I have always been of the opinion that dirt bike riding is more art than science. That being said, proper technique for riding the rocks can be broken down in to a three part equation. The proper approach for dealing with rock gardens is often counterintuitive: keep your speed up and attack. But before you grab a gear and attack, you need to have your bike properly set up.
Take your suspension for example: run it too stiff and you will deflect all over and place and increase your chances of crashing. Run it too soft and it will bottom out, deflect, and increase your chance of crashing – and rock gardens are a nasty, unforgiving place to lay it down.
Having your suspension properly dialed is still only a third of the equation. Proper tires make a huge difference! The New England favorite for riding rocks is the Bridgestone M59 front and the Pirelli MT-16 out back. The Vee Rubber VRM 300 and Dunlop AT 81 also do an excellent job. So if you are serious about riding in the rocks, spend the time and money necessary for proper suspension tuning and tires. Without those two parts of the equation in place, you’ve got a serious uphill battle ahead of you.
Once you’ve got your suspension and tire choice worked out, the third part of the equation is to practice proper technique. For starters, try and find a rock garden with a smooth entrance and exit. All rock gardens are different and will require you to shift positions on your bike, but it’s best to start off by standing with your weight centered on the bike, or in the neutral position. This means that you are not leaning too far over the bars or have your weigh too far back. When you are comfortable going through your practice section, work on maintaining an even throttle position, don’t gun it or let off. Then, ride it repeatedly at different speeds and using different lines. Let your suspension do what it’s supposed to. Stay loose, but not limp, as you are going to get knocked around no matter how good your suspension is. When you get comfortable, you can pick where you want to gas it and make up a little time.
As you gain more confidence, you will want to shift your weight slightly to the rear to keep the front end light. You need to be careful here – don’t put too much weight over the back wheel because when the front end is bouncing around, you risk being knocked off balance and whiskey-throttling the bike. So, stay somewhat neutral until you are better at reading the terrain and understanding where to position yourself on the bike. Also, don’t look right at the front wheel, but also don’t let someone fool you in to telling you exactly how far to look ahead. Where you are looking varies with speed. As always, time and experience will be the best teachers.