Ten simple tips to ride with better control off the road

You might be gifted rider on the blacktop, but when it comes to riding on low-traction, gravelly, muddy, boggy or sometimes obstacle ridden conditions, you’d realize that your skill and knowledge isn’t as effective. Riding off the road is a totally different ball game and the physics and dynamics that go behind riding fast in off-road conditions are significantly different from those of street riding.

It’s different, sure, but for a rider with a penchant for, well, riding, it’s not all that much difficult. A slightly tweaked style and some basic rules specific to off-road riding would make you a much faster, and must we add, safer rider when the road disappears. Here’s a list of 10 tips which would make you a much more confident rider out there in the wild.

  1. Reduce front brake usage in low traction conditions

Using front brake on high traction road surfaces is highly recommended, and in case of motorcycles, front brakes can, and should, take care of up to 70% of the braking. Such is not the case with low traction conditions off the road though. If the front tyre doesn’t have grip, it’ll simply wash out if you grab that lever, landing you straight onto terra firma. Make use of that rear brake, as even if it locks and puts the rear wheel into a slide, you can steer the motorcycle to safety.

  1. Load up the rear tyre and maintain speed in sandy conditions

Since almost all motorcycles are rear wheel driven, you need to transfer you weight to the rear tyre when attacking boggy sand. Loading the rear with some weight adds much-needed traction, though, if you stop, you’ll see that wheel sinking down faster than you think. To negate that, try and maintain a good speed, come in charging and maintain that momentum so the tyre grapples with the sand and break out before the sand could suck it in. At the other ends of things, a lighter front wheel skims over the sand and is easier to steer for quick direction changes.

  1. Ride the pegs for shock absorption and a lower centre of gravity

Off the road, things aren’t as smooth as they are on it. Sitting snug in the saddle is fine when the surface beneath is level, but when travelling on rough surfaces, riding the pegs helps you utilize your body joints at knees, hips, shoulders, elbows and wrists as suspension for shock absorption to great effect. Standing up also puts much of your weight down onto the pegs from the saddle, reducing the bike’s centre of gravity.

  1. Lighten up the clutch for two-finger operation

Throttle control and the torque / drive sent at the rear wheel is crucial while riding in slippery conditions. Ensure that your clutch listens to your every command, and without much effort. A hard setup for the clutch would mean that you’ll not be able to modulate the drive to the rear wheel in a fine grained manner. You’ll also not be comfortable as you’ll have to apply a lot of force every time you wish to slip the clutch or shift gears. Quick responses matter off the road, so tune the clutch in a manner where it is comfortable and responds to a two-finger command. Too soft, and there won’t be any slippage; too hard and you’ll lose all drive at the rear wheel when you grab a handful. Tune it to a balanced setting where it listens to the finest inputs without a fuss.

  1. Learn to lean the ‘wrong’ way to turn the bike

If you’re someone who loves carving canyons on his sportbike, this might come as a shock. Dirt riding is very different to street riding when it comes to managing traction. If you try to lean the bike while trying to hang off it on the inside, the tyres will lose grip and slip off.  To make the bike turn at speed, you should make the bike lean alright, but your own body should be upright, putting pressure on the tyres to make them grip. Your weight presses down the tyres vertically, especially the knobblies to provide maximum grip.

  1. Avoid target fixation, look where you want to be

This one holds true off-the road as it does on it. The easiest way to crash into the tree you want to avoid is to keep looking at it. If you look at an obstruction while trying to avoid it, you’ll end up crashing into it. In emergency scenarios, the position of your head and the direction of your vision decide, to a large extent, where you’ll land up. A good rider always looks at the part of the road, or off the road where he wishes to place his bike. This is a very simple thing, which, when followed rewards riders with tremendous results. Just look where you wish to be, you’d be surprised how your instincts would get you there.

  1. Learn to give that front wheel some air

While lifting the front wheel up on the tar creates more visual drama than any enhancement in speed or control, things are different off the road. If you could assess the grip levels at the rear wheel, and then power-lift the front, or with use of the clutch, you could ride over bigger obstacles which you won’t be able to otherwise. That’s how those trials riders manage to conquer those visibly insurmountable terrains.

  1. Keep your two fingers on brake

This is simple. Too much braking power at the front in slippery conditions means only one thing – a crash. Don’t let go of your control of the brakes, though. Tune them where they respond nicely and progressively to gentle inputs whenever required. Do not grab a handful, though. Learn to ride with one or two fingers over the front brake lever at all times.

  1. Use your legs when tyres fail

There are low-traction conditions, and then there are those absolutely slithery, slippery conditions. Nothing quite works over wet clay or surfaces with green algae over them. You don’t have much option but to paddle out safely and slowly until the tyres find some bite. The engine should still provide the thrust, but your legs should give the much required direction, balance and support.

  1. Steer with the Rear

Apply the rear brakes, induce a slide, lean inwards and turn in, in the most dramatic ways possible. When you don’t have grip, you don’t steer with the front tire – you take this unconventional route, which makes riding off the road so thrilling and enjoyable.

So those were our ten handy tips to help you go faster and safer off the tar. In the end, though, no amount of reading up will help your skills. The best tip we can offer you to enhance your proficiency is to gear up, find a forlorn piece of land which can offer a challenge and get honing your skills off the beaten trail.

Do let us know if you have some tips to share through the comments section below.

Ride safe!

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  • May be a video of these tips will be more helpful to learn easily.

    • Thanks for your feedback Tamizh. We are indeed launching videos on our blog soon. Watch out for more updates.

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