So, your kid wants to race a dirt bike, and you’re not sure what that means, or how to get started. Fortunately it isn’t confusing or difficult. You just need a dirt bike, safety gear, and directions to the local track.
First question: At what age do the kids start racing?
I’ve seen kids as young as four years old racing. Much younger than that, and they have a hard time getting around the track. At practices, I’ve even seen 50cc bikes with training wheels on them. Many tracks allow parents to be out near the track for the beginner riders and help them if they fall.
Next question: Is it just boys that race or do girls race too?
Duh! Ok, I’ll actually answer that question. Yes the girls race too, and your boy won’t ask you that question twice once he’s stared for several laps at the back tire of the girl that just beat him. Typically, the girls race with the boys; however, as the girls get around the age of 14, I’ve seen them ride in the women’s classes. The women’s class encompasses early teens through adult riders.
Outdoor and Indoor Racing
There are two basic types of motocross racing for kids, outdoor and indoor. Depending on the climate you’re in, outdoor tracks may only be open seasonally; however, here in the Pacific Northwest (known for rainfall), there is an outdoor track that’s open through the winter.
The indoor tracks offer more technical courses, with tight corners and close-together jumps. This shouldn’t deter the beginning riders because it actually builds important skills and the young riders do really well on these tracks.
The outdoor tracks are longer rides with more room between jumps and some longer sweeping turns along with some tight corners. In contrast to the indoor tracks, the bikes have longer stretches so they can reach higher speeds. Remember, just because there is room to reach the higher speeds doesn’t mean that a new rider will actually take adantage of that. Most new riders are very good at regulating their riding to their current skill level.
Here are several links to find tracks in various regions across the USA. Once you talk to the officials at one track, ask them about other tracks in your area.
It is also a good idea to talk to the local motorcycle shop, including smaller repair shops, as they are sometimes more in tune with the local racing scene. Be sure to ask for both the indoor and outdoor tracks and if they have any advice for you.
Now Show up on Practice or Race Day
Remember to ask the track personnel if they have a practice day. These are days set up just for practice on the track, which cost considerably less.
Getting your child’s bike to the track is the hardest part. Not because you can’t find a truck to borrow, but because it takes the initiative to find the track and commit to showing up. Most tracks are willing to let your child ride in a beginner class with any bike they have in an age appropriate class. In other words, if your kid has a 70cc bike, and the track doesn’t have a 70cc class, they will let them ride in a 50cc or 65cc beginner class depending on the age and experience of your child just to have fun, participate, and gain the experience.
This is the great thing about the people who run the tracks. There are two simple things they want: to provide a safe experience for the riders and for everyone to have the chance to race and have fun.
The safety gear that your child needs to race shouldn’t be any different than the gear you outfitted them in to ride with at home.
A helmet, chest protector, gloves, and boots are the minimum that is typically recommended. And instead of an antiquated chest protector, upgrade to improved core protection. A neck roll is also a good addition and relatively inexpensive.
The gloves are often overlooked when parents first outfit their kid to ride their new dirt bike around the house. At least put a pair of comfortable gardening gloves on them. With the proper gear, they can fall off the bike and slide in the dirt without any boo-boos, and remember, when they take a spill, they will instinctively use their hands to control the fall. Keep your eyes open on the used market around your area for affordable gear. Used gear is usually still in really good condition and fairly easy to find, once you establish some sources.
There’s no replacement for being able to try gear on before buying it. Comfort is important, especially for kids.
Manufacturers’ websites and dealers on eBay usually have sizing charts for helmets if you need help. Popular brands of helmets are Fox, Fly, Thor, THH, MSR, Oneal, Bell, HJC, Arai, and Shoei. Have your child try the helmets on to compare—your child should get a feel for how the helmet fits over his entire head instead of just going by general sizing. Though, obviously, they’ll proclaim that the coolest looking one is the best fit. No advice with that one!
Pay attention that the helmet you buy has a current Snell or DOT rating on it. These are safety standards that certify the helmet is rated for the intended use.
Goggles, although not always necessary for riders at home, are needed out on the track. Riders in front of you will kick up mud or dirt, and this can be dangerous if it hits your young rider in the face. Goggles are not an expensive piece of gear; however, make sure they have a reputation of providing good anti-fog protection.
Plastic tear-off strips are another great item to have. These usually come with the required tabs to attach them to your goggles, although many goggles are sold with the tabs already on them. The tear-offs are thin strips of plastic that cover the lens of the goggles. When the tear-off gets muddy, scratched, or just too dirty to see through, the rider can just reach up and tear one off for a clean view.
Racing Classes Based on Bike Size and Experience
The races are usually divided first by the size of the dirt bike, and then by experience. For example, the 50cc class will usually have a beginner, junior, and intermediate class. Other races will divide classes by age instead of experience. A common age classes for the 50cc are the four- to six-year-olds and the seven- to eight-year-olds.
Most of the smaller bikes that are raced are two-strokes, although they don’t have to be. A two-stroke bike is one that uses gas and oil mixed together and operates differently internally then a four-stroke. There are two basic types of two-stroke bikes, the oil-injected ones and the ones that use a pre-mix of gas and oil. The oil-injected bikes have a canister that needs to be kept filled with two-stroke oil. The oil-injection system automatically mixes the oil into the fuel at the proper ratio before it enters the engine. Two-stroke bikes that use a pre-mix, must have the oil and gas mixed at the correct ratio in the main gas tank.
There are some tracks that have a 50cc oil-injected class. The oil-injected bikes are not as quick as the pre-mixed bikes and usually consist of younger riders.
The other popular classes for beginning riders are the 65cc and 85cc classes. Although there are beginner classes for everything including adult riders, for beginning kids, an 85cc bike is pretty big.
Remember, even if your child has an odd-sized bike like a 70cc, most tracks will let him ride in a beginner class. Depending on his age and skill, they will place him in either the 50cc or 65cc beginner class.
What Is the Cost?
There are many tracks out there that require a motocross club membership, due to the sanctioning of their races. Some tracks will allow you to pay a nominal fee just to try out a race before paying the entire amount, and a few don’t require a motocross club membership. The club membership is usually good for one year. Motocross club memberships can usually be handled right at the track on race day, but it’s always good to ask the track representative when you call them for their schedule.
Each race typically has fees to get in the door and additional fees for entrance to each class your child is signed up to race. For example, if a single parent takes their child to the track, the parent and rider each pay a door fee, and the rider pays for each class they want to race. A beginner usually just signs up for one class.
Many of the motocross clubs charge between $15.00 to $30.00 dollars for a year’s membership. Then at each race, door fees are usually around $10.00 each and an additional $20 to $30, for the rider only, per class for the night. Typically a child will have one to two practices and two races per race-day. Remember these are just approximations to provide you an idea of the cost.
What to Bring to the Track
As with any event, there are items that it’s a good idea to have with you. These are things that can make you or the rider happier throughout the event. Obviously, don’t forget your camera, still or video, and make sure the batteries are charged.
Food is often overlooked but a necessity for you and the rider. Motocross is the second-most demanding sport, next to soccer. It is important that your rider get some nutrition throughout the event. Sliced apples, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, or pizza slices are a good idea. Additionally, make sure they have plenty of water, and drink it between motos. This reminds me, for those of you with young riders, make sure you take them to use the restroom before they need to make their way to the starting gates.
In your box of food, pack a plastic bag of ice. This will serve two purposes. One is to keep your food cool, and the second is so that, in the unfortunate event your rider twists an ankle, sprains a wrist, or receives some other injury, you will have ice handy to quickly get it applied.
At most tracks, both indoor and outdoor, it’s a good idea to prepare for walking on uneven ground through dirt or mud. Wear the appropriate shoes. In the summer, make sure you have enough sunscreen and a light long-sleeved shirt to shield you from sunburn. A hat and sunglasses will not only look trendy, but also provide protection from the sun.
In the winter, take plenty of warm clothes for both you and the rider. Many tracks allow propane garage heaters also. Having a plastic garbage bag for boots and other gear items that can get really muddy will save you hours of cleaning your vehicle. It seems obvious, but many parents don’t think of how muddy or dirty their rider will be after the race.