Now here’s a bombshell to start with! No matter how aggressively styled and Dakar inspired your adventure bike might be, it is not a dirt bike. If it were, it would have a small, light and powerful single cylinder engine, a sleek and clutter-free chassis and weigh close to 120kg fully fuelled and ready to. No adventure bike on the market hits those three balls – sorry, not one.
But once you embrace this and work with what you’ve got, an adventure bikes can deliver similar, if different fun! Forget those marketing images images of stylish riders powering effortlessly through vast Saharan dunes and get a tad more real – you’re not that guy and it’s unlikely you are going to be doing anything remotely close …
DAMAGE IS INEVITABLE
OK so if you have made the decision to take your new toy onto the rough stuff, you have to wise up to the reality. Even if you keep it upright all day, it will get dirty, it will get scratched and it will get damaged – period.
Now for dirt bike riders this may come as no surprise, they’re used to a bit of munching trail in the course of a day’s riding and like nothing more! But don’t forget dirt bikes are built for abuse. Drop a KTMEXC250 and there will be little sign of damage once you pick it up – the same will not necessarily the same for an Africa Twin or a Triumph Tiger 1200. And if you are new to off-road riding and particularly to doing it on a big bike, then you will fall off more than you might imagine or indeed want. Adding protection such as bark busters, engine and frame bars and a sump guard before you take to the dirt can help, but not necessarily prevent all damage
Perhaps just as importantly, you also have to accept that as most adventure bikes will never go off-road, then the damage you inflict on it will devalue the bike come resale time compared to a tarmac only bike.
THE HEAVY, HEAVY MONSTER SOUND
OK so this may be stating a point already made in the opening salvo, but it’s worth restating. Why? Because on the road, that 200 plus kilos is largely unnoticeable – with massive brakes and road based rubber, great balance and slippery ergonomics your bike handles and stops perfectly – it’s a fantastic piece of engineering.
However once out on the dirt, every pound of that bulk is attempting to do things you don’t want it to do. From pushing the front in the corners to trying to get itself stuck in deep mud, adventure bikes like to make life tricky. Imagine trying to control two trail bikes at the same time.
And when you do drop it, you have to pick al that bulk back up again. If you doubt that this will be a problem, look at how many different techniques and instructional videos there are about how to pick up an adventure bike.
HOW HIGH CAN YOU GO?
Again. this may seem an obvious one, but the tall seat height on most adventure bikes can be a real issue. OK it’s the same on a conventional dirt bike, but because you expend far less effort actually riding lighter bikes, then slinging your leg over the seat doesn’t seem as much effort. Tackle some tricky going and / or fall off a couple of times and each time that damn seat seems to get higher.
Factor in any luggage or back rack that make swinging your leg less possible and getting on and off your bike is a major consideration.
MOMENTUM IS YOUR FRIEND
As any seasoned dirt monkey will tell you, maintaining momemtum when you are off the tarmac is a skill you will need time and time again. Yes it would be great if you looked stylish and glamorous as you clear the rocky climb feet up without a single dab, but the reality is that as long as you keep moving and get to the top, how it looks and how much you flailed round your legs to get there matters not one jot.
On an adventure bike this is doubly true – keeping that motorcycle moving is really important as the additional weight makes restarting in slippery surfaces much harder. If you decide to take on a tricky climb, commit fully to it and try to visualise yourself at the top rather than lying under the bike in pain – Positive Mental Attitude can pay off big time!
MOMENTUM IS YOUR ENEMY
Now this might sound odd given our last point, but that doesn’t mean it’s not true! The additional bulk of a bigger bike means that it carries a lot of momentum all the time. On the uphills, that’s a good thing but going down hills and going into corners – not so much!
Getting the most of the bike means that you need to be thinking and planning ahead vastly more than you ever need to on a trail or enduro bike. Braking needs to be done when you are upright and in a straight line and well before the bend for maximum effect, and downhills need to be treated with much more caution than on a smaller bike – if the bike starts to run away with you a world of pain or damage or both is never far away.
STAND WHEN YOU CAN
Conventional wisdom for riding off-road tells you to stand all the time. Doing so lowers the centre of gravity, keeps the bike more stable and allows the bike to move about beneath you while you focus ahead. Now theoretically riding on bigger bikes should not change the rules, and for really experienced riders it doesn’t.
But for us mere mortals, standing on a big bike takes a lot more bravery, mainly because if the bike starts to topple, by the time you’ve sat down and put your legs out to steady the bike, it will be already heading to the ground and you are not going to stop 200kg with a dab.
So it’s maybe wise to head for a compromise situation – stand on the easier faster bits to start with, and don’t worry too much in the nadgery, muddy, steep and mucky stuff. Better to paddle a bit and stay upright than risk disaster.
DRESS TO IMPRESS
OK so the stuff you wear on the road isn’t going to be the same as you need on the road – it’s similar but not the same – OK? That means that if you are serious about taking on a bit of dirty fun, then you need to invest in kit that is going to keep you safe and injury free. A full run down of suitable kit is covered on another blog here, but as a bare minimum you should be looking at good off-road focussed boots that firmly support your ankle and have soles strong enough to make standing comfortable and some kind of CE approved padding on your knees, elbows and shoulders. Buy an off road jacket and trousers and the protection may be already in there, and unlike the other way round, proper adventure riding kit is usually pretty good on the road – suddenly that Klim Jacket and kecks seem like a bargain …
UNICORNS DON’T EXIST
Your tyres need to reflect how you are going to use the bike they are on. That’s why your new adventure bike came with ‘dual sport’ tyres with a heavy bias to road use – maybe 80 / 20 or even 90 /10. Once you decide to take the bike off-road for longer trips then you are going to have to change the rubber, but how far you go will be entirely where you want the compromise to be – on the road or off.
For maximum grip and confidence on the dirt, you are going to need proper off-road tyres – they will hook up in the mud, hold the lines in the corners and generally make life peachy. Until you return to the tarmac. With so little contact points all those big tall knobbies vastly reduce the bike’s stability on the road – there’s no way they can offer the same grip with so much less rubber on the road than an equivalent road tyre.
The more off-road based your tyres, the slower you’ll need to go on the road to keep yourself sunny side up. The more road based your tyres, the slower you’ll be able to go on the dirt – but as dirt tends to hurt less than tarmac, that’s worth considering.
A tyre that does both equally well is a unicorn and we all know how common those are.
PACK LIGHT – REAL LIGHT
If you are taking on an long trip multi day trip with large sections of off-roads action, you need to be super frugal on your packing. It’s almost a case of piling up what you intend to take and then seeing whether you can manage with half the amount.
Why so? Because every kilo that you can save is going to be a kilo less that you need to lift when the bike goes down. This is not rocket science people …
Not only this but if you bag feels heavy when you unstrap it and lift it from the back of the bike, imaging what it’s doing to the handling. 20 kg of luggage way out back almost a metre away from the bike’s centre of gravity is not the ideal situation.
Get minimal and pack light.
KEEP IT CENTRAL
This fits well with the premise of going light. The more places you have to pack stuff, the more you are going to pack and the more weight you’ll be carrying. Bolt on those aluminium suitcases either side of your scoot and they’ll be packed to the gunwhales within seconds. OK so the weight is nice and low, but it’s still weight dragging the bike down. This is not a great plan.
The other reason for avoiding big side luggage is that it will restrict your riding, both in the trails that you can tackle and how you ride the bike – getting your leg stuck under an aluminium box is not going to help your day.
If your going to be on sweeping gravel roads from dawn to dusk, maybe this isn’t a problem, but once the trails head for the woodwork, having everything in behind you will avoid some tricky and painful situations.
Take a look at the bikes in out two Hard Alpi Tour galleries – almost every one has left the panniers behind and loaded centrally. This is not a coincidence.
OK so going fast on a enduro bike needs a bit of skill, but let’s not over egg the pudding – modern dirt bikes are really easy to use off-road. Whether you chose a smooth fuel injected two-stroke or a plug and play thumper, the combination of fantastically flexible power, stunningly good suspension and perfect balance mean that even the most ham-fisted goon can look pretty good on the dirt.
But that’s not the case for adventure bikes – getting your hustle on a machine that’s over 200 kg and tops more than 150bhp requires skill, poise and some big cahunas. That’s not just because there’s so much more to control, it’s because if it goes wrong it gets really messy, painful and expensive. Build your speed as you build your confidence, take advice from experienced riders that can walk the walk, don’r ride alone until your are very confident in your abilities and don’t over-ride in order to catch up with more competent riders