So you're new to the scene and want to start trail riding. Maybe you know the bike you want, have got all the kit, a marked up map telling you exactly where to go and a bunch of lads to tag along with. But the chances are that you've only got a hazy idea of what it's all about and the more you try to find out the more confused you get.
Well help is at hand right here with our NSDSC guide. We'll tell you now that it's by no means definitive, doesn't cover every aspect of trail riding and won't go into great detail. What it does give you is a broad feel for what it's all about and points you in the right direction so you can find out more for yourself. So here it goes... What's the most suitable bike to start on?
- What type of gear will I need?
- Where can I ride?
- Who can I ride with?
- Any tips on keeping the rubber side down? .....
First thing you'll need is a bike so which one do you get? Well how long is a piece of string? Do you prefer 2-strokes or 4-strokes? Are you are a learner or do you hold a full license? Are you vertically challenged or a long streak of dishwater? And so on. Basically, if you're starting out the chances are you'll be dropping the bike a fair bit and getting it stuck in awkward places at first (don't fret it's all part of the fun!). So you want something that's easy to pick up, manhandle and starts easily after it's flooded. So... that's right, we're talking about a 2-stroke and the obvious choices are the 125cc bikes such as the Yamaha DT125 or Kawasaki KLX125. These bikes are nippy and agile on and off-road; they're relatively cheap, reliable, easy to work on and popular so spares are cheap. Another good thing is they're learner-legal if you don't have your test and easy to de-restrict to their claimed 25 bhp if you do. If you're a bit short in the leg dept try a Kawasaki KE100. This is an incredibly basic (we're talking air-cooled and drum brakes) bike but it's low and light and also very cheap.
On the other hand if you prefer a 4-stroke for low-down power you could think about a lightweight 4-stroke such as a Yamaha 225cc Serow - low, light and electric start. Alternatively there is the tried-and-tested Honda XR series, been around for years, bullet-proof and a genuine great all rounder. If you're feeling flush, then how about a Suzuki DRZ400S? Its manners are impeccable on and off-road and is as happy doodling along on the highway or caning a forest trail. It's cool, classy and competitive but so user friendly that you can grow with the bike and it'll be a long time before it's performance has stopped stretching you.
Maybe you've got a bigger or heavier bike already or even a big trailie of 600cc or more and are thinking of taking that out? Pick your trails and weather and it can easily be done.
These are just a few of a multitude of bikes available but I've stuck to a handful I know are good and reliable. Motorcycle magazines, the web and other riders are good places to look if you want to buy. I haven't even hinted at the exotica that are available from manufacturers such as Tm, Gas-Gas, KTM, Husaberg etc.
As a beginner you want something basic. Get out, get muddy and fall off, get bitten by the bug and that'll be time enough to worry about them!
Next you'll need some gear. That's not just a riding kit but tools, spares and bike mods as well. Firstly, a dot or snell approved helmet. A pair of motorcycle gloves, a good pair of boots that cover your ankles and . The reality is though that once you've clouted your ankle and shin a few times you realize how great moto-X boots are. After you've got steamed up and sweaty in a full-face you see the value of an open lid and goggles. You can get modern moto-X pants that are light and breathable. You don't have to get the stuff straight away or even expensively (or even new - check our classifieds or trader mags) but decent gear is the difference between relative comfort and cold wet misery/hot clammy misery.
You'll need two sets of tools; obviously one for fixing and servicing the bike at home (you'll be doing a lot of that) and a smaller set for quick fixes whilst riding. Ideally it should include:
- flathead screwdriver
- phillips screwdriver
- 8mm, 10mm, 12mm 14mm, 17mm wrenches
- Wrench for removing rear wheel
- plug wrench
- tire levers (NOT the crap ones from the local motor-bike shop, get some decent ones
- from off-road dealers)
- small hand pump or co2 cartridge pump
- puncture repair kit
- spare tube (21" - will fit both front and rear)
- spare split link for chain
- spare plug
- spare nuts and bolts
This sounds like a lot but it all fits into a fender bag You can get it even more compact by investing in a decent multi-tool. If you're feeling really sensible you could also carry spare levers in case of a tumble. Alternatively buy a pair of rally guards (see below). You will also need to apply a few mods to the bike to get the most out of trail riding. Buy some rally guards form Acerbis or Emgo etc. from bike shops. These are covers that bolt from the bar ends to further down the bars and protect the levers (and hands) in case of a spill. If you can't afford these, loosen the lever brackets so they'll turn on the bar rather than break when hitting an obstruction. While you're at it remove the mirrors because they're the first things to break.
You may find the road gearing is a little high for trail use and the bike is always going a bit faster than you want it to go. Think about getting a lower geared chain and sprocket set and if you don't have an 'O' ring chain then it's a must. If you baulk at the cost then you could just swap the counter shaft sprocket for one with one less tooth although you really should change the set entirely.
The tire question could have a book all to itself with issues of performance, wear, cost, on/off-road compromise, legality etc. A set of road-type trail tires is fine if you never intend riding in the wet but who stops there? Once the going gets a bit slippery then you need a chunkier tread to cope. There are various tires with more aggressive treads that are still road legal and give good on/off-road performance such as the Pirelli MT21 although sustained road use will see it wear quickly. A cheaper alternative is to go one step beyond and use competition tires where you can always find a cheap deal somewhere or other. A favoured combo is moto-X front and enduro rear although this isn't recommended if the bike is being used for regular road use not least because of the safety aspect. However this route leads to the question of legality and a very grey area. There are enduro tires that are road legal and others that are not. And what one person may consider legal, another might not. Either get advice from a good tire dealer or your local MVI centre or if at all worried, err on the side of caution. Of course if you use the bike for commuting during the week then all of the above will be a compromise between off-road performance and on-road practicality. One final word on gear goes to bike transport. When you first start you'll probably be riding to and from local trails from home. But later on you'll want to go further afield and then you'll need bike transport. You could consider a trailer. So where do you ride now that you've got the bike and the gear? If you're very lucky you may have private land or access to private land. If not, join in on the forum to find out the best places to ride. A word on conduct with walkers and horse-riders: although you're not allowed on their rights of way, they're allowed on yours. So don't be surprised to see dog-walkers, horse-riders or cyclists, so ride accordingly. They've as much right to be there as you so treat them with courtesy and respect even if they don't reciprocate. They might not know as much about rights of way as you do and not know you're allowed there. If it comes to it explain your rights but if it turns into a confrontation match just ride off slowly. Who do you ride with? The golden rule is never, never, never go on your own when riding off-road. Yes people do it but they are relatively experienced riders who know the ropes and even then it's not recommended. At the least you'll need extra muscle if you get stuck, at the worst you could be lying helpless after a spill and no one knowing you were there. Besides it's more fun in a group. That's why the Nova Scotia Dual Sport Club was formed. If you know any like-minded souls then contact them and let them know about NSDSC.
To find people near you to trail ride with, just look at the list of members and click on individual usernames to get any info they have chosen to share with the club. Note: only logged-in active members can 'see' the 'List of Members' page. You've got the bike, the gear and the map but just how the hell do you do this trail riding business? Well it's about a bit of balance and a lot of confidence. Believing you can do it and attacking big-holes and boggy bits with a bit of gumption will see you doing it 9 times out of 10. It doesn't take long to get a feel for it and within a morning you'll be having such a hoot that you'll feel like you've been doing it all your life! Here are a few more tips:
- When you first start, ride slightly faster than you want to go. The extra momentum will get you through better than trying to pussyfoot when it's harder to keep your balance.
- Look ahead. The tendency is to keep your eyes fixed 6 foot in front of the bike. Try to look maybe 10 or 15 yards ahead and anticipate stuff. If you can do this then the front wheel will look after itself.
- Be aware of your balance and in tricky stuff stand up on the pegs for better control. It might seem like longer to fall but you get better control.
- Hold the bars lightly but firmly. Don't wrestle the bike, try to let it do the work and it'll usually find its own path.
- Get used to riding with your elbows up and your weight to the front. It gives you more control and makes the bike more stable.
- When braking try to apply them smoothly, especially the front because different rules apply to the front and the rear. Stamping on the rear brake will cause the back wheel to lock. If you do this riding in a straight line the rear wheel will skid but you should carry on more or less straight. If you do it whilst cornering the back end will skip out. This isn't a bad thing necessarily as done in a controlled way it helps you corner quicker. The front brake is a different kettle of fish. In all but the most stable of surfaces snatching the front brake will throw all the weight onto the front wheel, overload it beyond its gripping power and you'll be straight off. Apply it smoothly and don't panic brake - although we've all done it. If the worst comes to worst, try to drop the bike and slide - but as a new kid you won't be going that fast in the first place will you?
- Ruts - love or hate them, they're part of trail riding. The best advice for a novice is to ride the middle of the track so you don't get into one in the first place. But if you do (which you will) then just stay in it until it becomes shallow enough for you to get out of it again. Don't try riding out of it until you've more experience, you'll probably just fall over.
- Attack big-holes in a low gear with a bit of aggression to get you out the other side. But not so aggressive that that you pull a 6 ft wheelie.
- Banks and steeper hills should be tackled with the weight forward uphill and weight backwards downhill. To control the descent select a lower gear and brake smoothly. Don't snatch at the brakes or you'll go into a skid and lose control. On a 4-stroke release the clutch and use engine braking; on a 2-stroke feather the clutch to prevent it stalling. On no account pull in the clutch lever in panic or you'll go into free-fall.
- In boggy going select a lower gear and apply a little aggression. If the gear is too high you'll probably stall. Don't be afraid to do a bit of paddling to help you on your way. If it's worse dismount with the engine running and walk the bike through.
- Corners are handled differently off-road. Don't lean into it but stay more upright and put your weight on the outside peg. This helps grip. For now try to corner smoothly.
Of course all rules are made to be broken and those above are no exception. And if it's too hard to ride and remember rules at the same time don't worry. Above all go out and have a go, get a feel for it and start enjoying yourself. Then start thinking about applying rules when you've enough experience to see the benefit of doing it the right way. Comments and/or criticisms, contact Kelsow via P.M. Thanks