If you already know how to ride a motorcycle but want to head off road on a dirt-bike or dual purpose machine, here are some tips to keep in mind when you're moving from off road to trail.Just as you would on a road bike, you'll want to use the Motorcycle Safety Foundation's T-CLOCS checklist which ensures that your motorcycle is ready for action.But hitting the dirt can also involve dropping tire pressure (sometimes to around 20 lbs or so), in order to help the rubber become more flexible with the terrain. It's also a good idea to ditch saddlebags or accessories that could weigh you down or shake loose due to vibrations. Finally, you should also consider tucking or removing turn signals, windscreens, and mirrors, as they will easily get damaged if and when you take a spill.
Dirt may be soft, but off road accidents can still cause serious injuries; after all, the human body is a fragile thing. As with road riding, choosing the proper safety gear- from helmet to boots-- is a key part of protecting yourself.Off-roading gear differs quite a bit from road gear, as boots are taller and have more reinforcement in areas like the shins. Protective padding for knees, shoulders, chest (aka, roost deflector), and elbows (not seen here) tend to be covered by jerseys and light pants. Gloves are usually lighter and more flexible, in order to cope with the wide range of movement associated with off road riding, and dirt or motocross helmets incorporate a sunshade and an open area for goggles. Believe me, one ride on a dusty trail will make you appreciate goggles that keep the dirt out of your eyes.
Be sure to check yourself before heading out on a dirt ride; shake out your body and make sure you're as limber as possible and ready to roll with the punches. Otherwise, it's all too easy to lose the flow and that vital connection with your bike.
Lowering Your Center of Gravity
A bike's center of gravity usually resides around its engine, and when a rider sits on the saddle that center gets raised.
Everyone knows that a higher center of gravity makes a bike top heavy and harder to maneuver. And though it sounds counterintuitive, standing on the footpegs actually drops the center of gravity dramatically, since all your weight is now resting on the pegs. It's no wonder that roughly three-quarters of offroading involve standing on the pegs; moving a bike around tight spaces becomes a lot easier when you're off the seat.
A few tips for standing up on a bike:
- Stand on the balls of your feet, not the heels; the shifter and brake pedal are a bit out of reach that way, but it's much easier to get a feel for the bike's physics.
- Lightly hug the tank with your thighs; it will give you a better sense of lean angle, and help you keep the bike in control.
- Use your knees as shock absorbers; that will ensure you don't get thrown off the bike.
- Ride with your elbows out; that will provide flexibility when the road gets bumpy.
Fear No Obstacles
Street riders have a natural impulse to avoid obstacles, and for good reason: most street bikes don't have enough suspension travel to absorb serious shocks. On the other hand, dirtbikes are equipped to climb over logs, through mud, and across all manner of ridges, ripples, and ruts.
It takes a while to get over the idea that you CAN cross that obstacle, but once you do, the feeling is liberating. Just be sure to cross the object in your path at a 90-degree angle; that way, your tire won't get caught. Also, dirt bikes are able to lift their front wheel much easier than street bikes, which is easily accomplished by rolling on the throttle and tugging up at the handlebars. And on that note, remember to use momentum to your advantage-- hesitate, and you can easily get bogged down and miss your opportunity.
Bonus Turning Tip: Throw a Leg Out
Once you've wrapped your head around turning in the dirt, another component to the process will add a layer of security: throwing a leg out.
First, let's clarify that this isn't a recommended tactic for heavier bikes in fact, most adventure tourers and dual purpose motorcycles are weighty enough to snap bones if they come down on your leg. Many dirt bikes, however, are light enough not to pose a danger to an outstretched boot; stick it out, and you'll have a little bit of insurance, being able to keep the bike up if it falls over.
Enjoy the Slip 'n Slide
When we ride on the road, we program ourselves to make sure we've got an ultimate grip with pavement, and the sensation of tire slip can be extremely disconcerting when it sneaks up on us. On the dirt, however, sliding is a way of life. The bike's path is a fluid line that shifts and alters depending on many variables, and experienced dirt riders can trigger serious drifts and yaw angles without thinking twice.
De-programming yourself away from the fear of sliding can be a challenging process, but the only way to become accustomed to the sensation of slipping in the dirt is by doing it and making peace with the fact that traction loss is part of the fun. Master this one, and you'll tackle one of the biggest challenges in
off road riding.
... Oh, And One More Thing: You Will Fall!
Thanks to an abundance of concrete, curbs, cars and all manner of hard-surfaced menaces, crashing on public roads can be a nasty event. Dirt, on the other hand, doesn't hurt nearly as much. Though wearing safety gear is just as important off-road as it is on-road, the risks associated with crashing are far fewer in the dirt. Put simply, just like traction loss and riding over obstacles, falling off is an accepted part of dirt bike riding, and it's one of those inevitability you simply have to anticipate.
So gear up, get out to a motocross park or trail, and have fun; you'll find that it's not only a blast to ride offroad, the techniques you develop there will also improve your street skills.
And since there's only so much you can learn on your own, we recommend the Motorcycle Safety Foundation's dirt bike school, where you can learn off road skills from the pros.