Skills: Riding Hard-Pack With Ryan Hughes

Diversity is one of the key aspects of enjoying motocross. Though the thrills of wheelying down tacky straightaways and plowing through soft, virgin sand berms for the first time keeps us coming back for more, what about when the conditions aren’t so epic? After all, not every track is composed of Southwick sand or Washougal loam, but that doesn’t mean you have to pack up and go home when you encounter an unfamiliar type of firma. The key is to be able to ride and enjoy yourself at any track, even if it is as stiffly packed as the 10-year-old asphalt parking lot at your local grocery store.

That said, we enlisted the talents of Ryan Hughes, the newest member of Team Universal Studios/Honda, for an explanation of how to go fast and enjoy yourself in hard-packed conditions where traction and control are scarce. With eight years of U.S. Supercross and National experience and a two year stint on the European World Championship circuit, Ryno is no stranger to adapting to every kind of dirt, including concrete-hard courses.

“The most difficult part of hard-packed tracks is the turns, without a doubt,” said Ryan. “The problem is that every corner is different. If you can master the turns on a slippery, hard track, then you’re going to have a lot more fun out there and be in much more control, but it’s tough because there simply isn’t enough traction.”

To counter this problem, Hughes offered a number of suggestions, ranging from different positions on the bike to various throttle control techniques, all of which help keep you in control and prevent you from spinning out.

THROTTLE CONTROL

“Proper throttle control is everything when the track gets slippery. Imagine you’re driving your car in the ice or off-road in the dirt¿you’re not just going to put your foot down on the pedal and give it full throttle, or you’ll spin out and crash. The same principle holds true on a motocross bike. You never want to get on the gas too hard, or your rear wheel will just be spinning and you won’t go anywhere. Try coming into the turn and never fully chopping the throttle; instead, keep it on about a quarter of the way the whole time. Then, when you’re nearing the exit of the corner, you can gradually get on the gas and build up your speed again with a smooth movement.”

Ryan also stressed the importance of gear selection. “Again, I can use the example of a car when talking about gear selection. Just like when you’re driving, you never want to be in too high a gear. Try listening to Formula One cars¿they’re constantly upshifting out of turns to keep their engine in that sweet spot where it is grabbing traction and not spinning. This will also get easier with experience. Once you know the limitations of your motor, you will be able to get the most of it by staying in a gear that isn’t bogging, but not revving out and falling flat, either. It’s one of those situations where you need to slow down to go faster¿don’t be aggressive and just pin the bike like you do in loam. Instead, be smooth and consistent.”

BODY CONTROL

Slippery conditions not only require smooth throttle control, but also smooth and precise body movement on the bike.

“Your body will move more on a hard-packed track than on any other condition,” said Ryno. “You can’t ride tight on the bike in hard conditions; you need to be able to move around and react to the variances in the track. In most situations, you want to ride up towards the front of the bike more than normal so you can keep the front end in control. This holds true for straights and turn entrances, but you have to remember to get back towards the rear fender when exiting the turns so you can keep plenty of traction in the rear.”

Ryan also suggests the age-old technique of weighting the outside peg through turns to keep the traction up and the sliding to a minimum.

“Keep your body positioning flexible and loose enough so that you can react to variations and loss of traction. I always try too plan ahead, especially in hard-pack, and I set myself up for turns way ahead of time. I will often hit a turn differently than I normally would just so that I am set up for the next turn, or even the one after that. You have to plan ahead out there¿don’t wait to react to trouble, plan ahead so you don’t get into any trouble in the first place. Riding fast on hard-pack requires a lot of thought, because it’s so easy to get in the habit of just pinning the bike out of a corner like you do on a loamy track. Take the time and think about what you are doing out there; you’ll thank yourself later when you’ve lowered your lap times.”