Rampin' It Up: Freestyly Motocross

Other, Sport ATV — on May 21, 2009 at 12:00 pm

The sport of freestyle motocross has grown exponentially over the last decade. What started years ago with a few guysramp-intro on dirt bikes clicking their heels together has evolved into its own sport, with riders traveling the globe and wowing the masses by back flipping 400-pound machines through the air.

Guys like Brian Deegan, Mike Metzger and Travis Pastrana can be credited for much of the creation and progression of the sport of freestyle motocross. Other guys like Dana Creech, Caleb Moore and the Guetter brothers have pioneered this style of riding on four wheels.

In the beginning, all of these guys made names for themselves jumping off huge dirt ramps to get the airtime needed to pull their tricks. As freestyle became more technical, riders began looking for a different, more consistent method of launching themselves into the air.

Predictability is an important factor in freestyle motocross. One needs to know how the quad is going to react off of a jump before separating themselves from the machine. Anyone who has ever ridden on a choppy motocross track or jumped the face of a sand dune has likely experienced an inconsistency in terms of how the quad is pitched when coming off the jump.

Instead of spending countless hours with a shovel sculpting the perfect take off, why not just build one that is sure to be exactly the same, time after time? That’s exactly what today’s freestylers have done. By using metal launch ramps, riders are able to get a consistent jump run after run and eliminate some of the danger of this already very dangerous sport.

I’ll go ahead and take this opportunity to tell you that merely jumping an ATV is very dangerous. Attempting to perform stunts and freestyle moves is something that should be left to professionals and those with many years of riding experience. While we’ll share some tips for building a ramp, our motive is to explain how others build and ride their own ramp safely, so as to avoid any situation where they might get hurt. That said, if you decide to follow their path, know that it’s scattered with broken bones. Enter at your own risk.

Building a ramp is not for the inexperienced craftsmen. There is a lot more to consider than just building the ramp itself, like it will be used, how much room is needed for take-off, the soil conditions and the landing area that will be used.

frame-workMaterials
The majority of today’s freestyle riders build the framework of their ramps out of metal. While they can be made out of wood, ramp builders we spoke with strongly recommend using metal because of its strength and its longevity. Even treated wood will wear out and warp over time. Metal may rust but it will retain its strength much longer than wood.

The structure of the ramp is the most important part. While thicker metal costs more, you should never sacrifice safety just to pinch a few pennies. The thicker the metal, the more difficult it will be to bend and form the transition in the ramp, which is what will give riders the “pop” effect that will shoot them into the air. Depending on the thickness, it may be possible to bend the main side rails without cutting them. This is by far the most intricate part of building a ramp. Doing homework to know the angle that’s wanted beforehand will help reduce the risk of making it too steep or not steep enough.

Caleb Moore of the Bomb Squad said the ramps they use have an ending curve of about 46 degrees. That angle, frame-undercoupled with the overall height and length of the ramp provide just the right “pop” for launching these riders into the air. The majority of ramps used by dirt bike and ATV riders are around 8 feet tall and stretch 20 feet in length. Widths vary, though we’ve been told 6 feet wide should be considered a minimum.

An important thing to remember is that the ramp is not merely supporting the weight of your quad; it is supporting the weight of the quad plus the inertia freestylers are carrying as they pick up speed. The force of the quad hitting the ramp will be greatest at the point of transition so builders are sure to put extra support under the side rails at this stress point. They say you don’t need to go overboard with cross beams going every which way but the ramp must be sturdy.

Underside supports beneath the face of the ramp should be placed no more than 18 inches apart. While stronger than wood, metal can have a tendency to flex, especially the thinner sheet metal used as a surface on most ramps, causing washboard like bumps to develop. Since smooth and consistent is the end goal for building a ramp, be sure to put enough underside support so the face of the ramp doesn’t develop those bumps.

ramp-topFacelift
When it comes to sheeting the face of the ramp, traction is the most important factor to consider. While sheet metal is the surface of choice for most riders, bare metal simply won’t do. Most riders use a 12 or 14 gauge sheet metal, and cover it with a layer of expanded sheet metal. The crosshatched expanded metal provides enough grip to hold the riders to the ramp, even when dirt and a little moisture come into play.

The other option for covering the face of a ramp is wood. This is a low-cost alternative to the more expensive sheet metal but traction becomes a problem here as well. Should a builder choose to use plywood as a covering, they’ll either need to use the same expanded metal over the plywood, or paint the ramp with a non-slip surface paint. If all else fails, mixing good old play sand in the paint can provide the traction needed to keep the tires from spinning off the ramp.

What Goes Up Must Come Down
So the ramp is finished and the riders are ready to start jumping. The next question is where the new creation is going Rider-on-ramp-2to be used. Caleb and the rest of the Bomb Squad crew typically jump at distances of about 75 feet. They require around 80 feet to build speed and another 60 or so feet to slow down after landing. Add in the length of the ramp and the landing and you’re looking at 215 at the very least. Keep in mind that these guys are professional; newcomers will want more room to build up speed and slow down after the jump.

Almost as important as the ramp itself is the landing. The safest and easiest option is dirt, however some of today’s professional riders have mobile landing ramps made of steel. Dirt is more cost-effective, as these mobile landings contain a great deal of steel and some of them use hydraulic lifts. Dirt is the easiest and safest option as it allows riders to maintain and change the landing if need be.

Bigger is better in terms of the size of the landing area. For an 8-foot ramp height, freestylers will want a landing ramp to be at least 10-15 feet tall. Again, it all depends on how high and far they’re planning on jumping, but they want to have as large of a landing area as possible when coming down from high in the air. A larger landing is more forgiving.

_soil-sampleSoil Sample
Something most people won’t typically think about when scoping out a spot to ride a new ramp is the type of soil in the area. After all, the idea behind building a ramp is to have a consistent jump that requires as little maintenance as possible. Sandy soils obviously become rutted more easily than hard packed or clay surfaces. The looser the soil the more maintenance will be needed between runs to keep the approach and landing as smooth as possible.

Metal Mulisha rider Justin Homan shared with us that he would have to rake the approach every couple of runs to keep it from developing washboards and pitching him awkwardly off the ramp.

To resolve this problem, many of today’s freestyle riders use large rubber mats, also known as stall mats, leading up the approach to the ramp. This enables the rider to make run after run without having to stop and smooth out the ground leading up to the ramp. The mats can be purchased at most local feed or farm supply stores.

Parting Words
The high-flying antics of the freestylers makes many people think of the riders as a bunch of brainless freaks, but the planning of the tricks and engineering of the ramps can be heady stuff. For those thinking of getting into the sport, the best advice is to have fun, but be safe and start small.

Don’t go out and try to imitate Caleb Moore on your first run at the ramp. Guys like Caleb have been jumping off ramps for a long time and take years to perfect the stunts you see them performing.

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