Best Way to Not Pick Your Bike Off the Ground

Jan 03, 2013 View Comments by

Best way to not pick your bike off the groundSo you are ready to take your street riding off-road. You have purchased a dual sport motorcycle, or convinced a foolish or wealthy friend to lend you one. Only one problem, you’ve never ridden off-road before . . .

Sometimes one of the first challenges for those just starting out is just keeping the bike upright. Just like with street riding you need to be aware of your surroundings, perhaps even more so. On the trail you have other riders, 4x4s, stumps, rocks, animals, and more. Preparation and practice can make all the difference between a great trail ride and an afternoon longing for pavement.

Here are a few tips for the types of challenges you can expect on your off-road adventures!

1) Derrière in the air!
Unlike street riding where you spend most of the time in the saddle, with off-road riding you will be standing up a lot more. Feet planted on the pegs with separation between your pelvis and the seat allows the bike to act as a shock absorber and move left and right as it needs to. If you are sitting your weight will emphasize anything you hit and pull you down in that direction.

2) Braking
A basic but necessary technique. Many modern bikes have ABS. If your bike is equipped with this valuable safety feature, be sure to turn it off when heading off road. On the road we are taught to pump the brakes to avoid locking up and skidding. With ABS, you can just squeeze and let it modulate the brakes for you. However, off-road you do not want the pumping action that ABS provides. You want to be able to lock your rear brake and dig into the terrain. Getting used to the sensation of stopping on dirt at different speeds is time well spent and will increase your riding enjoyment. 

Best way to not pick your bike off the ground3) Turning
On the road you need to be aware of vehicles around you. Look where you want to go, lean into your turn, feel the tires grip, and upright yourself at the end. Easy right? Well, just as learning to ride on the street takes practice so does learning to ride off-road.

One of the biggest sensational differences with off-road riding is getting used to your tires sliding. It can be disconcerting at first, but eventually it becomes a rush that you look for. But before you can “brake” the back wheel loose and possibly “break” yourself, you need to practice.

Just like with street riding, you look where you want to the bike to go. Then lean into the inside peg (towards your turn); use your outside peg for counter balance. Again, like street riding, do not alter speed or brake too abruptly.

4) Picking a line . . . overcoming obstacles
Picking a line can be intimidating at first. It simply means selecting the line of least resistance. Knowing where to guide the bike can be the difference between a close encounter with the ground and successfully getting to the top of a mountain pass. Unlike nicely paved roads, trails are often riddled with challenging terrain. When you cannot navigate between obstacles it is best to follow these simple suggestions.

  • Remember derrière in the air! Stand on the pegs with your knees and elbows bent.
  • Approach obstacles at a good angle.
  • Find a consistent speed to maintain momentum. Faster is not necessarily better, but you need momentum.
  • Focus your weight on the pegs not the handlebars.
  • Stay as relaxed as possible. This allows the bike to move around beneath you as you work your way through or over terrain.

Best way to not pick your bike off the ground35) Hills
First and foremost know your limits and the limits of your bike before traversing a hill. I still remember taking a showroom bike off a trailer and hitting a hill beyond my abilities at the time. I ended up thrashing most of the protection on the bike and folding the handlebars in half before anyone in our group had even geared up. Intelligence should trump excitement whenever possible. The following tips will help when approaching a hill.

  • Be sure to be in a lower gear as you approach. Momentum, again, is your friend. As the grade increases you will want as much torque as possible to get you and your bike up.
  • Keep you feet planted firmly and your weight forward. For smaller hills you can hug the gas tank with your pelvis and legs. For bigger hills it is best to get off the seat and lean forward. This is scary at first but makes all the difference. Had I gotten up over my handlebars I may have avoided crashing back down the hill in my example above.

6) Sand
Sand is not just found on beaches. There can be a surprising amount of it out on the trail. The biggest thing to remember with sand is to stay relaxed. As you speed up you will rise above the sand. Let the bike waiver, this is natural. If you need to slow down simply let off the throttle. The bike will sink down and gradually slow. Avoid hard braking.

7) Water Crossings
Water crossings use a combination of all the techniques discussed above, with the added challenge of often not being able to see what is under your tires. It is extremely important to study a crossing before riding over it. Know the depth and look for obstacles. Using these techniques can be the difference between owning a nice motorcycle or an inoperable submarine! Most importantly, know when to turn around.

In the end you must respect your own limits. Even for experienced road riders, riding off-road can be intimidating. The American film producer, Samuel Goldywn, once said, “Don’t pay attention to the critics. Don’t even ignore them.” The same goes for off-road riding. At first it may not look pretty, but practicing the techniques above will give you the confidence to tackle your own adventures. Keep at it and before you know it you will be riding like an off-road pro!

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!