As much as they are marketed as motorcycles that can go anywhere and do anything, you likely know plenty of adventure bike owners who rarely get their motorcycles dirty, let alone ride into the depths of the unknown.
You’re not one of those people, though. At least, you’re not planning on it.
Going on a long haul with your adventure bike was part of the allure of getting the motorcycle in the first place, and you’re going to do exactly that. You know your bike is up for the challenge – but are you?
Before you take off on your long adventure, there are a few things you should know (and be comfortable with). If you ask us, these 10 ADV skills are vital for any adventure ride, but especially a long one.
Learn to pick up a fallen bike (it will fall)
News flash. If you ride adventure bikes long enough, eventually it will fall. And since a long trip is in your future, the odds of your bike ending up on its side is high. Do you know how to pick it up if it does?
The easiest scenario for bike pickup is if the bike has simply fallen on its side on flat land. However, for the untrained, the instinct is to reach over, bend at the waist, and try to pick it up with your back. Not only is this extremely difficult, but it could wreak havoc on your back.
Instead, turn your back to the bike, lower yourself down by bending at the knees instead of your back, place one hand on the bar and the other at a sufficient grabbing location (near the seat or the fuel tank depending on the bike), and use your legs to lift up.
Once you get a little bit of lift, start to push into the fuel tank with your back to bring it up all the way. If you have a GS, BMW has helped you out by using those big boxer cylinder heads as a prop to slightly lift the bike and get you started.
If the bike has fallen over on its right side, you might be in luck. One trick is to deploy the side stand before you lift. Then once you’re picking it up, you don’t have to be as cautious once you reach vertical, as the bike will fall onto the side stand and stay up.
If a bike like a BMW R 1250 GS is on its left side, then obviously you’ll need to be careful as you approach vertical so you don’t tip the bike over the other way.
This basic technique will help you pick up your bike even if the terrain isn’t ideal and flat. The point is to remember not to lift with your back, but with your legs.
This should be a no-brainer no matter what vehicle we’re talking about. Even in a car, the first thing we do when we get inside is to adjust the seat so we’re comfortable and can reach the pedals.
It’s no different on a motorcycle. Before anything else, sit on the bike and make sure all the controls are comfortable and within easy reach.
Many motorcycles these days have adjustable levers, which is great. If yours doesn’t, consider investing in some from the aftermarket. Once you’re happy with the reach to your levers, adjust the angle to your levers.
Generally speaking, assuming your hand is in the closed-throttle position, if you were to extend your fingers, you’d want them at a 45-degree angle pointing towards the ground. What you don’t want is to have your hands and fingers parallel with the ground once you’ve reached the controls.
If you find yourself in this position, loosen the bolts connecting levers to the bar just enough so you can rotate the controls downward.
Don’t neglect your feet, either. A natural foot position for the shifter and rear brake are also important. You don’t want to have to reach too high or too low to use the shifter or the brake. Different models use different linkages to set the foot controls, but adjust accordingly so your feet are naturally placed to operate them.
Essential gear for riding conditions (especially wet and cold)
As your ride date approaches, check the weather along your route constantly. If you’re lucky, you might be able to leave some layers at home.
However, it’s always best to be ready for any conditions. It’s easy enough to dress down for warmer climates, but being wet and cold on a motorcycle is the worst.
You already know to wear a proper four-season jacket and pant combo. These are nice because they already have multiple layers, including a waterproof layer.
Some even have the waterproof membrane fused into the jacket itself, saving precious weight and bulkiness. Use all of the layers when the conditions get cold or wet, then remove as needed if things warm up.
Often, the jacket and pants aren’t enough. Then it’s good to have base layers underneath. There are several options to choose from but stay away from cotton-based materials as it retains moisture and is slow to dry.
Synthetic materials, or things like Merino wool, regulate temperature far better, dry much faster, and can are relatively small and compact when you need to stow it away. Alternatively, heated clothing powered by your motorcycle’s electrical system is another option to truly stay warm.
While we’re at it, don’t forget to keep your head warm with a balaclava, your neck warm with a gaiter (or another cover), and especially don’t forget about your hands and feet.
Heated gloves and socks exist, but non-wired options made from synthetics are also plentiful.
Essential bike protection
Remember earlier when we said your bike will fall? Sometimes that means your bike could get damaged in the process. Protect it. Fortunately, the aftermarket is filled with crash protection for nearly every adventure bike out there.
The common areas to cover are the brake and clutch levers, oil pan/underbelly, case covers, radiator… basically the controls and the engine.
Sometimes you won’t even fall down, but you’ll encounter an unexpected rock or root that seemingly jumps out of nowhere to attack your oil pan, and without protection, your day would be over real fast. Protect those vital bits and keep on riding.
Know tire life/proper PSI
As the only thing connecting the motorcycle to the ground, tires are hugely important. We all know that, but many of us tend to neglect them anyway. Before any ride, long or short, make an honest assessment of your tires and determine whether they are ready for the task at hand. If you don’t know, then ask someone.
While we’re at it, keep a tire pressure gauge handy. They’re small, pack nicely, and are vital. Keeping tires properly inflated for the conditions ensures proper handling and even optimal fuel consumption.
Proper body position for both on and off-road
On the road, there’s really no reason to stand up. Stay seated, with the balls of your feet on the pegs. Arms should be at a neutral angle in front of you – not too high, but not too low – and relaxed, with a loose grip on the bars.
As corners approach, look where you want to go, maybe even scooting your butt towards the direction of the corner, depending on how tight the radius is.
Off-road riding is almost the exact opposite. You’ll be standing much of the time, but still with the balls of your feet on the pegs (more on that in the next point).
Ride standing on pegs
If you haven’t done much riding while standing, it’s a good ADV skill to learn. When riding in the dirt, you’ll weight the outside peg and essentially push the bike away from you to turn.
Standing (as opposed to sitting) allows the motorcycle’s suspension to soak up all the bumps underneath you without jolting your fillings out (your bent arms and legs also act as a sort of suspension). This is also good if you encounter a sudden, unseen, obstacle that you have to run over. Standing will give you better control.
Learn to ride up and down hill
Riding on hills can be tricky, especially if you’re trying to go uphill from a dead stop. Some new bikes have a feature to assist you, where it’ll sense you’re on a hill and prevent you from rolling backwards while you modulate the clutch and throttle.
If you don’t have this feature, the old-school way is to keep your foot on the rear brake to keep from rolling back. Then modulate the clutch and throttle.
Once you’re already rolling, getting uphill off-road requires finesse and body english. Get momentum if you can, then comes the delicate dance of trying to position your body forward or backward to give yourself optimum traction without letting off the gas.
Going downhill is easier in some aspects as gravity is doing some of the work for you. However, it’s still a matter of managing traction with the help of your body placement (this is why you’re standing).
This time, instead of managing the throttle, you’re working the brakes – both of them – to navigate the bike where you want it to go.
Learn clutch friction zone
An essential skill for learning to ride a motorcycle in the first place, being comfortable with the motorcycle’s clutch friction zone is even more important off-road.
Managing traction becomes a delicate dance between the throttle and brakes, but the throttle does nothing without the clutch actually transferring that power to the tire.
Being intimately familiar with the friction zone means you can fine-tune exactly how much power you want to go to the tire, especially if your right-hand gets a little heavy.
How to set up a campsite
Finally, learn how to setup a campsite. You’ve done the hard (and enjoyable) work of getting out into isolation, now it’s time to relax and enjoy the fruits of your labor. Except there’s one final step – setting up camp.
We’ve covered exactly how to choose a location and what to do once you get there in this blog post.
You might look at this list and be intimidated. It might seem like a lot to learn, but it all becomes second nature really quickly. And if you go on adventures with more experienced travelers and/or riders, you’ll automatically pick up these tips through them. There’s no better time than now to take off, so read and follow these tips, and have fun on your next adventure!