Making the Leap from On-to-Off-Road

Dec 27, 2012 View Comments by

Making the leap from on-road to off-roadSo you’ve got the bug. You’ve seen the photos in RoadRUNNER. You are officially ready to discover your own long way around (or down). Only one problem, you don’t have any experience riding off-road. Perhaps two problems, you don’t have an off-road or dual sport bike.

If you had the chance to see the now iconic series Long Way Round featuring Charlie Boorman and Ewan McGregor, you saw that they spent a great deal of time dropping those big beautiful BMW Adventure Bikes! I suggest unless you have a movie studio financing you and a road crew riding along side you—choose a less of a leap and more of a crawl approach into the world of off-road riding.

I remember the first time I tried to transition my dad from a street rider to a dirt rider. It was not a pleasant experience for him or the Honda XR400R I arranged for him to ride. Time after time, the bike seemed to beckon him to give up and lie down next to it. After much frustration he gave up and spent the rest of our Alpine Loop experience riding an ATV. But he had the bug . . .

Today I am going to give a high level overview of some considerations when deciding if the dual sport experience is right for you.

Motorcycle Size: If you have been riding a while you may have traded up to larger bikes over the years; I know I did. What works on the street is often way too much hardware for off-road. Before getting sucked into the allure of the big adventure bikes it is good to get some practice on something smaller.

Road bikes are usually lower to the ground making it easier for you to put your feet down. A dual sport bike needs to be up higher for clearing obstacles. I am 6 feet tall but also “inseam” challenged; all torso, so I lower the seats on my bigger dual sport bikes. Finding the right balance is critical to your safety and enjoyment.

I transitioned from a Honda 250X to a KLR before making the leap to the BMW R 1200 ADV over approximately 2 years.

Gearing Considerations: A road bike needs to gets you off the line and then settle into a nice cruising speed in a higher gear. An off-road bike needs good low gearing to pull you through the terrain. Often times you will ride all day between 1-3 gears. So on a dual sport it only makes sense that you are looking for a combination of the two. The coveted 6th gear for street riding is nice but not always necessary. In the end you will need to consider size, weight, and price when determining which bike is right for you.

Making the leap from on-road to off-road3Getting Skills: If you are fortunate enough to have access to an off-road riders class in your area, I highly recommend it. Option 2 is to access a smaller bike and practice, practice, practice.

Most classes allow or even require you to use their bikes. Dropping a bike that is expected to fall is much better than dropping the one you just dipped into your kids college fund to finance!

After my dad had his experience in Colorado he returned to Connecticut.  He rode a KLR but only on the street. He liked the idea of off-road bikes but still needed to build his confidence. He immediately began riding it around his backyard much to the dismay of my stepmom.

He practiced simple things like seat positions; sitting and standing, learning to let the bike be a shock absorber and move freely beneath him. In general, getting a sense of how it feels when you are not on pavement with asphalt gripping tires. He was steadily building trust between himself and his motorcycle.

The following year he was back out west and ready to conquer some beginner to intermediate roads and trails. I took it easy on him with a 2,000 mile Colorado/Utah Adventure. Year after year he has returned taking on bigger and bigger challenges.

There are many great resources for off-road rider training. However, access is often limited to where you live. The best way to find training is to search the Internet for “off-road motorcycle training” (and include your location).

I would love to hear about your off-road experiences. Please take a moment to comment below. Until the next trail beckons, remember, “Don’t go Anywhere … Go Somewhere!”

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About the author

I am an introvert posing as an extrovert. I love travel in all forms, but prefer 2-wheels. I created AdventureHermit as a way to share my adventures and inspire others to find joy through discovery; writing for RoadRUNNER is a dream come true!