It’s doubtful I’ll ever mount a challenge for the Dakar. I’m far too old, and to be perfectly honest, far too scared to fire a giant dirt bike along moonscapes at 180km/h. I am very much in awe of people who do. I look at them like I look at the MotoGP racers – gods to be admired and venerated, and if necessary, sacrificed to.
That said, I have ridden a fair amount of dirt in my time. I did Sydney to Phillip Island on the dirt some years back. I’ve done dirt courses, and pitched myself off the bike with all the dignity of an anvil thrown from a plane.
I remain no threat to anyone astride a dirt bike. Unless you’re standing where I’m crashing. But that’s on you. These days, I don’t do much dirt stuff. But I should do more, and so should you, and there are lots of reasons for that.
I was reminded of them all just the other day while attending a Metzeler tyre launch for the new Karoo 4 and the Tourance Next2. The first is a superb, dual-purpose (but very dirt-oriented) hoop for the big adventure bikes, and the second is the evolution on what is already one of the best dual-purpose (but more road-orientated) tyres you can get for your luxo chookie.
Now I know some of you frailer readers consider riding dirt anathema. You’d rather fight a bear. I’d ask you to reconsider. Riding on dirt brings many lessons which translate directly to your on-road skills.
And there’s no Highway Patrol on the dirt tracks. Sure, you might get the odd cop on a dirt bike, but he’s normally focussed on terrorising young kinds on unregistered dirt weapons. Most of the time you can speed your fool head off and remain unfined.
And then there’s the fact that riding a bike on a surface which offers no grip whatsoever is enlightening. Dirt-bike riders will say there is lots of grip on the dirt. Compared to what good hotmix offers? I don’t think so.
Dirt, and all its permutations – mud, clay, gravel, sand, rocks – moves constantly under your tyres. And everything is different. Where you put your body, how you weight the ’bars and pegs, throttle and brake application, the chances of getting a tree through your face – all of it different to carving bitumen bends on a bike.
But it is a magnificent learning experience – especially for people who don’t ride dirt. Because one day, and that day may never come, you will lose traction on the road, and in that brief period of time before you hit the road, and then a tree or a car, you’ll pour so much shit out of your arse, the paramedics will need to hose you down before they can stop the bleeding.
Dirt-riding teaches you how to deal with loss of traction. Pretty much because it’s happening constantly. Have you understood now why MotoGP racers all train on the dirt?
So my question to you, is this: When was the last time you went for a ride on the dirt? And if you never have, then stop buggering about, put on your big-boy pants, and go do it.
Oh…you’re too old, huh? No, you’re not. You’re just lazy and blaming your failing body because it doesn’t talk back to you. I’m not saying you should enter a hard enduro race. I’m encouraging you to get on your bike, whatever it is, and go and find a nice smooth firetrail, and go for a bit of a squirt.
If you have one of those giant adventure bikes – and I know many of you do because it’s still a booming segment of the bike market – then you have no excuse. Take that big-arse, nuclear-powered dirt bike, and go off-road. Stop pretending like you’re Adventure Incarnate, and actually have some.
There are lots and lots of excellent dirt-riding courses on offer which will teach you the basics you need to know to enjoy yourself. Or, if your skills, like mine, could always do with a refresh.
Trust me when I tell you that shit comes rushing back when you’re trundling down a wet, skatey, access road for tanks, and are confronted with a stinking cattle grid that’s book-ended by half-a-metre-deep molten clay. And you’re on a Multistrada, because hey, who doesn’t want a Panigale with knobbies, right? Thanks, Italy!
There are countless dirt-roads out there. Most of them require minimal dirt-bike skills to ride. You really don’t have an excuse if you own an Adventure bike. But in all seriousness, I used to go to rallies a lot, and the roads into these events were usually terrifyingly difficult given we were almost all riding big Jap fours.
But we rode them anyway – and then we had lots of tales to tell around the campfire. What do riders talk about now? The quality of the coffee they bought last weekend?
Dirt riding terrifies and exalts me. It will do the same to you. And it will make you a better rider.
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Boris is a writer who has contributed to many magazines and websites over the years, edited a couple of those things as well, and written a few books. But his most important contribution is pissing people off. He feels this is his calling in life and something he takes seriously. He also enjoys whiskey, whisky and the way girls dance on tables. And riding motorcycles. He's pretty keen on that, too.