Are you an experienced street rider who’s curious about going off-road, but is feeling a little nervous about the best way to start? Do you intuitively know that it’s a different style of riding, but you want to make sure you get it mostly right so you can have fun and maybe also improve your skills at the same time? If so, then you’ll want to see this video from MotoTrek, which offers some great tips to help you get started.
In this video, experienced off-road instructor Dusty Wessels gives a handful of basic but incredibly useful tips to get you comfortable and on your way to adventures you never could have dreamed of on paved roads. Since there are a lot of unpaved roads in the world to explore, mastering skills like these means you’ll have a lot more places for you and your bike to play, should you choose to expand your skills in this area.
The first thing to be aware of is that having a good set of dual sport tires can make a huge difference. If you’re only going to be riding off-road, of course, you can venture into more hardcore rubber intended for off-road use. However, since most adventure riders will also do some street riding, your best bet when starting out may be to stick to something that can do both. Off-road characteristics are important, though, because modern tire technology makes a huge difference on any surface those tires have been designed to handle. Read some reviews and use the current state of tire tech to your advantage.
The next thing to be aware of is body positioning. A thing you probably have heard in passing more than once is that standing up on the pegs gives you better control off-road. If you haven’t experienced the sensations for yourself yet, I can confirm that it’s true. In basic street rider courses like the one offered by the Motorcycle Safety Foundation, street riders are taught to stand up when going over obstacles, such as a two-by-four or railroad tracks. That’s partly so you can blip the throttle to help redistribute your bike’s weight for optimal obstacle crossing.
Off-road, standing up on the pegs greatly improves your ability to control your bike—in addition to moving your body weight lower down on the machine, thus lowering the center of gravity. That might feel a little counterintuitive, because you’re standing up—but since you’re not sitting, all of your body weight is now being held up by your feet on those pegs, instead of by your butt in the seat. Standing up also allows you to see and plan more clearly for what’s in your path.
Additionally, standing up and bending your knees slightly into the tank can encourage you to do something else extremely important in off-road riding: Loosen your grip on the handlebars so you can flow with the bike. Traction (and lack thereof) off-road is a much different sensation than when you’re riding on tarmac, so if your primary experience is how things work on paved roads, your first impulse may be to use a death grip on the handlebars. (Trust me, I’ve been there, and that was my own biggest problem in the first dirt bike class I ever took.)
Having a loose grip allows the bike and the tires to do what they were designed to do. It also allows you to use fine, gentle inputs from your hands to steer the bike where you want to go. When riding off-road, think about smooth and gradual motion—smooth application of the brakes (with a rear brake bias, not the front brake bias you’re probably used to on the street), smooth throttle inputs, smooth turns, and so on. Gradual inputs make a world of difference.
This video is a great primer to help you get started and feel encouraged to get out and try building your off-road skills for yourself. However, as I’ve recently experienced first-hand, doing all the YouTube and written homework in the world is no substitute for getting out and gaining experience in (or over) the saddle. Off-road skills, like most motorcycle skills, are things you learn with your whole body—not just your brain. Helpful videos like these can be one part of the puzzle, but endlessly studying theory is nothing without practice.
One thing I'd add that isn't in this video is that if you're a total beginner to off-road riding and you're worried about dumping your big, expensive adventure bike because you aren't confident in your skills yet, try getting comfortable on a dirt bike first. Riding (and sometimes falling) on terrain like this is what dirt bikes are made for.
Obstacles to improving your riding skills aren't just physical; sometimes, they're also mental. If you're worried about expensive bike damage, ride a smaller bike that's made to be dropped until you're more confident. If you're worried about twisting (or breaking) your ankle, get yourself some boots with strong ankle support. You'll find that your skills improve much more quickly when you're less stressed about peripheral concerns.