Techniques to Improve Your Adventure Riding - RIDE SMART

Tips to improve your off-road ADV experience

adventure riding skills illustration
Adventure Riding SkillsIllustration by Morgan Schweitzer

Adventure bikes are to touring as SuperSTOLs or floatplanes are to aviation—they open up a whole new world, letting you explore where Gold Wings and Road Kings cannot. But riding big ADV bikes safely off the beaten track is a voodoo science, marrying the terrain reading of an off-road rider with the balance of a tightrope walker. Simply put, the über-weight, high center of mass, and bulkiness of adventure bikes are the opposite of what you'd want off road.

As such, off-roading a big ADV requires a thoughtful approach, some specific skills, and planning for trouble when you're far from help. Particularly, learn to pick up a heavy bike by yourself (position your back against the seat, grasp the lower handgrip and seat, and lift with your legs). Then think ahead to master disaster. Cell phones often don't work in the outback, and the old practices of screaming for help, lighting a signal fire, flashing a mirror at aircraft, or simply waiting for another vehicle to arrive are actually rather iffy propositions if you or your bike get seriously disabled. Way smarter is a SPOT satellite transceiver ($120 to $550, that transmits your location and lets you connect with family, friends, or emergency services anywhere you go.

Here are four other techniques to improve your off-road ADV experience:

1. Lower the weight. If the nearly 600-pound curb weight were not enough, stuff another 60 pounds into the side cases and trunk and you'll be perched atop a high-centered hippo off road. Carry only what you need, and pack the heavy stuff low down.

2. Read the terrain. Single-tracks, sand, mud, and rocks present real challenges for adventure bikes. Bodywork interrupts your line of sight, mega-mass is ponderous, and DOT tires don't grip like knobbies. Continually scan the terrain ahead, and choose the smoothest lines.

3. Practice braking. Safely test for dirt grip by pulling the clutch in and applying the rear brake until the wheel locks briefly. Also, not all ABS works identically off road; test to determine whether "on" or "off" works best for the conditions.

4. Jumping Jack Flash. An 800cc to 1,200cc adventure bike is bigger, wider, and a bunch heavier than a CRF250L. So before your first tip-over, lay that pig over and see which parts are likely to pin you down. Then learn to stay clear.