Product Review: TCX X-Desert Boot

TCX-X-Desert-1After riding in a pair of vintage Fox off-road boots for several years, I decided it was time for an upgrade. Enter the TCX X-Desert Gore-Tex boots.
The X-Desert name suggests a hard-core boot intended for super-rugged adventures far from home. In reality, the X-Desert is a kinder, gentler boot for less daunting conditions. As a matter of fact, TCX categorizes the X-Desert as a Touring/Adventure boot that is found under the “Touring Line” section of their website. And this makes sense. Even though the X-Desert looks burly it is made for street riders who want the look and near protection of a full off-road boot, but with the comfort of a touring boot.
And this is why I chose them. While I ride hard in gnarly conditions, I’m tend to mostly ride on fire roads and intermediate-level trails. Also, it’s not unusual that I need to stand and walk for a period of time, which makes these boots a good fit for me.
Speaking of fit, I wear a size 9.5 or 10 street shoe and the TCX 44 fits great. My feet are on the narrow side so their “normal” width is a bit too roomy, but not a problem.
To achieve this level of comfort, TCX foregos the ski-boot stiffness found in true off-road boots for a flexible carcass and sole. The X-Desert is indeed a lot more flexible and less protective than a fully dedicated off-road boot, like the Pro 2.1. The X-Desert toe box is rigid, but the middle part of the boot is not, so a well-placed rock or stick will hurt.
Dual-sport-HomeI’ve worn these boots in a wide range of conditions, including a two-day MotoMark1 Overland Confidence Course in and around the Great Smoky Mountains. I give them high marks for comfort and looks (when clean) and they were great for both paved and dirt riding. While there, I tested the waterproof claim by standing in a small pond up to my ankles for a few minutes and my socks remained dry.
The only criticism I have is that the flexible sole does not offer the support needed when standing on gnarled footpegs for long periods of time. A traditionally stiff off-road boot provides a rigid sole that spreads the load across the whole foot. But, that’s a small trade-off for being able to walk like a normal person.
I’ll be using these boots for ice riding in a few weeks. I expect the Gore-Tex to keep my feet dry and comfortable and the lighter weight should allow my legs to withstand hours of leg-out riding.
The X-Desert’s durability has so far been good, with all fasteners and buckles holding up fine. Time will tell whether the plastic receivers for the aluminum buckles will withstand the rigors of use, but so far, so good.
The X-Desert are a great touring companion and are a perfect choice for the ADV rider who has no intention of jumping their 600-pound GS over boulders or fallen trees. If you do plan on tackling more advanced conditions, you will want to consider a boot with more protection (and stiffness).
Recommended!


From the Revzilla product page:
TCX-X-Desert-boxFeatures:

  • Full grain leather with GORE-TEX® waterproof membrane
  • PU ankle protection with carbon look insert
  • PU gearshift pad
  • PU shin guard
  • Suede heat and wear protection on inside calves
  • Reinforced PU heel
  • 3 adjustable aluminum buckles
  • Anatomical and replaceable footbed
  • New Enduro sole with specific profile for maximum grip

This is NOT a paid post, but I am writing this review to thank Randy and Dave from Velocity Sports Group for hooking me up with these boots.
Velocity logo


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KLX250s: Upgraded & Accessorized

KLX-pose2The Kawasaki KLX250s is a versatile combination of playbike and full-on trail burner. Right out of the box, the KLX is a willing companion, both on the dirt and on ice! It is an un-intimidating ride with a well-balanced chassis and handling. But, like many bikes, a few accessories and upgrades go a long way to improve an already good machine.
Most of the parts I installed are available from Twisted Throttle. If you decide to buy any of the items I mention in this article, please buy them from Twisted by clicking on the links on this page. That way, I get a small affiliate payment that helps me continue to write and share helpful articles like this. Thanks.

Bike Protection

Falling down is often a part of off-road riding, so it makes sense to protect the bike from damage. It’s bad enough to bend a lever or handlebar, but it’s worse if the damage strands you out in the Boonies.

SW-MOTECH radiator guards
SW-MOTECH radiator guards

Radiator Guards
Here is a part that is vulnerable to damage and expen$ive to repalce. Kawasaki thinks that the plastic fins are good enough to thwart an attack by a roosted rock or an errant stick or keep a radiator from being smashed in a fall, but they aren’t…trust me. I toasted a radiator on a KDX200 many years ago during a routine tipover and learned my lesson.

The radiator guards I installed are made by SW-MOTECH, a German company known for high-quality products. These aluminum beauties replace those flimsy plasti-fins and installation takes only minutes.

SW-MOTECH skidplate
SW-MOTECH skidplate

Skidplate
SW-MOTECH also made the skidplate that I installed to replace the OEM plate. The SW plate is made from a 4mm-thick aluminum base plate and 3mm-thick side plates. I’ve whacked some seriously solid rocks with this plate with no consequences whatsoever (see photo).
Barkbusters Handguards
Handguards should be at the top of the list for things to install. Not only do they protect your vulnerable metacarpals, but they also keep your levers from bending or breaking when you fall or rap a tree.
The Barkbusters are the original handguards and come with various shaped plastics. The VPS plastics with upper wings provide good wind and brush protection without being too large.
dual sport grips, Pro taper handlebar, and folding mirror.
dual sport grips, Pro taper handlebar, and folding mirror.

Handlebar

Yes, the KLX comes with a handlebar. But, it’s a P-O-S. It will bend the first time you tipover…guaranteed. The ProTaper bar I installed has taken two significant hits and they are still like new. There are many bends to choose from, but the Henry/Reed bend is just right for me.

Dual Sport Grips

Dual sport grips provide a balance between comfort and grip for all-day control. These grips lack the ridges that are found on most off-road grips (including the stockers). Even though they aren’t as secure, I like the comfort these provide (See photo and link).

Folding Mirror

The stock mirrors are easily damaged in a tipover, so you may as well put them away now and buy an inexpensive folding mirror that can be tucked away when you don’t need it and extended when you have to do some pavement riding to get to the next trailhead.

Tires

My tires of choice for both off and on-road are Pirelli MT-21s (frontrear). They aren’t the best off-road tires and are full knobbies so they aren’t really made for pavement, either, but offer a great (90% -off road/10%- on road) balance. (See links below)

Fredette Canadian style Ice Tires

The Ice Tires I use are Fredette Canadians. These are the best combination of grip and slip so you actually learn about traction management…as opposed to the Marcel tires which grip so hard that you can throw the bike in without a care. (aka, Cheater tires)

Big Bore Kit

OK. As great as the stock KLX is, it became apparent that it could use more power when it struggled to ascend a particularly steep and rocky trail at Hatfield McCoy. The power challenge became even more of a hindrance when I started riding on ice where the vast expanse of frozen water begged for maximum drive. While I had a boatload of fun on the rock hard ponds and lakes with the stock motor churning out every bit of its 17hp, I decided to install a 351cc big bore kit from Blue Bill.

That's what the difference between 250 and 351cc looks like.
That’s what the difference between 250 and 351cc looks like.

The reasonably priced $535.00 kit includes a new re-bored cylinder, piston, rings, wrist pin, and gaskets. Of course, I could have sold the KLX and bought a bike with more displacement, but that would have certainly cost a lot more money. Besides, I like the KLX’s character, so I went for it.
Horsepower and torque increase is modest at somewhere in the 5hp and 6 ft lb range, but that is a 30% and 40% increase from stock (I suck at math, but that’s close enough). The result was noticeable once I went through a short break-in period and was able to open it up. I can now whack the throttle open and the bike responds briskly.
The Build
Installing a big bore kit isn’t very difficult, but it takes some mechanical inclination that consists of more than remembering “lefty loosey, righty tighty”. I’ve done my share of moto-surgery, so I knew what I was getting into. Still, it’s unnerving to remove the head, camshafts, cam chain, cylinder and piston ,and then get it all back together again without any important parts leftover.
Grease Monkeys
Grease Monkeys

I disassembled the bike following the Kawi shop manual and all went well. I removed all the leftover gasket goop from the case with an oiled Scotchbright pad and was ready for my friends Adam and Jay to show up and give me re-assembly help. After 4 hours or so in a cold garage, the motor fired up and sounded good. I was scheduled to ride the next day on the ice in New Hampshire, so I would soon know if we did things right.
Jetting and Exhaust
Waiting for an infusion of power.
Waiting for an infusion of power.

Some jetting was needed to manage the extra displacement. I added two washers underneath the needle clip to raise it and replaced the 118 main jet with a 125 and changed the slow jet from a 35 to a 38. The air screw is turned out 2.5 turns (you have to drill out the EPA plug the get jet access). That combination worked great right out of the box using the stock exhaust.
That’s right, I’m sticking with the stock exhaust for now. I value a very quiet bike, especially when riding off road. Yes, the heavy stock can and header pipe is certainly holding back the power potential, but I’m okay with that for now. I’m told the hot setup that is also reasonably quiet is the FMF power bomb header pipe in combination with the FMF Q4 muffler.
Verdict
I made sure to warm the bike thoroughly in the 10F temperatures before taking the bike for its maiden voyage on Hoit Pond. It felt good, but the instructions were to keep it at below half throttle for 100 miles before going WFO. Using conservative throttle, I immediately felt the increase in torque, but not much in the hp department. That would come later.
I managed 4 sessions (about 40 miles) at no more than half throttle before I slowly began opening it up to break it in the way racers do: hard. It ran great and pulled strong. I was pleased. The additional power meant I could use different techniques for getting the bike turned; namely whacking the throttle mid corner. This would hook the bike up nicely to finish the corners. The old motor couldn’t manage this feat. Cool beans.

Why a KLX?

My previous off-road bike was a 2000 DRz-400e. The DRz was a great bike; it had lots of rear tire spinning, wheelie-inducing power, but was a beast, especially in tighter trails. I now know the benefits of a more docile bike with a lower seat height and civilized manners. The KLX is a great platform that just needs a bit of love.
The bike protection goodies are a must-do if you don’t want to damage vulnerable parts and possibly become stranded in the middle of the woods. And the Barkbusters are critical to protect your hands and levers. The stock handlebar will likely bend if you look at it wrong and the mirrors will break if you scream too loud. So, get those things taken care of ASAP.
As far as the power upgrade goes, I think it is a worthwhile way to spend some money. The stock motor is reliable, but barely adequate when the going gets tough. It’s a great motor for any around town riding and level off roading. If you are a fast off road rider you won’t be looking at a KLX, so no need to compare this bike with a KTM or CRF-X.
No, this is for the person who rides both on and off road and wants a bike that is easy to ride and instills confidence. This bike is still too tall for a lot of riders, but is perfect for most middle to light weight folks of average height.


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Ice Riding Basics: Winter Moto-Fun

photo: Jeff Vader
Leaning like this on ice? Are you kidding me? photo: Jeff Vader

Okay, so I’m an idiot. Not for the multiple reasons that my wife might list, but because after 50-plus years living in the Frozen Northeast, I have just now discovered the awesomeness of riding a dirtbike on ice. Add to that the fact that I have lived on a perfectly good lake for the last 25 years and you can see the reason for my self-criticism.

Am I Crazy?

Okay, I can probably be forgiven for not riding a motorcycle on ice, after all, it does seem a little crazy. And I’ll admit to being super-intimidated the first time I rolled my 2010 Kawasaki KLX250s onto the previously liquid, but now molecularity-hardened surface in front of my house.
But, I’d seen the photos of others leaning at insane-degree angles on frozen bodies of water, so I figured that with my newly-mounted Fredette Canadian ice tires, I just might be okay.

My first time on the ice: scary and exhilarating.
My first time on the ice: scary and exhilarating.

And so I was. As a matter of fact, I was more that okay, I was absolutely beyond okay! After a few tentative laps around the rock-hard lake, I was giggling like a schoolgirl on Nitrous.
Photo: OwensTrackDayPhotos.com
Ice riding will make rain riding even more fun. Photo: OwensTrackDayPhotos.com

Pavement & Dirt Training

So, as much fun as ice riding is, it also offers big benefits to my off-road riding, as well as my street and racetrack pavement riding.
Here are some of the benefits that I found:

  • Becoming more comfortable with managing variable amounts of traction.
  • Learning to look through turns even when traction is breaking loose beneath you.
  • Seeing just how much throttle control affects traction.
  • Understanding the importance of proper body position for off-road riding.
  • Learning to relax even when you’re on the edge of control.
  • Feeling more and more comfortable “backing it in”.

Crash Dance
Crash Dance

Each of these things apply to general motorcycle riding, with some lessons being more applicable to dirt riding and ultra-fast racetrack riding. As a street rider, ice riding widens experiences and expands the margin of error for those times when the unexpected happens and survival means keeping your cool.
Backing it in! photo: Jeff Vader
Backing it in!
photo: Jeff Vader

What I Learned: Basic Technique

Ice riding is a lot like dirt riding especially, flat track, and is all about taking advantage of the grip the tires offer.
Lean the Bike Beneath You: Ride on top of the bike when cornering, sitting on the upper edge of the seat with the bike leaned sharply underneath you. Avoid leaning to the inside like you might do when street riding, track riding, or roadracing.
Arms: Extend your inside arm while keeping your upper elbow up high and bent. This is tiring and hard to remember, but really helps with front tire traction and control. This arm position means you will hold the throttle like a screwdriver when making left-hand turns (most ovals go counterclockwise, like flat track racing).
Sit forward: Sit on the very front of the seat so the bike’s pivot point is centralized.
Feet: Weight on the outside footpeg to maximuze traction. Drag your inside foot on the ice as a third contact point. Be careful not to put too much weight on the foot to avoid hooking it on rough ice and cause it to get trapped under the rear tire. Ouch!
Look: Keep looking through the turns even when it feels like all hell is breaking loose. Like all other motorcycle riding genres, this helps you relax and let the bike sort itself out.
Steer with the Rear: As you get faster, you learn to back the bike into the turns. This gets the bike turned with the rear, rather than “steering” with the front, which can increase the risk of the front sliding out. Steering with the rear can be done by using a bit of rear brake as you enter the turn, or by downshifting and dumping the clutch. If you are going real fast then a hard countersteer will break it loose. Whether you use the brake or not depends on the amount of grip the ice has.

Bike Setup

To ride on ice you need a dirtbike and off-road knobbie tires with screws in the tread blocks. You can do this a few different ways:

  • Buy a few bags of special screws from a motorcycle or ATV retailer and spend time with a cordless drill installing hundreds of those little buggers into your knobs. One popular brand is Kold Kutters.
Fredette Canadian style Ice Tires
  • Buy already prepared ice tires. The ones I have are from Fredette Racing Products. They sell tires with “AMA approved” screws, as well as the more aggressive Canadian type.
  • Buy tires pre-made by local ice riders. Ask around.

The Canadian tires I have mounted carved right down to the hard icy surface on powder snow and are pretty decent even after the ice becomes shredded into fine chips.

Almost crashing on AMA tires in accumulated ice chips.
Almost crashing on AMA tires in accumulated ice chips. photo: Colin Samuel

The AMA tires don’t have nearly as much grip on soft surfaces. I know this from riding a borrowed 125 motocrosser with AMA tires (see photo).
You’ll want to get some tire wraps  to keep the screw’s sharp when rolling the bike around the garage and loading in your truck or trailer… and prevent bloody hands.
My bike is a bone-stock KLX250s, which handles just fine for fun, but needs more power, especially for the larger lake ovals. I’m about to install a 351 big-bore kit to solve this problem.
More serious riders set up motocross bikes with ice fenders and lowered suspension.

Rider Preparation

What to wear? I saw all sorts of riding garb when I recently rode in New Hampshire with a group of friends. It was 10 degrees F, so naturally we were bundled up. Some riders wore dirt riding pants and regular winter jackets, some wore Carhartt jackets and pants or snowmobile gear.
Helmet: I wore both my spare street helmet (full-faced, of course) and dirt bike helmet with goggles. Shield fogging can be an issue, but cracking it open a bit solved the problem…mostly. Snowmobile shields are another option. A skull cap under the helmet helps keep the head warm.

photo: Jeff Vader
photo: Jeff Vader

Boots: Some people wear heavy winter boots and some wear off-road boots (including me). One thing to consider is that you need boots with soles that are durable enough to slide across rough ice all day long. Wear warm socks.
Gloves: My hands are susceptible to the cold. On days that are a bit warmer, I rode with insulated mechanics gloves. However, on the 10-degree days, I wore my insulated street gloves with glove liners. Note that wearing gloves that are too thick can lead to arm pump.
Layers: Wear layers! You will get warm enough to sweat and will want to shed a layer or two as the day goes on. I wear three or four layers of performance nylon shirts under a street riding jacket.
Pants: I wear an old pair of MotoPort overpants over jeans with motocross knee armor underneath.
Armor: Speaking of armor, I highly recommend you get armored-up. That ice is hard! In addition to knee armor, I have elbow guards, hip pads and my Impact Armor back and chest protector that I use for roadracing and track days.

Tracks

So, where does an ice rider ride? In New England, there are people who make the effort to drive their plow trucks to the lakes to clear ovals and road courses of various distances. And I’m sure there are plenty of places in other parts of the Northern U.S. with dedicated riders willing to clear lakes and ponds for others to ride.

Get online to find out where ice riding is available in your area. Please be considerate of those who do this fine work. Ask if it’s okay to ride before showing up and be sure to clean up after yourself.

Ice Racing

If you’re the competitive type, you can always step up your game and go racing. I’m not a resource for ice racing, so do a Google search and ask around at dealerships and on Facebook.
You experienced ice riders, please share any more tips below.
Good luck and Back it in!


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Top 16 Off-Road Riding Tips

Fun and challenging!
Gettin’ My Mud On!

I recently returned from an epic dirt riding trip. But, instead of boring you with details about where I went and what I ate, I’m going to share some tips about how I survived the slimy, rocky, ascents and descents of the Rock House section of the Hatfield McCoy trail system in West Virginia.
smallrockhouse copy
Ken, Tony and the guys at Hatfield McCoy
Ken, Tony and the guys at Hatfield McCoy

It all started when a group of us from Tony’s Track Days arrived at the small town of Gilbert, WV to ride up and down some of the slimiest and rockiest terrain I’ve encountered.

Check out the video:

You’ll hear me talking while I slip, slide and bounce along the trails, because I am using Interphone brand Bluetooth communicators with my friend, Tony. I can’t recommend using communicators enough…it makes off road riding even more enjoyable and allows the person in the lead to warn about particularly gnarly hazards. I’m on a Kawasaki KLX250s.


Some hills are just too tough.
Some hills are just too tough.

Slippery, Slimy Mud on hard packed rock.
Slippery, Slimy Mud on hard packed rock.

Why Do That?

To understand some reasons why I ride off-road (and why you should, too), you may want to read the blog article “10 Reasons Why Street Riders Should Ride in the Dirt” . Sure, riding off-road makes anyone a better street rider, but I also do it because it is challenging and fun, fun, fun.
I talk about “riding in the zone” as it pertains to street riding and even track riding, but off-road riding brings the zone experience to a whole new level of alertness.  Any significant lapse in focus could mean careening down a steep slope with the only thing stopping me from a long descent are stands of trees.

Fun and challenging!
Fun and challenging!

Tips for Surviving Mud, Rocks, Hills and Other Off-road Encounters

I’m no off-road riding expert. But, I know enough to share some tips that can help you survive your next off-road riding experience. With no further ado, here they are:

  1. 1. Manage Your Speed: Nothing increases risk more than a too fast speed for your ability and/or the conditions. Keeping your throttle hand in check is fairly easy to do, but managing speed on a steep, muddy downhill trail is tough. The trick is to see the problem well before you get to it and slow down to a crawl so you aren’t trying to scrub off speed where gravity and almost zero traction create the equivalent of a slip and slide.
  2. 2. Keep Your Eyes Up: We look down when we are scared or tired. The problem is that as soon as you look down, you’re unable to deal with the terrain that is suddenly under your front wheel. This problem compounds until you are so far behind what’s going on underneath you that you get more scared, look down more and eventually crash. This pertains to most athletic activities, including street riding.
  3. 3. Use Momentum: When traction is limited, you must rely more on momentum. This means keeping your eyes up to see what’s coming and getting on the gas before you are on a surface that has little grip.
  4. 4. Believe You Can Do it: If you hesitate, you will likely not make it up that steep incline. So, go for it! That said, avoid terrain that is over your head.
  5. 5. Stand Up, Sit Down: It’s nearly impossible to ride an off-road bike well if you aren’t good at riding while standing. It’s also important to know when it’s best to stand and when to sit. In general, stand for any significant bumps so your legs absorb the impacts and sit for corners, especially corners with berms so you can load the rear tire for the drive out.
  6. 6. Find the Center: Whether sitting or standing, you must find the spot where your body’s mass is located for optimum maneuverability and fluid control. This means sitting forward on the seat and standing so your belly is over the steering stem.
  7. 7. Bent Arms: The bike is going to move up, down, left and right at great frequency. Yet, you must hold onto the handlebars and operate the controls while the bike is jerking around. Bent arms allow the bike to move as necessary and for your hands to still control the throttle and brake with precision.
  8. 8. Counter-lean: This is something street riders have a hard time with when they first start dirt-riding. If you lean with the bike (or low and inside) then the bike will slip out from under you. The bike must lean to turn, but if you stay on top of the bike, your weight keeps the load pressing vertically to allow the tires to grip the terrain.
  9. 9. Forget the Clutch: Forget using the clutch for upshifts. There is usually no time to go for the clutch lever when you’re accelerating out of one rocky, muddy mess into another one.
  10. 10. Use the Clutch: On the other hand, you want to use the clutch to control drive as much as possible. By slipping the clutch you can stay in a taller gear to avoid excessive shifting and control your speed with greater precision.
  11. 11. Use the Rear Brake: On muddy terrain, you’ll rely heavily on the rear brake. Skidding the rear tire is not usually a big deal, but skidding the front will quickly toss you on your head.
  12. 12. Use the Front Brake: Yeah, I know what I just said, but when there is traction, you can (and should) use both the front and rear brakes when descending hills. This may sound tricky, and it is. But, sometimes you need all the slowing power available, just learn to apply the front brake carefully.
  13. 13. Learn to Wheelie and Jump: Not so you can be a squid, but so you can get over fallen trees, big rocks and to jump whoops like Pastrana. If you can’t wheelie, then at least learn to loft or bunny-hop over obstacles.
  14. 14. Steer with the Rear: When you don’t have a lot of grip, trying to steer with the front tire is a bad idea. Instead, get the bike turned in the general direction, but get on the gas to prevent a front tire washout.
  15. 15. Make sure Your Bike is Ready: It sucks to be stranded in the woods.
  16. 16. Take Breaks: Off-road riding uses a lot of physical and mental energy. If you get tired, you will start looking down and your timing will become imprecise. Before you know it, you’re on the ground.

Okay. It’s your turn. Please use the comments area below to share your favorite tips for riding rugged and muddy off-road terrain.


 

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10 Reasons Why Street Riders Should Ride in the Dirt

A fun way to become a better rider.
A fun way to become a better rider.

You’ve probably heard people say that dirt riding can help improve a road rider’s skill, but can it really make you a safer and more competent street rider? The answer is yes.

1. Improved Traction Sense

One thing you'll learn is traction management.
One thing you’ll learn is traction management.

Managing traction is one of the highest priorities for any motorcycle rider, whether on street or off-road. Dirt riding provides ample opportunities to learn about traction management as the tires hunt for grip on unpredictable surfaces.
Having your motorcycle move around beneath you is disconcerting for street riders who are new to this sensation, but it helps you learn about traction management, including which inputs help and which hurt traction.
And this experience translates to street riding. Imagine yourself suddenly feeling your tires sliding as you roll over a wet surface or a bit of sand in a corner. Imagine your bike feeling like it is falling out from underneath you. Most street riders will panic, flinch and tense on the handlebars. This often makes matters worse.
With dirt riding experience, you are more likely to recover from a relatively minor slip instead of panicking and gripping the bars in fear. Previous experience can allow you to stay composed and relaxed so your inputs remain fluid, allowing the tires a chance to regain grip.

2. Clutch and Throttle Control

You're going to get dirty.
You’re going to get dirty.

Throttle, clutch and brake control become very important when your tires are skipping over tree roots and wet rocks or through deep sand and gravel. But, you may not realize just how important fine clutch and throttle control affects a street rider’s confidence.
By perfectly timing clutch release and throttle application, you manage lean angle, traction and direction control. This is especially noticeable when downshifting as you enter a slow turn. If you downshift as you begin to tip into a turn, you must feed the clutch out smoothly to avoid abrupt driveline lash that can disrupt traction and direction control.

3. Slow Speed Skills

Off-road riding typically includes a lot of slow speed maneuvering, which means that your sense of balance at slow speeds will increase greatly. Maneuvering slowly over rough or loose terrain requires steady, smooth power delivery. This often means slipping the clutch to control the power and prevent instability and unwanted direction changes. Yet another reason why masterful use of the clutch is so important for precise control of forward drive, both on and off road.

You learn slow speed maneuvers and balance.
You learn slow speed maneuvers and balance.

4. Balance and Body Position

Because a lot of off-road riding is done at slow speeds over uneven surfaces, maintaining balance is a constant issue. The technique for maneuvering any motorcycle at slow speeds is to counterweight so that the motorcycle leans independently of your upper body. Counterweighting keeps the center of gravity over the tire contact area to maintain grip when traction is low.
Riding a lightweight dirt bike means that much more of the steering is done with the footpegs and body. By positioning your body forward, rearward and side to side, you influence direction control.
You’ll need to learn to ride while standing on the footpegs to allow your legs to act as shock absorbers. This can be tiring at first, until you learn the proper “neutral” position that keeps your bodyweight over the balance point of the bike, usually over the front of the fuel tank, knees slightly bent and elbows out.
On the street, you use many of these techniques as you cross speed bumps, railroad tracks or when ascending or descending steep hills at slow speeds.

5. Throttle and Brake Steering

Another important thing to learn when dirt riding is how to use the throttle and rear brake to change direction by breaking the rear tire loose under acceleration or when braking. It’s scary at first, but once you learn these techniques, your confidence will grow quickly.
On the street, you will have a better sense of how the throttle can help “finish” a turn or how deceleration and brake force can alter your cornering line. Motorcycle dynamics are similar enough between lightweight, off-road bikes and heavy street bikes for this skill to transfer.

6. Improved Brake Control

The front brake offers the most braking power whether riding on or off road, however the rear brake becomes more important when riding in the dirt. When traction is low, the amount of brake force is minimized and load transfer that pitches the bike forward is reduced, which means that the rear of the bike remains more planted for more effective rear brake power.
Another reason to favor the rear brake is to avoid a front tire skid, which must be avoided if you want to remain on two wheels. Loose surfaces are unpredictable, so it’s best to apply more rear brake pressure and modulate the front brake to avoid a skid.
On the street, you learn that there are times when you favor the rear brake a bit more. Riding with a passenger and descending a gravel road are two instances that come to mind.

7. Improved Visual Skills

Off-road riding requires keen vision. One of the keys to a successful off-road outing is the ability to identify the best line through a rocky or sandy trail or fire road so that you find the best available traction. A common problem that new riders have is their inability to keep their eyes well ahead, scanning for the ideal line.
This translates directly to street riding. Nervous riders look down, which leads to higher perceived speeds, and more panic as hazards seem to appear “out of nowhere”. Eyes Up!

Fitness is a must.
Fitness is a must.

8. Better Fitness

Riding on the street can be tiring and can make you sore. But, that doesn’t mean you’re getting into shape. If you want to increase muscle tone and strength, get yourself off-road. The act of balancing a motorcycle over rough terrain is one of the best workouts you’ll experience. Bring a hydration system…you’ll need it.

9. Learn to Fall Down

You won’t likely become a texting teenager’s hood ornament when riding off-road, but there is still significant risk.
Even though crashes are usually less serious, the frequency of tip overs tends to be higher when off-road riding. Typical injuries usually consist of bumps, bruises and perhaps a torn ligament or broken bone if you’re unlucky. Because of these challenges, you should not ride alone without the help of someone to come to the rescue if necessary.
Learning to fall is not usually something I emphasize. Instead, I prefer to teach people how NOT to fall. But, there is something beneficial about being familiar with hitting the deck that can potentially help you if you were to crash on the street, such as trying to relax (yeah, right) or keeping arms tucked in if you tumble. Think of sports players who learn to fall without injury; that’s the theory.

10. Gain a New Respect for Riding Gear

Whether riding on the street or off-road, it’s important to reduce the likelihood of injury and this means wearing protection. No sane person I know would hit the trails without full protection. I’ve seen too many riders fall down and get a rock in the ribs or a stick in the chest to not wear full gear. Not to mention bruised ankles and nasty rash. And that is falling at under 20 mph. You know what happens if you were to hit pavement at 40 mph with inadequate clothing…not pretty. ATGATT, people.

There's nothing like being in nature while learning to be a better rider at the same time.
There’s nothing like being in nature while learning to be a better rider at the same time.

Get Dirty, Skillfully

With good skills, falling can be minimized. But for many, tipovers are a reality when riding off-road, which means you must manage the risks. Don’t take your safety for granted. Learn to ride well! Prepare your mind with an attitude toward reducing risk and protect your body with proper riding gear.
There is a lot more to learn about off road riding. Understand that just because you can ride a street bike does not mean that you can swing a leg over a dual-purpose bike and safely hit the trails. But, it is well worth the effort.
What are your experiences with how off-road riding helps your street riding?


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Ground Clearance & Grip

Cornering on a big cruiser requires a respect for clearance limits.
Cornering on a big cruiser requires a respect for clearance limits.

I just received another letter from a Motorcycle Consumer News reader, this time about a situation he encountered when riding on a twisty back road in Cali on his Street Glide. Here’s his story, followed by my response.


“Ken, your recent article (in Motorcycle Consumer News) on cornering traction was excellent.  I just returned to Las Vegas after traveling up the coastal hwy to Oregon then back down to Las Vegas. While on that trip I had an incident involving cornering that left me very puzzled.
While heading to the coast from the 101 on hwy 128 north of San Francisco I was enjoying the curves of the coastal range. I ride a Harley Street Glide and ride fairly aggressively but not what I consider unsafe. As I was entering one turn (posted at 20mph) I leaned the bike into the turn and suddenly heard metal screeching on asphalt and almost simultaneously was aware that I had lost traction and was heading for the outside of the corner and a steep drop off.
Automatically I jammed my left foot down to the asphalt, but with my speed around 30-40mph sprained my ankle pretty badly. Much to my surprise I regained traction on the outside of the corner and was able to hold it there through the last 1/2 of the corner. My conundrum is that I’m not sure what happened! I felt comfortable with the speed I had entered the corner and I had entered from wide to just inside the center lane when the incident occurred. Normally, if I’m leaning the bike too much I’ll be aware of the foot board dragging. In this case there was no warning, just metal screeching and loss of traction simultaneously. Also, the road was great, with fairly new asphalt and no noticeable debris. Your thoughts would be greatly appreciated as this incident has made me extremely apprehensive whenever entering a corner with thoughts of this incident constantly in the back of my mind.”


Fairly aggressive cornering on a cruiser can be done, if you respect the bike's limits.
Fairly aggressive cornering on a cruiser can be done, if you respect the bike’s limits.

My Response

Without having seen or experienced the actual incident, I can only speculate on the cause based on knowledge of typical scenarios like yours. The fact is that ground clearance just doesn’t go from sufficient to nonexistent without a reason. It could be that you were leaning far enough that you were about to touch your floorboard when the mysterious factor occurred and your bike was suddenly grinding hard parts. This levered your tires off the ground and reduced traction.
Most times, when a bike suddenly goes from adequate ground clearance to zero ground clearance, it is a sign of traction loss caused by undetected surface contamination or debris, or abrupt throttle, brake or handlebar inputs, all of which are rider error. Sudden traction loss while the bike is leaned will cause the bike to drop quickly. This usually results in the rider tensing on the handlebars and chopping off the throttle, which exacerbates the problem.
If neither surface debris nor rider error existed, then you have to look at the possibility of a sudden and undetected change in surface camber that reduces ground clearance, or perhaps a depression in the road that would cause the suspension to compress.
Predicting that conditions can change quickly is a key survival strategy and applies to seemingly perfect pavement. New pavement can actually make ground clearance-robbing features such as undulations and dips difficult to see.
Knowing that your bike is a low slung machine means that you must be particularly sensitive and aware of these clearance hazards so that they don’t cause problems. One way to help manage limited ground clearance is to slow down.

Hanging off the inside of the bike helps increase clearance.
Hanging off the inside of the bike helps increase clearance.

You can also learn to use body positioning to help increase ground clearance. By simply dropping your head and shoulder to the inside, you shift the combined center of gravity of bike and rider so that your machine doesn’t have to lean quite as much. Practice this in a parking lot and notice that your floorboards don’t drag as readily. My book has drills that can help.
If you are riding briskly on your Street Glide and continue to have clearance problems, perhaps you are exceeding the limits of the bike and need to consider trading in for a model that is more suited to your cornering exuberance.
Now that we’ve discussed the possible cause, let’s look at your reaction. The sudden loss of ground clearance, for whatever reason, triggered a panic response that not only had no significant effect on allowing your big Harley to recover traction, but also caused you to injure your ankle. This panic response is part human nature and is how most riders react when faced with a potentially life threatening situation.
Off-road riding helps train for minor traction loss events.
Off-road riding helps train for minor traction loss events.

To minimize these survival instincts from causing more harm, you would need to re-train your mind and body to feel okay with minor traction loss. This is not easy to do when you ride a road-going cruiser, but is easily achieved with some off-road riding experience. Off-road riders routinely experience wide variations in traction and become accustomed to traction loss so that they do not overreact and make matters worse.
But, please understand that training yourself to react correctly is not a substitute for being aware of hazards and preventing them from causing an incident from happening in the first place.
The results of overriding a bike's capabilities can be disastrous.
The results of overriding a bike’s capabilities can be disastrous.

I hope this helps.
Ken


Do you have anything to add? Have you encountered a similar situation? How did it turn out? Please comment below.
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