Or are its benefits to the soul worth the risk to the body?

When we think of the riders most likely to hurt themselves or others, we typically think of that young sportbike rider, lane splitting in a wheelie, wearing a t-shirt, flip-flops, shorts, and maybe a helmet if their state requires it. While these people certainly exist, they're not the largest demographic of riding fatalities. That dubious honor falls to middle-age riders.

Some of these people are new to riding. Maybe they've always wanted a Harley but couldn't afford one until now, so it becomes a midlife crisis toy. Others rode when they were younger, but stopped riding to have a family, focus on career, and generally be what society considers to adult. When they get back on a bike 15 to 20 years later it feels the same as it did before, except they are out of practice, and their reflexes aren't what they used to be. Their lack of recent experience can be as dangerous as no experience at all.

That's why Cross Training Adventure does what he does: ride dirt instead of the street. He and his friends used to be what he describes as "tame hooligans." They'd behave when other people were around, but when alone they'd push the pace a bit on their favorite back roads. Other hooligans wilder than them started crashing and dying on these roads, and the increased police presence spoiled their fun. So he switched to the dirt instead.

As I have learned myself, although it's much more likely that an inexperienced dirt rider will crash than a road rider, such crashes tend to be relatively minor compared to street crashes. Last year I crashed more times off-road over a few months than during my entire 20-year riding career before that. I had an achy ankle for a couple of days after the worst one. Generally, I didn't get hurt at all thanks to good gear. This year I only fell over twice. I was fine after the first one on dirt. Only the hard slam on pavement sent me on an ambulance ride.

Dirt riding also offers a new set of challenges above and beyond road riding. The traditional racing line goes out of the window as you try to read the surface ahead of you and determine the best line through rough terrain, rocks, mud, or trees fallen across the trail. The techniques of off-road riding are quite different than for the street, and sometimes precisely the opposite. It's a challenge that seriously engages your brain, even at relatively low speeds.

I may be biased, being a middle-aged dirt rider myself, but no, I don't believe that doing it is a death wish. I have the maturity to know when I should slow down, but still enough hooliganism to indulge a wheelie or jump from time to time, far away from roads and traffic. Even though I don't bounce nearly as well as I did 20 years ago, I enjoy the challenge of dirt riding. To me, it's more about precision than speed.