How to teach myself dirt!?

Discussion in 'The Perfect Line and Other Riding Myths' started by gzr, Nov 4, 2012.

  1. gzr

    gzr Adventurer

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    So... where to begin... I'm a HUGE n00b with dirt and I want to learn how to handle my bike on unpaved ground. Where I live we have no dirt riding schools (and since I'm on a small island traveling to go to a riding school would be ridiculously expensive). I'm willing to experiment a bit and learn alone - what kind of tips can you guys/gals give me that can help me learn and practice?

    I've been riding on the street for about 9 years on a Honda Cub, a CG125 clone and a GPZ500S so I feel comfortable (but definitely NOT an expert rider) on the street. My last bike was the 125, and I've recently replaced that with a Suzuki Freewind (DR650 with shorter suspension and a fairing).

    Yesterday I was the first time (yeah, first time ever) I tried going on some dirt - basically a farm road with gravel, packed dirt and loose pebbles, and I managed OK at a slow speed. The only difficulty was when the bike followed some deep ruts and didn't want to go straight, but I stayed a bit "loose", stood on the pegs and got through. What else could I do in that situation? How do you guys ride in these kinds of roads?

    I also felt daring and did two laps in an MX track that somebody bulldozed in an abandoned field. :evil However that was a fiasco.... and I learnt that my bike is NOT an MX bike and I seriously lack skills. My observations and questions are below. I was really lucky that I did not drop the bike even once, even though I cannot put both feet down flat! (I can just tiptoe both)
    >The rear wheel broke traction a couple of times when I used too much throttle, and that's something I've never experienced on the street. How can I get used to it? Did you folks do exercises or something to get used to it?
    >Water puddle + clay = zero traction....... :puke1 I nearly got stuck in the only puddle on the track. Unless I get knobbly tyres, how the hell can I get through mud?
    >I have no effing idea how to negotiate those tight corners that are banked about 45 degrees. I basically chickened out and waddled along in first, slipping the clutch and putting my foot down on the high side of the banking. Any tips on how to handle these? Are they even possible on a bike that weights two and a half times as much as me?
    >Steep ramps were not so difficult as long as there was a bit of a run-up. Scared myself sh**less when I got a foot of air at the top....

    I hope this was not too long winded, and I'm willing to hear how you folks handle these situations. Maybe I can practice dirt again soon! :)
    #1
  2. Kommando

    Kommando Long timer

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    GET GOOD ARMORED GEAR...Full-face helmet, chest/back protector, boots, knee/elbow armor, and gloves. That's not to say that it necessarily has to be expensive. You can buy used gear even, but I recommend new helmets. For example, I wear a $100 full-face helmet. It fits me well, has a DOT and SNELL rating, and has enough ventilation that I'm not sucking for wind. I also have inexpensive Bilt knee/shin and elbow/forearm armor. It protects better than the armor that came with my pants and jacket, but I got both sets for about $20 total new. My boots are $90 new Fly Racing Maverik ATVs. They're WAY more protective than the steel-toed hiking or work boots I wear for commuting, and my knee/shin armor tucks into them perfectly. You might find an even better deal on boots if you shop around. The ATV-height boot is about as low of a boot as I would recommend. My gloves all have armored knuckles, and I found my $50 Alpinestars Bionic chest/back protector greatly reduced on sale because it was last year's model. As hard as I have slammed my knuckles, shins, knees, elbows, chest, and back into things, the armor has more than paid for itself in avoiding any and all hospital bills.

    If you can't attend a class, or ride with experienced buddies, you could try to find books or DVDs. Then practice the drills.

    Knobby tires can help a lot. So can standing, as you found out. You can also try airing down your tires a bit. I also believe the Freewind has a smaller-diameter front rim and tire than the DR. A skinny 21" rim and tire tends to be easier to ride in soft stuff. It acts almost like a pizza cutter or an ice-skate. You may have to swap on a high fender to use a 21" rim.

    A lot of DR riders also gear their bike down when riding a lot of dirt. A 15/42 sprocket set is stock in the US, while 15/41 is common in many other countries. 14/42 is a common choice for dirt, but the bike is still slab-capable. If you're not riding any slab, you could use a 14T front and go bigger than the 42T rear. 1 tooth difference in front is about equal to 3 teeth difference in the rear...14/42 = 15/45 = 16/48. I currently run 16/46, which is similar to 15/43 or 14/40. 14/42 and proper carb tuning lets the bike unweight the front end much easier. :evil So does re-springing and re-valving the suspension for riders heavier than anorexic Japanese teenagers.

    More often than not, the throttle is your friend. There are a lot of situations where throttling is counter-intuitive, but it works. Stabbing the front brake is almost never the best solution, and I tend to use the rear more heavily when traction is questionable. I also often use it to stabilize the bike in slow maneuvers.
    #2
  3. Mtl_Biker

    Mtl_Biker Been here awhile

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    Can you folks recommend any good books or DVDs on off-road riding techniques?

    All my experience is on paved roads but I'm very much looking forward to riding gravel and dirt roads with my new F800GS when it arrives. I'm going to try to take a course but while waiting for my bike I'd like to learn all I can and then with the bike to practice it.
    #3
  4. acesandeights

    acesandeights Asperger

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    Sometimes going too slow is a detriment. I know it seems counter-intuitive, but when you're on gravel go slightly faster. If you're nervous about the rear sliding out try it on a flat gravel/dirt road. From a start give it a little too much throttle so you feel the rear move out a little, turn your front tire slightly so the rear doesn't want to follow in a straight line. You can do that from a start a little just so you have the feeling of the front and rear doing different things at the same time, then "blip" the throttle around slow corners a little to see if you can get it to spin just slightly. Keep doing those things, knowing you're going to drop the bike at some point.
    #4
  5. bug67

    bug67 Hazard Avoidance

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    #5
  6. dreamtour

    dreamtour Adventurer

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    There are some riding courses you can take. Check this place (I'm not affiliate) but I have taken a course in the past. http://www.cmts.org/. You can ride their bikes for a day and the next day your own bike. Great trainers and lots of fun.
    #6
  7. crofrog

    crofrog Long timer

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    Do it more, do some donuts.

    More speed going in and lots of throttle, but if it's really muddy only a knob will do.

    More speed and just let the berm catch ya.

    Keep the throttle on all the way up and out of the jump, you jump with the throttle closed your going to have a bad time.


    Go buy a copy of Shane Watt's Dirtwise.
    #7
  8. bobnoxious67

    bobnoxious67 Baby steps...

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    Some things I've noted over the last 5.5 years of learning to ride in the dirt:

    -going a bit faster is almost always better than going a bit slower (provided you have the suspension to do so)

    -the weight needs to be on the side of the direction you want to go...want to go right, then make sure you are weighting the right peg. I have noted so many crashes (myself and others) that are due to lack of commitment to this...trail goes right, but you climb up to the left and out of the trail because you weight the high side peg rather than the low side.

    -the bike goes where the eyes go...fixate on an obstacle that you don't want to hit, you'll hit it every time. Identify the stuff you want to avoid by identifying the path you want to take

    -stand up more...it gives you more leverage on the bike, and it gives you more "suspension"

    -stand up, lean back, and grab another gear and more throttle in the sand

    -when it feels like the bike is going down, throttle usually helps stand it back up...moving bikes like to stay upright better than stationary ones

    -ride...ride...ride. The best money spent on your bike is in gas:deal
    #8
  9. crofrog

    crofrog Long timer

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    You need to counter lean or weight the outside peg and move your ass so the crack is on the outside corner of the seat in flat turns, in berms or ruts you stay more inline with the bike.
    #9
  10. corndog67

    corndog67 Banned

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    Yeah, you weight the outside peg, not the inside one. I think Bobnoxious is stating the opposite.

    Find some guys that will ride with you. I grew up with a bunch of flattrack racers, pro's and amatuers. Talk about a learning curve. Someone would probably help you, check the local dirtbike shops, but if you are going extremely slow, they might tire of waiting. Get out and practice, practice some more, and practice.
    #10
  11. eatpasta

    eatpasta Lawnmower Target

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    get a small dirtbike, A LOT of armored gear and surround yourself with competent dirt riders that will go riding with you and listen to everything they say and study everything they do. You will learn a lot fast!
    #11
  12. KX50002

    KX50002 NooB, my ass

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    don't sit down, in almost all dirt situations you're better off standing up.
    keep your weight towards the rear except those berms you're seeing, slide forward on the seat (this is where you'll want to be sitting down) stick out your inside foot, weight the outside peg (squeezing the tank with that knee) get the back tire loose and stay on the gas, once the bike is pointed in the right direction you want to get weight back on the rear the resulting increae in traction will get you moving forwards again.

    The best thing you can do is practice, you nee some T.I.T.S. Time In The Saddle!!!

    Know that you are GOING to drop it, it's OK, it's part of dirt riding.

    Try to stay loose, tension on the dirt is bad just as it is on the street.

    Most of all have fun, learn to ENJOY the feeling of the back end getting loose ( I enjoy it on the street with the Bandit!)

    I grew up riding in the dirt, if there were more good dirty riding spots around here I could live without riding on the street at all.
    #12
  13. el queso

    el queso toda su base

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    It sounds like you're doing pretty good to me. Check out some of Shane Watts Dirtwise videos; they're a great learning tool.

    <iframe width="560" height="315" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/orFoicnjY9E" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>

    <iframe width="560" height="315" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/W2MpfErkSto" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>
    #13
  14. NJ-Brett

    NJ-Brett Brett

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    Its bad news to learn to dirt ride on a bike you can not flat foot easy.
    Get some good dirt tires and just ride dirt a lot.
    I do not think you can learn much from books, I think you have to feel it.

    Falling down a lot helps also...
    #14
  15. bobnoxious67

    bobnoxious67 Baby steps...

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    I was talking about effects when standing...if the trail sweeps right with it sloped high left/low right, weighting the left peg while standing will result in climbing out of the trail to the left.

    I don't think he needs go fast tips yet...figured the cornering techniques could be the next lesson:wink:
    #15
  16. bobnoxious67

    bobnoxious67 Baby steps...

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    FIFY.

    FYI, not all of us learned to ride in the dirt on a bike we could flat foot...we turned out fine :deal

    FWIW, I think learning on a short bike is a bad way to go...what the hell will you do once you get on a real bike, but "learned" to ride with your feet flat footed on the ground?:huh
    #16
  17. Mtl_Biker

    Mtl_Biker Been here awhile

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  18. Mtl_Biker

    Mtl_Biker Been here awhile

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    Thanks for the link. Unless I find something better, I'm going to sign up for the first scheduled class at the start of next season. But it looks like they only offer one-day courses... when you did it, were there two-day courses?

    They say you can ride one of their bikes in the morning and then your own in the afternoon.

    Long boring highway ride to get there though.


    #18
  19. gzr

    gzr Adventurer

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    Thanks for all the replies guys.

    I'll try experimenting a bit with faster speeds, a little more throttle, more standing up and letting the rear loose traction. From then onwards we'll see how it goes. I'll probably watch those DVDs to get at much information as possible.

    What confused me is the suggestions of weighting the INSIDE peg (suggested by bobnoxiuous 67). On the street I always weight the outside peg, and let my outside knee hook/rest against the seat/tank profile (also suggested by crofrog). Which is the right way?

    Just to make things clear, my intention here is not to ride only off-road - I will still do about 99% of my miles on pavement, so at this point I'm not changing wheels or getting knobbies, but I'll do my best to improve my technique. Regarding gear, is "hard" armor really essential? I wear Cordura pants and jacket with rubber armor at knees, elbows, shoulders and back, but these are basically street gear. I'm not pushing my limits much yet, and I hope not to crash too hard anytime soon.
    #19
  20. bobnoxious67

    bobnoxious67 Baby steps...

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    I don't know...maybe I'm dislexic.

    I rode for 4 hours yesterday in the dirt, and actually thought about this while riding...so I experimented and paid attention. When standing and rolling down the trail, if I pull my weight off the right peg/weight the left peg, my bike leans left...and therefore the bike wants to go left.

    Cornering while seated appears and feels like a very different formula and chemistry.

    I am completely self taught, so what do I know...:lol3
    #20