At the outset let me be clear that I am no expert in trail riding. In fact I started riding trails on my motorcycle just a couple of weeks ago after I was satisfied with the mods that I had done to Ratchet, my pimped out KTM Duke 390 naked street bike. I’m still figuring things out myself. This post is about some of my observations on the way Ratchet behaves off tarmac. This is also about observations I’ve made about my fellow riders and their motorcycles.
This is the number one thing you need to address before you think of taking your motorcycle off road. I didn’t dare to take Ratchet on a proper trail until I swapped the stock Metzeler tyres with Pirelli MT 60 Corsa dual sport tyres. Dual sport works well in dirt as well as on tarmac. You will most probably ride some distance from your home to reach the trail anyays. So it would make sense to have sufficient traction on both kinds of surfaces.
Trail riding is best done in a group because you are inevitably going to find yourself in a sticky situation and your friends will be there to help you get out of it. So it’s really not fair to go trail riding with street or bald tyres, get stuck all the time and burden your friends more than you should. Just trying to keep my motorcycle and myself upright while riding a trail is tedious enough work and it tires me out to a point of collapse. The last thing I want to do is get off my bike and push another bike uphill while eating the dirt that its rear tyre kicks out. Then go back to my bike and hope to have the energy to negotiate the climb myself.
A sign that your friends are not happy with you is when you see them overcome an obstacle and disappear out of sight, not checking their rear view mirrors to see how you are coming along. Experienced trail riders will take the trouble to keep an eye on newbies. But not many will bother if you have come for a trail ride with bad tyres.
Rear wheel spin
Trail riding is all about traction. A motorcycle is designed to move forwards. But if its rear wheel doesn’t have any traction, it will dig itself into a hole and sit tight. The deeper you dig the more difficult it will be to get out.
When the rear wheel is spinning, kicking out dirt and going deeper into the ground, I’ve seen riders stand up to make the motorcycle lighter in the hope that it will have less load to deal with and hence be able to get itself out of the hole. In fact this is the most logical conclusion to come to and seems to make perfect sense. However, this may work only in a case when the motorcycle isn’t stuck too deep or the uphill incline isn’t too much. It’s important to note that the motorcycle engine has more than enough power to pull you, you luggage and itself out of just about any hole. What it lacks is traction. The load is the least of its problems. So what you need to do is sit down heavily in the saddle and force the rear wheel into the dirt. Then crack open the throttle and let the engine’s torque do the rest.
Be careful not to overdo it because you may end up popping a wheelie and land on the ground with the motorcycle riding you. Like any skill that you develop, this requires practice and a deep understanding of your motorcycle reacts to your input. It would be a good idea to practice getting yourself out of a hole by intentionally putting yourself in one and increase the level of difficulty gradually. That way when the time comes you will know what to do.
Dropping your bike
Nobody wants to drop his motorcycle. But then if you are scared of falling off your bike then trail riding is not for you. If fact I would say practice dropping your bike just to get the hang of it.
On yesterday’s trail ride to the Mollem wildlife sanctuary Ratchet’s front tyre slipped on an uphill incline and I had to prop up the bike using my left leg. I tried to straighten it up but couldn’t because my left foot was deep down in a hole and the bike was leaning way too much. The incline of the trail just made it worse and I quickly came to the conclusion that it was a lost cause. I let go of the bike but didn’t move my left foot in time. As a result my left foot came under the left hand guard and I had to squeeze it out. My riding boots ensured no injury.
Later that evening upon seeing the video footage captured by my helmet mounted GoPro camera, I figured out mistake. I let go of the bike slowly in the hope of lessening it’s impact with the ground. In the bargain I didn’t have enough time to get my left foot out of the way. The right thing would have been to kick myself out and jump to safety and let the bike deal with the dirt on its own terms. Parts and paint are more easily replaceable than skin and bone.
So what should you do after you drop your bike? First thing hit the engine kill switch. If you know that you are going to drop the bike then kill the engine even before dropping it. That’s another thing I didn’t do yesterday. I hit the kill switch after the bike was horizontal. Some bikes will automatically shut off if they are lying flat which is a nice to have feature.
The next thing you need to do is very important. Nothing. Do absolutely nothing. Take a moment to catch your breath and more importantly gather your wits. If you have dropped your bike on a blind turn don’t rush to pick it up so that other riders don’t crash into it. Instead rush towards oncoming riders, give them an early warning and ask them to slow down.
Remember you are most probably at your lowest point in physical strength and your confidence has taken a beating. The last thing you want to do it exert yourself and sprain a muscle or tear a ligament. Drink some water, walk around and if you are a true adventure motorcycle rider, take a picture of your bike on its side and post it on Facebook. Or take a selfie. When your adrenaline levels are back to normal and you have come to terms with what just happened then proceed to pick your bike. That would also be a good time to apologize to your motorcycle. 🙂
Here is a video of of the trail ride organized by Goa Trail Riders to the Mollem wildlife sanctuary.