Want to enable your bike to safely and easily traverse a fire road or trail? The most important factor is going to be tires. Remember the Ducati TerraCorsa? Continental TKC80s enabled an exotic Italian superbike to go anywhere a GS could and even tackle some single track. I was able to complete last year’s Taste of Dakar event aboard a humble NC700X in confident ease because of those same tires. No matter what bike you’re riding or how many mountain silhouettes are plastered in sticker form along its sides, tires are the major determining factor when it comes to dirt ability.
Bear in mind, though, that any adventure is a compromise. TKC80s may be the ideal tire for the Dalton Highway, but you’d burn through two sets just before you got there riding on paved roads. If you’re planning big distances, then sacrificing some off-road ability for the ability to make it there may be necessary.
Next up is protection. Any bike you plan on using over long distances or off-road or both needs some serious protection parts. Start with the sump which, on-road, can be penetrated by a simple rock shot up by the front wheel on the highway. Speaking of which, extending your fenders (front and rear) is a great idea. Next, you’ll want to protect your radiator, both from debris and direct impacts. Holing it will end your journey, period. You should also protect the levers and bars with Barkbusters or similar and provide some total bike crash protection with engine/frame guards of some kind.
It’s also entirely likely that your bike is a long way from being ergonomically ideal. If your trip is going to involve several solid days on the highway, then seated comfort is a major factor. If you’re venturing off-road, then you’ll want to be able to stand while retaining good control and, again, in comfort. Any bike’s handlebars are adjustable in height through the aftermarket, there’s a huge variety of fixes for bad seats and footpegs are cheap and easy to replace. A larger windshield is also a great idea.
You’re also going to need to carry stuff. The cheapest option is a bungee net, the most expensive is hard luggage. The latter is obviously secure and waterproof, the former takes some care to use properly. Just figure out what fits your budget and bike best and pare down your equipment to a comfortable minimum; you don’t want to overload your bike, impinge on your riding area or create a giant sail which flaps in the wind.
What To Take With You
Water, fuel and stuff to repair/replace your tires. The rest is optional.
Water: At a minimum, one gallon of water per person, per day. If you’re traveling through the desert or in another place where water is scarce, take some extra in case you break down or get stranded.
Fuel: More than enough to cover the intended mileage between fuel stops remembering that your range will halve off-road.
Tire Repair: If you have tubes, take spare ones and all the tools you need to replace them. Practice before you go. If you’re tubeless, take a good tire plug kit and know how to use it. You will get flat tires.
Bike Repair: You can’t take an entire garage full of tools and parts with you. Know your bike and make smart decisions on packing based on what will most likely fail or need to be repaired. At a minimum, be prepared to deal with basic crash damage or a simple breakdown.
Camping Stuff: You’ll want a tent, a sleeping pad and a sleeping bag rated for a colder temperature than you’re likely to encounter. Pack stuff to purify water, start a fire and see at night. Shoes to walk around in when you’re done riding for the day - water shoes or sandals are a great idea. Oh, and don’t forget the food. Hard liquor packs much more alcohol-per-volume than beer and doesn’t need to be refrigerated, nor will it experience adverse effects when it spends all day being shaken up.
You know motorcycles are dangerous. You also know you can control how much risk you’re exposed to by riding safely. That becomes doubly, triply important when you’re riding off-road, a long way from home.
As mentioned above, getting into real trouble outside of cell reception can have dire consequences. You can reduce that direness by riding with a buddy or buddies and managing your risks. Build a good First Aid kit specifically designed to deal with large, mechanical injuries of the type sustained in a motorcycle accident. Include in it: Quick Clot, SAM Splint, Krazy Glue, duct tape, Motrin, Benadryl, a snake bite pump, blister aids, ACE bandages, anti-diarrhea medicine and more than enough of any prescription medicine you might require.
If you’re unsure of your bike or you can't manage an obstacle — deep water crossing, deep sand, a steep hill — get off your bike and walk it first. If you don’t think you can make it through, don’t try to. Find another way around or head in a different direction.
100 miles from the nearest road, in the middle of nowhere, isn’t the time to teach yourself how to drift a motorcycle. Enjoy the sites, have a good time riding your bike within its and your own limits and you’ll come home with stories to tell.
What was your last adventure? What did you learn that other motorcyclists should know?