How To Cross Water On Adventure Motorcycles

Get across without going under.

Crossing water
Aim for the ripples, follow the route you have checked on foot, and keep your eyes on the far bank.Motorrad Tours

Splashing through puddles never gets boring, whether it’s with your rain boots as a kid or with your motorcycle as an adult. Charging through a nice big puddle, sending water everywhere, is great fun, but only if you make it through in one piece. The trouble with puddles is that they’re all the same depth on the surface; there’s little clue as to what lies beneath. Moving water gives us a few clues, but as it gets deeper and flows faster, this can create more challenges along the way. Here’s our advice to keep your adventures moving and your air filters dry.

With Your Head

Use it. Be sure you know what’s beneath the surface before you ride across. If the water isn’t clear enough to see the bottom, the best approach is to walk the crossing first. It’s worth the investment of getting your feet wet to avoid that hidden hole lurking right where you were planning to ride. If there’s a tricky step or ledge, get one of your group to stand in the water to mark it and help riders over it. Just don’t forget to buy that person a drink at the end of the ride. When riding across, your main focus is on the far side of the water, that’s where you want to end up. If you look at that big rock under the water, you will hit it, so keep your eyes on where you want to be. With moving water, more ripples usually means a shallower section; again walk the crossing to pick the best line.

Walking the bike through a river crossing
Walking through with the bike is a safer approach with a river crossing like this; just be careful if you’re walking back without the bike not to get washed away.Motorrad Tours

With Your Hands

Slow down before you get to the water, then drive through the crossing with a positive throttle and the clutch covered. Don’t be tempted to rush through—a big bow wave looks cool but makes it tricky to see where you’re going. On loose rocky crossings, you need to set your speed carefully; too slow and every rock will stop you or knock you off balance, too fast and the bow wave makes it impossible to pick your line. If the worst happens and the bike does go down, get your hand to that kill switch as fast as you can, before the engine sucks in too much water.

sketchy territory
This rider is in sketchy territory, the speed of the water making it hard to keep a straight line.Motorrad Tours

With Your Body

If you’re confident with the bike moving around beneath you, stand up on the footpegs, keeping your legs loose. Keep your body upright above the bike as it moves around beneath you;, use the pegs to guide the bike onto the line you want. If there’s a bank you can get your foot to, you can stand on one peg, with the other leg footing along the bank to work your way slowly through unknown water crossings. If you’re less confident, you can cross sitting down, which will make it easier to get your feet down in an emergency, but you’ll have less control over the bike than standing on the pegs.

Crossing a river on a motorcycle
Stand up, stay loose, and look where you need to go. Use the pegs to guide your bike as you cross.Motorrad Tours

With Your Bike

Before you go into any water, there’s one thing you need to know about your bike—where the air intake is. The height of the air intake is the main limiting factor on how deep a water crossing you can tackle. On a new KTM 790 Adventure, the intakes are up underneath the seat so you can get in pretty deep without a problem. Likewise the BMW 1250 GS has those high intakes on either side of the headlight. But riders of the older, air-cooled GS need a bit more caution as the intake is just above the height of the cylinder heads. Know the height of the air intake and use that to judge how deep you can go. Remember, when you put weight on the bike, the suspension sinks down, along with the height of the intake, so walking your bike through can buy you an extra bit of clearance.

speed of flow is the danger here
The depth isn’t a huge issue here, but the speed of flow could be, especially if the mud from the river has settled on the asphalt below.Motorrad Tours
Do not cross
When a water crossing looks like this, it’s time to find a bridge on an alternative route.Motorrad Tours

If the worst happens and your bike goes under, ideally kill the motor before it goes in. If water gets into the engine, it’s a pretty long procedure to de-drown it fully on a modern adventure bike, but basically it goes: Empty/dry airbox, remove spark plugs, and empty water from cylinders, then drain oil and replace with fresh and a new filter. Then repeat oil changes until the oil no longer emulsifies. In other words, don’t get water in there in the first place. Most importantly, walk the crossing first, ride at a steady pace, and, if you’re in any doubt, either walk it through or find another route. Once you know the crossing is good, then is the time to pull the camera out and get some nice dramatic watersplash shots.