a good line. Do not look down! Do not look at the rock in front
of your wheel! Do not stare at the pothole in the road! Do not
gaze into the pool of soft mud! Look where you want to go and
the bike will naturally follow an invisible line towards where
you are looking.
Six off road riding skills
1. Look where you want to go.
look at the pothole . . . you go right through it! You look
at the stone in the road . . .you go over it. The eyes are
the gun sight of the brain and therefore there are a few
important rules for the way we view the trail / track /
sand road ahead of the motorcycle.
1) Keep your eyes up and look down the trail! Your natural
reaction will be to look at the ground in front of the motorbike.
Look as far ahead as the trail, speed and common sense allows.
Your perception will naturally assimilate the rough terrain
and lead the front wheel
If you see a large rock or pothole do not allow your eyes to ’fixate’
on it. Take it in and then allow you eyes to continue to move
beyond or to the side of it. The bike will follow your eyes and
avoid the obstacle automatically.
2) Keep a ’wide angle view’ of the trail ahead - look at everything
in general but nothing in particular. (This same technique is
used by trackers in the African bush to spot game.) This not only
helps avoid fixation but will allow you to spot stray animals,
pedestrians and farm vehicles.
3) Keep an eye out for the tell-tale dust trails from approaching
cars or farm vehicles.
4) Keep a look out in your rear view mirrors as local farmers
are not afraid to drive fast.
Skill 2. Need for Speed.
is difficult as the natural reaction is to travel too slowly.
The track ahead will be covered in loose stones and sand. All
you want to do is shut off the gas! Don’t do it!! Slow down a
little and then just before the loose stuff starts accelerating
gently. If the bike twitches and moves around . . . gas it a little
more! Once you are through the bad patch you can slow down a little
if you want to.
The amount of stability a motorcycle has depends on its forward
motion. More speed helps it punch through and over the bad surface.
Generally as the bike travels faster and faster you will find
that it becomes more balanced, stable and maneuverable. Going
too slowly over rough terrain will cause the bike to move around
more and perhaps cause you to panic. Within reason therefore go
a bit faster than you are comfortable with. Here as some suggestions
. . .
• 10 - 40 kph for a trail or path not suitable for ordinary cars
• 40 - 60 kph for a road in poor condition (narrow, with ruts,
bends, potholes and loose stones)
• 60 - 80 kph for a typical dirt road (reasonably straight, offering
a good line with reasonable traction)
• 80 - 100 kph for a good dirt road (straight, offering a good
line with good traction. The verges should be clear of trees and
bush because at this speed you do not want an animal to step out
in front of you)
Because you need to keep the throttle open when travelling through
the loose stuff do not approach bad patches too fast or in a gear
that leaves you in the middle of the power band. Choose a lower
gear at the bottom end of the power band so that you can accelerate
3. Lean forward, arms bend and relaxed.
You are travelling along a dirt road. Suddenly your
eyes take in a bad patch covered in loose stones and sand!
Your eyes grow big, your arms go stiff and your body recoils
from the horrible sight!! Don’t do it!! You cannot steer
through it with stiff arms. Move forward to meet the foe
eye to eye! Grip the tank with your knees, arms bend and
fluid to make small steering movements as you power through.
The worst the road/track surface, the more important this
becomes. Move your butt forward. Lean forward from the
waist moving your head and shoulders closer to the front
wheel than your butt. This does not mean resting/pushing
down on the handlebars with your body weight - this makes
manoeuvring impossible. Your arms must be bent, never
locked - elbows out wide away from your sides.
Grip the tank firmly with your knees and push down onto
the foot pegs with the balls of your feet. This makes
you and the bike into a single unified unit where your
body weight is as much part of the steering process as
the front wheel. Your upper body should be relaxed and
free to move about easily.
Should the surface of the road deteriorate even more,
keep the gas open!!! A decelerating bike will flounder.
Push down hard on your foot pegs. You will naturally find
yourself standing up which is the correct thing to do.
Do not use the handlebars to pull yourself up - their
job is to steer, not pull!!
4. Keep the bike upright when cornering
Your first ride on dirt roads is not the place to counter
steer and lean your motorcycle into the corners! Instead
keep the motorcycle upright, tyres 90° to the road surface.
Yes, this will mean going slowly around the corners but
speed can come later.
As you get more confident you will want to corner more quickly.
The secret here is to get lots of downward pressure on the
outside foot peg as you corner. This keeps the motorbike
firmly on the road and prevents the centrifugal force of
cornering from throwing the back wheel outwards. The easy
way to do this is to stand with your weight on your outside
foot. In this position you can even lean the bike into the
Very fast cornering off road using the accelerator to twist
the bike around is an advanced skill and can come later
(assuming you have a bike light enough to make this skill
forward, legs bent, elbows wide, foot down hard on the
outside footpeg as you go through a turn.
Skill 5. Braking
You should have little need for hard braking when riding
your motorcycle off road if you follow these three pointers
• Approach corners and difficult patches with the old
adage of "Slow in and fast out".
• Keep your eyes up. Look down the trail.
• Ride defensively, anticipate problems.
Your gearbox and rear brake should give you all the stopping
power you need. Unlike riding on road, locking your rear
wheel up on sand is not a problem. If you need the extra
stopping power you can progressively pile on the front
brake until it shows signs of locking up - then ease off
Skill 6. Pressure on the foot pegs
If you ride a heavy dual sport bike e.g. BMW GS1100 / 1200
then pressure on the foot pegs becomes important. ’Stomping’
on the foot pegs can provide a huge amount of leverage to
get your bike to weave to and fro missing potholes and boulders
in your path when riding a straight, narrow trail with a
technical surface. Stomping on the pegs (imagine someone
stomping in a vat of grapes) is an excellent way to lighten
the bike and flick it from side to side, weaving between
the obstacles. You stomp on the side you want to turn towards
and lift the other leg by allowing your knee to bend.
Typical "Grape Stomping" terrain. Stand up, legs bent.
NOTE: You don’t do this to turn a fast corner! You must
stand on the outside footpeg as you enter the corner to
keep the back wheel from breaking and sliding away as you
gently gas it around the corner. (With a light MX bike you
give it a lot of gas to MAKE it break away and thereby use
the rear wheel power to assist you to turn the bike).