Adventure. It’s all about riding to new places, seeing new sights and meeting new people.
But not all of these things can be reached on a tarmacked road. Sometimes you got to hit the dirt. So, I’m going to give you five tips to take your off-road riding to a new level and you can get adventures in all of the places you want.
Tip 1 – Standing position
Whenever you see people riding off-road, it’s the most obvious difference to road riding. You stood up on the foot pegs, head up, eyes looking forward. The best thing about this: firstly, your legs. They are fantastic suspension units. When you’re hitting bumps off-road, you can absorb the impacts and let the bike move around beneath you. And the final most important part that I’ll talk about with standing is the foot pegs. All of your steering off-road comes through the foot pegs. So, you will work those pegs and that’s going to control the bike. You want the foot pegs to be exactly in the arch of your foot. That way you have control and access.
Tip 2 – Vision
Probably the most important part of not just off-road riding, but road riding and any sport is the vision. It’s a simple thing: where your eyes go, you go. If you’re looking up the trail and looking around the corner, you’ll make the turn. If you get into the corner and have a good old look at that berm on the outside, guess what? That’s where you’re going. But it’s not just in turns. When you’re hitting a straight road and there are bits of lumps of gravel in the floor, keep your eyes on the distance. As soon as your eyes drop focused on the thing in front of your front wheel, all you know is what colour the thing you going to hit is. So keep your eyes ahead and look away you’re want to be, and not on what you want to miss.
Tip 3 – Clutch
Ok, next we’re going to talk about my favourite control on the motorcycle. Not the throttle as you might expect, but it’s the clutch. The clutch lever here is where all your control comes from. And you know what, it’s a “you get out of jail free card”. You’re going ride down a slippery trail, maybe get caught up in a tire rut from a 4×4, the bike comes around sideways, you tear that clutch in, the drive is gone and the bike is back under control. And that’s going to save you so much trouble when you’re in slippery and technical situations. And the other point with the clutch is, as your riding gets better, that’s where your power slides come from, that’s where your little wheel lifts to get over holes in the ground comes from, that’s where all the entertaining stuff comes from. So, spend time, work on your clutch skills and always cover that clutch lever when you’re riding. So, when your knuckles are tight on the hand grip of the bike, there is no way in a million years you’re going to press these fingers out to get the clutch control. So always rest it on the clutch and then you can tear that drive straight away when you need to.
Tip 4 – Weight on foot pegs to turn
Ok, we touched on it a little bit in the standing position. But steering the motorcycle off-road is one of your biggest differences to riding on-road. On road, everything comes through the handlebars. Push the handlebar into a turn to counter steer the bike, it tips in. Off-road it’s all through those foot pegs. If you’re going wrestling the handlebars, that’s where that horrible front-end slides that you feel in the gut of your stomach, that’s where that comes from. So, light as we can on the bars and all of our steering through our feet. Push the right foot peg, the bike goes right. Push the left foot peg, the bike goes left. It’s as simple as that. While we’re steering it, we want our body weight up above the bike. Until we’re motocross world champions, we really don’t need to be leaning into so much with our shoulder. Push the foot peg to steer the bike, turn your head and the bike comes around and we keep nice and balanced up above it.
Tip 5 – Braking
Ok, then… braking is one of those areas that people are sometimes a little bit scared of off-road. It’s always that fear that you will touch that front brake, the tire will lock. So, rather than shying away from it, spend some time getting used to it. You can’t be aggressive with the levers – either the foot brake or the handbrake. You can’t jab at them. You’ve got to do everything really smoothly – as if you’re riding with the glass of water on your tank and you don’t want to spill it. So, when you apply the brakes, the initial application is very soft – just letting the weight of the bike transfer forward. Once the weight is on that front tire, then you can really stop pulling the lever and feel in for the grip. And these bikes have got ABS these days, so you’re pretty well covered. But if the tire does lock, trust me, your inbuilt ABS works. Trust yourself, get off the brakes and the bike will straight them back out. But most importantly, don’t shy away from using the brakes off-road. Find yourself a nice area, practice and get familiar with being smooth on the controls.
So, there we have it. Five tips to improve your riding off-road. The most important one that I’m going to give you at the end here though is: practice. Practice, practice, practice. And then practice some more. Don’t feel like you’ve got to be going full tilt first time. Give yourself time to acquire the skills and get comfortable off-road and it will become the most enjoyable part of your riding. There is only a very small percentage of roads that have tarmac. So, getting comfortable on dirt will open up a whole new world to you and take your adventures to places you’d never dreamed.