Saturday, March 15, 2008

Going offroad

I did the beginners course in off-road motorcycling today which turned out to be great fun but not exactly as easy as it looks on TV. The course was at Swartkops raceway which sounded a bit wierd because it is know for track and not off road riding. Riding there there was an unusual number of Ferrari's overtaking me and as it turned out, it was the annual Ferrari club track meet, there must have been at least 100 Ferraris roaring around the track for most of the day.

Once we got together there was a very brief lecture session before we headed out for a day of practical riding lessons which I am going to try and recount so that at a later stage I can practice the exercises.

1. Helmet, jacket, pants, boots and gloves are a requirement, not a luxury. The boots and gloves in particular need to be of the offroad variety.
2. All off-road riding is done standing up with the balls of your feet on the footrests from which the rubber inserts must have been removed.
3. If you're going to be doing any distance offroad, raise/rotate the handlebars so that the levers are manageable with your wrists straight.
4. ALWAYS look up! NEVER look down and definitely NEVER fixate on an obstacle. You are guaranteed to hit it if you do.
5. Slide your clutch hand along and operate it with only two fingers, this gives you much more control.
6. Operate the front brake with a single finger, this helps prevent breaking too hard with the front brake.
7. Your hands must be light on the controls and your arms very relaxed. Don't fight the bike, you aren't going to win.
8. Don't try and stop the bike falling, just let it go.
9. Relax on the bike and let it dance between your legs, particularly when in soft sand or gravel.
10. If you haven't ridden an obstacle before, walk it before you ride it.
11. If you're going to fall on a hill, stall the bike in gear. That way there is no way of it going anywhere. When you need to remount, spin the bike around to face 45 deg down the hill and pick it up from the top.

I managed to drop my bike on the very first exercise which we attempted but thereafter I managed to stay upright the entire day. We did the following exercises:

1. Walk the bike in circles while using the clutch and accelerator going in both clockwise and anti-clockwise directions.
2. Walk around the bike without letting it fall only holding it at one point at any give time. You shouldn't need more than 4 touches to completely circumnavigate the bike.
3. Ride in slow tight circles on grass concentrating on putting pressure on the outside foot to balance the bike. When you turn the steering, your whole shoulders turn as well, not just your arms. It is amazing just how tight one can turn even on slippery grass or dirt simply by leaning on the outside foot peg.
4. Ride with booth feet on the left, the right and then knees together on the saddle. Once one is comfortable with this weave from side to side.
5. Riding up a slope, lean forward so that your centre of gravity is in front of the rear wheel and your arms hang down to the bars. You shouldn't be hanging onto the bars, that means that you are too far back on the bike. Have just enough speed to get to the top without spinning the rear wheel.
6. Going downhill, let the bike run against compression and use a single finger on the front brake to control your descent. Move you bum backwards so that your centre of gravity is behind the font wheel
7. If you are descending or ascending across a slope put all your weight on the downhill foot peg. Like skiing, this is counter intuitive but it really does make a difference.
8. Turn the ABS off and get into second and put the power on and feel the rear slew around behind you. Great feeling.
9. Turn the ABS off and get some speed in second and lock the rear brake while changing down unti you are at a standstill.
10. Get some speed on a downhill and let go of the handlebars and steer the bike using pressure on the footpegs.
11. We didn't do this but it seems like a very good exercise, ride in tight circles on a slope.
12. Find some deep sand or fine gravel and keep the power even while the rear fishtails around. Great fun, this was probably the part of the day which I enjoyed the most.

The rest of the day was spent practising the above on actual trails and it is difficult to emphasize enough that one must look up and not worry what is directly in front of the wheels. I found that what I struggled with the most was throttle and clutch at low speeds, I stalled the bike several times at very low speeds so I am going to have to work on this.

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