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Looking to build some extra confidence on your adventure bike? These six ADV riding skills are just what the doctor ordered to find your footing on and off-road.
Riding a big bike is always a little intimidating at first, and adventure bikes are certainly no exception. They're a bit heavier and a lot taller than most popular street bikes, which makes them feel particularly foreign when riding in the dirt.
"RIDE ADV Training cadets taking a break from all the fun ."
The desire to master these versatile machines is precisely what led us to start our learn-as-you-go ADV Expeditions skills classes, but those classes fill up fast and not everyone has the time to get out to Bend, OR or Las Vegas, NV where we currently host them.
The good news is that many of the ADV riding skills we teach in our classes can be practiced from home, and it's in that spirit we present these 6 essential techniques for adventure riders everywhere.
1. Put Your Footpegs To Use
One of the first lessons we're taught when we start riding is to turn via countersteering, aka applying pressure to the handlebars to initiate direction changes.
The handlebars are only one part of the handling equation though, and if you're looking to build your ADV riding skills, learning to master your footpegs is just as important.
Our pegs come in a variety of uses when we're out riding. We weigh both pegs to compress our suspension and hop over obstacles, we weigh our outside pegs to keep our weight over the bike during offroad maneuvers, and yes, we weigh our inside pegs to help initiate turns.
"Weighing your pegs isn't just an offroad skill. Out on the tarmac, weighing the inside peg will help you initiate and control a turn."
Regardless of what you're using your pegs for at a given time, we have three main points to keep in mind for getting the most out of your footpegs.
The first is that keeping your bike closer to vertical improves the size of your tire's contact patch with the ground, and therefore improves the amount of grip your bike has available in a given scenario.
This is where learning to weigh your outside pegs comes in handy, as it transfers the full force of your weight directly into the ground beneath you, creating better traction and control with less lean angle.
"Tyler the Instructor demonstrating some peg weighting on the dirt"
The second point is that your pegs allow you to use gravity to your advantage at all times.
Riding motorcycles is an incredibly dynamic activity, and learning how to best utilize your footpegs whether on road or off is an ADV riding skill that pays serious dividends.
Our third and final point is that you don't have to be standing to make use of your pegs.
Yes, there are serious advantages to hanging your rump out to one side or the other when standing, but you can also do this in varying degrees from a sitting and/or squatting position.
2. Floating the Front End
If you have any intention of riding in sand or similarly sketchy terrain like fresh gravel and loose dirt, leaning to float your front end is an absolutely crucial ADV riding technique.
"Tyler with the throttle on and the body position placed on the back end to keep the weight off the front"
Floating the front requires two simple ingredients: Staying on the throttle, and staying toward the back of the bike.
By keeping your weight off the front and the driven wheel engaged, you keep the rear end slightly compressed and the front end slightly extended at all times.
"If you're riding in loose sand, learning to float the front end is a key element of keeping the bike both upright and unstuck."
This one-two punch allows your front tire to "float" over deep sand, acting like a rudder that allows you to change direction without upsetting the chassis.
Getting on the brakes (particularly the front one) or letting off the throttle abruptly will turn that rudder into an anchor in short order, so while it may feel counterintuitive over such a squirrely surface, you'll actually be in better control by maintaining momentum than you would be trying to tip-toe your way through it.
3. Slipping the Clutch
On a related note, the next ADV riding technique worth mastering is modulating or "slipping" the clutch.
This skill is indispensable anytime both traction and momentum are limited, as it gives you precise control over your engine's power and how it's delivered.
Remember, motorcycle clutches are designed to be used and used often. Clutch disks are "consumable" items just like your brake pads, air filter, and chain, and you shouldn't be overly concerned with "burning up" your clutch to get out of a tight spot.
"Technical situations like low-speed hill climbs often require generous use of the clutch to maintain traction and momentum."
One of the best examples of this is climbing a steep hill at low speeds, especially from a full stop.
You need to keep your engine running to keep your bike moving forward, but putting down the full power of your engine will only cause your rear wheel to spin, which is a great way to find yourself in one of those terrifying "slowly sliding downhill" situations.
Sure, you might smell those plates cooking by the time you get to the top of the hill, but again, that's precisely what your clutch is there for in the first place.
"It's okay to vary your clutch pulls to moderate power"
Conversely, your clutch also comes in handy when you need more power. A good example of this is accidentally coming into a challenging section a gear high, causing your engine to lug and struggle when RPMs are what you need to maintain momentum.
In this scenario, slipping the clutch slightly raises your engine's RPM, effectively smoothing out the power delivery and preventing the lurching and/or stalling you want to avoid.
We'll also note that as any wheelie-lover will gladly tell you, this sort of clutch slipping is the best way to deliver a quick burst of power to get your front wheel off the ground, which is a smart skill to master for hopping over larger obstacles or attracting police attention.
4. Steering With the Rear Wheel
Ahh yes... Everyone's favorite ADV riding technique, sliding the rear end around.
While nothing feels quite as cool as hanging your back tire out to dry around a turn, there's more to sliding than simply playing flat-track superhero.
In fact, when we ride off-road, a large portion of our direction changes depend on steering using the rear wheel, which is what makes this skill as fun to learn as it is essential.
This goes for both high and low-speed maneuvers, but the good news is that the approach is the same regardless of your speed: Just add power
"Controlled rear slides is an important ADV riding skill, and also happens to be the most fun ."
There are two ways to go about this. The first is a good ol' fashioned handful of throttle, which requires no further explanation.
The second is our good friend Mr. Clutch Lever on the left handlebar, yet another reason learning to slip the clutch with precision is such a helpful skill.
The main caveat we'll throw in here is that in order to slide the rear out usefully, you'll also need to be leaning the bike to some degree when you get on the gas.
"Eric demonstrating a good time 😁"
This part of the equation requires some finesse, so we highly recommend practicing in an open place with plenty of room to start small and crank up both the speed and the amount of time spent sliding in small bites.
As you get a feel for controlling a rear slide, you can start to experiment by throwing in a few of the other ADV riding techniques we touched on earlier.
Getting your weight onto the footpegs and away from the back of the bike will allow the rear to break free easier with less throttle and thus, more control.
5. Look Where You Want To Go
This is an age-old adage for riders everywhere, but it goes double for adventure riders because we ride both on and off the pavement.
Regardless of where you're riding, it's always wise to look as far ahead in your intended direction as you can.
That doesn't mean you shouldn't pay any mind to the obstacles in front of you, it simply means you should see them and plan accordingly without fixating on them until they're directly in front of you.
"Looking where you want to go is important both on and off-road, but is particularly helpful in avoiding crashes over challenging terrain."
Out on the street, this is particularly useful on a twisty road. We've all been in the middle of a tight turn only to find a patch of sand or gravel hiding in the middle of an otherwise perfect line choice.
"If you look right, you go right."
In our experience, while skirting through a low traction patch is rarely an enjoyable experience, continuing to look through the corner while you ride through it (rather than trying to stare it down while you grab a handful of front brake) is the best way to ride it out without getting into trouble.
"This can also work against you with a thing called "Target Fixation". This happens when you fixate on an obstacle and you accidentally hit it. It's best to be aware of the object and look just left or right of it if to avoid it."
The same goes for pretty much any offroad scenario. See a giant wheel-snatching rut coming up? Focus on the line around it you'd rather take, and you'll find yourself doing exactly that.
This also works wonders for big rocks, off-camber drops, or your riding buddy who's desperately trying to pick up their fallen BMW GSA.
6. Emergency Braking
Last but not least, let's talk about emergency braking. We've all had our fair share of "oh shit" moments out on the road, whether it's a big rig cutting through a hairpin turn or a big deer running out into the trail you're absolutely blasting through.
Regardless of the terrain beneath you, remember: 70% of your stopping power comes from the front brake.
\This is well understood out on the road, but for some reason, many riders still avoid the front brake like the plague anytime they're in the dirt.
"Learning the limits of braking grip in different conditions is a surefire way to boost rider confidence."
Here's the deal: Traction is relative anywhere you ride. Yes, it's much easier to lose the front end under braking on dirt, gravel, or sand, but at the end of the day, it's your job to put in the time practicing braking to familiarize yourself with where that limit is.
If you aren't using your front brake in the dirt, you're leaving the overwhelming majority of your stopping power on the table.
We recommend seeking out different types of terrain and progressively ramping up your pressure on the lever until you find the point where your front end starts to slide.
"Banks our fury mascot putting his life in danger in the field to test Tyler's emergency braking skills"
Our goal here is to drill this down to the point of muscle memory.
Starting and stopping repeatedly for a full afternoon may feel silly in the moment, but remember: Knowing how to brake effectively will make you a much safer and faster rider than any amount of horsepower ever could.
We'll also note that while most modern motorcycles come equipped with ABS, when you're in the dirt, having your ABS disabled (especially at the rear) will actually shorten your stopping distances.
Of course we recommend practicing both ways, but remember there's a reason the ABS can be disabled on bikes like the KTM 890 Adventure and Yamaha Tenere 700.
Final Thoughts on ADV Riding Skills
Whether you've got a big trip in the works like our epic Full Patagonia Adventure or you're just looking for an excuse to get out and ride this weekend, time spent practicing these essential ADV riding skills is time well spent.
There's always room to improve on fundamentals like braking and clutch work, and the longer you spend practicing with intention, the more well-rounded a rider you'll become.
At the end of the day, it's time spent building these skills that separate the Chris Birchs of the world from the rest of us mere mortals.
We all have to start that journey somewhere, and these 6 basic techniques create a proven bedrock of fundamentals to get you well on your way.
Any skills ADV riding skills you can think of that we missed? Drop us a comment down below and let us know your favorite drills to practice.