As a boy I had an intense fear of spiders because, presumably I had watched a David Attenborough program on the death dealing arachnids…and this has stayed with me into adulthood, although my fear has subsided and replaced with a weariness and indifferent regard.
However the opposite was true of crocodiles…as a boy I was quite ok with them, presumably because Tarzan would always end up in a death roll with them and manage to come out on top, but as an adult I’ve learnt to respect their ferocity and absolute disregard for humanoids and yes I fear them with every fibre in my body.
However, what on earth has this got to do with riding motorcycles and going off the beaten track to go exploring? Well, everything and nothing at the same time but it is symbolic of how I approach my rides and how I address obstacles…both physical and mental!
Now this is not a ‘how to’ manual but rather an insight into what perils lurk out there and which can bite your leg off or give you a nasty bite that would reduce you to a feverish wreck of a soul and makes you wish you could curl up in a ball and cry for your mum…ok perhaps not that bad but you get the idea!
The point is that at every turn of the wheel there is going to be something that can destabilise your ride. On the road, perhaps the greatest threat to your well being is the interaction with other traffic or if you approach the ride beyond your’s or the bike’s limit…but on the trail then most likely the greatest threat will be the surface over which your riding!
Now I do not have a paralysing fear of anything…or not that I know of. Apart from a silverback gorilla I saw at the Durrell Zoo in Jersey that made me pee my pants, I am usually able to remain calm in most situations, however that doesn’t mean I do not acknowledge and respect anything that can possibly hurt me.
On the dirt trails, balance and tyre stability is a massive consideration for me but also how, primarily, the front tyre is reacting to the surface over which it’s moving.
Every ride is different and every season throws up something else that can give me a nasty sting in the derrière. However the common consideration is whether the front tyre will want to slip from beneath me on the mud or whether I’ll slip in and out of ruts…of differing widths and depths.
Now, autumn to spring, I know that my tyres are going to suffer in the mud however most of the vegetation in dying, dead or not reached full growth yet. So although the perils are there, they are usually easier to spot and you tend to expect the worst too.
But, my biggest reservation is during the summer months, when the tracks are dry and the going is easy! I should be loving life and riding with a permanent cheesy grin, but the pained expression all over my face and the white knuckles would tend to be a big giveaway that I could be a little nervous and a tad nauseous at the same time.
The problem with the summer and the dry tracks, is that it can lull any rider into a false sense of security. The going is good, the surface is compacted and the tyres are going well on the dry…but then you get a huge slap across the face with a wet haddock just to snap you back to reality…and this all transpired in a blink of an eye too.
One of my pet hates with off-road riding is dealing with ruts, whether wide or narrow, deep or shallow! This is where I slow to a crawl pace and I’ve adopted a seated position for most that I traverse.
There are some considerations that I simply cannot ignore. I’m riding a bulky and incredibly heavy bike…and although it is in the adventure class of bikes, it’s not really suited to the really rough stuff either. Although it’s relatively narrow at the lower engine area, it can still be too wide for the deep and narrow ruts which can snag your feet, pegs or gear lever/rear brake pedals. However most importantly it can become really quite imbalanced with only the slightest bit of instability because it is quite top heavy for a bike that is proclaiming to have off road pedigree.
Now of course, nothing is insurmountable however great care and heightened awareness is required just to keep yourself upright and to make it out the other side…there can be a lot of manhandling required which doesn’t always work great with a heavy lump either.
For the most part my eyes are flicking between what’s immediately in front of me and what’s up ahead. I want to avoid the deep ruts before it’s too late but sometimes it’s a choice of choosing the rut that is least evil.
The other major drawback of the summer is that any grass in the vicinity will grow longer and will mask ruts or big holes, so extra caution is always required and it tends to keep the insanity knocking on my door until the trail is at an end.
So deep ruts and long grass are major hurdles for the off road rider, especially with heavy bikes that you really don’t want to drop if you can help it…but there is another that can be equally as perilous to any intrepid rider…the narrow and shallow…yuk!
Most byways and trails you can bet your mortgage that either tractors or 4x4s have been there too, so there will usually be the deep ruts where the wheel marks would be. Most riders would tend to ride in the middle ground but over a short period of time they form another narrower and shallower rut which is just wide enough for a motorcycle tyre to fit into.
Now marry this with the long grass and any dry powdery surface or loose gravel or rocks that may line the rut…and you’ve got a recipe for a very low speed wobble that could flip the front tyre and destabilise the bike enough that you cannot recover from.
There isn’t any room for error and the limited space means the tyre will be knocking the side of the rut all the time. The handlebars will want to pull left and right and even trying to put a foot down to save you can mean a foot down in a deep rut either side which may mean the bike just leans over too far for you to hold.
This is why I have the upmost respect and regard for any kind of rut…anytime of year. But in the summer, when your defences are down and you should be expecting a better ride…this is where my rut, grass and surface radar goes into hyperdrive!
For every great and easy trail there will always be another that will test you and your bike to the limit…indeed any trail can have glorious conditions and other stretches will be an absolute sod. But just keeping the focus, thinking ahead and taking it really easy along the route will help to get you to the other side in one piece and the bike unscathed too…which is always a bonus. I never fear the crocodiles and the spiders anymore…but that doesn’t mean I purposely go poke them with a sharp stick either.