Written by Bill Dragoo | Photos by Jenny Vigil. Posted in Tech-n-Tips
The big Beemer was brand new. Shiny farkles flashed in the sun as Fred approached the gravel corner a bit too fast. He hit the binders and a giant hand seemed to shove the bike forward like a heavy box on an Amazon sorting slide. The ABS took over and his brakes laughed at him as panic welled up in his gut. Target fixation prevailed and the ditch loomed ahead like the gaping jaws of a giant, hungry crocodile….
Fred was an experienced off-road rider, coming off a successful amateur season of cross-country racing. He felt like a pro on his Beta 300 but sadly, the new BMW R1250 GS Adventure didn’t handle the same way. How had he gotten himself into this situation?
Kinetic energy is the energy of mass in motion. Big bikes just have more of it than their lightweight brethren. Because of this, stopping, turning, and even accelerating require more work, which translates to the need for traction for slowing, turning, and accelerating. In addition to traction, these machines require a good deal of power to get them up to speed in a hurry. In most cases, plenty of power is available on these mega machines but it takes a proactive rider to keep a big adventure bike upright on rough or slippery surfaces.
Tip #1. The J Factor
Slow down and familiarize yourself with the big machine before trying to push it.
In our adventure rider training classes, we teach Judgment as one of the four cornerstones for safely riding a heavy adventure bike. The other three are Balance, Control, and Attitude. Judgment is our first line of defense against the pain and suffering these beasts can inflict if we fail to distinguish their handling characteristics from a smaller dual-sport or race-bred dirt bike.
Judgment helps us slow down and ease into off road terrain. Even terrain we can ride well on a “skinny bike” can become a handful on a full-grown BMW or its equivalent. The penalty for failure is usually measured in stitches and dollars. The bigger the bike, the more both are involved when we are complacent. The good news is that there is a ton of fun to be had below 10 mph, where our skills are most safely and effectively mastered.
Tip #2. The Thrill of Skill
Riding a big bike in technical terrain is one of the greatest joys a motorcyclist can have. These machines can handle terrain that would satisfy many trials riders once the operator grasps a few of the basics. Nothing beats a professional training program to fast-track a rider who is new to big bikes, but the internet is full of drills for adventure riders to practice. Podcasts and YouTube bring these drills to the palm of your hand. Practice bridges the gap. Rushing the process can cause frustration, bike damage, and injury so take your time and have fun. Start with the fundamentals and ease into tougher terrain as your skill improves.
Tip #3. Document Your Progress
Have a friend video you when you practice. Compare your videos with legitimate top riders and trainers. Proper body position is critical for successfully navigating difficult terrain on a big bike. For example, often if you can reach the ground to dab, you will have to dab because you are not properly counterbalanced.
These bikes are heavy and can be intimidating to those accustomed to lighter machines. Few have the muscle it would take to ride them using the same techniques we use on smaller bikes. Counterweighting doesn’t feel natural at first but, once mastered, it becomes the magic dust that keeps us flying. Documenting and critiquing yourself on the bike will show whether or not you are doing it right.
Tip #4. It’s Not a Camel
Adventure travel is a prime benefit of riding a big-bore dual-sport-capable motorcycle. New entrants to the sport often overload their machines just because they can. Too much weight, especially up high, adds insult to injury. Handling characteristics become more cumbersome and picking up a fallen bike may become impossible without unloading some of the gear. Large tank bags and tail bags can cramp the cockpit, restricting the rider’s ability to move around, especially fore and aft, within the cone of balance. Learn to pack it light and pack it tight.
Poor Fred lost it on the turn but he learned a valuable lesson. Big adventure bikes demand respect. They can do a lot, but pushing too hard, overloading, and trying to ride them in the rough before investing in training and practice often ends badly.
Bill Dragoo is a BMW Motorrad Certified Off-Road Instructor and owns and operates DART (Dragoo Adventure Rider Training) in Norman, Oklahoma. All brands are welcome. BillDragoo.com