You’ve bought your adventure motorcycle, you’ve taken it out on a few highway runs, and all your friends think you’re a motorcycle-touring-dirt-slaying god. You begin to think so too. So the next time you take your adventure bike turned Interstate queen out, you turn off the highway and head down that muddy bank you’ve been meaning to explore. The moment you do this, things start going horribly wrong.One of two things will happen, You either turn turtle and head back to the safety of glorious tarmac or you ride long enough to find yourself wrong-side up in the mud. Don’t throw out the off-road riding gear yet though, you could still be the Travis Pastrana of your locale, after this article a ton of practice and some time spent in thoughtful reflection face-first in the mud!
The reason you went down or soiled the seat of your riding gear, as you must have figured out by now, is because riding in the mud is very different from riding on the safety of tarmac. On the plus side, Mud is usually softer than tarmac so the falls are easier. I’d even go as far as to say that it was almost a polar opposite. While your road-going bike needs only to be started, going off-road needs some premeditated thought as we learnt at the Triumph Tiger Trails under the very capable tutelage of the maestro of dirt himself, Vijay Parmar. Here’s what we gathered from a weekend spent playing in the mud:
INSPECT YOUR BIKE BEFORE YOU RIDE
Before you head out on your ADV, there are some things that need to be checked. If you’re going to be riding on low-traction then turn then reduce your tire pressure to increase grip. A systems check for bikes with electronics is always advisable. This, however, is just step one and it’s possibly the easiest part of this tutorial.
The T-CLOCS Rule involves everything you need to check on your bike:
Tires: Check your tyre for signs of wear, tread on the tires. Check the tyre pressure, you don't want to be riding too high or too low in terms of pressure. This includes checking for broken or bent spokes or cracks in the rim.
Chassis/Chain: Check for signs of damage on the chassis, and check the chain for slack.
Lights & Electricals: Check for cracks, reflectors, mounting on the headlamps and the beam adjustment system.Check the battery Terminals; ensure that they are clean and tight, check the electrolyte level, and whether it is held down securely.
Oils & Fluids: You check engine oil with the bike warm and centre stand on level ground, dipstick, sight glass.Check the remaining fluids like Brakes, clutch and coolant through the reservoir or sight glass
Controls: Check the handlebar for bends and stress points. Check the brake lever function, check whether it is comfortable for you to operate the clutch with two fingers. It is also important to check all cables and lines for fray and whether they are snagged anywhere on the chassis.
Stand: Check whether the spring on your stand is working, it is advisable to have a double-stand on your bike especially if you're riding off-road. It makes it easier to work on the bike on the move.
KEEP YOUR EYES LOCKED ON WHERE YOU WANT TO GO
One of the most important things in riding is looking in the general direction that you want you and your bike to go. Now, this might sound like a daft thing to say, but more often than once, in an emergency situation, you tend to lock in on the places you don’t want to go rather than where you want to go. This a part of what we bikers like to call SR (Survival Reactions), and strange as it may sound. In most cases it’s your survival reaction will end up being the reason you find yourself wrong side up.
The truth is if you stare down at the objects right where your wheel is. You’re not going to have the time to react. It's just as simple as that. The result is a frantic response, which is nowhere close to relaxed. It's a waste of energy and compromises your ability to handle the motorcycle. Keep your chin up and look as far ahead as possible for best results.
Once you're looking in front you should have enough time to move out of the way in case of an obstacle. The next thing is to keep your mind and body relaxed. They say the motorcycle is an extension of self, and they couldn’t be more right. Everything about your body language matter, you tense up and you're likely to put more weight on the handlebar than you need to or weigh down the back when you shouldn’t be. Being tired and running out of energy is another great way to end up with a mouth-full of mud, conserve your energy and be aware of your body language.
Now, to not get tired you need to stop wrestling the bike and to do that you need to be putting your weight in the right places, so you can vector the bike in the direction you’d like to go. Standing over the pegs is something you might have seen someone do, or even tried yourself. Riders do this because standing up allows you to see better and your weight is part of the dynamic part of the motorcycle, instead of a stationary dead weight on the seat. It raises your Centre of Gravity allowing you, and the bike to move more smoothly and rapidly through any course. Now if you’ve tried riding on the pegs and haven’t noticed a stellar difference in your riding, it's probably because you're either leaning back on or pulling back on the handlebars. A death grip on the bars isn’t going to keep you on the motorcycle any longer. You should be supporting your body with your legs, transferring your weight between the back and the front when you need it. Your shoulders need to be relaxed and free to steer the motorcycle. Deep sand or soft mud, is where you’d want to lean back into the wheels and let the traction kick in. Again at most points, you’d find yourself wanting to shift your weight to the front because that’s where your body thinks it’s safe. Another great example of how your SRs can get you in trouble.
Now, this might be a little more specific with respect to the rest of the pointers here, but with the rains lashing down on the subcontinent. Floods are abundant so sometimes you don’t even have to leave the city to have to attempt a water crossing. Which is why this more specific rule made it to the list:
Step One: Estimate the depth, check whether the water is shallow enough to be below your air filter if it’s above where your air filter, it's probably advisable that you find another way around the obstacle. You can do this with a stick or by chucking a rock at various point on your water crossing.
Step two: Know the surface: Water crossing on the flooded tarmac is one thing, but mud tends to sink under you. Either way, the trick is to keep the throttle constant, don't chop on or off or you could find yourself either sinking or even worse have your exhaust swallow up some water.
Step three: Always look in front, don’t look down and it. The moment you look down you're taking the bike with you.
The Pune Tiger Trail which was a media exclusive, had us riding our Tigers 800s through some well-laid out obstacles to the setting of the Western Ghats outside Pune. The point of the exercise was to get us journos a lesson in dirt riding, and fine tune the hoon out of us. The obstacles included a slalom course, some inclines on muddy banks and a few water crossings of varying levels of intensity. Under the tutelage of the brilliant Vijay Parmar. After a brief classroom session, we headed out into the mud to put our training into practice.