Riding Dirty

Mar 22, 2012 View Comments by

This blog series is devoted to those interested in looking at the sport of motorcycling from a different perspective. I’ve been riding now for well over three decades, and I’ve always been attracted to bikes and roads somewhat outside of mainstream appeal.  If the crowd is running one way, I head the other to see what they missed in the stampede. And in the process, I’ve had a pretty good time.

After logging thousands of miles on backroads, I thought I’d earned my “dirt road doctorate”, but a recent ride taught me that I wasn’t quite there yet. I’d completed the coursework, but hadn’t taken the final exam yet. One of my Adventure Rider friends invited me on a ride in late January. Global warming concerns aside, our winter here in Ohio has been very mild, and I’ve been able to ride frequently.

Four of us met mid-morning in Amish country and headed southeast towards Coshocton, skipping around on whatever dirt road looked appealing at the time.

Most of the gravel was long gone, having been absorbed by the quagmire it was spread onto. Most of these roads get a fresh dose of gravel in the spring or summer, and those seasons were still several months away.

Dirt roads are usually no problem; ride the tire tracks, which are relatively free of gravel, and watch your speed in the corners. Done deal. Gravel is a bit trickier, but still not usually a problem unless it’s especially deep, loose, and large. Just keep a loose grip on the bars, let the bike wander a bit (it will do this naturally), and don’t make any fast moves, especially when braking. But a recently thawed two-inch thick layer of clay slime on top of a still frozen base is in another league altogether.

I was riding my KLR 650, sporting 80/20 street biased tires, which might as well have been slicks on this surface. I tapped every bit of my dirt riding experience that day trying to keep the bike vertical. Although I never went down, there were a few very close calls when the front and rear ends of the bike decided to take somewhat different paths through the morass. It was kind of like trying to walk a straight line on a floor covered with marbles.

My honorary doctorate was finally earned when I followed the knobby-clad 250’s through a particularly gnarly section of road crisscrossed with deep truck ruts and puddles. The wrestling match that it took to get the bike through that mess was enough to put a smile on my chiropractor’s face, but I made it. Two bucks worth of quarters later at a spray-off car wash, the bike was no worse for wear. Not a bad way to ring in the new riding season, and definitely a ride to remember.



Tags: , Categories: Outside the Lines