Off-Road Adventure Bike Riding – 10 Basic Tips
#1 PROTECT YOURSELF
First off let’s make sure that if things do go wrong, the kit you are wearing is going to adequately protect you. Hopefully you are wearing decent kit on the road and as tarmac is potentially far more damaging to fall on than some mud, why would we put this as the first tip?
Well, if you are an experienced road rider, then hopefully you’ve stopped regularly falling off. But if you are a newbie to the world of riding your adventure bike off-road, you are bound to be faced with a few unexpected ‘offs’ as opposed to staying upright all day, especially as the surfaces you will be riding on will likely offer a variable range of grip!
So, at the very least you are going to need a decent jacket with back, shoulder and elbow protection, proper bike trousers with knee pads, off road boots, gloves and a suitable helmet. Road helmets are OK but once you get a bit hot, that chin piece may feel a bit close to your face and restrictive, so maybe consider buying an adventure helmet with a bit more space. Depending on your personal preference goggles might also be a better option than a visor as they keep out dust and don’t mist up quite as easily.
#2 PROTECT YOUR BIKE
So again, it’s a question of advance preparation here and for exactly the same reasons you are protecting yourself against potential disasters, it’s worth spending a bit of time and, unfortunately, money on protecting your shiny new adventure bike before going riding off-road. Yes, bikes can be mended easier than bones, but it’s frustrating if you end up drinking your pride and joy on the first time out.
So again as a minimum, it’s worth looking at engine or crash bars to protect the engine cases and maybe the upper fairing too, and then also consider reinforced wraparound hand guards to stop you snapping levers or breaking expensive switchgear.
Oh and if your bike does not have a sumpguard, it’s a very sensible investment too.
#3 NO TO SOLO
If you are completely new to any sort of off-road riding, doing it on your own for the first time isn’t a smart move and in reality, even if you are experienced, going out on solo trips isn’t that smart. With more potential for falling off than when riding on the road and the fact that off-road routes tend to be far less busy, in case things do go wrong, it’s good to have a mate with you when you venture onto the trails. That adventure bike you’re riding off-road, in the middle of nowhere most likely weighs around 200kg and if it’s stuck on your leg, you’ll be glad to have someone there!
Of course, if you don’t have a suitable riding buddy, joining a local riding trail or adventure riding club is a smart move. Not only will you meet up with lots of like-minded motorcyclists, you’ll get plenty of advice, help and encouragement… and importantly, some mates to ride with!
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#4 START GENTLY
There’s plenty of time to get used to off-road riding on your adventure bike, so there’s no need to be in a rush to get it all done at once. Start slow, build up your confidence and get used to your bike. Compared to a trail bike your adventure bike is big, expensive and doesn’t crash well, so trying to run before you can walk will most likely carry some consequences.
Find yourself some long, flowing and legal gravel tracks, pick a fine day rather than a wet and muddy one and don’t worry about going too fast. Firstly, things go wrong quicker when you are going quicker and secondly, off-road routes are usually shared access routes so there may be runners, dog walkers or horse riders on the route as well as other vehicles coming in the opposite direction. If you are flat out on top, this does not end well…
#5 RUBBER OPTIONS
So after your first forays off road, you may have quickly discovered – very quickly if it was raining – that the supposed dual-sport tyres on your bike are not as confidence-inspiring as you might have hoped. If it’s an 80/20 tyre then you can be pretty sure that the 20% of off-road it was intended to be used for is not going to be very challenging.
The more you use your adventure bike for off-road riding, the more likely you are to start needing a 50/50 based tyre – something with big blocks that will offer you some decent grip in a variety of conditions and a range of surfaces from rock to mud. What you choose will depend on the bike you are riding and the terrain you will be riding it on. Talk to other riders with the same bike, read reviews from trusted and reputable websites and magazines – just don’t ask online …
#6 ON THE PEGS
Sooner or later you are going to need to leave the safety of the saddle and stand up on the footpegs. There is little else that will transform your progress away from the tarmac more than this one step. For some riders it can be a quantum leap to start standing, so it might be worth first trying it on some quiet roads on a dry day rather than hopping on the pegs on the dirt straight away.
Standing transfers the weight and the effective centre of gravity of you and your bike to a point between the wheel spindles, and only about 30cm from the ground, rather than high up on the seat. This will make the bike far more stable, and allow you to easily control it and as a bonus, being stood up will give you a far better view of the trail ahead.
Of course there will be times, particularly on a bigger bike, when it will be easier and safer to stay on the seat – and that’s fine. For things like deep ruts, it’s sometimes a better plan to stay low down and potentially able to steady the bike, rather than risk disaster while standing on the pegs.
The more you ride the more you will stand, so best to start as soon as you can!
#7 ALL ABOUT THE MOMENTUM
While adventure bikes are not significantly heavier than road bikes, once away from the tarmac, their weight becomes a major factor in how the bike handles. For everything from pulling away to stopping, climbing to descending – the 200kg of bike, with you on top is often trying to fight what you are doing and sometimes even trying to do the opposite! So you need to start riding far more intelligently and start planning ahead far more than you might need to on the road or on lighter trail or enduro bikes.
As an example, when going up hills the bike will want to slow down, but the slower you go the harder it is to get it over rocks and roots. In this situation you want to maintain momentum to help you bounce your way to the top – don’t worry about the way it looks or what you are doing with your legs, reaching the summit is your goal and stopping on the hill is something you definitely want to avoid!
Conversely, going down hills the bike’s weight will make it want to run away with you, so you need to keep the momentum in check to avoid disaster. Gentle braking and use of the gears will be best, the same is true when going into slippery corners – approach too fast and the bike is going to try to run on through the corner. As with our advice on starting to ride, don’t take on anything too extreme too soon!
#8 STEERING GROUP
So now that we are up on the pegs, thinking about momentum and starting to get the hang of riding away from the blacktop, we can now start looking at using our feet to help steer the bike. You can practice this on straight, long trails by keeping a constant speed and then pushing down on one side and then the other to feel the effect. Once you have got the hang of this, try using it while actually cornering and it should make things much easier and allow you to flow easily through the twisties .
Of course you can also experiment with counter steering, gently pushing the left bar away from you to turn left, and pushing the right bar away to turn right. It sounds wrong but it works!
#9 BODY ENGLISH
So while you are doing all the other things above, you also need to start moving your body around to get the most out of the bike. This means that on descents you will need to stand and move your weight towards the back of the bike to take the weight off the front wheel. On climbs, you will need to do the opposite, leaning forward and allowing the back of the bike to move about and find traction, keeping the weight over the front wheel to avoid looping out.
If you are staying seated in corners you can move your weight to the top edge of the seat to help the outer edges of the tyres dig in. And if you come across those delicious fast straights, it’s stood up with weight well back over the rear wheel to keep it planted and the front wheel nice and light, especially on loose or sandy surfaces.
#10 HEADS UP
So the final one applies to whatever bike you are riding and wherever you are riding it but on an adventure bike, looking ahead is a skill that you might need to work on initially as you’re likely to start out by focussing on the ground directly in front of you. Doing this will actually increase the possibility of coming off rather than decreasing it. Looking ahead and reading the terrain will enable you to maintain speed and pick the best route, whereas if you’re focussing directly in front, you won’t have time to avoid or react to obstacles.
There will of course be times, especially when trickling through tight stuff, that you need to pick a route for your front wheel, but generally looking ahead to where you want to go will be a better option than fixating on where you don’t. This, like most motorcycle riding, is not rocket science and looking up helps you enjoy the view too!
So that’s our 10 basic tips done. Let us know if this has helped you and feel free to share your tips too.
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