Tips & tricks | 10 Oct 2022

How To Ride Your Motorcycle Off The Road

Off-road riding, popular in the western countries, has gathered quite a lot of attention in India too. There were quite a few off-road enthusiasts in the country for a long time, but even so, off-roading was limited in its appeal, and was mostly considered a niche motorsport. The last 10-12 years have seen the interest of the masses growing in off-road riding and motorcycle manufacturers too have started including off-road centric motorcycles to their portfolio. Manufacturers are not only producing off-road motorcycles but they are also investing time and efforts in building an off-road rider community, organising off-road crash courses, adventure tours, etc. In short, one can safely say that off-road riding is now becoming popular in India and more than a sport, for some, it is turning out to be a lifestyle statement.

While there is no age or sex barrier to off-road riding, it might not be everyone’s cup of tea. When you are riding off-road, you need to deal with all types of terrain: rocks, sand, mud, slush, marshes, grass, water crossings are just a few that can be named. If you are someone who doesn't like to get soaked in water, getting dirty in the mud or sand, you are better off not attempting off-road riding. For the ones who have already been bitten by the off-roading bug, here’s a guide on how you can ride your motorcycle better off the road. Now, this guide is definitely not a replacement to any practical training or demonstration but it’s a start to knowing the things that are important before you get into the off-roading game.

Get Trained And Practise
Off-road riding is not something that comes very naturally to most riders. It is a skill that is honed over a period of time. If you are starting off, it is advisable to get some form of training from professional riders. Many institutions organise such training sessions for their customers at a nominal fee. There are also dedicated clubs and academies where you can learn off-roading skills. The tips and tricks these professionals and trainers share will help you keep your wits about you whenever you are in a difficult situation.

Choosing Your Machine
One might argue that you could ride any motorcycle off-road. Well, if such was the case, manufacturers would not have spent millions of dollars in R&D to develop specialised, off-road focussed motorcycles. After all, there is a reason why, at TVS Motor we have been MX champions and have achieved some of the best finishes for an Indian team at the formidable Dakar Rally. Not only does a capable off-road machine make riding easier and fun but it’s also designed in a way to keep you safe and avoid injuries. The seat, the wheels, the handlebar, the suspension, the tyres, the foot pegs, every component of such motorcycles are designed specifically to tackle challenging terrain. Hence, choosing the right off-roading motorcycle is very important.

If you are a beginner, start with a lower capacity motorcycle. Something in the 200 cc to 400 cc range will suit you well. You might get tempted to get one of those brawny looking 1000cc ADV bikes that will turn heads, but know that unless you are an experienced rider, a bigger motorcycle might end up doing more harm than good to your body and your pocket. A lighter motorcycle is easy to handle and manoeuvre and most importantly, easy to pick up when you have a fall, which you will, a lot, if you are a beginner. If you are an experienced rider, knock yourself out and pick the one that suits your taste. There are a few things to keep in mind though. Your motorcycle should have a good ground clearance so that you do not bash or scrape its belly. The front wheel needs to be larger. Most ADV bikes have front wheels that are north of 18-inches. Specialised off road, or on-off road tyres are preferred over road tyres. Spoked wheels are known to perform better on such motorcycles as alloys tend to break or bend in bad terrains.

The rear wheel should be wider and have chunky tyres. The rear wheel gets most of the traction and having the right set of rubber on it will help you get out of tricky situations. Another important aspect is the height of the motorcycle. You should be able to land your feet on the ground easily as you will need to do that often hence, make sure that you choose the right motorcycle according to your height. The handlebars should be raised so that you can ride easily standing up. The foot-pegs should have teeth to grip into your shoes when you are saddling. If they have any rubber tips, take them off before you go off-roading. The seat needs to be tapering towards the tank to help you grip the tank comfortably. You’ll know why this is important when we speak about the riding position.

Another important thing to remember when choosing the motorcycle is that you choose a motorcycle that has a good low-end torque. While you are off-road, it is easier to ride if the torque comes in at lower revs so that you don’t need to keep twisting the throttle to get out of a sticky situation.

Some motorcycles come with additional kit and electronics to make the ride easier. Traction control modes, terrain modes, switchable ABS, etc. are some things that would aid your riding. You don’t need them to get started but if your bike has them, using them will give you an advantage. Also, keep your budget in mind. The more expensive your motorcycle is, the more expensive it is going to be to repair. Most importantly all things considered, you should be comfortable with the motorcycle. So, before choosing one, take a test ride and see if you connect with the motorcycle.

Safety First!
Now, your motorcycle might or might not have all the bells and whistles to make your ride safe. You need to invest in proper riding gear regardless. You will need to find specific riding gear for off-roading, such as jackets, gloves, helmets, boots, etc. If you do not have the budget to buy them you could use your regular street gear as well assuming you have the riding gear already since you are a rider. If you don’t, you should invest in a proper riding jacket, protective riding pants, boots, gloves and a helmet. That’s the bare minimum requirement and it would be a cardinal sin to be riding without the said safety gear. Remember you would only be able to keep enjoying riding if you come out of the last one safe and sound. Safety is paramount and should not be neglected at any cost.

Body Position
Relax. Let all doubts and nervousness flow out. Your body needs to be fluid when you hit the trail and hence you need to be in the right position to move around on the bike when required. When you are riding off-road, it is your body weight that will be used to manoeuvre the motorcycle more than the handlebars. To start off, when you are seated your elbows should be sticking out. Your hands need to be relaxed and not stiff so that they move when the motorcycle goes through rough terrains. If you keep them stiff, you might end up injuring yourself. The same applies to the legs as well. Keep them bent and fluid and do not stiffen even when you are standing or you might end up injuring your knees. While saddling, grip the tank and shift your body weight in the direction you want to turn in. The idea is to keep moving and sliding as the motorcycle moves along and you will have better control of the motorcycle. If you are stiff or tighten your body, you will have more difficulties controlling the motorcycle. Also, you do not ride the pegs to show-off or look cool. It is practically the best way to ride when off-roading as it gives you maximum mobility on the motorcycle. Even if you find riding the pegs odd at the beginning, you will get used to it and see how easy it is to saddle than to ride sitting down on those unforgiving trails. The position of your feet is also important. You need to have your toes pointing the motorcycle. If you point them out, you risk sticking your knees out as well and this might cause you to fall. The ball of your feet should be on the pegs. This will ensure that you do not hit the rear brakes or the gear lever accidentally when you are riding the pegs. Just in case you are wondering, the ball of the foot is the soft, round part right below where the toes end.

The position of your head and where you are looking are really important while off-roading. Avoid looking down at where your front wheel is going. Keep your eyes up and ahead to get a better view of the trail. If you look down and see a pit or a rock you want to avoid, you will inadvertently ride into the pit or onto the rock and might end up losing balance and falling. Always look ahead and you will see that you will steer the motorcycle better, have better body balance and will have better throttle control as well.

Use the throttle with a light twist. Off-roading is not about riding fast but about riding skilfully. For the first few hundred meters, understand the terrain and how the throttle is responding. Use the throttle gently. If you have chosen a motorcycle that gives you good low-end torque, you will get enough power to punch through your obstacles without any effort on the throttle.

Choose Your Trails Wisely
When off-roading it is best not to wander into unknown trails, especially when you are a beginner. Choose a trail that is commonly used for off-roading. The chances of you being surprised by the terrain are lesser when you are riding on familiar terrains. As a novice your best bet would be to start at an academy where they have these specially curated trails for different levels of difficulty. Not only would it be easy for you to ride on these trails, you would also get immediate help if something was to go wrong. That being said, if you decide to venture on a trail that is unknown, never ever try to do it alone. Ensure that you are riding with a group or at least a couple of other riders or friends. If you were to fall or something were to happen, you would need immediate help. If the trail is unknown, there is a possibility that it will be away from the city and you might not get cell reception to call in for timely help. Hence, doing solo off-road stints are a strict no-no.

Have Fun!
Lastly, have fun. Off-roading is all about the sense of adventure and the adrenaline rush that you experience. Remember you will be able to keep on having that exhilarating feeling only when you take care of yourself when you are on your current adventure. Don’t be reckless as an off-road trail is not as forgiving as your day-to-day riding or touring.

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