Want to take your bike off the pavement for the first time, but aren’t sure how? You got this: here’s how to start riding off road if you’re just beginning.
Ideally, finding a good, professional off road riding coach or school would be your best bet. But if there simply isn’t anything available in your area, or you can’t afford it just now, this short intro about off road basics might help!
First things first: when you’re riding your motorcycle on tarmac, your tires have an excellent grip with the road surface, allowing you to roll smoothly. On dirt however, this grip isn’t as strong because the surface is somewhat loose (it will be better on graded dirt and much worse on soft sand.).This is why your bike moves under you when you’re riding off road. But guess what: it’s totally OK. Let your bike move, and don’t try to steady it with your hands or body. As long as you have good balance and momentum, you don’t need to worry about the bike moving a little.
Relaxing and letting the bike do its thing isn’t easy at first as you’re not used to it, but just roll with it: you will not fall off as long as you’re moving!
So how do you achieve the right momentum and balance, riding off road? Here are some simple tips you can try:
- Stand up on the pegs. Standing moves your main contact point with the bike from your butt to your feet. This allows the bike to move freely under you and your feet allow much more refined input into steering. In addition, standing up allows the motorcycle to move independently of you and allows you to use your body mass to leverage the motorcycle’s movement and centre of balance.
- More options. When you’re sitting down, you have your steering, brakes, and gears for control. Standing up, you have more tools: your weight, your body position, your balance and one more way to steer – your knees. Keeping your knees together at the tank, or the narrowest part of the seat where it meets the tank allows you to push the motorcycle right or left using just your body weight and balance, without turning the handlebars. Here’s a neat video explaining how important your weight and body position is when riding off road:
- Relax. Tension and stress are your worst enemies when riding motorcycles off road. Your bike will move under you – but instead of fighting it and gripping your handlebars with all your might, you need to let it move, get used to it, and go with it. Stand up on the pegs and ride holding the handlebars as if you were holding two baby birds in your hands. Feel the bike’s movement, accept it, and only correct the momentum and the direction as needed.
- Look up! You’ll go where you look, so stop staring at your front tire or that scary ditch you don’t want to end up in. Looking up straight ahead helps you plan your line, balance better, and point your motorcycle to where you want to go.
Another thing to consider when you start riding off road is getting to know your bike better. Again, your motorcycle will behave differently on loose surface as opposed to tarmac, so you really need to know all the fine nuances of your bike. Here are some simple points to consider:
- What is your bike’s moving point? That is, where is that magic spot in the clutch between stalling and moving forward? Just sit on your bike and play with the clutch for a while. Feel it; feel how your bike responds. Clutch control is a very important tool riding off road!
- Where is your stopping point? What’s your stopping distance? How sensitive are your brakes? Ride slowly in first gear and test your brakes out on a graded dirt road.
- How good is your balance? Ride in first gear, standing up on the pegs. Stand up straight, in a relaxed, comfortable position. How do you feel? If you can’t stand up comfortably, consider adjusting your foot pegs, handlebars, and/or seat. We’re all different, and you may need to set up your bike so it suits you better. Once you find a comfortable position, try lifting your foot off one peg, even if by half an inch. Now lift the other foot off. How do you feel? If you can balance well, next task is to try shifting gears while standing up.
Finally, experiment with your body position, especially going down or up a hill. Your neutral standing position is meant for level roads; but when you need to ride up or down, it’s best to adjust the body position and weight accordingly.
When you’re riding up a hill, all the weight is concentrated on your rear wheel. To compensate for that, help your bike get up the hill easier and maintain your balance, shift forward:
Equally, when going down, all the weight is now on the front wheel, so to compensate and steady the bike, shift backward:
Try this out on a level road first: your bike will go a little faster if your body position is forward, and a little slower if it’s back. Now, test it on small hills!
What are your top tips to start riding off road? Let me know in the comments below!