Trail Riding – A Beginners Guide
OK so it’s a familiar chain of events. You’ve been riding road bikes for years, but you’re beginning to think that just going out on sunny weekend dressed in full race leathers and on a bike that will do almost three times the speed limit isn’t as fun as it used to be. When the bike will almost ride itself thanks to traction control, anti-lock braking, variable power modes, gyroscopic braking controllers and the rest of the techno gadgetry then road riding has lost it’s appeal.
And this is when most riders think about riding off road. The return to the thrill you used to feel when ragging a knackered old scooter round the wasteland at the back of the abandoned factory with your mates: the joy of that little PW50 that you rode round and round the back garden in those long summer holidays. We know – we get it. Trail riding can bring all that back and more, and as a bonus you are not going to lose your licence!
So if you are in that place, what exactly are you going to need, and maybe more importantly need to know to get down and dirty at the weekends? Here’s our top ten tips of things you need to know… A beginners guide to trail riding…
#1 Don’t buy a bike!
OK so this might be a confusing first tip, but it’s the most important one. The knee jerk reaction for most guys is to go out there and buy the machine and almost without fail this will be the wrong bike. If you’ve come used to riding a 1000cc plus sports bike, you will be convinced that having a big bike is what you need. You will thus go out there and buy a 450cc full on enduro bike like the Yamaha WR450F above, or even worse a converted 450 crosser. Armed with this new missile, you will then proceed to scare yourself witless as it will be very evident that as an off road novice, 60 bhp is far more than you need. Even in Australia …
#2 Join the Club
So having held back on splashing the cash, it’s a good idea to find a local trail riding club. Be brave, go along and make some new friends – you really will not regret it. Not only will you be able to get an idea of what bikes they are using and why, you’ll find out where they ride, where is legal, where isn’t and you’ll get a chance to go out on rides with them. This is by far the best way to start and opens up a whole new world of like-minded guys who will be only too happy to help. Plus it stops you riding on your own which is both not fun and not safe. In the UK – check out the Trail Riders Fellowship – TRF – there will be a local group?
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#3 Take advice
It may be a bit of an odd concept for men – a bit like reading an instruction manual, but talking to people that know their shizzle about trail riding will be worth it. When they tell you to start on a 250 four-stroke to allow you time to learn with manageable power and lower weight, it’s because that’s a good idea, not because they are questioning your manhood! They’ll also be able to point you in the direction of the right kit to buy and may even know somebody that is selling a bike that’s right for you.
Oh and what’s more, they are likely to become the mates you go riding with for the next twenty years, from local ride-outs to epic trips abroad like the ones we run at Ride Expeditions. What’s not to like?
#4 It’s not motocross
Trail riding is just about having fun on a dirt bike, spending time with your mates and generally messing about like you are a teenager again. It is not racing, it’s not competitive and it’s definitely not going as fast as you can through sensitive landscapes. If you want to go race – join a race club.
#5 It’s STILL not motocross
When you do get round to buying a bike, don’t think that having the latest enduro machine is important. While there will be guys on new machines, the majority will have bought second-hand and had their bikes a while. As long as your bike is reliable and can handle the terrain that your club rides – from an EXC250 to XR400 – it’s all gravy. Just don’t turn up on a fully loaded BMWF800GS when the rest of the guys are on lightweight trailies.
#6 Fess up!
When you go on your first run, introduce yourself to the run leader and tell them you are a novice and haven’t much off road experience – don’t lie about your abilities as it will bite you back on the very first tough lane – if in doubt underpromise and overdeliver! Also let the guy in charge know if you have any medical conditions such as diabetes – it’s better that somebody else knows! Oh and make sure somebody has an emergency contact number for you …
#7 Embrace failure!
OK so this is a really tough one for a bloke to admit, but first time out you might struggle. If you genuinely can’t get up a steep hill or rocky climb, don’t be afraid to admit defeat and let somebody else either help you or ride the bike up for you. It’s a far better option than bashing yourself and your new bike to hell in a stream of more frustrating fails. You will improve.
#8 No nails please
Don’t turn up on a bike with known faults. Your new mates will forgive a few mechanicals, but if you arrive on something that can barely make it out of the car park, you are not going to make yourself popular. Make sure you’ve got a full fuel tank, a proper silencer that does not sound like a Harley on straight pipes oh and maybe the correct plug spanner – bikes getting drowned in river crossings is not uncommon, and if you can’t get the plug out yourself, you won’t get the water out! If your bike is running inner tubes in the tyres – which it probably is – it might be a good idea to learn how to change a tube out in the middle of nowhere. But we’ll be covering that in a later post…
#9 Protect and Survive
Falling off hurts even in mud so try to protect yourself with a good helmet, proper boots, riding trousers, body armour of some sort, knee and elbow pads (these may be integral to some jackets and trousers). The pointy bits of your body hit the ground first, so if you have padding on, this will not end your day. If you can’t afford new head for eBay for second hand clothing but NEVER used helmets. Always wear eye protection – at best you will get flies in your eyes without adequate protection, at worst you could sustain serious eye damage from stones or a pointy piece of bamboo in the Cambodia jungle. If you don’t like goggles, safety glasses make a cheap and sensible option… avoid wearing sunnies with glass lenses.
#10 Track it!
Although you do not need a Garmin or similar device, these are a good way of tracking routes so you can ride them again. There are phone Apps such as Viewranger and Strava and others that will do the same at little or no cost and then you can transfer them to an old fashioned map if you want. These apps will however drain the power from your phone battery really quickly, so you may need to fit a proper mount and docking point to your bike, or just a cheap and cheerful USB charging point and phone mount.
So that’s a few basics to start you off. If you need to know what tools you might need, check out our Trailriding Toolkit Essentials and after the ride you’ll need some tips for how to properly clean your dirt bike! If you’d like some more info or advice of any kind, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us to ask some questions – we’re always happy to talk bike!
So what are you waiting for – get out there and start trail riding – you’ll never look back!
9 comments on “Trail Riding – A Beginners Guide”
Hi guys, been riding trials for six years and now have green laner, 250 klx. Like to read about the fast roadies falling off at 5 mph face down. Thanks for the advice. I’ll have to get a better GPS, seem have all else.
Thanks for all the tips and what not – but this article should be for both sexes! I kind of laughed at the whole ‘ask advice! I know it’s hard because you’re a man and you’re so macho that you feel you can’t step down and ask for advice’. Like cmonnnn, it’s 2017. Girls ride too!
Thanks for your comments but save for the reference to men not asking advice, this article, as with all our blogs, is not gender specific and we welcome female riders on all out tours – We’ve just got back from Nepal with a group of riders including Ali, a rider who has ridden three of our tours.
Maybe you should join us and up the amount of women that have experience our epic tours? We’d love to have you join us.
Hey, i’m a total noob at dirt bikes, but thanks for this article. It helped a lot!
Thanks Hunter – there’s plenty more information in the blogs!
Not new to riding but looking at getting into trail riding, also riden cruisers, baggers and super moto. Now wanting my hand in trail riding. Just over the weekend out on a backpacking trip came across some trail riders. Watched them climb the mountain and thought, that looks awesome. So probably be getting a dirt bike soon. Luckily I have buddies that trail ride from time to time. Thought this was a great write up, thanks.
Thanks Bryan – it’s all a bit confusing when you start, so we try to help! There’s loads more information in the blogs
This article was speaking right to me. To bad I didn’t read it before I went out and bought an exc 500. I could ring my gsxr 1000’s neck but the 500 is to much for a newbie dirt rider.
It’s a common problem Chris, and often big motorcycle dealerships don’t help by having nobody with any clue about which bike to recommend to new riders! A 250F is enough for most riders …
Hope you’ve got something more suitable now