Time and weather have finally stopped conspiring to prevent me from seeing what my new-to-me Kawasaki KLR 650 can do. Perhaps it's for the best that, aside from my first faceplant incident, I wasn't able to dive right in and get myself into trouble. I've been able to do some reading and YouTube watching about how to ride off-road, as well as gear myself up for the occasion.
While I came out of my faceplant without injury, the fall did demonstrate why I needed to up my gear game a bit. I banged my knees slightly, and the bike came to rest on top of my foot, requiring me to extract it from under the bike. Neither of these issues were serious, but they could've been. I have no desire to become the next Ricky Carmichael, but even many adventure riders recommend wearing true motocross boots. I remember watching YouTuber Shadetree Surgeon suffer a broken ankle from what looked like a minor dirt bike crash when his old boots failed. Being off my feet for two weeks from a mere avulsion fracture a few years ago was bad enough for me (and for everyone who had to deal with me), so I resolved to protect my feet, ankles, and lower legs.
I took eveRide's advice and picked up a pair of O'Neal Rider Boots from Revzilla. I was lucky enough to snag a single open-box pair in my size for $95, 20 percent off regular price. My wife happened to find a pair of armored riding pants by a brand I'd never heard of, HWK, in my size for $50. Now my lower body was protected. My Icon Contra 2 jacket would protect my upper body while keeping me cool at lower off-road speeds, and my existing gloves and street helmet would work.
The bike is already set up, but I made a few minor additions. I transplanted my Cyclops LED headlight bulb from my Honda PC800 to the KLR since its stock headlight isn't too bright. I also added a Ram Mount ball to the handlebars for my X-Grip phone mount, as well as a Battery Tender USB jack to plug into existing wiring and keep my phone charged. I won't be making phone calls on the trail unless it's an emergency, but navigation is useful in unfamiliar territory, and many of the places I intend to explore are actually on the map.
New Hampshire has six classes of roads, ranging from Class 1, which is a perfectly manicured major highway, to Class 6, which is completely unmaintained. Class 6 roads are basically dirt trails in various conditions of (dis)repair, yet they are technically still public roads. That means I can explore them on my road-legal dual-sport motorcycle without the additional off-highway recreational vehicle registration I'd need to ride true off-road trails in this state. It also means that these trails actually appear as roads on the maps on my phone. I have an excellent sense of direction, but I get extra peace of mind from knowing that at any time I can click the Home button, and the app will find me a way out of whatever unknown forest I happen to be in.
So far, so good. I haven't even dropped the bike again, though I'm not ashamed to admit I've come close a few times when the bike moved around on me a bit in loose sand. Rather than keep a death grip on the controls, though, I've learned to let it pretty much do what it wants to do and merely suggest a direction when I think it's going too far one way. I'm also getting better at shifting my weight to where it needs to be for the best traction in the dirt, which is sometimes completely backward from the way I've learned to do it on the pavement. My main downfall is that I'm not yet comfortable standing on the bike for very long. I've done it enough to feel how much more stable the bike is with my weight centered down low, but I still need more practice at manipulating the controls in that position, especially with my big bulky motocross boots. They haven't quite broken in yet, so shifting and braking are still rather difficult for me.
All this just takes experience, which I don't have yet, but I'm working on. Most importantly, I'm having fun. I've found a new way to enjoy motorcycling in conditions that I've never ridden before, and all without going more than 10 miles from home. I'm looking forward to more practice, more experience, and exploring more new places.