One of the most frequently asked questions by new off-road riders is: “Should I stand, or should I sit?”
One of the most important off-road riding skills you should learn and practice is standing while riding, whether you are a seasoned street rider learning to ride off-road or totally new to motorcycling. Standing while riding does more than make you look cool and allow you to stretch your legs – it will keep you balanced and in control of your motorcycle.
Marisa McInturff is a Motorcycle Safety Foundation certified instructor and an instructor with Zacker Adventures, teaching off-road riding techniques to owners of adventure motorcycles.
If you are a brand new dirt rider, I suggest trying to stand while riding off-road as much as possible to get comfortable. At first, standing while riding may seem clumsy and unnatural. Over time and with plenty of practice, it will become second nature. Being able to decide when to sit, stand, or paddle your bike through a section will conserve energy and leave you a more skilled off-road rider.
Motorcycle setup and posture
This topic deserves a post of its own, but we will hit the high points for now. First and foremost, it is important to set up your motorcycle so that it is comfortable to ride whether you’re standing or sitting. This usually takes a little adjusting. Typically, folks will need to move their gear shifter and rear brake lever up slightly and their clutch and front brake levers down slightly. Handlebars should be in line with the front forks and risers should not be considered unless the length from the foot pegs to the end of the handlebars is less than half the length of your height.
You should stand with the balls of your feet on or near the foot pegs, knees somewhat bent, and your body leaning slightly forwards towards the handlebars. Be sure to keep a slight bend in your arms, your elbows up, and only one or two fingers on the clutch and front brake. Keep your head and eyes up and looking in the direction you want to go.
Moving your feet further forward on the pegs places your toes closer to the controls and will make it easier to reach the gear shift lever and rear brake while standing, but will give you slightly less balance and control through very technical terrain.
Many new off-road riders have trouble with unwanted throttle and steering input while standing. This is largely due to improper bike setup and can be solved by analyzing your riding posture and controls. It is important to note that if you cannot comfortably use the controls, you will not feel comfortable standing and riding. It might take a little trial and error to find the adjustment that is right for you.
For most people, sitting is the most natural position on the motorcycle. You are conserving the most energy by sitting and have less distance to fall if you do crash. Typically, you sit when you are navigating long and relatively smooth sections or tighter corners on smooth terrain. Sliding back on the seat while sitting can help with acceleration, as well. Due to the increased weight over the rear tire, traction will be improved. When you think about sitting while riding off-road, think of flat-track racers and their ability to accelerate quickly and slide around corners.
Standing takes a bit more energy, but allows your body a wide range of motion to aid in balancing the motorcycle. Keeping your legs slightly bent will act like suspension as you cross obstacles in the trail, saving your back from injuries resulting from the jarring. While standing, you will be able to quickly shift your weight forwards and backwards as needed to maintain traction for hills and obstacles, and side to side as needed for balance. Standing allows you to easily weight and de-weight (compressing and decompressing the suspension), a necessary technique for crossing larger obstacles.
The majority of the time while standing you will want your knees to be loose and away from the tank of the motorcycle. This will allow the motorcycle and your body to move independently. In certain circumstances, like hard acceleration or braking or descending steep hills, you may grip the tank with your knees to keep your body in position on the motorcycle and reduce fatigue in your arms.
Your body movements and weight transfer will affect your motorcycle more while standing than sitting, giving you the ability to quickly adjust for trail conditions. You will find that while standing you will have more control in technical terrain, allowing the motorcycle to work (move) under you. Check out some videos of trials riders standing and using their body positioning to remain balanced through very technical sections.
If you have ever watched the top Exteme Enduro racers like Graham Jarvis, Cody Webb, or Johnny Walker, you will notice they stand most of the time. However, when they get to a section that becomes too difficult or risky to remain standing on the motorcycle, they will sit and begin to paddle their way through the section.
Paddling is done at slower speeds, through very technical or slippery terrain. It is important to note that paddling means to remain sitting on the seat of the bike and use your legs to dab on either side to remain upright. Paddling does not mean you are trying to push your way through with your legs. You should allow the motorcycle to do the work and only use your legs for balance – think training wheels here.
Most of the time when paddling you will want your bottom towards the rear of the bike to keep weight on the rear wheel for increased traction.
Deciding whether to sit or stand
It all really comes down to the rider to practice sitting and standing in varying terrain to determine what works the best. I have found that for the most part, sitting in the smoother sections, standing through the technical sections, and paddling through the very technical sections will be the best course of action.
You will need to become comfortable both while standing and sitting before you can swap back and forth without much thought. When you get to the point where you can ride any terrain while sitting or standing, then you can decide how to get through each section as quickly and safely as possible. Being able to swap seamlessly between each technique to maximize traction and control will greatly increase your speed and have you leaving your riding buddies in the dust!