I have an admission to make. I have been riding motorcycles for over sixteen years and (at a rough guess) around a quarter of a million kilometres. I have ridden many different bikes and also raced motorcycles at a club level. My admission is, until the last few days I had never ridden a dirt bike. Thanks to my brother-in-laws, this is now something I can add to my riding experiences.
Unlike some other road-riders, I was under no false-illusion as to what I would be like on dirt. Apart from knowing what controls did what, my experience counted for little when it came to riding dirt. These days I try to avoid taking road bikes on dirt roads. I have got all the excuses under the sun as to why, such as: A lot of modern bikes have become too “single-purpose” to do dirt roads well / The big wide tyres of a road bike tend to skate around on a dirt surface / It takes ages to clean them afterward. Basically, I would rather just try and avoid it.
The one warning I continually got about riding dirt bikes was that you just can’t grab the front brakes to stop. This well may be true, but used correctly, the front brake is very useful. Maybe some road riders tend to be more boisterous with front brake application than I am, because after some time I became more relaxed with using the front brake.
As for my actual riding on the dirt, I was predictably crap to start off with. My road-riding bias meant I was unable to comprehend how the long travelling suspension of the bike could handle the deep ruts in the track as well as they could. I had a couple of low speed “step-offs” when dealing with steep and rutted four-wheel drive tracks (both uphill and down) In retrospect, it was my lack of speed that got me in trouble far more than going too quickly. I don’t think I have ever had the attitude of being ten foot tall and bullet-proof and going faster in a situation where I didn’t feel in control was the furthest thing from my mind.
I did see noticeable improvement in my riding as the day wore on and finished the day with some descents and a hill climb that I was proud of – whilst still being acutely aware of how remarkably simple they would be to someone with more riding experience. Despite slowing them down, my riding companions patiently waited for me and offered encouragement. I would have loved a few more riding tips, but they probably did the right thing by not overloading me with information to try and apply.
My faithful bike for the day was a Suzuki DRZ400 – complete with electric start. (A feature I was quite thankful for!) The torque of the 400 single cylinder meant it would chug along quite happily when I left it in a gear that was too high for the situation. More accomplished dirt riders may have found some fault with the bike, but to me it seemed just about perfect!
I doubt my single day’s ride has made me a better road rider. I don’t think I reached any great levels of competence from my day in the saddle, but it was great fun and a real eye-opener for me. Whilst I am not about to rush out and buy a trail bike for myself, it has gone on that list of things I want to do again some time. When “some time” arises, hopefully I will have remembered what little skills I have gained and forgotten how stiff and sore my legs were the next couple of days after the ride!