Riding Gravel

Discussion in 'The Perfect Line and Other Riding Myths' started by parannoyed, Apr 29, 2012.

  1. parannoyed

    parannoyed hey look...chickens

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    I hope this is in the right section, if not please move.

    Ok, I'm a new rider, on my permit still. I'm on an XR 650l. I'm a big guy, and wanted a big bike to pull me around. So far it's a good match.

    My biggest "issue" right now is getting the hang of gravel on the dirt roads. I had a few of those stomach-in-throat moments today. I just don't feel stable on it. I'm better if I move up towards the tank and instead of leaning I'm using my feet to push the pegs and that feels better to move around on it.

    Do you guys have any tips for riding the loose stuff?
    #1
  2. PCK_4xCustoms

    PCK_4xCustoms lost

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    Relax.
    Start slow, work up. Get used to the back end moving around a bit.

    Mainly don't tense up, try to flow with the bike. If you're pushing pegs already you're going in the right direction.

    Edit:
    I'm dealing with my father in the same way. He's 61yo this year and 250 with the exact same bike.
    He used to be an avid street rider so he's used to both tires being firmly attached to the riding surface, getting used to the bike playing below him is causing some slowdowns in the DS curve.

    Just spend a day or two on dirt/gravel roads and get the feel for it. Take a couple days off, then come back and run the same sections again.

    I like to engine brake as much as I can coming up to a turn for a more smooth transition from decel to accel out of the turn, avoiding most clutch related sudden traction loss.
    #2
  3. PeterW

    PeterW Long timer

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    Find somewhere you can do a short loop that includes gravel - preferably all gravel

    Go round and round and round - when you get dizzy, turn around and go the other way. Spend most of a couple of days doing that and you'll be a lot more confident.

    Works better than you think, after a couple of loops there aren't any surprises on the road (stay awake for cars though) and you can push a bit harder.

    Also, make sure you have decent dirt tires with lots of tread, worn tires or something that's a mostly road pattern will make life hard.

    Pete
    #3
  4. Bucho

    Bucho DAMNrider

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    Yeah, alot of it is just seat time. You will feel more comfortable over time. Also make sure you get used to using both your brakes. Some people freak out about using the front brake on a low traction surface. You can still use your front brake you just have to be a little more careful.
    #4
  5. dirty_sanchez

    dirty_sanchez Dirty_Sanchez

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    I'm surprised no one has mentioned how important air pressure is while riding gravel.

    When I first got into it awhile back it felt like I was riding on marbles.

    I asked a few guys I ride with and they said to knock the tires down to 20 to 22 lbs.

    This did the trick-along with lots and lots of gravel miles.

    Dirty
    #5
  6. motomark39

    motomark39 I reckon so

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    :pyndSteer with the rear wheel and powerslide that sucka around the corners!
    #6
  7. klaviator

    klaviator Long timer

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    There is no substitute for seat time. As a long time street rider who started riding off road after 20 years of street riding, I felt the same way. Once you get used to it you will find that the bike actually feels better at speed than when just putting along.
    #7
  8. scarysharkface

    scarysharkface Truffle

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    Air-down to 20-22 psi, weight the pegs or even stand up, stay loose and relaxed on the handlebars and let the bike move around beneath you.

    Look where you're going a hundred feet ahead of you and don't look down. Your brain and natural sense of balance will do what needs to be done to get you there.

    I find that speed helps considerably with stability and control, but others will disagree.

    There is no substitute for seat time, which is something I'm not getting nearly enough of these days!

    John
    #8
  9. Grreatdog

    Grreatdog Long timer

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    I certainly don't disagree. Being careful and trying to ride slowly on gravel is what puts you on your face just like riding in sand. Just relax, stay loose and most importantly stay on the gas. Generally the faster you are riding the less the front gets pushed around making the bike easier to handle.

    I brake more with the rear, steer more with the throttle and control the slides with the bars. Standing or sitting doesn't really make any difference to me. Getting your weight way back to accelerate and then back up to brake does. I generally only stand if I am trying to see above the dust.

    Bottomless gravel is one of the most fun things to ride a powerful dual sport on once you get the hang of power and brake sliding the bike around turns. On less powerful dual sports it gets to be more like work. But on a 650 with the power to roost it is all good. Hell on tires though.
    #9
  10. KS Jay

    KS Jay Been here awhile

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    I agree with previous posts especially tire pressure but would add, handlebars- look at replacing stock bars with ones that feel shoulder width (wider). The wider bars help to neutralize front wheel wobble when you hit a patch of loose-thick stuff at 50-60MPH simply lock elbows and power through. Next learn to shift weight on seat, not necessarily leaning- think weight shift, ride with balls of your feet on pegs slightly forward lean. Shift seat weight to side rear tire slips. Shifting weight on seat will counter a slippin' and sliding rear wheel. Watch how Steve McQueen did it in "The Great Escape". Last, get some good riding gear, helps with confidence and provides protection while you gain expierence.

    Thats all I ride here is dirt/gravel roads- thats all there is...:evil
    #10
  11. LittleRedToyota

    LittleRedToyota Yinzer

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    don't expect to feel stable on it. just learn to ignore the instability.

    stay loose.

    stand up (do NOT squeeze the bike with your knees or lock your heals against it...the point is to separate your body mass from the bike's mass so you can, using your legs as shock absorbers, keep your mass stable while the bike moves under you), stay on the throttle (do not chop it), and let the bike dance around under you.

    stay loose.

    at some point, you will have an "aha!" moment when you realize you should not be trying to micromanage the exact line the bike takes through gravel...and that even though it might feel like you are about to go all out of control, if you are just smooth with the throttle and let the bike dance under you, everything will be just fine. all of a sudden, riding gravel (and mud and choppy dirt, etc.) will be much easier--and, at the same time, you will be able to go much faster (which makes it easier).

    stay loose.

    it's all a head game. the faster you go and the more you let the bike dance (and just sort of float/surf on top of it), the easier it is.

    when cornering on gravel (or dirt), do not lean with the bike like you do on the street. lean the bike under you while your body stays upright and your weight is on the outside peg (you are standing, not sitting).

    oh...and one other thing...stay loose. (seriously, do not grip the bars tightly, do not squeeze the bike with your legs, stay loose and surf/ski/float/however you want to think of it over the bike.)
    #11
  12. RPMinihan

    RPMinihan Adventurer

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    I was really glad to find this thread. Would anyone be will to elaborate more on going around curves on gravel?

    Thanks.
    #12
  13. Grreatdog

    Grreatdog Long timer

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    Ok I will bite for derision by and merriment of others. My description is for hauling ass which is pretty much the only way I know how to ride gravel. If you want to go slow all I can stay is stand up and stay loose.

    But for fast riding, like I said before, I don't stand because I want to be able to shift my weight front to back more than standing allows. To setup a turn I slide up to weight the front in order to brake and turn in. I want the front to bite and I want the back loose so I can brake slide it easily to set up the corner. I could care less if the front locks some because I can modulate that and I generally want the back to lock some. So I get up on the front of the seat until it is time to get back on the gas.

    Then once I am to the point where it is time to get back on the gas then it becomes a matter of balancing wheel spin for drive vs. slide. I do that by sliding back on the seat to weight the rear as needed while staying on the gas. I have no idea exactly how to explain that as it is all feel. You just want to weight the back enough to bite but not stop the spin. But then you also want more drive than slide so you don't want too much wheel spin. That wastes motion and often lands you on your ass.

    It takes me a few turns to dial it in on a new road or if I have been off gravel for a while. But that is it in a nutshell for me. I ride gravel like I ride loose loam or deep sand only with less gas. It is just a matter of weighting the end that needs traction as it needs traction and getting on the gas hard enough to drive out but not so hard that I low side. A riding buddy once asked me if I learned to turn in rocks from Don Garlitts after I shattered his headlight with roost. No, but I did learn to ride in sugar sand.

    I make gravel work with how I learned to ride. So take my advice for what you paid for it.
    #13
  14. PeterW

    PeterW Long timer

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    There are exceptions to this, but in general be slowed enough before the corner that you can accelerate around.

    Not hard on the throttle initially, but under power. Once the confidence builds so will the entry speeds - but it's being under power and in control rather than coasting or on the brakes (and having poor control) that makes the big difference.

    Practice on wide corners with a lot of room for mistakes initially. That's one of the reasons I suggested a loop in the first place.

    (One obvious exception is the downhill falling away corner with a loose surface where it's difficult to even stay on the damned track, let alone be elegant about it, those I've usually slid into ungracefully rear first then put on power to scrabble away from the edge - you shouldn't find those on maintained dirt roads ).

    Pete
    #14
  15. LetItRoll

    LetItRoll ForwardAholic

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    Yes, definetly under power on that bike, have many thousands of miles of gravel on that same bike (xr650l) and loved it. You normally don't want heavy decel or braking in the corner, better to have your desired speed correct as you first get to the entrance of the corner then steady throttle or light accel through the corner and lean/turn the bike under yourself while keeping your body more upright (you can lean a little just not as much as street) stay relaxed not rigid and pick a speed your comfortable with. That bike is much more stable in corners with the throttle even cracked just slightly off idle than it is with the throttle chopped off you just have to learn how to set up for that so that the light accel through the corner does not get you above a speed you are capable of.
    #15
  16. singletrackrider

    singletrackrider Been here awhile

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    First set your bike up.
    Like somebody else said,stand as much as you can stay on the throttle and lean back.If you have to sit down grip the tank with your knees and in a corner put your weight on the out side peg.
    #16
  17. Harvey Krumpet

    Harvey Krumpet Long timer

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    I concur with most of what has been stated so far, I asked the same question recently too. My normal steed is a portly low slung TDM, the other a wee 2t. The 2t is easy to ride because it is so light & has narrow tires which bite well under braking giving confidence & when you crack the throttle open out of a corner it is easy to balance & point in the right direction. On the other hand, the TDM is a handful if you get lurid, all that weight swings like a pendulum so you gas it & suck up the fear or try to minimise wheel spin.
    I have been trying to teach my gf gravel skills over the last few weeks & feel that the single most important thing to gaining confidence is correct / appropriate speed into a corner. If you cannot instinctively get on the throttle to steer, your focus shifts to the brakes, the front wheel loading up, you go tense & your arse snaps shut like a bear trap. So up hill turns are less mentally challenging than downhills. Brake with the bike upright, back & front. Get a "feel" for your grip. When you see your apex, ride through it with a positive throttle. Same as on the road, brake, turn, accelerate. Use cambers to your advantage. When your on the throttle & the back starts to move remember you can twist it both ways. I often blip the TDM through a deep gravel corner, a series of small, non scary slides to point it in the right direction.
    Second big thing is being loose & supporting your weight on the footrests to make it easier to keep your centre of gravity central over the bike as it moves, as mentioned loading the outside footrest & shifting your weight to the outside of the turn helps keep the bike stable as you accelerate even if it does start to slide. Loose on the bars too, the bike will wander, particularly off throttle but that's ok, a quick blip will regain composure. The bike is heavy, you cannot keep it totally planted on the loose so go with the flow, keep your head up & ride it where you want to go, not just ahead of the front wheel.
    Stand up & move your weight right forward if you want to let the bike slide, a bit of throttle & a bit of a slide is a good thing to change direction. Move your weight back when gassing it on straight bits, let the front float over the top & shift your body weight to steer.
    Oh, practice, practice, practice.

    Kenny Roberts said the best way to learn how to slide a bike is by putting a road tire on the back of a motocrosser.:rofl
    #17
  18. thechickencow

    thechickencow Been here awhile

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    Nobody asked about tires - I'm assuming you are running some sort of knobby or off-road oriented tire. If not, I'd recommend starting on those. If you have tires that are more street oriented dual sport tires it's much more difficult to feel the grip because there is much less of it to go around.
    #18
  19. SoSlow

    SoSlow Having fun

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    I'm having a hard time getting my "gravel chops" back since I fell last year, this is a lot of good info, thanks!

    :lurk
    #19
  20. Harvey Krumpet

    Harvey Krumpet Long timer

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    I was going to mention tires in my post but it was getting epic...

    I started on the TDM with sport touring BT 021's. Not the first choice for gravel I know. TBH, they were fine, never really had a scare although wet clay focuses the mind. When the time came for new rubber I went the dual sport route & the biggest benefit from those is a bigger safety margin on the brakes & more predictable hook up out of a corner.

    I ride the DT on dual sports & full knobbys. The skinny dual sports are great, heaps of grip & predictable, the knobbies offer a bit more grip again & are a bit less predictable because I ride the bike harder & end up leaving big esses out of corners with the bars flapping & me climbing over the bike trying to find grip with the throttle wide open.
    IIR the op is on an XR 650? Spectacular with full knobbies & potentially a real scenery addition for a n00b when it hooks up.

    I think less is more when it comes to grip for someone trying to learn skills & build confidence, up to a point of course. It keeps the speed down & allows more reaction time, more time to test the advice in this thread.
    My girlfriend is using the dual sports on the DT for tar seal & gravel, safe enough & plenty predictable as her confidence grows & she starts to waggle her butt at me. :rofl
    #20