How To – Stand Up Properly

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There’s no point standing up unless you learn to stand well and learn the reasons for doing it. If you’re not actually using the standing position for what it’s good for, well, you might as well sit down.”

These are the wise words of ten-times Dakar ‘legend’ and Off Road Skills senior instructor, Simon Pavey. He’s a man who should know because he’s done enough standing on Dakar bikes to last most of us a lifetime. More than that he’s spent half his life thinking about and analysing why we use particular techniques to help himself teach off-road riding techniques. Why would you want to stand up? We couldn’t think of a better person to ask.

If it fees l like hard work you’re probably doing something wrong is possibly something you’ll find scribed on my gravestone and also a mighty, universal truth about riding dirt bikes. It shouldn’t be hard work unless you start doing hard stuff, in which case you asked for it. To stand and ride an adventure bike all day long on regular, ‘normal’ trails shouldn’t be taxing. The opposite in fact, it should make things more easy.

Why do we do it then? What makes us stand up and what’s the point? Simple and reasonable questions so they are. We stand up when we ride off-road for some simple reasons: to see better the trail in front of us and to move our bodies in a way that makes for better control of the bike.

It’s important to stand all the time when you’re learning to get better and better at it and so that when you are choosing to stand it’s helping you to ride.

What, where when? 

One question you might well ask, and it’s not an easy one to answer, is “when should I stand up?” At the first sign of dirt? Well, no because it’s not easy to answer in a black and white sense because no stretch of terrain is that simple. You have to learn to read the trail and understand what’s easy and what’s not. If it feels like the bike-to-you ratio is swinging towards bike, then stand up and take charge again.

Simon Pavey: “One thing you see all the time is people who’re learning to ride off-road stand up when the going’s easy and they’re relaxed but as soon as they see an off-camber turn or technical section they sit down. It should be the other way around. When you’re going down a massive, wide and easy gravel road where there’s plenty of time to see, think and feel relaxed, well, then it’s fine to sit down, cruise along and be comfortable on the bike. But when you come to a situation where you can’t quite see what’s going on, where the terrain becomes a little more technical, where the corner’s off-cambered or you can’t see round it, then you get yourself up on the pegs, balanced on the bike and get yourself organised with it. That’s why it’s important to stand all the time when you’re learning, so you get better and better at it and so when you choose to stand it’s helping you to ride the terrain.”

Why get on your pegs?

“Broadly speaking we want to stand up to choose a line to ride and try to stay on it – to be in maximum control of the bike. To do that you’ve got to be balanced on your footpegs  and let the bike move around under you, both side-to-side and fore and aft, to deal with the change in the ground conditions.” says Pavey. The point is you need to let the bike change direction under your feet and control that movement and the way the bike moves through your legs rather than your hands or your backside.

“A really important part of that process of moving around is not upsetting the bike, not fighting the natural geometry of the bike and moving enough to keep it doing what it needs to do. That means letting the wheels do what they’re designed to do and that’s roll over stuff.” Adds Simon.

That’s why it’s really important to learn to stand well – if you’re just standing and holding the bars tight, really rigid in your body with your feet and knees gripping the bike, then you’re actually undoing any good you’ve gained by getting off your backside.

It’s difficult to describe because it comes down to feel but it should be like you’re stood at the bar.

A question of balance

The standing position should be a relaxed one. As Simon says: “It takes a bit of time to get balanced and relaxed in the standing position.” The reason for practicing is the same as anything in life, the more you do it the better you get at it and the more natural the position is when you really need it on technical terrain.

When you ride your bike standing up think about how much your hands are holding the bars, are they relaxed? What about your elbows and wrists? Are they still down where they would be if you were riding seated? What about your legs muscles? Are they all stiff and taking loads of weight? These are all areas to consider when you’re practicing the standing position – it’s a whole body experience.

The default standing position is quite a fluid thing and it does vary depending on your height, certainly it’s important for tall people to bend in the middle to bring their torso to the right place. “It’s really important for tall people to think a little about where they stand and find the right place so their head and their bum are counter-balancing each other. It’s important for tall people to still be stood up pretty straight and not be putting too much pressure on any of their muscles.” Says Pavey.

It’s tempting to think because you’re tall you need higher bars, raised handlebar clamps, a bigger bike or any of these things. The truth is it’s probably because you haven’t found the comfortable riding position for you yet – in short it’s not the bike’s fault, it’s you.

Where exactly that riding position is depends on you, your bike and your body size: “It’s difficult to describe because it comes down to feel but it should be like you’re stood at the bar.” Says Simon.

Standing position 

There’s an obvious place for a footrest to go if you look at the sole of your boot. Don’t have your toes pointing out in the wind and don’t stand either too far forward or too far back on the pegs.  Upwards from your feet the standing position for Pavey is solid on your feet but not rigid: “Your legs and knees should be straight, not locked solid but soft, able to flex and move to keep your balance as the bike and terrain changes. Sometimes that’s one knee bending, sometimes both knees but you have to move to keep your balance.” Don’t grip the bike with your knees and don’t let yourself get sucked in to a squatting position, or your thigh muscles will quickly get tired.

Remember that as you stand up from the seating position you need to relax your grip to let your wrists come round and up with you. If you let your hands stay put, you end up riding with your wrists bent. The ideal position for your hands and wrists is up in a line to your shoulders, not bent and drooping into an L-shape. Like we said, there shouldn’t be any part of this position which is hard work but especially your hands and wrists shouldn’t be getting tired. If they are, you’ve guessed it, you’re doing something wrong.

One-handed practice

A tried and very well tested way of teaching people for Simon Pavey at his Off Road Skills school is to get people riding one-handed: “It’s one of the best ways of practicing your riding position. Just getting yourself, a little at a time, rolling-on the throttle, rolling-off it, riding some ups and downs, through some bumps and simple corners really helps. What that does is help you sort out your balance and help maintain your balance all the time no matter what the bike and terrain is doing.” The point also is, and this is an important error people make, the balance is coming through your feet just as it does when you’re stood at the supermarket checkout. Not through your hands, arms, shoulders or knees even to hold you rigid on the bike but your feet in a balanced and relaxed way.

This little technique also teaches you that a relaxed hand on the throttle is another reason to be balanced on your feet and not have any weight on your wrists and hands – it makes you smoother.

Looking

One giant rule of riding off-road is to get your chin out your chest and look where you’re bloody going! It sounds obvious but the instincts for many people when they switch from asphalt to dirt is to start looking too close in front of themselves and at too many details. That rock you think you’re going to hit isn’t going to move, so staring at it is only going to help you make a bee-line for it.

Keeping your vision up and looking well ahead should really be similar to riding or driving on the road: you should be reading the terrain ahead in order to be ready for it, choose a line, change to a different line, stop, go slower, change gear, go faster or any number of actions.

The point is if you look too close in front you’ll struggle to see and react to what you’re riding over – it’ll all happen too quick for you. You wouldn’t look just in front of yourself when driving a car on the road so don’t do it off-road. Telling yourself to move your head, taking your eyes with it as you move it in the direction you want to go, is the sure-fire way of helping you make a turn (and avoid that tree, or rock, or rut or whatever).

Road rules

The rules for road riding are fixed, less complicated and ask less of a rider because the ground is asking less of the bike. On asphalt the ground changes less but off-road the ground is more complex, asks more of the bike and rider to get across or over it.

Road riding rules (and teaching) differs in as much as some of them are the opposite off the road. If you look at MotoGP wünderkid Marc Marquez going round a corner his body position and angle of lean, tremendous as they are, counter-balance the desperate desire for his bike to sit up and go straight. To stop it going straight and make it do what he wants to (and because he has such tremendous grip available to him) he leans as far as is physically possible to get around the corner as fast as possible.

Off-road the rules are not only different but the slower you go the more opposite that rule becomes – a very tight, full-lock, first gear turn means you have to stand with your weight on the outside of the bike, the opposite to Marquez, to allow the bike to turn without falling into the turn. It all comes down to “balance” on the pegs that Simon Pavey discussed previously.

Letting the bike move under you is crucial on rough terrain because it needs to move without you going with it all the time. That “balance” is key and the tougher the riding the more you have to move to remain balanced.

Hands and fingers

If your forearms feel tired when you’re riding standing up you’ve likely got too much weight on them (so you’re bent too far forward) or are holding on too tight. What we don’t want is a white knuckle ride. If that’s the case you need to think again about your standing position and take weight off your hands.

How many fingers on levers is a debatable point for some people, particularly those who’ve had some road riding instruction. There are some simple and basic reasons why you don’t ever need all four fingers on the clutch and brake levers: not least unless you’re riding a pre-war motorcycle you probably don’t need anything like that much force to pull the lever.

Four fingers on the lever means you’re holding on to the handlebars with just your thumb and because the thumb on a human hand sits turned at a different angle to the fingers you aren’t actually holding on with that thumb very effectively. An “effective” hold on the bars is to have two or three of your fingers curled around the grips as well. In short, using four fingers on the brake and clutch lever doesn’t give you enough control of the handlebars and gives you too much power on the lever itself, you aren’t going to be smooth enough and there’s a tendency to grab at the front brake.

On a modern motorcycle you will struggle to convince me you need more than two fingers to operate the brake simply because they are so effective and powerful, even on the road.

How long you have your fingers there on the levers is a little down to preference. Some people prefer to ride much of the time with hands just around the grips and reach for the levers when you need them. The problem with this is when something happens quickly a) your fingers aren’t there ready to react and b) reaching for them can encourage you to grab at the lever and apply too much force. If this is your preference you need to get in the habit of having your fingers there ready good and early before you arrive at the hazard.

Better, then, to have your fingers there more of the time than not, especially when the going is technical. Personally mine are there all the time, constantly and this is mainly because I use the clutch a lot of the time to meter drive to the back wheel and control the bike – possibly as much as the throttle.

What’s wrong with sitting everywhere?

Good question and you can if you want but there are times when standing gives you more control. If you ride over any sort of uneven ground sitting down you can do far less to dictate what happens and the ground will try to dictate what the bike does as well as the direction you travel. You can affect this to a degree in a sitting position, with your hands, by moving quickly at your hips or by riding slowly and using your feet, but you can make a huge amount more difference to the course the bike takes, how much both tyres are able to keep hold of the ground by standing up.

Imagine yourself riding across a very steep camber on a mountainside. If you do nothing and sit like a sack of spuds, the bike will turn or fall down the down slope. If, however, you stand and position your body to counter-balance the bike, put your body weight on the outside footrest and push the bike in towards the hill, you’ll find yourself standing in quite a dramatic place with your body and you’ll have better chance of actually making it along the camber.

Think of it in another scenario, a rocky stream for example. When you ride over rocks of all different shapes and sizes they cause the bike to move in all sorts of directions, often in very quick succession. If you sit down to ride these rocks every time the bike tries to go one way or the other you have to react very quickly to move your body, a slow and heavy bit of torso at that, to counter the bike’s movement. If you stand however the bike can move around under you letting your wrists, elbows, shoulders, hips, knees and ankles do the things they are good at which is bend or flex. That means the bike moves under you and you transfer weight between your feet to counter the bike’s shifting across the different rocks.

If you can, why don’t you go outside right now and get on your bike in the garden or garage and practice the actual standing position. And when you’ve done that grab you helmet and go for a ride. Get practising…

Five places where standing up helps
  1. River crossings
  2. Rocky trails
  3. Tight, loose or technical turns
  4. A step up (or down) where you have to adjust body position
  5. Cambers

Crafted By

Jonathan Pearson
Former Features Editor

JP is a master of many tricks. Working as a bike journalist, he's been testing, analysing and writing about on and off-road motorcycles for various UK magazines, both as a staffer and a freelance journalist, since the nineties. Testing everything from Valentino Rossi’s MotoGP bike through sportsbikes, commuter bikes and, of course many, many miles on adventure bikes. JP has also spent much of his life competing at up to International level in trials, enduro, extreme enduro, circuit racing and hillclimbing. He also instructs at the Off Road Skills motorcycle training school, coaching and encouraging people in the ways of riding adventure bikes. Also a fan of vegetables and sea products.

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24 Responses

  1. Zat

    This is a bit redundant as if you’re standing for the rougher stuff you are constantly moving all over the bike.

    Reply
    • Jonathan Pearson

      Thanks for your comment Zat. Being able to move around on the bike is a fundamental part of the feature, a point we made I think and indeed a major reason why we all stand up so often! Take another look and we hope you find it useful. JP

      Reply
  2. M. Pat Wright

    I do stand up as much as practical but I find it very difficult to use my foot controls as well standing as I can when sitting. I think that if I set up my foot levers for the standing position they wont work sitting? Any tips?

    Reply
    • Llewelyn Pavey

      The perfect answer to your setup can be found here 🙂

      http://www.brake-magazine.com/how-to-setup-your-bike-with-si-pavey/

      Secondly, it’s important as you try and improve to not think of your feet as static, but more as things that need to move all the time. The more mobile you’re feet are the better> That means deliberately moving for the gear lever and brake pedal.

      Think of it as similar to a Boxer. A boxer who never moves his feet gets hit a lot.

      Thanks for reading!

      Reply
      • M. Pat Wright

        Thanks to you.
        Both my foot levers were a notch or two low according to your tips. I should have that fixed up shortly.

    • David Langlois

      Hi , If you are wearing enduro boot use the rim of the sole rather than the toe to change gear, takes a bit of practice but works for me. Good luck

      David

      Reply
    • Llewelyn Pavey

      Find a medium balance. And move your feet to use them. Your feet shouldn’t be static, they should be adjusting with your body all the time, so if you need to use the rear brake, move your foot to it.

      If you need to change gear move accordingly. And practice.

      Lastly, level setup is is important and even on the road, the above advices applies. Move your feet. It’ll make things move deliberate and less reactionary, and you’ll ride better as a result.

      Lastly, read our article on bike setup 🙂

      Reply
  3. How To - Ride Sand Like a Pro

    […] Being in a good standing position is imperative to making light work of the sand. If your body position is weak or off balance, you’ll have a tough time keeping up with the rapid direction changes of the bike. If you need a reference on obtaining a good, neutral standing position, click here. […]

    Reply
  4. Rob

    but why legs straight at knees??? How you supposed jump and lend without bending knees…How you absorbs bumps etc. IMO it’s not proper advice.

    Reply
    • Llewelyn Pavey

      We think you’ve misunderstood. What we’re talking about is the start point for standing. The position you ride in when you aren’t bending your legs to do the above. You can’t ride along a straight, flat trail with bent legs, it doesn’t work. you’ll use excess energy, lack direction control and be permanently unbalanced.

      We aren’t say you don’t ben you’re legs for plenty of situations, for bump absorption, extreme body movement and so on, but you have start tall, balanced and straight.

      Reply
      • captinktm

        The only time you ride with straight legs is when your riding predictable terrain and slowly, once the speed increases bend your knees or you’ll be doing the flying W very soon.

  5. dl1001

    I agree it’s good to be supple on the straightaways, but how is it possible to get through challenging terrain without gripping the bike with your lower legs? Otherwise, it’s holding on to the bars, and it’s whisky throttle time…

    Reply
    • Llewelyn Pavey

      For the majority of situations you’d don’t need to hold on tight, you need to use your body position effectively.

      You need your body to be able to move freely. We’re not saying don’t grip ever, there are situations were it’s paramount, but there are far more where it’s the wrong thing to do, especially when riding an ADV bike.

      This is a guide to the basics, for people who need to get the very basics right.

      More advanced riding is a far more complex thing than a 2000 words feature and that needs to be understood.

      Reply
      • captinktm

        If this indeed a basic guide then you should have started with bike set up, then the standing position becomes natural.

      • Llewelyn Pavey

        We did. You’ll find it in the How to section.

  6. How To Ride Logs - Brake Magazine

    […] body position needs to be balanced, central and relaxed like we’ve covered in the guide to standing position. We need to have our elbows and knees “soft” and ready to absorb the inevitable bump. My […]

    Reply
  7. captinktm

    What a load of tosh! Come on guys you know or at least should no that standing up on a bike that is not set up for you and your height is going to end with neck and back problems. Asking a tall guy to simply adapt his position to stand on a std bike is crazy, and of course impossible, you can’t get 4 feet into a 3 foot space without bending it. I would never let customers ride our bikes until they had bar raisers fitted. You also fail to mention the relationship between the pegs, seat and handle bars. Short guys spoil their bike by putting a low seat on then wondering why it’s an effort to get from sitting to standing position. You also fail to mention one of the very important points of standing on a heavy Adv bike is to use peg pressure to turn the bike rather than the bars. If your going to put advice out their then it has to be complete. I was riding yesterday with a guy on a GS 800 with no bar raisers (his own bike) and wondered why he could not get comfortable standing and had neck ache. He had plenty of other bling on his bike though!!

    Reply
  8. Gordon

    Hi LP, Is one reason to stand-up that the centre of gravity is moved from primarily from the top of seat i.e virtually the top of the bike down to the height of the foot rest i.e almost the lowest point on the bike thereby countering all (well a big portion) of the weight of the bike, making it much easier to control and it’s tendency to fall over? I’m asking because although I actually own a Tiger XRx, I have never done any off-roading, primarily because my sense of balance is rubbish and I scared my-self witless just trying to ride down an overgrown country lane, I now wonder if standing-up would have been appropriate, even though it was tarmac under the grass and mud, also down in darkest East Kent, there are virtually no green lanes where you you are allowed to take a bike and practice off-road techniques. Best Regards

    Reply
  9. Bethany

    Just stumbled on this article trying to find out what us short folk are supposed to look like while standing. I’m only 5’2″/ 28″ inseam and typical stock setup means I’m always reaching or leaning over too far to reach the handlebars. I have an old Honda CRF230 that I addded Rox risers and rotated the bars back so I could cut back fatigue. Now I’ve just traded up to a new Husky FE250 (which is amazing) and I’m leaning way forward again. Some folks tell me leaning forward is the correct position, but it’s hell for my back from the middle on down in a matter of minutes. Is this normal? Or should I be making bar adjustments?

    Reply
    • Llewelyn Pavey

      Hey! Thanks for the question.

      While not being hard or fast, generally moving parts of your bike won’t solve the problems your having. They generally effect geometry a huge amount and that simply moves the problem by making the bike harder to ride.

      Fortunately, standing well on your bike won’t work hugely different for you at 5″2 or some who is 6″2. The legs straight, bend at the hips style, is the absolute key. You may find that the bars feel far away and if you need to get get closer, bending at the hips and keeping a flat back will help hugely. It loads the hamstrings slightly, which in turn hold you in position and therefore it is a position you’ll be able to hold longer than if you have a rounded back. See the photo in the comments of the man hinging further down.

      Now, in regards to your question about being forward. Those folks that say leaning forward is important aren’t far wrong, but that information needs more detail.

      Firstly, if the terrain is smooth and simple, i.e a dirt road etc. then you will find that your back will start to ache. This is because you’ll be in a very static position. In this kind of terrain, standing up all the time isn’t a requirement. Sometimes it’s worth moving your body around, trying to find a relaxed more upright position too.

      When it’s more challenging and your body moves more and it’ll ache less, especially if you’re in good position.

      Handlebar position is also important. Your Husky will likely have clamps that can be moved forward or backward. As you’re shorter, moving them closer may well help with that. What year model year is your bike?

      Lastly, fitness matters. Lower back and core strength is important to riding your bike well and it’s as easy to fix as any other part of your riding. Some basic core exercises, a couple of days a week, will transform things for you. Start with a small plank circuit and some crunches or situps. Keep plodding away with it and you’ll see a huge transformation in that, I promise.

      If you’re looking to take it further,, a suspension trainer (TRX) or compound weight lifting are also awesome for building a strong back.

      If you need more advice, send us a little video of your riding to yourang@brake-magazine.com 🙂

      Reply
  10. Oscar

    Not sure if this article is still being replied to, but I always seem to get an ache in my calf muscles after a while. I have tried adjusting my feet position further back and further forward. I think my knees are in the correct position. Any advice would be appreciated.

    Reply
  11. Ash Green

    Wow 🙂
    This is an incredible collection of ideas!
    Waiting for more helpful pieces.
    You would amazing to read a similar one here-
    themotorbiker

    Reply

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