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Sportbikes riding on gravel and dirt roads

Discussion in 'General Motorcycling Discussion' at netrider.net.au started by 99CIBBER, Nov 3, 2010.

  1. G'day,
    I've done a fair bit of gravel/dirt riding and touring in the past on my trusty VTR250 and only small sections of gravel on the trusty CBR600 steed, I feel confident and capable but I don't really know if the off tar riding is having a detrimental effect on the bike. Apart from stone chips, what else could taking your sport bike on gravel roads be doing to our bikes? The reason I ask is I don't want to be held back from exploring great roads because of the fear of inadvertently damaging the bike. Cheers


  2. I would have thought that providing you're careful and don't try to go off road you'd be pretty right.

    Some of the dirt/gravel roads I've been on were smoother and better formed than a lot of the tarred roads in country NSW.
  3. Assuming you don't come off; bearings wear out sooner, that expensive chain gets full of dirt and needs more serious mainenance but will wear out quicker anyway....

    But that's no reason to avoid great riding.
  4. Thanks matt, your blog has definately inspired me to explore the road less travelled. :)
  5. I avoid unbroken surfaces, but that's mainly because my 16" front wheel gives me heart attacks on such roads

    My only disclaimer on your desire to ride the 'other' roads is a very arcane experience of mine, where a stone was thown up into my radiator shroud and stopped my thermo fan from working; took me months to figure out what was wrong......
  6. +1 to everyone so far.

    Air filter will need cleaning/replacing more often; chain, bearings. Depending how fast and how rough, the suspension might take issue.

    But in the scheme of things, taking 10-15km of gravel road to join some twisties together from time to time shouldn't have any real impact on the overall longevity of the bike.
  7. I found some tips for riding the "other" roads.

    Thought they might be useful.

    12 Tips & Hints For Riding On Gravel

    1. Go Slow
    Of all the hints presented here 'going slow' is the most important. The time you have to react to your bike and the road itself will increase the slower you go. This means that if your bike does slide out fro under you there will be time to react. At speed you won't have this luxury. Going slow will also bring your legs into play. If you are traveling slow enough you can use your feet to stop your bike from tipping over. If you are traveling at speed this won't be possible.

    2. Stay Upright
    Your primary focus should be to minimize any slippage your tires may have on the gravel surface. Keeping the bike upright maximizes the surface area of the tire that is in contact with the ground. Once again it also gives you as much time as possible to react if your bike does slide out from beneath you.

    3. Corner Gently & Slowly
    Basic physics allows us to lean the bike over quite far when we are turning, if we are traveling at sufficient speed. This simple action requires strong tire grip on the ground. On gravel there isn't sufficient grip so we can't lean the bike as much. Therefore our turns have to be gradual and slow.

    4. Don't Accelerate Quickly
    Once gain a lack of traction with a motorcycle on gravel means the wheels will spin erratically, gripping in patches on the road surface. This means flying gravel with bursts of speed that are hard to control. When accelerating do so slowly and make sure your bike has sufficient grip for you to control the bike. The slower the acceleration the more constant the grip.

    5. Use Rear Break
    Don't use the front brake when moving on gravel. I repeat, don't use it at all. The front wheel will find it hard to gain traction and when it does gravel will shift beneath it. This will cause your front tire to slide. When this happens you will lose control of your bike. Instead use your rear break and only do so lightly. Your slow speed with hopefully have reduced your need to use a break anyway.

    6. Install Crash Knobs (especially with fairing)
    Install crash knobs on your bike. These are protective stubby bars that take the brunt of any impact with the ground. Especially consider these precaution if your bike has fairing. I had crash knobs installed on my bike and they saved me hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars when I came off my bike.

    7. Ride in the Car Tracks.
    When cars travel on gravel roads their tires naturally shift the gravel out to each side or compact it beneath the car's weight. Over time this creates tire tracks that are harder and smoother than the surface around them. Aim to ride in these tire tracks. Less unstable gravel means more control for you.

    8. Stick your Legs out.
    Don't be afraid to stick your legs out when negotiation particularly difficult gravel sections of road. In fact stick them out if you are unsure at all. Of course make sure you are traveling slowly at the time. This means if your bike does tip over or slide you can use your legs to steady your position.

    9. Grip Handlebars Lightly
    Riding on gravel can be stressful especially if you aren't used to it. Our natural tendency can often be to grip the handle bars too tightly. Over time this can be fatiguing, both mentally and physically. Loosen your grip on the handle bars and you will extend your stamina on long gravel roads and maintain alertness for longer. This technique can also help you control your bike better as the next tip explains.

    10. Let The Bike Guide You
    Our first tendency when riding on gravel can often be to tense up and over-react to every movement the bike makes. In reality we need to let the bike shift beneath us as the tires find grip on the gravel. This means keeping a light grip on the handlebar and feeling what the bike is doing as it travels on the gravel surface. It sounds 'airy fairy' but we need to let the bike guide us through the contours of the road. Attempting to dictate every movement of the bike can exhaust you unnecessarily.

    11. Maintain Speed
    Keep a steady speed. Slowing down and speeding up on gravel roads can invite slippage. Maintain speed and you can concentrate on navigating.

    12. Keep distance Between Vehicles

    Obviously gravel is loose. Spinning tires can collect gravel and spit it in almost any direction. You can't help it if someone is stupid enough to get too close behind you on a gravel road but you can certainly avoid doing the same to someone in front of you. Get too close and you or your bike can get hit by flying debris. It goes without saying that a helmet is a must.
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  9. Cheers Spots, That's all I really want to do, I love the tar but I also love the sense of escape that a decent gravel road gives you. :)
  10. i dont agree at all with number 8 or 11.

    keep the feet on the pegs, you need them the MOST when on the gravel. weight the outside footpeg when cornering and steer using the throttle (probably an advanced thing but its way better than going slow).

    steer the slides with the weight on the footpegs, sliding also helps you to turn the bikes where front end grip is diminished. if you feel confident you can 'back the bike in' on flat gravel turns to get the bike turned quicker and easier through less input on the bars then just pick up the throttle and slide out of the turn.

    also, make sure you grip the bike tightly between your knees, that helps you to have a looser grip on the bars.
  11. I am 110% sure that the above guide was written by someone who has NEVER had any dirt/off road training at all.

    Number 2: <-- WRONG! Do not keep the bike upright, instead you should lean the bike and keep your body upright on a dirt road, this maximises traction and is a basic technique of dirt road riding.

    Number 5: <-- WRONG! The front brake should still be used in combination with your rear brake for maximum effect. Of course you should apply them more gently and more progressively but it's a basic rule of riding that for maximum braking effect you need to use both brakes together.

    Number 8: <-- WRONG! Much of ones steering input is via the footpegs and one needs to be able to weight one footpeg or the other to make safe direction changes on a dirt road, removing ones legs from the footpegs REDUCES your control and makes you less able to control your bike. It also increase the risk of foot/ankle/leg injury.
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  13. Just make sure you check the weather reports,2 days through The Barry Way on a road bike,350ks of good smooth clay that turned to crap with RAIN
  14. In support of ZRX1200R's comments above. You can brake very firmly with the front brake in a straight line on gravel roads. Braking with the front while turning is VERY BAD (tm), but in a straight line you can be somewhat amazed at how much front-braking power is able to be used. In a bad situation it may even save your life.

    Point 2 though, I somewhat support when it comes to road bikes with fatter tyres. On a dirt bike with nobbies, sure, lean the bike as ZRX1200R says, but on a road bike with fatter tyres, personally I've found that leaning the bike over tends to induce a greater chance of drifting, so I do tend to keep it upright and hang-off myself, but hey, I'm no sports-bike-on-dirt expert though, so that's just my 2c.

    Agree with ZRX's point 8 comment too. You want your feet on the pegs and to weight them up accordingly.

    As for accelerating and wheelspin, hey, isn't that half the fun of it? I mean, I gas it up on purpose (if no-one's behind me), spin that rear up and have fun fishtailing, but then again, maybe I'm the odd one?
  15. Thanks for your input ZRX1200R, I think the guide is for novice riders on gravel roads, travelling at a slow/medium pace. Although I appreciate your points I think that the tips are not wrong, just different. (to your techniques anyway)... Just to reiterate the guide is for sport bikes with road tyres.
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  17. No some of them are flat out wrong, you must learn to modulate your front brake well enough to be effective or you will eventually hit something. When cornering you can have (and in bulldust or sand should have) your inside foot off the peg but the outside peg should have most of your weight on it. Using a constant speed is bullshit as well, you need to be able to weight shift fore and aft with the throttle, if you don't have that level of throttle control learn it. Some good points are 9 and 10, get used to the bike moving around and don't choke it to death.
    Tips 5,8 and 11 might be OK on a formed and fenced road without wildlife or trees to drop branches, the day after it was graded and rolled. Tip 7 is also very condition dependent and not a good default option. In the real world things are different.
  18. I make my students go down a very tight and twisty dirt road when I am assessing them for a license. Why ??? Because almost strait away I am seeing if they have confidence. If they have taken in what I have taught them.
    On dirt you switch strait to a wet weather riding style. Why ?? because it's slippery and the bike is going to move around underneath you. If your instructor has not taught you this when you did your Qride or equivelent. Then get onto your local DTIWG rep and complain. Its just not good enough.
    You do not lean the bike into corners per say on dirt or wet roads. Move your weight over to the side your turning into.
    Pick your track well ahead of time. Look well ahead. Your brain and periphial vision will pick up what is going to bring you down. Keep yor eyes up. If you keep looking at that goolie it will jump out at you...safact !!!
    I am not really into letting noobs take a foot off the pegs. To easy for them to try and stick a leg down, and they do. Often with bad results. I prefer to make them use their body weight. To move themselves around on the bike.
    Honestly, I had a punter who rode with his ass half off the side of the seat from Mnt Cotten all the way back to Springwood. I just kept behind him thinking what is wrong wth this guys ass. I asked him when we got back to the shop if there was anything wrong ??? he said no. I said are you sure. He said yep. He was not confident enough to put the weight on his pegs and center himself. And he was doing an advanced riders course. go figure.
    I personally think it's a good thing to do. You can tell strait away with students who has ridden dirt bikes and not.
    We all should do time in the bush on dirt bikes well before we attempt the road. Thats where you get confidence and knowlege without a the huge damage bills.
  19. Muiltiple pluses to learning in the dirt,and its fun as well
  20. I can't comment on proper technique because I've just been making it up as I go on road bikes (strangely, I learnt to ride on dirt bikes, and was straight away tearing along at speed, taking corners to avoid barbed wire, dashing up and down the Murray banks two foot shy of the water - why it's so different for me now I don't know, somehow I turned scared and cautious). The three basic principles that have helped me get into road biking the dirt of late:

    It's going to feel like you're sliding around, just chill and roll with it.

    When the surface gets worse, gently increase the power - don't back off - and ride your way out of it.

    Apply the basic wet-weather riding principles to the dirt.

    I don't think there's one right set of rules for any kind of riding. Of course there are good techniques that work for a lot of people and which are sometimes counter-intuitive.