1. Slow down. Most novices try to use speed to maintain balance, and we teach them to use skill instead. A big adventure bike is completely different from the dirtbike you rode when you were a kid. Momentum is not necessarily your friend on a 600-pound motorcycle and is, in fact, your worst enemy once it starts off in an unintended direction.
2. Ride with finesse. You need to keep your weight balanced above the bike. Unlike on a lightweight enduro, sticking a leg out to regain balance on a big GS is a better way to hurt your leg than to regain control. Better to stay centered above the bike at a controllable speed and keep your hands and feet inside the ride.
3. Be subtle on the controls. And, particularly, learn to use the clutch. Many of our riders, who’ve ridden streetbikes for years, only know “in and out” when it comes to the clutch. On big D-S bikes off-road, you need to become intimately familiar with the friction zone, using it all the time to control speed, overcome obstacles and get moving again when you’re stuck.
4. Subtle is also key to braking. Riders accustomed to streetbikes, especially ones with ABS, are used to just grabbing a big handful. Obviously, on a loose surface, that’s not going to end well. It seems basic, but getting a feel for where that delicate lock-up point is located is critical.
5. Try to lose the tension. Everybody who starts in off-road on a big, heavy machine like a GS has a normal (and healthy) amount of anxiety, but if you can remember to relax and breathe when the going begins to get tough, it helps tremendously. Tense shoulders and a death grip on the bars only interfere with the work the motorcycle is trying to do if only you’ll relax and let it. Ride loose so you can move around on the bike and use your weight to “influence” where you want to go.
6. Practice. It takes up to 5000 repetitions to create muscle memory and reach the point where the proper response occurs reflexively. In the meantime, don’t be afraid to fail—and remember to do that loosely, as well.
Jim Hyde has a decade’s worth of experience watching people succeed in becoming better off-road riders with his company, RawHyde Adventures. For more information on rider training and guided tours, visit www.rawhyde-offroad.com.