Building Champions Program’s Lee Hogan takes us through a few simple steps on how to rail berms.
Nothing quite compares to railing a nice loamy berm at speed. Whether you’re an inexperienced novice rider or a seasoned professional, the feeling of creating a massive wall of roost as you exit a berm-shot is up there with the best. Let’s take a closer look at what makes a good berm-shot and more importantly, how to do it.
One of the most important aspects of berm riding is your body position. There is a simple rule to remember for corners, which will tell you where your body should be. In a corner where your wheels have something to hold them in place (a berm or rutted corner), then your body leans in at the same angle as the bike.
On the other hand, a flat corner has nothing to hold onto your wheels, therefore your body should try to stay as vertical to the ground as possible. This will help prevent your wheels from washing out from under you.
Your outside elbow should be up nice and high to keep your upper body brace position. Your butt should be placed nicely in the ‘block hole’ area of the seat (not too far forward, not too far back) with your shoulders directly over the top of your hips.
This keeps your upper body in a central position where you can move it forward if you have lots of traction, or move your upper body back a little if the rear wheel starts spinning or sliding. It is important that we keep our centre of gravity as low as possible for speed and aggression, so to do this we must not bend forward from the hips as this takes our upper body too far forward.
The way to get lower with your upper body is to flex your mid section (stomach muscles) and tilt your hips back as if you are trying to get your lower back to touch the seat. This will get your upper body lower, but still keeping your shoulders over the top of your hips which is extremely important.
Without a doubt the most common thing I come across when teaching berms at riding schools is problems with leg position. So many riders put their leg out as stiff as a board and fully locked out. From here they flex their foot back so the soul of their boot and their leg are at 90 degrees.
This leg position is asking for both problems in the corner and severe injuries to the knee and/or foot. When your knee is fully locked out it is prone to ligament damage, even with knee braces on. In both rutted corners and berm corners your leg should have a slight bend in the knee. And when I say slight I mean slight!
You should barely be able to tell from looking that it is slightly bent, but the rider will know and be a lot more protected in the process. The foot should be extended with toes pointed as much as possible. This can be quite difficult, particularly with new boots on. Just try to remember that we are trying to get the soul of our boot to run as close to parallel with the ground as we can get.
In this proper body position with your leg out as described, you are ready to attack berms with confidence. If your body and bike are leaned over considerably in a berm, then your foot is likely to touch the ground and it is extremely important that you are pointing your toes with a tiny bend in the knee so your foot can slide effortlessly across the dirt. Your foot sliding across the ground can also act like a tripod, helping you keep balance through the corner.
Another area that nobody seems to be able to agree on is how to enter into a berm. The most common technique that you will see at most race tracks around the country, while also being taught regularly at most riding schools is a rider charging in as hard as they can, braking as late as possible in the first part of the corner, before grabbing a big handful of throttle and clutch in the mid part of the berm, sending roost everywhere as they try to regain some form of exit speed.
An alternative technique that you may want to try, a concept taught to myself and Troy Carrol many years ago by Aussie MX legend Jeff Leisk, is to release your brakes and sit down with your leg out much earlier in the approach. This technique gives you much more entry speed to the corner, while allowing you more time to prepare for the most critical part of the corner, the entry.
Another bonus to this technique is you can pull a taller gear with the added momentum. It might not look as cool as blasting the berm in a lower gear, but you will make up time and save energy in the process.
While you don’t need to be quite as smooth on the throttle in a berm as you do negotiating your way through a flat turn, I still don’t feel that you need to grab a massive handful of throttle and clutch in a berm.
A simple way to think of it, is if you can pin the throttle flat out in a certain part of the corner, then try rolling the power on smoothly about two metres earlier in the corner. You will still be flat out by that same part of the corner, but noticeably smoother. Berms can be a lot of fun, just remember to pull that higher gear and release those brakes early.