Dirt Road Detours – Handling Off Pavement Motorcycle Rides

Well, here we are again. Autumn is almost officially here, or will be probably the day you read this, and while we’ve had some great weather to ride down in the Deep South, my local road department has taken it upon themselves to re-pave the road that runs in front of the house.

Now, bear in mind that there is no alternate road for me to sneak out on – I’m in the country. Seven miles either way before you cut anything that isn’t a dirt road or a driveway. So for the past week, I’ve had to deal with ridges, gravel, cold patch, and even a few exposed potholes as they dug out the old and put in the new.

What’d that do? It reminded me that there are still plenty of rough roads “out there” and with so many of us traveling to enjoy autumn leaves and Fall weather, I figured a quick review might be in order.

First of all, if you’re traveling in the country down a dirt road that you don’t know too well, or even if it’s the interstate for that matter, don’t be the guy that decides to run ninety miles per hour (144 KPH for my friends North of the border). Slow down a little. Enjoy the ride… But at the same time you’re enjoying that ride, be aware of what’s coming up for you. Not just a turn in the road, but potholes, tar and wildlife including rodents, snakes, deer, moose and for those of you in the South, alligators (shredded tires). Every one of them can grab you and toss you into the emergency room. To put it simply – enjoy the view, but pay attention.

Another little nugget is to think about how much throttle you actually have to apply and how much the surface will take. Guess what? Sandy or gravelly pavement is not going to hold the torque that even a small engine will put out. Since it is not putting the power to the ground, you’re not in control. Guess who just laid down the bike? (This was how I had my first “soft” lay down two decades ago).

If you had to have the cool hardtail bar hopper but got wrangled into a longer ride, you really need to look at the smoothness of the road, too. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen bar hoppers “hop” straight off the pavement when they hit a pothole. There are some days that riding tailgunner can suck, and when it’s amateur hour on a ride, you definitely see some crazy s@#t.

Last but not least, put the right amount of air in your tires. I think I’ve talked about this enough but I still see people lowering pressure for a softer ride, running older tires past their primes, and flogging their bike with tires that were never built with racing or hard use in mind. It’s simple – look at the sidewall, inflate to the proper pressure. It will cost you a quarter at the gas station and you’ll be riding the way you’re supposed to be, not the way that you were told anecdotally by your best friends’ buddies’ cousin who worked at a bike shop in the 1970s.

Whatever you do, pay attention and keep the shiny side up!

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