We’ve all been there. You’re riding along, having the time of your life on a beautiful road when things suddenly get a little ugly. Maybe there’s some road construction, or it starts to rain, or the road turns to dirt. But that doesn’t have to cut short or ruin your ride.
Learning a few simple techniques, you can sail through rough spots with confidence and get where you’re going without incident.
Panic can lead to tension and poor decision-making. If you feel your blood pressure rising, stop and take a few deep breaths before proceeding. Mentally review the techniques you’ll need to successfully face the challenges ahead. Keep your body relaxed--ease your grip on the handlebar and loosen your shoulders.
The main challenge of unpaved surfaces is the lack of traction compared with paved roadways. You might feel the motorcycle moving around a bit underneath you. This is normal. Don’t overreact; go with the flow.
Sharp inputs to steering and braking can work against you on unpaved surfaces. Sudden, jerky movements are more likely to lead to loss of traction and control. Instead, focus on making subtle inputs.
Keep your feet on the pegs while you ride. Fight the temptation to put your feet down and scoot your boots along the ground. This can be dangerous if your foot gets caught on something in the road. When things get especially rough, it’s a good idea to put more weight on your feet and use your legs to absorb some of the bumps.
The chances are there’s not going to be a lot of traffic on an unpaved road. This gives you the luxury of slowing down and taking your time, which will help you react to obstacles and be extra cautious.
If there is a car behind you, don’t let it pressure you into riding faster than feels safe. If necessary, find a place to pull over and let it pass.
Since traction is reduced on loose surfaces, the general principle of using mostly your front brake isn’t quite as effective on unpaved roads. So try easing off the front brake and use mostly (or, if necessary, exclusively) the rear - adjusting your braking times accordingly.
The basic rules of good cornering - slow, look, lean and roll - are even more important when riding on unpaved roads.
Start slowing down sooner than you would otherwise, easing off the throttle and using minimal braking inputs. Carefully scan the road ahead to identify your best line and any potential hazards. Lean the bike into the turn by pushing on the handlebar in the direction you want to turn.
However, if a corner is particularly treacherous, shift your weight a little to the inside of the curve. This will keep the bike more upright and lessen the possibility of losing traction as you make the turn.
Finally, gently roll on the throttle as your complete turn to straighten the bike and get back up to speed.
With the introduction of the Pan America™ 1250 motorcycle, built specifically for adventure touring, there’s no reason you can’t get a little off the beaten path now and then and see where an inviting dirt road may lead.
If you keep a few fundamentals in mind, the worst part may just be the extra time you spend washing your bike that night.
If riding on dirt causes you to tense up, you’ll have a more difficult time maintaining control. Instead, keep a slightly looser grip on the handlebar, with your arms and shoulders relaxed. The natural unevenness of a dirt road will transmit a little ‘wiggle’ up into your handlebar. Don’t fight it–let your body absorb it.
Slow down but keep a steady hand on the throttle. Avoid sudden acceleration or braking. Keep your eyes on the road ahead, looking for holes, large rocks, and other obstacles. Avoid them if you can, but not if it means swerving suddenly. Don’t override your ability to react smoothly; adjust your speed accordingly.
If you have no choice but to ride over a large bump or obstacle, approach it as you would any other: keep the bike as vertical as possible, approach the obstacle head-on, and lift yourself out of the seat a bit to absorb the impact with your knees instead of your spine.
Thanks to modern tire technology, riding in the rain is more manageable than ever. After you pull over to put on your rain gear, there’s no reason you can’t keep a good ride going just because it starts to rain.
The key, of course, is maintaining and maximizing traction. Do this by slowing everything down a little:
That is, stay relaxed and avoid doing anything suddenly. Slow gradually to turn at a speed that allows you to keep the bike more upright than usual and then accelerate out of the turn more gently than usual. Remember that you’ll need more time and space to stop, so stay extra alert to what’s in front of you, and apply the brakes as gently and gradually as possible.
When you approach standing water in the road, slow down even more as you approach it. Don’t brake or accelerate as you pass through the puddle, but don’t slow down, either. Any input you make will adversely affect traction.
And remember that the beginning of a rain shower is when the road is most slippery due to oil and other contaminants washing away from the road. It’s worst in the middle of the road, so do your best to stay in the tire tracks of a vehicle in front of you.
You’re not thinking about going out riding in that blizzard, are you? Snow and ice are best avoided altogether, but there might still be times they take you by surprise – like on that 10,000-foot mountain pass in June! And icy patches can remain long after the rest of the road has thawed – on bridges, in shady spots, and various other places.
If you can’t avoid them, approach these spots just as you would a puddle, as described above: slow, steady, and upright, with no steering, braking, or throttle inputs.
Rain grooves – thin, parallel grooves cut lengthways into the pavement to channel away water – are great for cars but not great for motorcycles. Because motorcycle tires are rounded instead of flat, the grooves can tend to ‘grab’ at motorcycles a little bit. But only a little bit – it can be more of a psychological challenge than a physical one.
Ride on rain grooves the same way you would ride on a slippery surface. Keep a light but steady grip on the handlebar and avoid making any sudden steering inputs. If you feel a little vibration, don’t fight it–let your hands and arms absorb the movement while keeping your eyes up and a steady hand on the throttle.
Something about train tracks can stir the soul of a rider. Maybe it’s what they represent in terms of opening up the world to travel and transportation. But tracks and two wheels don’t mix very well, especially when it’s wet, and that cold, beautiful steel can be as slick as ice.
The key to crossing tracks safely is to cross as close to perpendicularly as possible. If the tracks are slanted across the road, slow down as much as necessary to change your ‘angle of attack’ to cross at a 90-degree angle. Cross at a steady speed, avoiding any throttle, brake, or steering inputs.
Again, all of this is especially important if the tracks are wet.
If the crossing is in poor condition, approach it as you would any other bump in the road: with your weight on your feet, your butt lifted slightly off the seat, and your knees flexed to absorb the bumps.
More problematic is when the tracks run parallel to the road, where they can ‘grab’ your tire, as you sometimes find in cities with a light rail transportation system. Rule #1 is to do your best to stay away from them, adjusting your lane position if necessary. If you have to turn across them, turn more sharply than you might otherwise (slowing if necessary) to cross them at as sharp an angle as possible.
Metal gratings on bridges provide a strong, durable surface that helps prevent snow and ice from building up on the road. As with rain grooves, it can be great for four wheels but a little disconcerting for two. Again, the key is to remember that it can be more of a mental challenge than a physical one. In dry weather, handle bridge gratings the same way you handle rain grooves.
Wet conditions call for extra caution, as the metal surface – even with the serrated edges – can get a little slippery. Approach it as you would any other slippery surface. The positive news is that chances are good you won’t have to make any turns on a grated bridge surface.
Sometimes a bridge may have a grated surface in one lane and asphalt in the other. If the asphalt is dry and in good condition, you may choose to stay on the asphalt side if possible.
Just about anything can spill out of a truck and create a road hazard: dirt, grain, manure, fish heads, you name it. Most of the time, those big spills will be obvious and avoided easily. It’s the smaller stuff that can sneak up on you and cause problems. Like maybe some sand from the back of a pickup truck or a patch of mud washed on to the road by rain.
Again, many of the same key principles apply to navigating these potentially treacherous areas. Watch your speed. Keep a light but steady grip on the handlebar. Avoid braking and accelerating. Ride straight ahead with your eyes on the road (don’t focus on the mud patch).
Finally, a word about anticipation. None of these techniques will do you any good if you can’t execute them because you didn’t see the rough spots coming. Remember your SEE technique at all times.