11 Tips for Riding Off-Road

How To -



Riding off-road is an incredible amount of fun. No cops, no speed limits and, if you fall down, there’s no pavement to hit. But, it’s also completely different than riding on the street. Whether you’re a total n00b or consider yourself an expert, these 11 tips for riding off-road will help make you faster and safer.

1. Adjust Your Clutch Lever For Two-Finger Operation

One of the things we worked on at the Jimmy Lewis Off-Road Riding School was throttle control and how important clutch operation is to its mastery. Part of that is adjusting the lever so you operate it both while standing (where your arm is angled more steeply) and using only your middle and index fingers. That allows you to operate the clutch without altering your grip on the bars, which makes your responses faster and smoother. It also facilitates a finer level of control than simply employing it as a blunt on/off switch. All that’s especially important at low speeds and while tackling challenging obstacles.

2. In Sand/Silt/Deep Stuff, Speed Up And Lean Back

What does Wes need? More speed!

On the road, you learn to slow down for safety. On big, heavy bikes, around bigger, heavier cars, that’s just the best approach. Off-road, on a light bike? You’re actually far more stable when you apply some speed. The gyroscopic force of the wheels will keep you upright, momentum will carry you over or through tough terrain like deep sand. Moving your weight backwards has the combined effect of a) adding traction to the rear wheel, where the power is being applied and b) taking weight off the front, allowing it to deflect and ride over the stuff that it’s hitting.

3. If You Think You Might Need Something, Take It With You

It is always very handy that Brundy is….handy.

By virtue of going off-road, you’re leaving stuff like the nice AAA man and cell phone service behind. You’re also gaining new hazards like rocks and trees that, if you hit them, can damage your motorcycle. So, you need to be prepared with the tools, parts and knowledge to perform common repairs like fixing a flat tire. You’ll always use more gas than you planned on, too, so packing a little extra is never a bad idea. All that seems obvious, but it’s remarkable how many times you encounter someone stopped on the trail without a tube or in need of a gallon of gas.

4. To Turn, Push The Bike Down

This will be counterintuitive if you’re coming from street riding. Off-road, lean angle is your friend; to turn you want to push the bike down as far as possible, while keeping your body upright, on top of it. This makes full use of the knobs on dirt tires and allows you to easily control the slides that make off-road riding so much fun.

5. Stay Off The Front Brake In Turns

Riding where there’s little traction (off-road) is totally different from riding where there is a ton of grip (the street). Don’t try to trail brake, it’ll simply wash out the front. A dirt bike’s front brake can be used hard in a straight line, so slow down before the corner, push it down, then power out. Or, use the terrain to your advantage, employing berms or similar to catch your speed and redirect you.

6. Look Where You Want To Go, Not Where You Don’t

Bridges like this are a great test of observing, without fixating, on an obstacle

This applies to street riding too. Consciously turn your head and focus on where you want the bike to be, not on the cow/cliff/boulder you don’t want to hit. Your body will follow your head and the bike will follow that. Practice this to the point where it doesn’t take deliberate effort.

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  • augustdaysong

    just got my first adventure bike coming from three street bikes and couple of people have been giving me crap for never having ridden off road before. great timing. thanks for the write up

    • http://RideApart.com/ Wes Siler

      Best advice I can give you is Continental TKC80s. And crash protection, crash protection, crash protection. Then just go out and ride, you’ll figure it out.

    • Robert Reinhardt

      I recently got a CRF250L after years on street bikes. I’m enjoying off-road riding MUCH more. Just go out on trails and ride, you’ll figure things out. I had zero experience off-road but it gets easier every time. First crash was humbling and humiliating, now I just laugh when I fall over. The CRF is a GREAT bike btw! Crash protection for yourself and bike are a must!

  • Jono

    great write up, love it when you guys include a bit of dirt action!
    here area few points that others might consider:
    when changing from a sitting-to-standing position use the big bumps/deflections on the trail to “kick” your butt off the seat into standing. may sound silly but doing this instead of standing up under your own power will save you from early fatigue.

    bring a sachet or 2 of mcdonald’s/diner/cafe pepper, and empty it into your radiator if you get a pin-hole leak. not a permanent fix, but will plug the leak well enough to get you out of trouble with out causing any damage to your water pump/seals

    ZIPTIES!!! you can hold a dirt bike together with zip-ties =P

  • grb

    the best thing you can do as a rider is to ride both street and dirt

  • Tyler 250

    STANDING UP DOES NOT LOWER YOUR CENTER OF GRAVITY! Seriously. Go back to fucking middle school and try to stay awake in class. Just think about it for a second. If you’re going to tell tales out of school (which seems to be all you do), at least study a little bit while you’re in school.

    • Tyler 250

      And trying to be constructive, what you’re doing when you stand up is increasing your moment of inertia. Think of a tightrope walker holding one of those long poles. The longer lever makes it easier to control disruptions near the fulcrum.

      While I’m at it, you weight the outside peg. Watch Motocrossers. Are they weighting the inside peg? No, they’re inside foot’s not even on the peg. You’re counterbalancing when you’re turning on dirt.

      • http://www.twitter.com/seanmacdonald sean macdonald

        Per Jimmy Lewis, you initially weight the inside to initiate the turn, then you use your body weight to weight the outside and maintain the counterbalance, using the outside peg to manage that weight.

      • Demian

        “Their” inside foot.

        • Tyler 250

          Jeez. Can’t believe I did that. I suppose I started off writing, “No, they’re [doing whatever],” and then changed it? Maybe Jimmy Lewis doesn’t understand grammar, though. Would that make it okay?

    • Jay

      Right. Standing up raises your center of gravity. It offers more control because it allows your legs to be used as shock absorbers and you can move your weight around on the bike better by standing.

    • Tiger 955

      Standing up raises YOUR centre of gravity but lowers the BIKES centre of gravity because your weight is lower on the pegs than the seat….seriously….just think about it for a second!

    • Mike PB Adventure Camp Riding

      Using ‘center of gravity’ was just the wrong technical term to try to explain weight distribution and balance points. Standing and separating the masses of you and the bike, and using different weight distribution methods like weighting the pegs, works great controlling the motorcycle. The concept of simply standing on the pegs lowers center of gravity would be like saying my beat up chevy can have the same cg of a Ferrari, all I have to do is lower where the engine mounts (foot pegs) connect to the vehicle, at a point below that of the Ferrari and keep the chevy engine popping out of the hood. Now if that chevy engine could move and shift weight during corners it would do great recreationally, until it hit some serious speeds and tight corners and curves, then at that point you could no longer ignore the huge pendulum that stood up and raised the overall center of gravity.

    • somegoofyguy

      Yes it does. Do you not get the concept of CCoG or Combined Center of Gravity. It is similar to a forklift. If you have a load on your forks and it is below the line of the axle it is more stable than if it was empty. So when you stand up you are transferring your weight from off the seat to the foot rest. So you have moved your CG up ~12 inches but put nearly all of your weight 18 inches lower. This will move the CCoG lower in the bike. Now if you were to stand on the seat it would raise the CCoG . I know all of these ideas are way below you since you are the super expert with all of the CAPS.

  • Juan Francisco Castillo Villal

    Hey rideapart! I am looking for a pair of boots that I could use on a Dual Sport bike. I commute everyday on it and ride offroad on weekends. I’m on a budget too! What would you suggest?

    • Piglet2010

      I wear Alpinestars Scout WP boots when riding off road – more lower leg protection than a street boot, but better for walking in (not to mention less gaudy) that a MX boot once they break-in. Good cold weather boot, but a bit hot in summer. They appear to be well made and wear resistant.


      • 65slashtwo

        +1 on the Scout WP! Good all around boot without being too over the top for the commute.

        • http://RideApart.com/ Wes Siler

          +2 on the scout WP. They’re great boots.

      • Juan Francisco Castillo Villal

        Thanks! I think I’ll give them a shot.

        • Piglet2010

          Just don’t judge them by walking around in a store – they will seem too stiff for the few rides until they break in.

          • Juan Francisco Castillo Villal

            I will most likely have to order them online. I am from México and I have never seen them in person in any motorcycle shop over here

  • Clint Keener

    12. Trust the bike, don’t fight it.

  • Mike PB Adventure Camp Riding

    We had that debate about center of gravity here at the Pine Barrens Adventure Camp Riding School after hearing Rawhyde teach it, because it instantly sounded wrong. You of course Raise your center of gravity when you stand up. The language we use for that concept is you lower your balance point by standing up. When you stand up you are almost completely separating the masses of your body and bike, making them much more manageable. I did not hear Jimmy himself say anything about center of gravity though, just the importance of standing and not letting the bike push or drag you around because of sitting on the seat. Even when paddling in the deep sand, one foot down only, stand and dab / hop, no Harley shuffles.

  • Tyler 250

    That has nothing to do with center of gravity. It may help to understand that center of gravity and center of mass are the same thing when talking about normal conditions on the surface of the earth. When you stand up, does your mass move up or down?

    • http://RideApart.com/ Wes Siler

      Again, per Jimmy Lewis: standing lower’s the bike’s center of gravity.

      • Nathan Haley

        The bike’s center of gravity/center of mass remains roughly constant – the bike+rider’s combined CG is higher when the rider is standing.

        However, before we knock the concept, we should consider why CG is a good thing to keep low on a bike. A low CG and/or a light overall weight both contribute to a smaller moment of inertia around the axis of the bike’s lateral lean/rotation (the point at which the tires touch the ground) during turns. In other words, a lighter bike with a lower CG is easier to lean over and/or to hold up. When you stand on a bike, you raise your own center of gravity, but you do not change that of the bike. When off-road, you only care about the CG of the bike (not the bike+rider) because only the bike is leaning (the rider generally counterweights).

        It’s almost always better to stand up when off-road, but it’s not because you’re lowering your center of gravity (Jimmy Lewis might say that to encourage riders but it’s not true, as per our definition of center of gravity). Standing gives you better control, traction and comfort because your legs act as shock absorbers for your mass. Standing also encourages riders to balance better, resisting the urge to put their feet down and stabilize or paddle.

      • Tyler 250

        If Jimmy Lewis stands up and Sir Isaac Newton sits down, who has the lower center of gravity?

        And because I support grammar corrections, I think you mean “lowers”.

  • http://madebyfred.com fred vg

    Great article, but what’s with splitting it into two pages? One long page is much better and if you need to artificially bump the hits with pagination, at least give us a one-page option.

    • UrbanMoto

      Ditto. I hate that crap. On the other hand, if it pays the bills to keep the lights on…. I actually missed the link to the second page until I saw your comment.

      At least it’s not a page per item listicle. I usually just click away from that junk immediately, no matter how intriguing the headline.

      • Shanged

        I just wonder how many articles I’ve missed the 2nd page to now.
        At least make it more conspicuous!

    • Chris McAlevy

      Just want more pageviews.
      It sucks.

  • gravit8ed


    This made me ache for my dad’s Kawi Super Sherpa and the single-track trails less than 15 miles from his doorstep in Albuquerque, just east of town in the Sandia Mountains. Some great views, some superb isolated trails, and all within a short canyon ride from home. I know it’s over played, but the confidence you can build on a 250 single dual sport bike is incredible – you feel like you can put it anywhere, and it’s never more than you can handle.

    Some pretty decent pointers up here, especially if you dont have much off road experience.

  • Jimboecv

    I would add that in sand, etc., steer with your feet by shifting your weight on the pegs. Also, don’t chop the throttle!

  • kentaro

    Riding on sand especially on a big adv bike is the scariest thing in the world. Your brain is saying “if I crack the throttle open on sand, I’ll just crash faster!” But nope, your front wheel just glides over everything. Crazy to do it the first time.

  • J. Brandon

    Thanks for including tip Number 11. I wish more riders, actually anyone operating a vehicle in the backcountry, practiced this.

  • peter

    Very good article, thanks.
    Does anyone know what is the brand of the jacket worn in the first and second image?

  • Mike PB Adventure Camp Riding

    Pine Barrens Adventure Camp Riding School hosts Jimmy Lewis training school on the east coast.