Why Do Motocross Riders Whip in the Air? - Risk Racing

April 12, 2021 5 min read

When you see a motocross rider maneuver their bike in their air as they jump, it looks thrilling and adds excitement to watching the sport. While you may think that riders whip in the air just to look cool, the fact is that this action actually serves an important purpose as the rider maneuvers around the track. Whipping isn’t just a “showboat” move, despite what you may think.


So why do riders whip in the air? Here’s why:

  • To correct the tracking of the bike.
  • To shave time off the total they are in the air
  • Ensures that the bike will land on the correct line after completing their jump.
  • Compensate for a landing and gain an edge over their competition if there was a tight turn right after any jump.

When riders whip in the air, this adds to the moment’s excitement, but it’s so much more than just a move to impress fans. Reading on, you can learn everything that you need to about jumping and whipping a dirt bike.

What is a “Whip” in Motocross?

You can easily identify a whip in motocross because this is an impressive move that riders will perform while mid-air during a jump. It’s a move where the rider lays their bike on its side, as they are airborne while jumping, then brings their bike on the right track to land safely on their two wheels. The rider will lay the bike on either the left or right side while airborne, then move the bike back to a center position for their landing. 

More advanced riders and those riders who perform tricks make this whipping movement even more extreme, often turning their bike into a totally vertical position. This means that the bike will actually be turned upside-down before returning it back to its proper position for their landing.

As previously mentioned, as impressive as this move is, there is a purpose for it more than just looking cool. This is a move that has been around since the 1970s, which has people unsure of its exact origins in the sport. Some of the early adopters of this move include James “Bubba” Stewart in the early 2000s, and JoJo Keller in the 1980s. Bubba is the rider credited as the one making this move as popular as it is today.

The whip is a move that was created to help riders realign themselves during a jump in cases where they may have taken the wrong line, allowing them to land correctly. The point is to realign the bike in such a way that the rider lands on 2 wheels on the track, rather than land off the track. This can be an especially important move in cases where there is a tight turn right after any jump. 

By whipping before this tight corner, you can get an edge on your competition over those who don’t opt for this move. It’s important to know that you aren’t able to accelerate while your bike is in the air, which may give you a disadvantage in some situations. 

How Do You Control a Dirt Bike in the Air?

When your rear wheel has left the ground, you will want to slightly push back on your bike’s throttle. Lean away from the handlebars while you are in the air because if you land while pushing forward this can cause some serious injuries. These actions help you to retain control over your bike while in the air.

How Do You Hit Jumps on a Dirt Bike?

Your body position is important when hitting jumps and while it’s easy to get in the position, you still need to maintain the position while jumping.

  • Standing, not sitting.
  • The bike should be gripped with your knees, with your knees bent.
  • Your elbows should be held out.
  • Your head and shoulders should be positioned over the handlebars, directly above the forks.

After you get the positioning down, when you hit the jumps you should allow the jumps to happen naturally. If you lean too forward, you risk flipping over your handlebars, and leaning too far back can cause you to flip off backward. 

 

How Do You Whip a Pit Bike?

A lot of riders may be focused on learning this technique just because they want to look cool when they are riding their dirt bike or pit bike. Before you learn the process of how to whip a bike, you do have to remember that it does take some time to learn and you will take some falls while you do. This means that it’s important that you wear protective gear to reduce your risk of injury when learning how to whip your bike. It’s also important to know that learning how to whip can be pretty dangerous.


This section will start by taking a look at the basics of whipping a bike, then take a closer look at important aspects of how to whip a bike.

  • The first step is to find a line leading up to the jump and keep your body in a neutral position. 
  • Accelerate hard so that you can compress the bike’s rear suspension, which will cause your back wheel to dig in.
  • You want to take the jump in the right trajectory for your whip. Every rider has their own side that they favor when whipping, so you need to figure out which side you are most comfortable with. You will lean the bike in the opposite direction of which side you want to whip on, such as leaning right to whip to your left.
  • Never force the bike’s whip; the momentum will naturally move the bike with the engine weight helping to pivot your bike back to where you want it.
  • Let the bike flow naturally for a safer landing. 
  • Your legs should be bent and close tightly to the bike as this will help absorb the shock of landing.
  • Your feet should be on the footpegs when landing for your safety.

Start off with Lower Jumps

It’s natural to want to jump right into learning how to whip your bike. You may think that it’s easy because the professionals make it look like a breeze, but they have a lot more experience than you do in mastering this art. It should be a smaller jump when you are first learning how to whip, but it needs to be high enough where you can whip the bike safely. Look for a hill that allows you to get high enough to learn without being so high that you get a lot of airtime and may not land properly. As you develop this skill, you can get more airtime to learn cool tricks when riding.

How Fast to Go

Another part of this is understanding how fast to go. You don’t want to be going too fast, otherwise, you can easily lose control of the bike. The trick is to go fast enough where you get airtime, but you are going slow enough you can keep control over the bike.

Motocross Scrub vs. Whip

In simplest terms, the whip is made for speed and the scrub is for hitting corners after a jump. Whipping allows the rider to go faster when jumping to help them win races. When scrubbing, a rider can hit the jump faster and land faster, giving them the competitive edge in races.

Conclusion

When a rider whips their bike, it does offer a lot of flash that certainly impresses the fans. But just remember that there are important reasons why a rider will decide to whip their bike to win races, not just to look cool. 


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