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Dual Sport Tips for the Rocky Ride

It's fun to travel around on gravel roads and go where paved riders can't. Some of the most rewarding moments have been arriving on a ridgeline after working through an inordinate amount of large gravel to get there. But you gotta take the bitter to get to the sweet sometimes.

Recently I had the pleasure and displeasure of finding a new route up to a favorite viewpoint of mine in the Columbia River Gorge. The route features a number of 30 degree-plus hill climbs over a stone laden road where the stones were the size of baseballs and larger, and very loose. Road builders use this technique to insure a road doesn't wash out during heavy rainfall. With each rigid climb, I'd complete the task and pull the bike out to rest and collect my thoughts. And here's a run down of a few of them.

1. Relax the grip � Of course we need to have control of the bike and keep a grip on the steering, but gripping too tight will cause your arms to tighten up and make it harder to control the bike overall. On pavement you can easily control the direction of travel with your palms while your fingers rest over the clutch and brake levers. Not so easy when you're riding on the road of stones. But nonetheless you may realize your grip is so tight it's causing your arms and back to become tensed, stealing away agility you need to effectively maneuver the bike. Notice how tight your grip is next time you're on a challenging ascent and try relaxing it a bit if it seems tense and too tight. Relaxing your grip will held the rest of the body relax so you can better focus on the task at hand.

2. Weight on the pegs � If you currently don't stand on the pegs during rough terrain, now is the time to begin. Standing on the pegs isn't just for Dakar poseur types, it's for everybody for a number of reasons.

First, it allows you to transfer your body weight away from the seat and down to the lower part of the bike which provides more stability when you're dancing your way across marbles. By doing so, you don't take as much of a beating on your body when hitting high and low road surface points. Instead your knees are absorbing a lot of the bumps and you're making for a smoother ride pivoting your body up and down at the knee.

It also effectively changes the center of gravity on the motorcycle allowing you to better control the bike by having the majority of the overall weight below your thighs. Kind of like riding horses if you've ever done that. Also be sure to keep your feet positioned flat across the top of the peg. You don't want to point your toe or heel too far in either direction.

3. Weight forward? The general rule of thumb when working your way uphill is to place your weight forward to provide more traction on the front wheel. How far forward is debatable, however. In the case of riding on marbles, you may want to lighten the front end of the bike but not placing too much weight forward allowing it to work itself freely around stones as you and it seek traction. But if you place too much weight forward and the bike slows you may end up right over the bars. As you work the hill, conservatively search for a save forward position that won't launch you from the bike.

4. Look as far forward as possible � In street riding we call this riding the vanishing point. In dual sport riding it's the same technique but with an added purpose. You want to look as far forward to pick the best line for you and the bike. Knowing what's up ahead sooner will make it much easier to know where to go next. If you simply look 10 feet in front of you at all times, you'll probably pick less efficient lines and have to work a lot harder to get over the course surface using not-so optimal lines. Your best choice can be made with the farthest look forward.

5. Spread out � I'm always amazed at how a vast majority of beginner and intermediate dual sport riders ride too closely together. The one second staggered rule they teach in MSF is simply for the birds. This spells trouble when the surface deteriorates. Not enough space between riders means less line choices due to an inability to see far ahead, and if you're riding to close to the rider in front and they should crash you may crash right into them. Back off. How far back should you ride? At least 4-6 seconds anytime you're on a gravel road, two track or single track trail. You don't like the dust? Then get back a minute. Smart riders will work it out in advance so they know to wait at each intersection until the rider behind them arrives so they know which way to turn at the next junction.

6. Ride your own ride - If you're in a group riding situation, and we hope you're always travelling the gruff stuff with at least one partner, it's not necessary to keep up with the rider in front of you. It's far safer to ride your own ride and catch up at each junction. The more you can focus on you and your ride and less on the others around you, all the better. Excessive speed on this kind of terrain is a recipe for a crash. And on this kind of surface, excessive speed could be 15 mph!

7. Take a break - stop and take a break as often as you need. During our recent ride to to the favorite vista we were stopping after each technical section. About four times over the course of an hour. Riding across large stones really takes a lot out of you, both physically and mentally.

When the surface smoothes out and relaxes, this is also a chance for you to relax. Instead of picking your speed up, ride slow and catch your breath. You'll get to where you're going eventually.

8. Set a pace - Combine a steady climb rate on the tough stuff with a relaxed speed on the smooth stuff and you'll soon find a rhythm in your riding which is a nice point to hit. This type of pace allows you to enter to rugged surface areas with more piece of mind.

9. It's okay to turn around - Going down the tough stuff is a lot easier than riding up it. Using some of these tips will make it easier, but if riding up it is too much for you, pick a safe spot to turn your bike around and turn back, rather than continue on. When riding down hill, again use the standing technique in the technical spots and this time be sure to keep your weight back, rather than forward.

10. If it's wet, skip it - Traction is at a minimum when your riding on a stone covered surface. Add a little rain to that and you've got a slimy mess not worth dumping you and your bike onto. If it's not imperative that you ride that road that day. Save it for a drier day.

TM/Summer 2010


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