Two wheels, an engine, handlebars … I got this, right? Wrong! Riding a motorcycle on dirt is totally different from the street. I’m learning this as I make the transition, and I have a few thoughts and tips to share. Learn how to make the transition from on-road to off with this guide.
After over 20 years riding various street bikes, I was ready to try a new challenge. The motocross riders jumping obstacles look so cool, but after a few rides through the woods, I realize that won’t be me for a while. There are so many differences, but your skill from the street will definitely help you in rougher terrain.
Obviously, you’re going to need a bike that’s designed for a totally different surface, and you’re going to want different features and functions from your machine. But that’s not all to think about! Some considerations, and my advice:
- Dirt only or dual sport? Before you do anything, you should decide which bike you want to go with. Dirt bikes tend to be cheaper and lighter, but they really limit your movement from one trail to another. Dual sports give greater flexibility with lights, mirrors, and street-legal tags.
- Budget: Luckily dirt bikes tend to be very affordable, and I definitely recommend buying used—and maybe even beat up a bit so you won’t be heartbroken when it goes down!
- Weight: Dirt bikes in general are lighter than street for better handling and maneuverability … and it makes them easier to pick up, as I’ve learned! You will fall, but luckily, you’re going much slower than street riding, and even hard dirt is softer than asphalt.
- Tires: Dual sport tires are rated by percentage of suitability for street versus dirt. Keep your inflation at the manufacturer’s suggested level, but let some out when hitting the trail for extra grip (and don’t take fast street corners on cold, overinflated tires—trust me!).
- Transportation: Obviously, motorcycles are transportation, and if you have a dual sport bike, you’re able to hit the pavement. But don’t overestimate the comfort of a small, light bike for a long distance. I wouldn’t feel comfortable even on my 650 on the interstate. You may want to invest in a truck or trailer, or find some good friends who are willing to haul you.
- Gear: You don’t necessarily need all new gear, but you may want some key new pieces for riding. A dirt bike helmet has some specific features for comfort off-road, and an armored vest is appreciated when branches jump out of nowhere. Likewise, high, hard, waterproof boots are a must for protection from rocks, falls, and puddles.
- Maintenance: You’re going to get dirty, and so will your bike! While there’s no need to keep a bike designed for off-road riding pristinely clean, your parts will last longer if you plan for a hose-down and chain lube after each ride. Also, using non-ethanol gas whenever possible will help your engine run better and longer.
- Riding partners: I don’t recommend venturing into the woods alone! It’s best to connect with more experienced riders who will navigate, help you get upright after a spill, and if they’re like my friends, snap a picture for posterity.
- Community: Join online groups of dirt riders near you to discover new trails, group rides, and events. In many states, the quality of the trails depends on those who use it, so consider volunteering for maintenance days.
- Training: Like any potentially dangerous new hobby, it’s smart to take a class or two! The handling of dirt bikes and dual sports are much different than street bikes, and it’s nice to practice skills in a safe environment. The Motorcycle Safety Foundation has dirt classes, and there are many private schools, some of which operate out of local dirt bike parks.
Luckily, it’s just as easy to add a dirt bike to your Progressive policy as it is any other vehicle. And because of their size and value, it’s also incredibly affordable!
I’ve had a blast so far learning new skills and broadening my motorcycle experience. I highly recommend that you, too, come get dirty with us!