On the street, you can pretty much just sit where you are and things will be fine. Stopping, turning, and braking can all be accomplished from the saddle with very little change in your body position. Off-road, however, body positioning is the key to maintaining total control over your bike and avoiding falls.
The first element of proper body positioning is to get your butt off the seat and stand on the pegs with the balls of your feet, not the arches or heels. This turns your feet into suspension components, letting you rise and fall easily as the bike moves up and down underneath you.
You’ll have to shift your feet forward and backward slightly to work the shift lever and brake pedal, so make sure both are adjusted at just the right height to let your foot slide forward over them without lifting it. Level with your toe, or a little higher, is fine. Don’t adjust the pedals too low, though, because not only will the be harder to operate––especially the shifter on upshifts––but they’ll be closer to the ground and more susceptible from damage from rocks and roots.
In the standing position you want to be leaning slightly forward to reach the handlebar, and keep a slight bend in your knees and elbows to absorb the motion of the bike on rough terrain. Don’t hold on too tightly––stay loose and let the bike move underneath you. Keep your head up and your eyes forward so you can see where you want to go––and where you don’t.
In addition to adjusting the foot controls for stand-up riding, do the same for the brake and clutch lever, moving each so it’s in line with your wrists, elbows, and shoulders. For most riders that means rotating the levers slightly downward. You shouldn’t have to bend your wrists to work the levers from a standing position.
For the most accurate control the handlebar should be in line with the forks, as close to the center of the upper fork leg as possible. Most riders won’t need handlebar risers. The idea isn’t to for your torso to be perfectly upright, but rather leaned slightly forward. A good rule of thumb: If the measurement from your footpeg to the end of your handlebar is less than half of your height, you might want to look into risers. Otherwise you’ll be fine with what you have now.
Those are our top tips for achieving and maintaining proper off-road body positioning. Have we forgotten any that you know work as well or better? Let us know in the comments.