It’s safe to say taking two wheels into the dirt is a different animal altogether than street riding. Getting ready for an all-day ride out on the trails requires a certain amount of preparedness — not too dissimilar from camping. You might find yourself in the middle of nowhere with a flat tire, broken chain or snapped lever, so proactively learning a few skills and packing the right tools and spares beforehand can go a long way.
Short of attending a school like the Pine Barrens Adventure Camp (which you should), jotting these few words of wisdom from PBAC lead instructor Mike Bradway isn’t a bad idea. He’s a 2007 East Coast Enduro Champion, 2000-2007 East Coast Enduro Association Top AA rider and veteran of the 400 mile-plus dual sport ride from LA to Barstow to Vegas, so trust that he knows what he’s talking about.
Exercise your balance. It helps a lot of newer riders and riders who are a little rusty and haven’t ridden in a while. Before you even get on your bike you can practice balancing by standing on one foot on a plank of wood with your eyes closed. That sounds silly but will get you in touch with your inner ear. On your bike, with the kickstand up and in the stand-up adventure riding position, see how long you can keep the bike vertical without putting a foot down. It all comes into play out on the trail, especially when you’re maneuvering through tight single track trails crowded by trees.
Learn to read the trail. You want to be paying attention to what’s further down the trail. It’s a rookie mistake to be looking right at the ground in front of you. You want to keep looking ahead and adjust for what’s coming and if there’s anything unfamiliar, you’ll want to slow down before it, rather than correct when you’re right on top of it. People tend to crash more when they make a sudden and unexpected line change.
If it comes down to stopping and scoping out an obstacle, make sure you take the time to do so. Think that murky mud puddle would be great to ride through at speed? There’s a good chance a couple of Jeeps mad some fender-deep tracks in there and their drivers dropped logs or rocks in to gain traction. In other words, it’s always safer to spot it early and go around if you can, or stop and do a depth check with a long branch.
Learn to patch a tube and change a tire. It’s important to bring along tire irons and spoons. Flats happen all the time — it’s almost expected — but bring along one or two spare 21-inch tubes, as they can actually be used as either the front or the rear tube replacement.
Pack spares for your spares. Extra nuts and bolts are commonly overlooked but crucial to have on your ‘packed spares’ list. Any nut or bolt for a fairing or wing mirror can shake loose; having the tools and parts to keep your bike in one piece to the end of the ride makes all the difference. Even having an extra master link for your chain can make or break your ride. Then, of course, it’s always smart to have a replacement for the replacement. And when all else fails, duct tape and zip ties are a good last line of defense.
Customize your ergonomics. See if you need bar risers so you’re not hunched over in the adventure riding position. You want to be standing up straight, but with a slight bend in your knees and elbows, in order to keep good control over the bike’s movement. It might even help to have a friend take a picture of you on the bike so you can get a better sense of your riding posture.
Outside of buying aftermarket parts for your bike, making sure you hand and foot controls are properly positioned can play a big part in rider endurance. Angling your clutch and front brake lever down reduces stress on your wrists so they’re not cracked back when standup riding. Likewise, positioning your foot controls to better suit standup riding as well as accommodate the extra bulk from your boots will earn you a lot more confidence and control out on the trail.
I have a three-day, off-road 500-mile ride later this month, through New Jersey’s 1.1 million acres worth of dense forest, but first I’m on the edge of Wharton State Forest ready to learn dirt-riding 101. Read the Story