Skills: Conquering The Whoops With Tim Ferry

(This originally appeared in the January ’03 issue of TWMX. Subscribe to get Skills tips and more in your mailbox every month.)

Way back when motocross was in its infant stages, the whoop-de-dos were just a bunch of staggered bumps randomly lined up in a straightaway. Rockers were nowhere near as advanced as they are today; but then again, neither was the equipment or the riders. In today’s world of motocross, the whoop-de-dos of the ’60s and ’70s no longer exist.

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The whoops of yesteryear have evolved into lengthy sections of squared-off tombstones that challenge the best of today’s equipment and make even the most elite heroes in the sport wad up on occasion. The modern motocross racer attacks these difficult sections of the track with the idea of keeping his or her speed up by “floating” on top of them. This tricky technique is referred to as “blitzing,” and if you do it right you’ll skim over the bumps while skimming major time off of your laps.

This month we invited Team Yamaha racer and loyal TWMX subscriber Tim “Red Dog” Ferry to school us on how he conquers one of the most difficult sections of any racetrack. Our classroom was the infamous Lake Elsinore Motocross Park, and while these whoops might not look like the ones at Anaheim stadium, Tim will tell you that they are just as complicated to get over as some of the bigger sets he has hit in Supercross races across the country. The basic technique is the same no matter where you’re riding. So, whether you’re an AMA professional or an 80cc Beginner, pay attention.

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ENTERING

“These whoops are not very deep, but they are deceiving because they are slippery and hard-packed. You have to be really careful when it comes to a set of whoops like this because you can get in over your head really quickly. You can’t just hold your throttle wide open because of their size; they’re still big enough to swallow you up, but not big enough to double or triple through. The distance between each bump and the texture of the dirt have everything to do with how to tackle a set of whoops, and for these particular ones it’s best to carefully blitz through them.

To start with, I hold my front wheel up as I am coming into them and set it down around the second or third whoop. The object is to skim across the top of the whoops, while never letting your bike sink into them. As my back wheel goes over the first one I actually accelerate in order to keep the bike leveled out. I try to push my body down over the back of the bike in order to keep the back end down. That way, the rear shock does not kick up like it would off of a jump. Under acceleration, your back wheel will naturally drop. I stay more towards the rear of the bike until I get near the end of the set.

It is very important that you don’t enter with the throttle wide open. In fact, you should keep the power steady through the whole set. I keep the throttle at around a quarter to half of the way open while I am in a set of whoops. This will help to keep the bike level. The last thing you want is for your front wheel to drop in between a set, even if they are shallow like these. It will cause your momentum to break and could ultimately kick you over the bars! Once the bike is leveled out in the whoops, you can begin to pick up speed through them.

You never want to jump into a set of whoops like this right off the bat. You’ll never be able to time them. If you try this, your front wheel will dive because most of the time you’re not sure where you are going to land. Your timing will be off all the way through the set because your front wheel is not hitting the top of the whoops like it should.

On this particular set, the first one is bigger than the rest of them. Also, you are coming out of a gully when entering them, which is why I pick my front whheel up. Sometimes when they are set up like this you can almost “bunny hop” your bike until it’s level and keep it that way all the way through the set. The idea is to get your front wheel and your back wheel to hit each one of the whoops. Your body needs to stay more towards the back of the bike when going through them. This will help in keeping the front end of your bike light and it won’t want to dig down in between a set.

Even if the whoops were deeper, I would still approach them the same way as I just described. All of the principles still apply. However, if they were farther apart, you could actually go faster through them. If they were bigger, it would not be as tough to get your front wheel to land on top of them. To an extent, bigger is easier, but once you get to the three foot stadium size, they become more difficult.”

GEAR SELECTION

“As a general rule, I always shift up when coming into a set of whoops. In Supercross I usually ride most of the track in second gear, but when I approach a set of whoops I always shift to either third or possibly fourth. The reason to up-shift is to keep the bike neutrally powered all the way through the whoops. You don’t want your bike to be topping out or hitting the rev limiter when you’re deep into a set. Every time your back wheel is hitting a whoop, it should be getting power to the ground. If the power is not getting to the rear wheel, the front end is going to want to dive.”

REMEMBER

“The worst thing to do is to come into a set of whoops too fast. I see a lot of riders try to go fast into them—they hit the first one, get airborne, the next thing you know they are skipping three or four whoops. It sounds like it would be faster, and it is, providing you know exactly where to land. Most amateur riders can’t predict exactly where they are going to land, and their timing is going to be off all the way through the set. Only advanced riders should be trying such a move. By going faster and jumping into them, it makes it harder to time the entire set and you wind up losing time rather than gaining any. The right speed is going to be different for everybody, depending on how comfortable you are in the set. The more comfortable you are, the quicker you can approach a set. Remember, the faster you come in, the more you have to push down on your bike to keep it on the ground.”