Six off road riding skills
Look where you want to go.
You 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 along 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.
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.
Need for Speed.
This 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 gently!
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!!
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 corner
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 viable)
Weight forward, legs bent, elbows wide, foot down hard on the outside footpeg as you go through a turn.
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 a little.
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).