Steve Rose is no off-road expert, but after two days at MotoScotland, he's worked out the eight most important things to cope with the rough stuff...
It’s all to do with your balance point apparently. The further you look ahead the better your brain can judge balance and the quicker you can react when you’re losing it. This is exaggerated off road because you are stood up, turning your body into a longer lever that is even more sensitive to changes in balance. A bike goes where you look, we learn that on the road and by looking further ahead you see the upcoming hazards like mud, pot holes and corners sooner so you can adjust your speed or riding position accordingly and plan your lines sooner.
Let your peripheral vision take care of the stuff in the foreground. You’ll have already seen the muddy rut when it was in the distance so ignore it now. Just look ahead, keep the power on and the bike will go where you point it.
Like me, you are probably thinking right now ‘that’s all very well but what about that enormous boulder in front of me?’ Somehow, if you look ahead and keep on the power, the boulder disappears or you have the time to make a strategy to avoid it.
Look up…it works
Use your body weight
Standing up allows you to make big shifts in bodyweight to help front or rear traction or to give extra grip in a corner.
Use the right brake
On really slippery surfaces engine braking is best because you won’t lock the wheels. If you’re going down a steep, slippery hill and engine braking isn’t quite enough, then add a little front brake, squeezing gently. Be prepared to release and re-apply the brake if the front starts to lock. Using the back brake is more likely to lock the back wheel and then you lose the engine braking, so resist the temptation to use it on slippery surfaces.
If in doubt, go faster
We are talking relative speeds here, but generally, the quicker you go, the more likely a bike is to run straight and be stable on slippery, unpredictable surfaces. So, when the going gets tricky, add some gas and because you are looking so far into the distance, there’s plenty of time to spot the hazards ahead that you need to slow down for.
Cover your levers
Keeping two fingers on the clutch and front brake lets you react faster. Practising the most delicate clutch and brake control allows you to control your speed and more importantly, the rate of acceleration or braking.
Move your feet
Normally you ride with the arches of your feet on the pegs. But moving your toes outwards in the ‘duck-feet’ position allows you to bend your knees outwards to the side of the bike so you can move your bodyweight easily to where it needs to be.
Steer with hands and feet
Learn to steer with both hands and feet so if your foot comes off the peg or your hand is off the bar (moving a branch out of the way, for example) you are still in control. It sounds simple, but when stood up, taking one foot off the pegs sends the bike dramatically off line so you need to practice shifting bodyweight and adding hand pressure to counter it.
Think about what’s ahead
Unlike road riding, the challenges off road are varied and come at you thick and fast. So you need to be on your toes, looking, processing, working out a solution. This shift in concentration is one of the biggest benefits to road riders.