6 Steps: How To Ford Deep Water On A Dirt Bike

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How To Ford Deep Water On A Dirt Bike

Splashing through a stream or a river on a motorcycle is about as fun as it gets. It’s easy too, here’s how to ford deep water on a dirt bike, safely.

Step One: Make Sure It’s Not Too Deep
New water crossing in an unknown area? Hop off the bike for a second and check it out. Make sure the water won’t reach your motorcycle’s air intake. You’d be surprised how low those can be on supposedly rugged motorcycles. The BMW R 1200 GS’s, for instance, are right on top of the cylinder heads, barely above foot height. Sucking water into engine is really, really bad.

Step Two: Evaluate The Bottom, Route And The Entry And Exit Paths
A good rule of thumb is, if a well-traveled trail crosses water, that crossing should be safe and doable. Take time to evaluate the conditions of any new water crossing, but pay particular attention to any that aren’t commonly traversed by bike.

Is the bottom of the stream/river/ocean/lake sandy, rocky or muddy? Sand shouldn’t cause much trouble, but precarious rocks can bounce you off course or even catch a wheel, flipping you over. Getting stuck in the mud, mid-crossing, would not be too keen either.

Also figure out how you’re going to enter and exit the water. Often, the trail will simply disappear smoothly into the water and reappear on the other side. On more difficult routes, you may encounter a vertical drop off a ledge or need to make a steep ascent up a difficult surface on your way up out of the water. Apply the same powers of deductive reasoning you would to any other terrain, just a little more conservatively since you’ll be dropping the bike into that same water if you blow it.

Step Three: Set Your Speed And Enter Straight
You’ll want to enter the water with enough momentum to carry you through to the other side, despite the drag of the water slowing you down. But, you don’t want to enter so fast you’ll lose control if you encounter an unseen obstacle. Depending on the bike and depth/length of the crossing, I usually try to hit the water at the top of 1st or 2nd gear. Say, about 30-40 mph.

Line yourself up so you enter the water straight up and down (wet stuff is slippery) and, if possible, pointing straight at the exit. That will make your crossing nice and easy. If the only route through is to take a turn mid-stream, point at the entry to that turn and try to maintain your momentum through it.

Step Four: Keep The Bike In Gear And Stay On The Gas
Don’t pull in the clutch or put yourself in neutral. Keep the bike in your chosen gear and keep the throttle open. If you find yourself losing speed, give the bike more gas. If you need to climb anything on the exit, give it more gas just as you reach that climb.

Step Five: Stand Up, Keep Your Weight Backwards
Stand on the pegs, but crouch backwards to take your weight off the front wheel. That will allow it to deal with any obstacles or climbs unimpeded. Same position as if you were braking hard (off-road) or making a steep descent.

Step Six: What To Do If It All Goes Wrong
If you feel a crash is inevitable, try and hit the kill switch before you go down. An internal combustion engine is basically a big pump that sucks in a fuel/air mixture, compresses it, then achieves power from the subsequent explosion. Water can’t be compressed, so if it gets sucked in, it’ll grenade your engine as the piston tries and fails to squeeze it. Oops.

If you have managed to hit the kill switch, but think some water has gotten into your bike, pull the spark plugs and cycle the starter. This should push the water out. Make sure it’s nice and dry in there and in the airbox/intake tract, then carry on your merry way.

There you go. Really, so long as you aren’t unknowingly plummeting into a deep abyss, splashing through water on your bike isn’t something to be intimidated by.

Related Links:
Get Dirty: 11 Tips For Riding Off-Road
Fix Stuff: The Basic Motorcycle Tool Kit
On-Road: 10 Things You Need To Know About Body Position

  • Piglet2010

    To be pedantic, water has a bulk modulus of 2.15×10^9 Pa, so it can be compressed. However, of course the article is correct that too much water in a cylinder will damage the engine.

    • sixgunsteve

      There’s one in every crowd, isn’t there? For all practical purposes water is not compressible, unless you consider a decrease in volume of about 2% at 13,000 feet of depth as compressible. At 13,000 feet deep even the tallest dual sport would have a difficult time crossing. Pedantism, yes. Compressible, not so much.

      • knowmaddd

        and this is what makes discussion forums so much fun. Thank you both for the entertaining (and informative) exchange.

        • Piglet2010

          Deionized water can exhibit a tensile strength up to 10,000 psi under transient loading.

    • Mugget

      Downvoted for pedantry.

  • DSquared

    No mention of the water the flow. Often the reason you are crossing water is the rod has become submerged due to flooding, and flood water moves. Water moving quickly at a foot deep is signifcantly more danerous

  • Brian

    I guess page 2/part 2 is going to be how to get yourself out when it has all gone wrong? Techniques of removing a submarined machine and how to deal with the after effects.

    • DaveDawsonAlaska

      1) Hit the kill switch before you go under. Hope the air filter stops any sand or mud from being sucked in.

      2) Once out of the drink, call a buddy with a truck if you can. If not, break out the tools (if they haven’t gone down river too).

      3) Drain your airbox of water. If you can, tilt the bike up to drain the water out of the exhaust. Get to your spark plug(s), and remove them. Crank the motor over, and don’t look down the spark plug hole(s) when you do so. Ask me how I know…

      4) Ideally your buddy is back with the truck. If so, put your bike back together and load her up. Once you’re home, drain the oil/water mayonnaise mixture out of your crank case and change the oil. Filter too. Warm up the motor, and change the oil again. Repeat as necessary until the oil stops looking milky, then change it and the filter again.

      Unless the motor filled up with mud and sand, you should be ok. The above worked for my WR250R when I drowned it 3 years ago, and its still going strong some 40,000 miles later.

      4a) No cavalry on the way? Put the spark plug back in (make sure its dry first). Did you bring extra oil? If so, change it there. Take the filter out and let it dry in the sun too. Limp it town, then change the oil and filter. No extra oil? Say a prayer… and hope it’s a short walk if/when the motor goes.

      • Brian

        About half of that I assumed by practical nature. Good to have that list detailed out though. The 1st half of what I asked though is where it can get a bit tricky I think, based on video’s I have seen of people fighting in various ways to get their machines out of the drink in the first place. I am sure there has to be some technique and some of it pure grunt force against nature. I am betting there is a reasonable idea of some gadgets or modifications that help execute in those cases as well.

        • Piglet2010

          A hand cranked winch and rope would be handy.

  • Mugget

    I don’t want to know about crossing deep water.. I want to know how to go really fast & ride across the top of water, crossing an entire lake. On my Gixxer.