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 I'm not going to do it THAT way again!
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scottrnelson
Advanced Member
6886 Posts
[Mentor]


Pleasanton, CA
USA

KTM

990 Adv, XR650L

Posted - 05/11/2013 :  6:03 PM                       Like
Ever since my first motorcycle, I've enjoyed riding on dirt trails as well as on the road. I've gone back and forth between dual sports, pure street bikes, and pure dirt bikes. Currently I'm have two big dual sports which lets me do a little bit of everything, even though they're not exactly excellent at any one thing.

The closest area near me with dirt to ride on is Prairie City State Vehicle Recreation Area (where the Hangtown motocross race will be held next week). The problem with that area, is that except for a few motocross tracks, it's rather flat and not very challenging. And a 350 pound dual sport is not all that fun to ride on a motocross track. The closest OHV park with challenging trails is Georgetown, which is about 40 miles east in the hills. I went there once, a month or two back, with some other riders - who were on motocross bikes - and they showed me the trails that were enough of a challenge for me.

This morning I decided to go back there and just ride around the trails. I was able to get one of the free trail maps at the ranger station. Being in black and white, it's a bit difficult to figure out which trail is which. So I just started riding on Trail 1 and when I came to a fork in the trail, took the one that looked like it might be interesting. Before long I was pretty much lost and not quite sure how to get back - other than riding the entire route the way I had come. So I started looking for bigger roads until I eventually came out on a main one, way south of where I thought I was. At least I had a GPS with me, which doesn't help much on the trails, but it helped me figure out how to get back to the starting point again.

Since I wasn't completely worn out yet, I headed back to the starting area to try to find a few other trails that I hadn't been on. The first one that I passed, before the staging area, said Trail 3, so I tried it. Did I mention that I had decided not to put on my tires that are on my second set of wheels that are better in the dirt, which also includes lower gearing, and stuck with the IRC dual sport tires, which are okay off road, but terrible in mud.

Trail 3 was a pretty good challenge. At some point it combined with Trail 1, then I got to a fork where I could either take Trail 1, listed there as a Black Diamond (most difficult), or Trail 8, listed as a Blue Square (more difficult). I decided to take the "easier" one, which turned out to be the hardest one to ride that I had been on so far.

This is where the decision was made, go forward for Trail 8, back to the right for Trail 1.


There were two problems with my choice of tires and wheels. First, the tires don't grip well in mud or ruts, so whenever I got into a muddy rut I just had to go through the middle and hope for the best. Second, the gearing is stock 15/45, which is about optimal for street riding, but a bit high off road. At idle the bike is going about 5 mph and if you drop below 3, which would be at a walking speed, there is a good chance of killing the engine. But slipping the clutch isn't too good for traction over rocks or through mud.

On the easier trails, even on the rough sections, all you need to do is keep the speed up and count on the suspension to deal with the rocks and roots and other stuff that would be impossible to get over at too low of a speed. The problem with Trail 8, was that there were a number of places where a huge tree had fallen across the trail and the Forest Service had cut about a four-foot chunk for the bikes to get through. That's all fine on straight trails, but on really rough uphill sections if you keep the speed up enough to make it through the rough stuff, there is a chance of steering inaccurately and hitting one of those huge logs.

I got stuck once (killed the engine) on a rough uphill section that just required me to get off and "help" the bike over a couple of rocks where the rear tire is trying to climb vertically about a foot. Things got more and more tricky until I came to one switchback that just looked impossible. I managed to kill the engine there, of course, and tried to figure out how to get through while I was catching my breath (which took a LONG time). The turn was about 160 degrees and the diameter of the turn couldn't have been more than about 8 feet. The problem was that at about the 140 degree point it climbed up over some large rocks and continued upward at a fairly rough and steep angle for quite a ways. And there was one of those logs right after the biggest rock. It looked like the only way to make it through there on the first attempt would be to keep the speed up and power on while making the super tight and rough turn. A better rider than me could probably do that, or a rider on a better bike, but that was beyond me at that point.

One thing that I've learned about off road riding, is that once you're stuck somewhere, if you're not in the way of anybody else (and not in a race), it's usually best to get off and analyze the path that you want to take to get through the obstacle. Of course, once I got off and started analyzing, several dozen mosquitos showed up for dinner. Best to walk up the trail a ways to figure out where I could stop and restart easily after getting through this rough section then come back and plan how to get through the first part.

I eventually figured out a line that was likely to work without having to climb too large of a rock. All I had to do to get the motorcycle on that line was to get the bike turned around out on the edge of the turn and back it up to the edge of the trail without getting too close and dropping the bike down the hill. That was done off of the bike with a bit of dragging the back end around and up to get it lined up. I had about three feet to accelerate to enough speed to hopefully carry me over the next 30-40 feet of rough stuff.

Since it was a left turn, once the bike was lined up right I had to sit on it because the sidestand would have had to be four or five inches longer to touch the ground there. I went over the line I wanted in my head about a dozen times, concentrating on how to do it right rather than on what could go wrong. I didn't want to have to make a second attempt at this. Stick it in first gear, let the clutch out and GO, making sure the front tire hits the right path and assuming that the rear tire would follow for the most part. I was still feeling like I only had about a 60% chance of success there, but when I finally did it, I made it over that first section, made it through the next 40 feet of difficult trail and went on up to a better stopping point to finish catching my breath.

I was really hoping that there weren't any more sections of equal difficulty, and there weren't, but it was still several miles of tricky uphill turns and rough stuff until I finally came to a regular road. I had had enough single track and just wanted to get out of there.

The rest of the ride was rather uneventful, but I learned a few things. If you're going to ride any trail rated as "more difficult" (blue square) or "most difficult" (black diamond), make sure you have the right tires and low enough gearing. Better still would be to ride a bike that weighs under 250 pounds rather than the XR650L "Big Red Pig" that is a little over 350. At least the "BRP" has enough suspension travel to deal with rough stuff, unlike a lot of other dual sport motorcycles.

Oh, one other thing I learned, after it was too late, would be to take pictures of difficult stuff - like what I had to go through - while you're stopped. I didn't even think about my camera until I was way down the road. For a few seconds I had the insane thought of going back to get pictures, but quickly came back to reality.

I'll go back to Georgetown again in another month or so, but next time I'll be properly prepared.

rayg50
Male Moderator
2082 Posts
[Mentor]


NYC, NY
USA

Honda

Shadow Spirit 750DC

Posted - 05/11/2013 :  10:00 PM
quote:
Oh, one other thing I learned, after it was too late, would be to take pictures of difficult stuff...
Your writing style allows me to visualize quite nicely. As a city boy, I'd like to see pictures, but don't really miss them much.

As a side note, can I suggest a Do Not Feed the Insects sign for your bike? At least, it appears you have stopped playing with bees.


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LJW
Female Junior Member
74 Posts


Prescott, Ontario
Canada

Yamaha

TTR 125

Posted - 05/12/2013 :  5:19 PM
Scott, sounds like very challenging terrain, far beyond what I would attempt. Stopping to assess the situation was a good idea. Around here, people can get caught out by high water levels in the spring, and the advice is always given to walk a water crossing before riding it. This is black-fly season as well as mosquito season here. Not a good idea to have to stop under these conditions. In fact, we tend to avoid the forest for the three weeks black flies make outdoor life miserable.

Uphills with turns are an issue for me. On a ride in our local forest before we were familiar with the trails and shortly after we had first begun to ride, we took a relatively gentle route, what I call a single-and-a-half track. I was leading, and saw a rocky uphill slope ahead with a view of sky at the top. I figured since this had been an okay trail so far that I would continue on up the slope, even though it was much steeper and rockier than any we had encountered thus far. I sped up and made it through the rocks up the hill, only to discover a sharp right-angle turn right at the top. I stopped immediately, leaving Greg hung up half-way up the slope. He backed his bike down and I walked further along the trail, realizing that it was now narrow and very rocky. On later perusal of the trail map, we discovered that the straight-ahead trail changed at that point to a much tougher one. The gentle trail went off at a right angle at the bottom of the slope. Had I realized that, I wouldn't have gone ahead. Our local trails do not have a rating system as you describe - it would be a great idea if they did. I tend to be more cautious in my approach to unknown trails since that experience.

Since this is a safety site, I wonder about your thoughts of riding alone off-road. I know that you are a very competent experienced rider, and you may have been riding where there are lots of other riders. We can ride during the week, and are often alone in the forest. I've been having some problems with hip joints and find bouncing over rocks and tree roots is becoming problematic. Greg is understandably reluctant to ride on his own in case anything happens. He did ride our local forest once at the end of last year with me sitting in the SUV and him checking in with me every so often. Any thoughts?

Jane
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scottrnelson
Advanced Member
6886 Posts
[Mentor]


Pleasanton, CA
USA

KTM

990 Adv, XR650L

Posted - 05/12/2013 :  7:28 PM
It's nice that there is at least one other rider on this forum who rides on dirt roads and trails.

Only the State Vehicle Recreation Areas have rated trails. And a blue square at Georgetown is tougher than a blue square at Carnegie, so you have to know the area.

As for riding alone, I've been doing that off and on for forty years. I posted on two local forums a week before this ride trying to get riding companions and nobody could go, so I went by myself. I'm sure that I rode slower on my own than if I were with others. Although my bike occasionally ends up on the ground on rides like that, I don't usually fall off. I'll step off of the bike when the going gets too awkward.

As for the other riders at Georgetown, I saw half a dozen of them at the staging area, but not a single one on the trail this time. There were fresh tire tracks on all trails that I rode on though. I was more concerned with being in the way of faster riders or trying to pass other riders coming the other way when the trail is two feet wide on a hillside where you would never get the bike back up the hill if you slipped down off of the edge. While I was catching my breath I was trying to figure out what I would do if someone else was coming, because I wouldn't want them to get stuck because of me.

I wouldn't go on a difficult trail alone in an area that is not fairly wall traveled. But I'll ride on dirt roads out in the middle of nowhere. I consider it a risk worth taking.
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LJW
Female Junior Member
74 Posts


Prescott, Ontario
Canada

Yamaha

TTR 125

Posted - 05/12/2013 :  8:41 PM
We were members of a local riding club for the last two years primarily to discover what areas are available for off-road riding in our area. We attended one group club ride, found ourselves holding up others and decided not to attend any further rides. One advantage of our riding during the week is that, since the areas are quiet, you can ride at your own pace.

I have yet to encounter anyone coming from the other direction on a single track and I do sometimes wonder at the speed that some of the guys ride how it would end up. In the local forest, it is impossible to pass on the single tracks.

The other concern I have is that riding on a dual track it is sometimes advisable/necessary to skirt an object by moving into the other track. On a dirt bike without mirrors and wearing a full-face helmet with the visor down, it's not possible to see/hear if someone is overtaking you at that moment. On one ride on a rail trail on a weekend, a couple of guys went flying past us on dual sports. I hadn't heard them, and I shudder to think what might have happened if I had pulled into the left track at that moment.

Jane
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