AMCA/ACU/BSMA in the UK), there are usually strict rules on the quality of your helmet.

For instance, UK race organisations force all riders to use helmets that have been tested to ACU standards (they issue each helmet that passes, with a gold stamp).

In the USA, there’s similar safety testing standards such as:

  • DOT
  • Snell M2005
  • Snell M2010
  • ECE R22-05

So, if a helmet you’re contemplating buying just looks cool but doesn’t have a safety rating like the ones mentioned above, avoid it.

It’s just not worth the risk…

See our motocross helmet buyers guide here.

  1. Protective Boots

Motocross boots offer a lot more protection than a lot of riders think. 

Sure, if you buy cheap products, you’ll something in the way of protection.

But, if you lean towards boots that are built to last (and protect you) like the Fox Comp or Gaerne SG 12s you’ll get:

  • Ankle protection
  • Roost protection (rocks hurts)
  • Impact protection (landing of big jumps hurts too!)
  • All-round injury prevention in the lower leg, ankle and foot.

There’s a tonne of brands to choose from that don’t break the bank.

I’d recommend boots from brands such as Alpinestars, Sidi, Gaerne and Fox Racing.

Check out our guide to the best boots for Motocross here.

  1. MX Goggles

Most new riders don’t realize (until the first time they ride), a good set of goggles is essential. 

Cheap goggles:

  • Fog up (poor ventilation)
  • Get scratched lenses, which are not cheap to replace (bad quality lenses)
  • Are uncomfortable (low-quality foam)
  • Rarely offer good UV protection (so, could damage your eyes)
  • Don’t last (and a replacement costs money – might as well just buy something decent to start with)

You’ve got a few options when it comes to choosing your motocross goggles.

Goggles With Tear Off Pins

Have a quick look at the goggles you’re thinking of buying. Can you see a pin either side of the lens?

That’s designed for a tear off. Tear offs are thin sheets of plastic in the shape of the goggle lens.

Dirt obscuring your vision? Rip one of those bad-boys off and you’re good to go.

You can stack 21-28 tear offs on a lens, and that’s usually enough to go all day!

Goggles With Roll Off Canisters

Can you see canisters either side of the goggles you’re checking out?

Those are roll offs.

Instead of pulling a sheet of plastic off the goggle (like tear offs), one canister feeds to the other. You’ll have a roll of film around 25m, and you pull it across using the tab when your goggles get dirty.

Like the tear offs, per canister set up you’ll get around 50 pulls. It takes around 2 pulls to clear the lens, so that’s 25 sets of clear vision for your ride.

Goggles With Tear Offs & Roll Offs

This is the Mac-Daddy of setups.

You’ll get 21-28 tear offs AND a roll-off system.

Suitable for all-day muddy rides, adventures, enduro and trails.

In the UK, the best brand is Rip N’ Roll. Not many brands sell a tear off and roll off setup combined – they’re easy to build though.

I created a guide to the best motocross goggles here.

  1. Gloves, Jersey and Pants

If you plan to race and it’s gonna’ be muddy (like here in the UK), you’ll usually have a spare set of kit in your gear bag. 

Realistically, this part of your motocross gear just looks cool. It offers a little protection in a crash.

However, it’s the gloves that are most important in my opinion. Low-quality gloves induce blisters.

And, that’s going to make controlling your bike real-hard!

Check out brands like Fox Racing, Alpinestars, Shift and Thor – they all make good stuff.

Here’s the best motocross gear brands I can think of.

  1. Body Armor

You’ve got a few different options when it comes to body armor. Here’s a few pointers on what the descriptions for products online might mean. 

Roost Deflector

Offers minimal protection. Will usually be made from foam and offer little protection in a crash.

It’s designed to protect you from roost (rocks and dirt fired at you by the bikes in front).

Chest Deflector

The upgrade from a roost deflector. Usually made from foam with a plastic outer shell.

Offers enhanced roost protection, and a little protection in a crash. Sometimes they also include back and shoulder protection.

Body Armour

Usually refers to armour with full coverage, focused on crash protection. The most comprehensive MX body armour will have elbow, forearm, shoulder, back, side and front protection – sometimes even a built-in kidney belt.

This guide to motorcross body armour explains it all in more detail.

  1. Elbow & Knee Protection

If you ride without them, you’re crazy! 

Some riders prefer to ride without elbow pads due to comfort. But I can tell you right now – crash without either of these pads, and you’ll know what discomfort really is!

If you have sore knees or previous injuries, you might want to look into MX knee braces rather than just basic knee guards, by the way. They offer both support AND protection.

Check out our guide to the best knee and elbow pads for motocross here.

  1. A Bag For Your Gear

You’ve got your motocross gear. Now, it’s time to keep it safe.  

I use an OGIO MX Kit Bag. I think it was around $80.

But, thinking about it, you could use a “no-name” duffle bag and save a few dollars.

Just make sure it’s a big one!

 

Non-Essential Motocross Gear List

#1 – Helmet Camera

We’ve all seen the cool videos on YouTube. If you want to capture some decent motocross videos of you riding, a GoPro is a fantastic way to do it.

Just edit out the crashes : )

See our 2018 GoPro guide here.

#2 – Kidney Belt

Again, this isn’t what most riders would class as essential. Partly as they take a bit of getting used to if you’ve not worn one before.

If you’re just starting motocross, I’d suggest wearing a kidney belt and getting used to it from day 1.

Be under no illusion, motocross racing is adrenaline filled sure; but sometimes it’s not the comfiest sport in the world. I’ve used a motocross kidney belt for years, as it keeps my insides from rocking about.

If you’ve never physically felt your insides slamming around, get 30ft air and let me know how the landing feels.

#3 – Knee Braces

If you’ve got a history of knee pain, had surgery, or use anything to support your knees in other sports, you’ll want a good set of knee braces.

EVS, Leatt, POD, Asterisk and Alpinestars all offer knee braces from $100 upwards (some are as much as $500 per set).

But, if you’ve just got one bad knee, some brands offer a singular knee brace, rather than a pair.

Check out our guide to the best motocross knee braces in 2018 here.

#4 – Motocross Compression Gear

Looking for better temperature regulation whilst riding? Does lack of blood flow induce cramps?

Both things make riding motocross near on impossible.

I’ve found compression full sleeve shirts have helped regulate body temperature (both hot and cold), and reduce arm pump.

As I’ve always suffered with knee pain, I sometimes ride with a compression knee sleeve, which helps not just during riding, but I notice a huge reduction in pain in the days that follow.

If you want a compression knee sleeve too, make sure you buy one with a grippy rubber interior. Without this, it will just slide down your leg.

Choosing a Motocross Bike

2 Stroke or 4 Stroke?

There’s a big “2 stroke or 4 stroke” debate between motocross riders. It’s the only topic that’s guaranteed to get everyone chiming in. 

I’d lean towards a 250 four stroke as being the perfect beginner bike. Most people suggest a 125 (being smaller, and a little lighter), but I disagree.

125s need to be ridden in the high rev range and you’ll need to be slipping the clutch to keep the revs there.

The power can be a little unpredictable. Sure, the bike might be small, but they are a bike that require some technical ability, and it’s only going to make learning motocross that little bit harder.

A four stroke 250 offers a more predictable and smoother power delivery. The weight difference is minimal once you’re moving, and gear selection is less crucial thanks to increased torque.

The downside is, a 250 four stroke is a heck of a lot harder to kickstart than a 125.

Maintenance costs are also likely to be higher on a 250 four stroke when you consider checking valve clearances and cams.

The fact 2 strokes are basic engines means a lot of the engine work can be done on a DIY basis (saving huge labour costs).

But, all motorsport is expensive – motocross is no different –  so my recommendation is still a 250F.

Any of the top brands are fine. So, we’re talking about the:

  • Kawasaki KXF250
  • Honda CRF250
  • Suzuki RMZ250
  • Yamaha YZF250
  • KTM SXF250
  • Husqvarna FC 250

Where To Find Motocross Bikes For Sale

Over the years I’ve scoured all the usual classified ads websites trying to find MX bikes for sale. Ultimately, it seems the listings on all these websites, always end up on eBay as well.

There are a tonne of second hand motocross bikes for sale, and you’ll be saving thousands of dollars by buying one second hand versus brand new.

Unless I know someone personally selling a bike that I’m after, I tend to just head straight over to eBay.

Where To Ride & Race Motocross

Where To Practice – Motocross Track Locators

In the UK, I use this motocross track locator. They have an interactive map that includes details of over 300 of the best tracks. 

For those in the USA, there’s MX Track Guide. This site has over 1,000 tracks in every state in the US.

Where To Race Motocross

To start racing motocross, you need a license. And, that means you’ll need to join a club, and pay for that license. The licenses are issued by a governing body or motocross association.

In the UK, the top motocross associations include the AMCA, ACU and BSMA. They all run well organised events throughout the country.

For racers in the USA, the top motocross association is the AMA.

Once you’ve got your license and joined a club, all that’s left is to enter your first race.

You don’t need to be a professional to enter. But, it is worth heading down to a local event to see the level of riders in your club.

They’ll be classes from novice right through to expert, so there’s a class for everyone.

Learning To Ride Motocross (Fast)

Arm Pump

You might be wondering why we’re about to talk about arm pump, before we’ve even talked about riding technique. There’s a good reason; arm pump is going to affect not just how you ride, but how fast you can ride; from day one.

What Is Arm Pump?

In medical terms, it’s chronic exertional compartment syndrome (CECS). Blood needs to flow carrying immense amounts of oxygen when you’re riding, after all, you’re hauling a 100kg+ bike around.

People starting motocross are notorious for holding on far too tight. And, that’s the first step towards successfully giving yourself arm pump.

When the blood doesn’t flow quickly enough, pressure builds up, and oxygen isn’t fuelling your muscles. You’ll feel your forearms go rock hard and get a strong cramp.

Congrats! You just got arm pump.

And, it hurts. You’ll struggle to grip the bars, pull in the clutch and even worse, the brake!

So, arm pump isn’t just very common, it’s extremely dangerous.

5 Ways To Stamp Out Arm Pump

Hand Grip Strengthener

My Dad’s always had rheumatoid arthritis. Years ago, his Doctor gave him a hand grip strengthener to help work the muscles in his hands.

So, I started doing the same. And, it worked. By just working the hand grip a couple of times a day, I noticed my arm pump decrease considerably on race day.

Powerball

I have no idea when or where I found this product, but I’ve had a Powerball for years.

If I’m watching TV, I’ll grab the Powerball for 5-10 minutes to try and improve strength in my forearms; but it hardly feels like a workout. 

Unlike the hand grip, you can work in motions such as back-to-front, circular and left-to-right.

The nature of the device means it puts pressure in the opposite direction to where you’re moving, so it offers a great all-round workout for your hands as well as your forearms.

Highly recommended!

New Brake/Clutch Levers & Positioning

It was only 10 or so years ago that unbreakable levers (originally from ASV) became popular. And, who was I to avoid a bandwagon? I bought some.

Unwittingly, I fitted them in a much lower position than before, and found them easier to grab. And, the short and sleek profile of aftermarket levers means less force is needed to pull in the brake and clutch.

Now, I always fit a set of aftermarket levers on any bike I buy, and make sure I angle my levers correctly.

It’s a personal preference type-of-thing. So, trial a few different setups with your bars and levers.

Loosen Your Grip & Grip With Your Knees

I know, you feel like the last thing you need to do is loosen your grip. But, gripping too hard isn’t just inducing arm pump, it means you’re rigid with the bike. Your bike hits a bump, you kick to one side, and the bike comes with you.

If you loosen your grip and loosely grip with your knees, you’ll find the bike is able to move beneath you without kicking you off, and reducing arm pump at the same time.

Change Grip Compound

I’m a cheapskate, so I always went with Renthal’s hard compound grips (full diamond), hoping they’d last longer.

But, when I started entering 3-hour endurance races, I got serious arm pump.

Eventually, I borrowed a bike using 50/50 Diamond/Waffle (diamond is the small tabs of grip, waffle is the square shape – the grips are available in full diamond, full waffle and 50/50).

The softer compound felt like it absorbed a few more vibrations. With a softer compound and the waffle giving a little extra grip, I could hang on looser and felt a noticeable difference.

So, I’d definitely recommend grips such as the Renthal soft (or medium) compound 50/50.

Professional Motocross Rider’s Top Riding Tips (In Video)

So, you’ve got down to a track for the first time and you’re looking at ways to improve?

Here’s a few motocross training videos from professional motocross racers to help get you started.

#1 – Body Positioning

#2 – Race Starts & Getting The Holeshot

#3 – Cornering

#4 – Rutted Corners

#5 – Mastering The Sand

#6 – Hitting Your First Jump

#7 – Scrubbing Motocross Jumps

#8 –  Whoops

Motocross Bike Security

Not everything to do with motocross is rosy.

Unfortunately, I know one more than one person that’s had their bike stolen.

So, how do you secure a motocross bike?

#1 – An Alarm

I’ve had multiple break-ins and never had a bike stolen. They didn’t even get past the garage door; because the alarm scared them off.

Any normal house alarm will work fine, but:

  1. Make sure there’s a battery back up in-case the wires are cut.
  2. Place it somewhere where it can’t be seen.

#2 – Alarmed Disc Lock

The aim here isn’t to have an impenetrable lock (although that would be a bonus). Again, the aim is to sound an alarm that scares off thieves.

#3 – Ground Anchor & Chain

If by some means a thief can bypass two alarms, let’s keep making it difficult. You’ll want to cement the ground anchor to the floor, and ground off the bolts so they can’t be removed.

Make sure you couple your ground anchor with a hefty chain from a reputable brand like Oxford.

#4 – Keep Out Of Sight

You probably want to flash your new toy to your neighbours, but don’t; thieves will catch wind of the fact you own a motocross bike.

Get it into storage as soon as possible after a ride, don’t start it up unless you need to, and don’t wash it on your front drive.

#5 – Remove Your Wheels

I got into a habit of removing the wheels and chain after every ride, giving them a good clean and greasing up the axles. Removing the wheels takes less than 5 minutes.

I do like the idea of a thief going through the trouble of bypassing alarms only to discover their undeserved prize is wheel-less.

Bike Maintenance

Some people enjoy motocross bike maintenance, others prefer to take it to a local dealership.

The problem with dirt bikes, is they need to be cleaned and maintained after every ride; that’s a lot of $$$ on labour if you’re not prepared to do anything yourself.

Changing Oil & Oil Filters

You’re going to hear a lot of different opinions when it comes to how often you should change oil in a motocross bike.

Some riders I know change their oil every 4-5 races which is usually 6-7 hours of hard ridden bike time. Others change after every race. I drop the oil every 1-2 races, and change the filter every 2-4, depending on how hard I think the bike has been ridden (i.e. sand races I’d change the oil after every race – they are hard on the bike).

The one rule here is; you can’t be too safe.

What You’ll Need

  • Oil Filter
  • Oil
  • Funnel

Cables – Lubrication And Cleaning

If you want to keep your clutch and throttle running smoothly, you’ll want to disconnect them, clean out the housings, and lubricate them.

It’s surprising how much debris can build up in the cable housings.

And, trust me – the last thing you want is your throttle sticking wide-open, when you’re reaching for the brakes!

What You’ll Need

  • Cable lube
  • Cable Lubrication Tool

Chain & Sprocket Maintenance

A decent set of chain and sprockets will set you back over $100. You can make them last a lot longer by keeping them clean and lubricated, but you’ll also reduce the risk of your chain snapping (and smashing through either your leg, or the engine).

So, the first thing to do is to clean your chain and sprockets. For your chain, there are specialist chain brushes that get into the hard to reach places.

Second, you’ll want to ensure the chain is lubricated before every ride. I even quickly wipe off and lube my chain in between motos.

Lastly, a chain that’s too tight will snap. Too loose, and it will wear the sprockets incredibly quickly.

You’ll want to see a two-finger gap between the chain guide (at least) to ensure there’s enough slack. Re-adjust the chain after every ride.

What You’ll Need

  • Chain Lub
  • Chain cleaning brush
  • Degreaser (to clean the chain)

Maintaining Your Air Filter

In the same way your helmet protects your head, a motocross bike’s air filter protects the engine.

The bike runs on a mix of fuel and air. As air is sucked in, so is debris (such as dust); the air filter catches all this dust.

If you ride muddy and wet trails, your air filter will be so wet and dirty, debris and water will start to push through the air filter, and into the engine.

But, on the flip-side, if you over oil your air filter (the oil helps to catch dirt), the excess oil will be sucked into the airbox – not good.

There’s a tonne of ways to clean an air filter. Warm water, a bucket and some degreaser is my cheapskate way of doing it.

It’s a messy job, so I tend to have 3-4 filters in total (1 in the bike, then wash, dry and lube the other 2-3 at once).

If you notice bits of foam degrading, or the glued seams breaking away, chuck the filter. If you’re unsure, don’t take the risk; throw it.

I’ve tried using petrol as an air filter cleaner. It gets everywhere, stinks, and tends to break the glued seams within a few washes.

Others I know wash their filters in their washing machine. Two precautions on that front:

  • Your partner will probably kill you when they figure out the big patch of oil on their new dress, was your fault
  • If you don’t run the wash on low or zero heat, it will melt the seams on the air filter

Remember to seal the contact point between the airbox and air filter – dust likes to get through here.

What You’ll Need

  • Air filter cleaner
  • Air filter oil/spray
  • Plastic gloves
  • A bucket
  • Spare air filters

Spokes

The abuse motocross wheels take on a ride is unreal. It’s a wonder they don’t fall apart. And, they will, if you don’t maintain them.

I’d suggest skipping straight to the video for this one, as overtightening can lead to disaster – pay close attention!

What You’ll Need

Spoke Wrench

Topping Up Coolant

Naturally, motocross bikes will burn a bit of coolant, especially in races that are hard on the bike (sand and mud).

This will come out via the overflow. The radiator cap has a pressure release seal, so once the coolant gets too hot (and risks blowing the rads, or the hoses off), it releases the fluid (and pressure) via the overflow.

But, if coolant is dropping almost every ride by a considerable amount, you’ll need to find the root cause (e.g. a split pipe or radiator). If you don’t find the root cause, you’ll be heading for a blown engine!

If you’re certain there’s no leak, and your bike is probably just running hot, look at investing in some Engine Ice.

What You’ll Need

Engine Ice

The Best Motocross Websites & YouTube Channels

Like any “normal” motocross-nut, I’ve spent a tonne of time over the years on motocross websites.

So, I’ve listed some of my favourite motocross forums, websites and YouTube channels below.

Websites

Thumper Talk

If you’ve gone and grabbed yourself a 4 stroke motocross bike and need to ask a question, or maybe are just looking for someone to ride with, head over to the forum at Thumper Talk.

MX Large

Looking to keep up to date with everything MX?

There’s some great updates from the FIM World Motocross Championship, AMA Supercross and AMA Motocross over at MX Large.

Best Motocross Videos & YouTube Channels

Enduro Kex

OK, technically not motocross, but dirt bikes all the same. If you like the trails, and a pint full of crazy – go check out Enduro Kex here.

999Lazer

Looking for some of the best motocross videos on the net? Look no further than 999Lazer.

Motology Films (AKA ARiemann1)

Some great original footage here from the motocross, enduro and adventure riding scene.

MotoSport.com Official

Everything from ride outs at a pro’s house, through to a trip to the first electric motocross bike manufacturer. Some seriously cool edits over at MotoSport.com’s YouTube channel.

What’s Next?

Thanks for reading our Beginners Guide To Motocross.

Have a question about starting motocross? Leave a comment and we’ll get back to you.

And, don’t forget to hop onto our email list.

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