Launching From A Dead Stop Like A Pro

Nicky Hayden Practicing Launches at the 2007 USGP
Nicky Hayden Practicing Launches at the 2007 USGP
Launching – or, taking off from a dead stop with – your motorcycle is a skill which can be tough to master. However, with the right knowledge and regular practice, anyone will experience significant improvements in his or her technique. You use this skill in many varied forms – racing from stoplight to stoplight with your friends, looking for better times at a local drag strip or short circuit, or even in the very rare emergency situation when avoiding a fast approaching vehicle can be a matter of survival.

Achieving this takes fine coordination between throttle and clutch to create forward momentum without inducing wheel spin or wheelies. Mastering the proper technique will benefit any rider whether they choose a cruiser, a sportbike or a dual-sport. Just remember, practice makes perfect. Get out and practice your launches, over and over again. Even the world’s top racers practice at nearly every event.

NOTE: The best place to put in the practice time for this is an empty parking lot or simply a long, flat, paved surface with nothing to get in your way or cause a safety issue.

You already have the basic skills…

Every single time you go out to take a ride you use your basic launching skill to start your motorcycle down the road, trail or track. The process is rather simple; the throttle is opened a bit, the clutch slowly let out as the bike begins to move forward, and then more throttle is added, the clutch is fully released and you are under way. This is the same, exact process that any racer uses to get their fancy, high-dollar race bike moving (except those with ‘launch control’ systems). Below you will read how those professionals manage to do it so very well and how you can do the same.

Put your body in the right position…

Many riders – at least those who have not raced or ridden motocross – do not understand just how much effect the position of your body on the bike can have. The more of your weight that you can put over the front wheel of the motorcycle, the better you will be able to keep the front end from lifting when applying more throttle. Being able to use more throttle earlier, due to your body-forward position, will allow you to be that much faster from the start. It’s all down to keeping the power where it should be – moving you forward instead of lifting the front of the bike.

Look closely at how this rider is positioned, leaning far forward on this Star VMAX
Look closely at how this rider is positioned, leaning far forward on this Star VMAX
The first thing you want to do after you have mounted your motorcycle is to move as far forward in the seat as you safely can. This will often put your belly right against the fuel tank; or on it if you are one who has a generous frontal area.

Once in that position, lean your upper body forward so that your helmet is almost directly over the front of the bike. Put your feet in a comfortable and balanced position with both on the ground or either the left or right foot on the respective peg depending on your personal preference.

Consider, though, that having the left foot on the peg is good for being ready for that crucial first upshift. However, if your bike is wheelie-prone, having the right foot on the peg so that you can keep the front wheel down using the rear brake is an option.

Wherever you put your feet, make sure to keep that balance as pushing down on one or the other peg can push the bike to that side rather sharply – motocross riders will know this well.

Use the throttle, but mostly the clutch to control your launch…

Now that you have your body where it needs to be, it is time to work on the launch itself. The best advice for the start is to throttle up the engine to around 2000 rpm higher than you normally would when leaving your average parking space. Keep the throttle hand steady here; do not ‘rev’ the engine up and down. Of course, there are some variations depending on the power available from your bike; a large displacement sportbike will require less of an rpm boost than a 250cc twin for achieving the optimum start. Keep this in mind so that you do not start out dangerously high up the tachometer with a heavy bike.

Now it is time to put that power to the ground as efficiently as possible so that you and the bike move forward as quickly as possible. While working to keep the engine at the launch rpm described above, pick up the throttle progressively while gradually letting out the clutch until rpm matches road speed.

This is a good launch - look at ths front wheel - on a Kawasaki ZX-14
This is a good launch - look at ths front wheel - on a Kawasaki ZX-14
At that point, the clutch should be fully out and your right hand will be getting very close to wide open throttle. This will vary depending on the bike’s power and size; with a large displacement sportbike, the throttle may only be partially into its full range. A less powerful machine will be very near fully wide open here.

The eventual outcome of your work at this will be building your way up to using near-to-full throttle as your launch rpm – that is your target in order to achieve a professional-level launch. When working on this, you will often feel the front start to get ‘light’ and the wheel will want to come up.

Do not roll off the throttle; instead, pull in the clutch a small amount. To maintain forward momentum you must conserve energy, and reducing the amount of throttle will make it very tough to attain the previous high rpm. Modulating the clutch instead allows the engine internals to continue spinning at high velocity thus preserving that energy and rpm level. In fact, many a racer will hold steady throttle throughout until the first upshift. No matter where in the rpm range you find your perfect launch spot, always keep the throttle steady or increasing.

Practice, practice, practice…

Each time you practice your launch, take mental notes of the process flow and anything which seems to upset a smooth start. If you lift the front wheel, the engine bogs or you stall, adjust the launch rpm and your clutch modulation. As you progress and become silky smooth, start increasing the launch rpm until you feel you have achieved your optimal launch.

Keep in mind that if you are not already a racer by trade, this is a skill which requires time to master. Start out with a reasonable launch rpm and work your way up as you get smooth and comfortable – do not try to start at full tilt, disaster could result. Take time to watch racing events on television or in person and study the launches of the professionals; you will be surprised by how much you can learn with simple observation.

With continual practice you will eventually be able to launch your motorcycle just like a pro.

Courtesy of

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