How to guide: Body position on the bike

“All advice and information given here comes from both my training as an off-road instructor and from years of experience riding adventure motorcycles both as an overland adventure rider and as a professional instructor. I always tell people that I teach what I know works best for me and you can then take what works best for you and discard whatever doesn’t.” - Jo Rust Something that is easily overlooked by numerous riders is being aware of having the correct body position whilst riding an adventure motorcycle. It’s one of the fundamental teachings in adventure off-road riding.

First off we have to ask the question: To stand or not to stand? The rule of thumb here is: Sit when possible, stand when necessary. You don’t have to shoot up the second you get onto a gravel road. It all depends on the condition of the road and your comfort level as well of course. If it is a fairly well maintained gravel road you could easily remain seated and get up on the pegs when you approach and obstacle or bumpy/ uneven patch. It also depends on personal preference. I, for example, prefer to stand 99% of the time when I’m riding off-road because it is what I am most comfortable with. It gives me the feeling that I am in full control at all times. Although there’s nothing wrong with remaining seated whilst on a fair gravel road, it does give you limited maneuverability and use of weight displacement on the bike.

The second point I’d like to address is….LOOK! We’ve all probably heard the expression before: “You go where you look, so look where you want to go.” This is an absolute fact and if you’re feeling a little unsure at first, you might need to actually ‘rewire’ your brain and force yourself not to look at objects you fear bumping into…because that’s exactly what will happen once you look at said objects. Ever approach a rock in the road and think to yourself: “Don’t hit the rock. Don’t hit the rock. Don’t hit the rock”, whilst having your gaze strongly fixed on the rock? What happens?……You hit the rock! Always look where you want to go! Point number 3: Momentum is your friend! The slower you go, the harder it becomes to exercise control of your motorcycle. Especially when it comes to slow, technical maneuvering. Tight circles, u-turns etc. I learned very early on that if you just practice mastering clutch/throttle (gas) control - you’re halfway there! PRACTICE being the operative word here! Slow races and pull away exercises are great for practicing clutch/throttle control of your motorcycle! We’ll get into these exercises as we go along.


Let’s start from the bottom and work our way up. Feet: When riding on easy dirt roads where you can stand comfortably, your feet should be placed in such a position that the foot pegs are in the middle of your motorcycle boot. This is for comfort riding. When you get into more technical riding, you want to move the position of your feet to stand more on the balls of your feet. Think of a boxer, being light on his/her toes. This position allows for greater maneuverability on your motorcycle in technical sections.

Knees: Your knees should be in a natural and relaxed position. ‘Locked’ knees can lead to you being shot up and off the foot pegs when you hit an unexpected obstacle in the road. You want to allow your legs to act as added suspension to that of the bike.

Hips: It’s all in the hips! And where you’re looking. Hips and eyes basically. If you have good hips and eyes you’ll rock at adventure riding. Just kidding. Though I’m serious when I say you need to loosen those hips on the bike. It’s like dancing and you need to flow with your partner, not fight him/her. Plus, your partner (bike) weighs a fair bit and puts out far more power than you can (even the smaller bikes), so who do you think will win if you’re fighting against your partner?

Shoulders: Your shoulders should always be parallel with your handlebars. When you implement this rule it will also help you to naturally move your body position in such a way as to always ensure maximum traction when riding. As an example: If you were turning to the left, your upper body would turn with the handlebars, you’d be looking where you want to go and your hips move in the opposite direction to allow for applying counter weight as you’re leaning your bike to turn. (Instructional video clips to follow) Elbows: Your elbows should be ‘up and out’. You want to imagine a ‘crouching tiger’ aggressive position here. You have less control when your arms are straight and your elbows are locked. Here’s a practical exercise you can try with a friend. Put your bike on its center stand. (If your bike doesn’t have a center stand, try it on a friend’s bike that has one) Stand on the foot pegs, holding the handlebar with straight, locked arms. Ask a friend to kick the front tyre so you can feel the effect it would have on you when you are riding, for instance, and you hit a rock in the road with your arms locked. Now, bend your elbows and raise them, getting yourself into a ‘crouching tiger’ position. Ask your friend to kick the tyre again and feel the difference. You have far more control in a more ‘aggressive’ riding position. You always want to exercise maximum control.

Eyes: Like we’ve already established: you go where you look, so look where you want to go! You don’t need to see what’s happening on the display, you need to focus on where you’re going! Always! The best way to overcome ‘target fixation’ is…denial. Deny the obstacle in the road any of your attention! Deny that pothole or rock the pleasure of your gaze. Ignore them and move along! Forearms: Your forearms should be in alignment, in a straight line with your clutch and front brake levers as you rest your index and middle fingers on the levers on both sides. This ensures that you can comfortably reach both levers in both a standing and seated position.

Fingers: There are only three possible positions for your fingers on the levers.

  1. Both index and middle fingers on both hands are resting on the levers at all times!

  2. Index finger resting on the front brake lever and both the index and middle fingers resting on the clutch lever…at all times! (This is how I ride)

  3. Just the index finger resting on both levers….you guessed it…at all times! (A bit harder for lady riders as we don’t always have the strength in our hands to ride using this position for our hands)

The reason for saying ‘at all times’ is so you are right there, ready to execute control whenever you need it. Trust me…a split second can make a huge difference on a bike!

Lastly: How tight should you be gripping the handlebar? Think of it this way: If you had to take a full, open tube of toothpaste and squeeze it to the point just before the toothpaste comes out - that’s the amount of pressure you should be applying to holding the handlebar. It’s very little force applied. Remember, you’re just steering the bike where you want it to go. That’s it for this first installment. I look forward to your thoughts, comments and questions! Until next time. Keep on adventuring! Jo Rust

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