We all know how much fun it is to go off-road on an R 1250 GS—it would be strange if you were reading this and didn’t think so. But as with anything in life worth doing, if you like riding an ADV bike, then we believe it’s worth doing well.
There’s a lot to think about when riding off-road, especially on a big adv or dual-sport bike like the GS, but getting a grasp of the fundamentals will lay down the groundwork for the rest of your off-road riding career, no matter what you ride.
Below we’ve put together a list of 10 riding tips that will help you feel more comfortable piloting bikes like a GS off-road.
Having the right gear is so obvious that we often overlook it. But as the saying goes, it’s essential to dress for success. We know the importance of proper gear, but it’s also essential to have proper fitting gear.
A helmet that doesn’t fit correctly, for example, will cause discomfort, which will lead to a loss of focus. And as we know, losing your focus once is all it takes to drop your motorcycle.
With adventure gear, make sure your gear is comfortable both standing and sitting. Sometimes a pad or piece of armor feels fine in one position but will start to rub or bother in the other.
We all know how important helmets are, but when riding off-road a grippy set of boots is nearly as vital. We rely on our feet a lot off-road (more on that in a bit), so invest in a good set of boots that keep your feet on the pegs.
2. Don’t Ride Alone
This one isn’t a tip to help your riding technique, but it’s definitely a good adventure riding tip in general. If possible, don’t ride alone. The last thing you want is for something to happen to you or your motorcycle in the middle of nowhere with no one there to help.
Remember: a ride like the R 1250 GS is a heavy motorcycle. If you fall over and that cylinder head or exhaust somehow traps your leg, guess what? You’re in trouble. Bring a friend.
3. Stand Up
You’re never going to be proficient at dirt riding until you learn to stand up. This provides a few advantages. First, this transfers your weight down to your feet, which you can then manipulate to steer your ADV motorcycle or navigate different terrain. Something you can’t do sitting down.
Next, standing gives you a much better perspective of what’s ahead. The farther ahead you can see, the more time you have to plan, prepare, and react.
Be sure to keep a slight bend in your legs while standing so your legs can soak up jolts that make it past your suspension. Place the balls of your feet on the pegs – that’s where your balance is – and remember to stay loose so your arms and legs can act as secondary suspension.
You know you’re failing at this when you start to have a death grip on the bars. Or worse yet, you start to develop arm pump. Remind yourself to relax (say it out loud if you have to), and if you need to, slow down.
Keeping your upper body loose can be hard when you’re muscling a big bike around, so a good trick to give yourself a break is to squeeze the gas tank with your knees. While you’re at it, practice deep breathing exercises by inhaling fully through your nose, pausing a moment, and exhaling through the mouth.
Standing may feel awkward at first, but keep practicing and eventually, you’ll commit it to muscle memory.
4. Adjust The Levers
This is another one of those tips that seem obvious, but it’s worth hammering the point home. We’ve mentioned the importance of being comfortable already but geared more towards your, well, gear (pun not intended).
Comfort also extends to how you feel on the bike, and having the controls where you want them is part of that equation. Most adventure bikes, including the GS, have adjustable brake and clutch levers.
If your bike doesn’t chances are the aftermarket can take care of that for you. Be sure to put the levers within easy reach of your fingers. You’ll be using them often.
5. Cover The Levers
This one is self-explanatory. Keeping a finger or two over the levers means that your reaction time will be that much faster if you need to respond to something.
Also covering the clutch is a popular technique for two-stroke riders weary of having their engines blow and locking the rear wheel at the worst times. Since you tend to do the difficult riding while standing, move your levers so they’re comfortable in that position. Typically this means angling the levers downward.
Keeping with the clutch, covering it with a finger or two is not only important for two-stroke riders, but for all riders. Feathering the clutch gives you more control into how your motorcycle applies – or takes away – power.
This has some uses in road riding, but is especially important if you’re in technical terrain. You can keep the throttle relatively steady and use the clutch to decide how much power goes to the ground. Also, if you need to wheelie over something, the clutch can come in handy there also (more on that further down).
6. Learn to Turn
This is the part every new or inexperienced dirt or adventure rider wants to know first. Especially if you’re coming from a road or street background. No matter what you ride, turning a motorcycle is a function of utilizing the available traction from the tires. You do that with a combination of technique and body position.
When standing, you have more ability to place your body weight where it’s needed. For example, if you’re riding uphill, leaning forward will weight the front tire, which is already getting lighter due to gravity working against you. Conversely, on descents, lean your body back over the rear tire for the same reason.
Turning in the dirt, whether on a small dual sport or on something bike like a GS or KTM Adventure, uses the same principles. Whether sitting or standing, keep your weight over the front when you start the turn to help the tire maintain traction.
When you’re finishing the turn you can use the throttle to spin the rear tire and finish the turn.
Sound a bit advanced? Then here are some more tips on turning and body position.
First off – start slow. Learning how to control your motorcycle at a slow pace develops the skills to control the bike as the pace ramps up. Keep the balls of your feet on the pegs so you can weigh them when necessary.
If you’re coming from a road background that part should sound familiar, but here’s where things get different. Once you initiate the turn, lean the bike over but keep yourself relatively centered, if not weighted over the outside peg (whether you’re seated or standing).
Let the huge tread blocks on your knobby tires do the work and find traction. Keep your shoulders square to the bars, even if you’re at or approaching full steering lock. Maintain this position by turning your upper body or moving your entire body in the direction of the bars (if you have enough space). This might mean adjusting your feet a little, but find whatever feels comfortable to you.
As for your lower body, keep your weight on the outside peg. Once you feel comfortable, you can even take your inside foot entirely off the peg for practice. And once you feel comfortable with that, you can turn your bars to full lock and keep practicing. Spoiler alert: you’re bound to drop your bike eventually. That’s ok. That’s the point of practicing.
If you plan on taking adventure riding seriously, odds are this won’t be the last time you or your bike will end up on its side. And remember to practice turning in both directions, both seated and standing.
All of the above was primarily for slow turning. For the faster stuff, a similar technique remains. Brake while upright (more on braking in the next tip), keep your weight over the front, tip the bike in while pointing the bars away from your body. Remember to keep your weight on the outside peg.
Once you get comfortable, you can start practicing with the rear brake to slide the rear tire into the turn. Then you can use the gas to spin up the rear and finish the turn with a tighter radius. But be warned: this is an advanced technique.
7. Use the Brakes
Despite popular advice, you definitely want to use the front brake to slow down and stop your adventure bike (or any bike, really). We’ll skip the physics of it all and just say it this way: the front brake slows the bike, the rear brake steers it. Yes, even in the dirt.
Again, the key here is practice and slowly building up to and expanding, your comfort zone. Practice braking in the dirt and playing around with the bias you give towards the front and rear (it might be easier to start this on a smaller dual sport, but you should eventually work your way up to practicing on your big GS).
After a bit of time you’ll realize that stopping quickly requires a majority of the braking will be done with the front tire.
Knowing this, practice threshold braking – that is, braking to the point of lockup. You’ll be amazed just how hard you can brake with the front and it’ll be useful information once you actually have to use it in the real world.
8. Look Where You Want To Go
This is sage advice no matter what you ride. Look Where You Want To Go. Simple. Your body – and by extension, your motorcycle – will go in the direction you’re looking. If your eyes are pointed at the floor or what’s immediately underneath you then everything is coming at you at a rapid pace even if you’re actually moving slowly.
Looking up and in the direction you want to travel allows the brain to scan ahead, take stock of the surroundings, and plan the next move. Of course, scanning is dependent on speed. If you’re moving fast, then you’re looking far ahead. If you’re navigating slow, technical terrain, then your gaze will be on your immediate surroundings.
The thing you don’t want to do is target fixate. If your eyes are locked in on something, it’s hard to break away from it, and if your motorcycle follows your eyes, guess what? You’ll be headed straight for the thing you’re staring at. That’s why we used the word scanning.
9. Keep the Front Light In Sand
For many, riding in the sand is one of the most intimidating parts of riding off road. It’s especially scary on a big bike. We completely agree. However, the key to sand riding is to place your weight back, keep your knees bent, and stay heavy with the throttle. The key is to keep the front tire light so it skims over the sand and doesn’t get dug in.
The same goes for water crossings. Since you can’t see what’s in the water sometimes, keep the front light and give yourself the best chance to skim over obstacles. If possible, have someone else go first and follow their tracks (assuming they make it across safely!)
Saving the best for last, we come to the topic of wheelies. Not only are wheelies fun to do and come with their own inherent cool factory – lifting the front wheel in the air is immensely useful off-road!
Wheelies come in two forms: the power wheelie and the clutch-up. The former is a result of simply whacking the throttle open aggressively. The latter requires a little finesse and slipping the clutch to raise it up.
Getting comfortable with this skill will help when you need to get over logs, stumps, rocks, etc. And don’t think you need to do a Biker Boyz wheelie where your tire kisses the sky; a little air under the tire will go a long way towards clearing obstacles.
We get it. We just threw a lot of information at you, and it’s a lot to take in. Don’t be scared. Practice these ADV skills in little chunks at a time and eventually, you’ll commit all of these tips to muscle memory.
It might seem hard at first, and you’re probably going to drop your bike a few times, but that’s ok. Keep at it and you’ll get it. After that your riding – not to mention your confidence – will skyrocket as a result.