New to ADV. Where do I Start?
April 25, 2021
April 25, 2021
Maybe you’ve seen a BDR expedition documentary, or have a friend who talks about their off-road adventures on two wheels, or perhaps you have a street bike and wonder, on occasion, where all those dirt roads lead to.
No matter the reason, if you’re curious, inspired and want to learn more about entering the exciting sport of adventure and dual-sport riding, in this article we break it down into a few easy steps.
Safety is key, so start with taking an off-road course to ensure you have the right set of skills and understand the basic techniques of off-road riding The skills you learn in a short period of time with good instruction can save you the often long and painful process of learning on your own.
The fundamental skills and techniques you’ll need to learn are:
Riding a motorcycle on pavement is a lot different than riding off-road. Often, the techniques are the exact opposite. On the street, we ride while sitting down and initiate the turns by leaning into the corner.
For off-road riding it is best to learn a standing up technique. Standing up makes the bike more stable because the weight of your body is lower on the bike (at the footpegs), rather than up high on the seat. To initiate the turns, the rider shifts their hip and shoulder weight toward the outside of the turn, leaning away from the motorcycle (leaning out of a turn), which helps with traction, stability and tighter turn radius.
Certain things such as braking and shifting can feel very awkward at first while standing, but with time these movements will become much more natural to you.
Expanding your skillset to ride successfully in sand, mud, and rocks can be challenging at first because different terrain requires different techniques.
Getting comfortable riding slow is essential for overcoming some of the more technical obstacles you may encounter.
We suggest training on a smaller motorcycle. Learning on smaller, lighter motorcycles can be more confidence inspiring, easier to manage, and less strenuous to pick up, especially if you are new to off road riding. The skills you learn on a smaller bike will directly transfer to the larger adventure bikes.
If you’re interested in off-road motorcycle training you can find resources listed on our website https://ridebdr.com/training/.
Don’t get discouraged. Remember, failing is part of learning!
Decide what bike is right for you. Adventure and dual sport motorcycles come in many shapes and sizes. It is important to match the motorcycle to the type of riding you plan on doing.
What motorcycle is right for you? Some things to consider are:
If you are new to adventure riding, we strongly suggest starting with a 250cc to 650cc motorcycle. Sit on some bikes to make sure you can comfortably touch the ground with one foot. Adventure motorcycles are taller by design to provide ground clearance for off-road terrain so being able to flat foot on both sides is usually unnecessary. If you can, do some test rides to see what feels right for you. Make sure you are comfortable with the fact your investment will pick up some scrapes and dings along the way.
In general, adventure motorcycles come in three categories.
Power and Luxury: Amazing street and off-pavement comfort, impressive load carrying capacity, all the creature comforts and high-end electronics, but can be harder to maneuver off-road. Some examples are the BMW R1250GS Adventure and the KTM 1290 Super Adventure R.
Mid-sized: These bikes can be considered the ultimate compromise. They a good in dirt, can carry the load, and go long distances. Some examples are the Yamaha Tenere 700, KTM 890 Adventure R, KLR650, and XR650L.
Lightweight: A great choice if off-road capability is your priority. These bikes handle well off-road, are economical, and are easy to pick up. This dirt prowess comes at the price of comfort on the street and the fact that larger loads will disrupt the handling. These bikes are best for the minimalist traveler.
Riding a motorcycle off-road comes with some inherent risks. Quality motorcycle gear protects your body from an impact in case of a fall and makes riding more comfortable in harsher elements. Off-road and adventure riding gear tends to offer better protection from the rigors of off-road riding than street focused gear and certainly much better protection than jeans and work boots. When budgeting for your first motorcycle purchase, leave room in the budget for adequate projection as you might take a few falls while learning to ride off-road.
Helmet – We get 10 fingers and 10 toes but aren’t born with a spare brain. Protecting your head from injury with a quality helmet should go without saying. Look for a new DOT or ECE 22.05 rated full-faced helmet in the correct size for you. The light weight carbon helmets are a great choice as they offer the ultimate protection and hours long comfort. Some examples of quality helmets are the Touratech Aventuro, Klim Krios Pro, Arai XD4, and for a more budget friendly option, Bell MX-9 Adventure. If you’re unsure of your size you can visit your local motorcycle shops and get fitted for an appropriately sized helmet.
Boots – We cannot overstate the importance of boots. There is a chance the motorcycle could fall on your leg, trapping your leg between the frame of the bike and the ground. Good off-road riding boots provide protection for your foot, ankle, and lower leg. High quality off road riding boots while pricey, will last you for years to come and more than likely pay for themselves the first time you end up underneath your bike. Even the most expensive boots on the market are cheaper than any hospital bill. Some examples of top notch off road riding boots are the SIDI Crossfire, the Gearne SG-12, or for something a bit more budget friendly, The Alpinestars Tech 7 Enduro.
Riding Suit – You will also need to protect your body and limbs. A good riding suit, jacket and pants, provide protection from the elements, impacts, and abrasion in the event of a crash. A quality, fully armored, preferably Gore-Tex riding suit is essential. A few great options for apparel are from brands like KLIM, Rev’It!, Touratech and others.
Gloves – When adventure riding, your hands are always vulnerable to the elements or crashes. Invest in a nice pair gloves with genuine leather palms, armored knuckles, and an abrasion resistant shell. We suggest taking along two pairs of gloves when riding. Something more lightweight and breathable for working hard off-road, and something waterproof and insulated when you get caught in a deluge and the temperatures drop. We love the offerings from Touratech, REV’IT!, and Klim.
Base Layers – This is often overlooked, but don’t underestimate the importance of a good base layer. High quality, lightweight and breathable underwear, riding shirt and pants are a must. Skip cotton, as its heavy, hard to dry, and takes up too much pack space. A synthetic polyester blend works great. Merino wool is an amazing fabric that comes with a premium price, but it will keep you cool when hot, and warm when cold. We also suggest a fleece, down puffy coat, or merino wool mid weight layer for those chilly mornings on the bike or relaxing around the campfire after a long day.
You’re going to be on your motorcycle for hours at a time, day after day. If your knees are cramped or your shoulders ache it can be difficult to hack it for those long days in the saddle, and can even be downright dangerous if it affects your ability to perform on the bike.
Tackle those ergonomics! There are many benefits to making your motorcycle fit YOU instead of trying to make yourself fit your motorcycle. Getting this right can:
It is absolutely crucial to prioritize ergonomics for comfort while standing, as this is how you will be spending most of your time off pavement.
What adjustments can you make to improve ergonomics and comfort?
Shorter riders could find a lower seat height necessary. This can be achieved a few different ways:
What are some ways you can improve the performance and handling of your motorcycle?
Dropping your motorcycle is part of adventure riding. It is absolutely essential that your bike is equipped to take the punishment. Most bikes will get you there, but all of them will need some upgrades to get you home again. Some motorcycles come off the showroom floor with protective bits, but rarely are they substantial enough to hold up to more than a drop or two.
What are some ways you can protect your investment?
Some basic mechanical knowledge will go a long way in getting your motorcycle through an extended journey. Put together an adequate tool kit for your motorcycle. Pack some extra bolts, zip ties, JB Weld, and duct tape. Make sure to learn how to change a tire tube in the backcountry. A flat tire is one of the most common trailside repairs.
Most of the time you can “McGuyver” your way to the nearest town. It’s all part of the adventure!
The backcountry can be a beautiful place, but also unforgiving if you lose your way. It is absolutely essential to nail down navigation prior to venturing into the unknown, out of the reach of cell towers.
When scouting or riding the routes, the BDR team members prefer to use a GPS unit, like the Garmin Zumo XT, Garmin Montana, Trailtech Voyager, and others. Because we use GPS Tracks, not Routes, for navigating BDRs, any GPS unit capable of displaying 15 track logs with a minimum of 500 points each is suitable for use on a BDR.
In recent years, several third party smartphone apps have been introduced, designed specifically for backcountry navigation. Some of the more popular apps for BDR navigation are:
Make sure to download topographical maps of the entire area you wish to ride within the navigation app of your choice. It is necessary to do this before you leave, on Wi-Fi, as the map files are often quite large. Then, import the BDR GPS tracks (GPX file) into the smartphone app of your choice.
Always purchase the corresponding BDR map or forest service maps to use in conjunction with your GPS. It’s essential to have a paper backup for reference.
Riding with friends is safer and just inherently more fun. Riding with skilled riders is an excellent way to become a better rider. They can give you tips and even help to push you to that next level you may not have been comfortable with while riding alone. Follow their line on trail, copy their body movements and ask questions.
Plan to attend rallies, motorcycle events, BDR film screenings, and motorcycle meet ups in your area to link up with like-minded individuals.
Follow @ridebdr on social media and join any of the BDR route specific Facebook Group pages, and or other local dual sport and adventure riding Facebook groups.
The ADVRider forum’s regional section is also great for connecting with riders in your area.
Spend time riding and practicing the techniques and skills you have learned. Time in the saddle will help you become more familiar and comfortable with the bike and it’s controls. Consider taking a few short overnight trips with your bike fully loaded with all of your gear. We have found that training can be an amazing tool in understanding the fundamentals of off road riding, but it’s really time on your bike, putting what you’ve learned into practice that will help you really build the skills and confidence needed for your expedition. Slowly work up to a multiple day trip. Don’t tackle a BDR as your first off-road trip.
Ride your own ride. Try not to push yourself far beyond your current skillset as this can lead to a not-so-fun situation. If you feel you are getting in over your head do not be afraid to say so. While it is great to push yourself, knowing your limits is crucial.
At the end of the day, this is supposed to be fun. Ride at the pace and on the terrain you enjoy. Growth will come with time as long as you’re practicing proper riding techniques.
The adventure riding community is a great resource. Don’t be shy. We are all passionate about this sport and are ready and willing to welcome new riders into a community of lifelong enjoyment and discovery on two wheels!