There is little to beat the thrills and spills of off-road motorbiking. It is a chance to pitch your riding skills against the terrain and enjoy biking away from the ever more congested roads. Riding a motorbike off-road requires you to develop new skills and techniques which, when mastered, will keep you on your bike (most of the time) and allow you to take on the most exciting and challenging courses and routes on offer.
Below, we take a look at a few things to consider when going off road.
Standing and Sitting
One of the first things that you will need to get used to when riding off-road is the need to stand as well as sit. The reason for standing is that it will give you better control, in part by lowering the centre of gravity by putting the majority of your weight on your foot pegs rather than the seat, and by allowing the bike to move more freely beneath you. Standing also allows your legs to behave as shock absorbers when going over rough terrain.
When you adopt the standing position, you should have your knees very slightly bent and not locked, your back straight and you should tilt at the hips. Your elbows need to be out and your arms neither straight nor locked while your head needs to be kept in line with the bars. You maintain stability by pinching the tank with your lower legs and using your leg muscles rather than your hands to secure yourself on the bike.
While it is important to learn how to stand on your bike, off-road motorcycling also requires you to sit down. You will need to sit down when negotiating corners or switchbacks in order that you don’t put your foot down. Putting your foot down means a loss of momentum, which could result in you spinning out.
It is important that you can react quickly when riding off-road. When it comes to controlling your clutch, you should use your middle and index finger so you can react quickly and smoothly to the changing situations. Rather than having to move your hand from the handlebar to the clutch, which takes too long, you can easily take hold of the clutch without having to continually adjust your grip. You will find that this grip is essential when you are standing on the foot pegs and it will give you a greater sense of control and confidence.
You can tweak the adjuster on the clutch lever quickly and easily in order to get it into a position that suits you. If your clutch is stiff and isn’t hydraulic, it’s worth getting a cable oiler and oiling the cable, though you should see the recommendations of the manufacturer of the cable before doing this. If this doesn’t work, you should consider purchasing a new cable.
When you brake in a straight line, the weight is forced to the front of the bike. However, if you brake on a corner the weight is not only forced to the front, but also to the outside, increasing the potential for the tyres to lose traction and the bike to go into a slide or become highly unstable. Braking on corners should therefore be avoided.
As an off-road biker you are going to need to develop your braking techniques to keep yourself and the bike upright, because braking while riding off-road is completely different from stopping on a tarmacked surface.
When riding on roads, you primarily use your front brake, but off-road terrain offers entirely different traction and you will need to apply most of your effort towards the rear brake. On muddy terrain, you’ll rely heavily on the rear brake. You can use your front brake when there is traction and you should use both your front and rear brakes when descending a hill. The rule is, apply the front brake carefully, or you’ll soon be picking yourself and your bike out of the mud.
Taking bends is a technique that needs to be quickly mastered. If you want to take a right turn, for example, you need to push down on the left peg, and shift your weight to the left as this provides a counterweight to the shift of centre of gravity towards the inside of the turning radius. By applying increased weight to the outside peg, it balances things out and improves the grip, keeping the rider perpendicular to the ground.
Before an ascent you need to plan your speed, gear and momentum. You should aim to hit your ascending speed before you start the climb and use your momentum rather than engine drive to power your ascent. You should only use a little throttle to maintain momentum if you start to slow down. Adjust your body position in order to push all of your weight down through the foot pegs and help the rear wheel find and maintain maximum traction, as losing traction during ascent can be dangerous.
Keep Your Eyes Up
When you are riding off-road you should always look straight ahead and not down at the ground. The trouble is that the moment you start looking down, you will be unable to deal with the terrain that is suddenly under your front wheel. You need to pay attention to the direction that you want to go in and not at the things you don’t want to hit. If your focus is on the right direction, then your body will follow and so too will your bike.
Off-road Riding Schools
The idea of riding off-road can be intimidating, particularly for those who haven’t ridden on dirt before and for whom the prospect of handling an adventure bike on terrain where traction is heavily reduced can be off putting. However, there are plenty of schools that can help, where knowledgeable staff can develop your riding skills, so that you’ll find that venturing off-road becomes a fun pursuit rather than a daunting prospect.
It is important to be prepared when riding off-road by taking tools, parts, a tyre patching kit, etc. It’s best to be over prepared than not enough, as you don’t want to be stranded in the middle of a forest, miles from anywhere. Also make sure your bike is up to the job, particularly by checking the health of your clutch and brake cables and levers, replacing them if necessary.
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