Longtime dirt riders can make it seem like venturing off-pavement is like wrestling a bear and updating your phone’s software at the same time—difficult and dangerous. With a few key pieces of gear, the right equipment and a smart approach, a motorcycle trip exploring fire roads and two-tracks is not as daunting as it might seem.
Off The Beaten Road
Let’s start with off-road philosophy, the things you need to keep in mind as you plan and execute your trip:
- Have a plan and tell someone about it. If something goes wrong, you really will wish that someone with a phone had an idea where you were and that you needed help. A SPOT Tracker can be useful here for keeping in touch with the outside world, but it’s not as good as communicating your plans and updating those watching out for you.
- Bring more water than you need and give yourself a convenient way to drink it, such as a hydration backpack like the Klim Nac Pak. If you do not have to stop or take your helmet off to drink you are more likely to stay properly hydrated on your ride.
- Bring a snack even if you don’t think you need one. You’ll thank me later.
- Depending on the season and location, bug control can make or break an otherwise beautiful ride. A head wrap that that covers your ears or ear plugs such as NoNoise will keep the critters that find their way into your helmet from spelunking, while insect repellant or a head net can help keep your rest stops restful.
- A headlamp or small flashlight can make a big difference even during daylight hours. Because that screw you’re tightening will back out and fall into the darkest part of your motorcycle. Guaranteed.
- Bring a camera that you can operate with one gloved hand so pictures are not a project. This will encourage you to snap more shots and share your experience.
Owing to the remote nature of off-pavement travel, a few motorcycle protection accessories can keep a small incident from escalating. That’s a crucial consideration, since travelling off the beaten path may mean lack of cell phone service or a logistical nightmare for someone to reach you and your motorcycle. If you have a mishap away from help, you need to do your best to make it a minor inconvenience and not something that literally strands you out there.
A few recommendations for your motorcycle:
- Barkbusters VPS or SW-MOTECH Kobra handguards will protect your clutch and front brake levers in the event of an otherwise innocuous drop. No one likes to use a rock to bend levers back into shape, so keep the problem from happening in the first place.
- An SW-MOTECH or R&G sidestand enlarger wil help keep your motorcycle upright when parking on loose packed dirt. Not having to hunt for a loose rock or puck for every stop will encourage you to take breaks and enjoy the scenery.
- A rugged GPS with up to date maps such as the Garmin Montana 680t with City Navigator will keep you on track and best of all get you to the nearest facility if needed. Yes, you can use your phone, but it’s really optimized for the city and depends a lot on cell service for mapping. A standalone GPS is better.
- Secure mounting for your GPS or smartphone with RAM Mounts to keep your devices positioned so you can see them when you need to.
- Unless you are racing or planning to ride through soft sand or mud, tire choice is more a matter confidence than need. A so-called 50/50 tire such as the Mitas E-07 provides enough bite to inspire trust without giving up mileage or road manners. Most riders are happy with tires that work equally well on and off the road.
- Riding after dark on purpose should be avoided, but because it is not an adventure until the plan fails, a set of auxiliary lights such as the DENALI D2, with the ability to cut through any backwoods darkness, is a nice piece of insurance. Plus they’re good for conspicuity when you’re back on the road.
- A waterproof bag designed for abuse such as the DrySpec D28 or D38 will keep your personal gear dry no matter how wet things get. It should go without saying that one of the fastest ways to ruin a riding vacation is to have to live with wet underwear.
- Secure mounting of your gear with ROK Straps that are able to survive bouncing and vibration without loosening. This should probably be near the top of our list because all it takes is one bag getting loose and finding its way into the rear wheel to cause an accident and break some gear.
- If you are riding with a mate, Bluetooth hands-free communicators, such as the SENA 10S, let you point out vistas and hazards on the narrow roads and coordinate your ride without stopping.
- Remote riding often involves longer distances between fuel stops as well as lowered fuel economy. Reserve fuel in an MSR Fuel Bottle or RotopaX Fuel Pack can bridge the gap that may leave you stranded.
These bits will help you explore your world, but nothing replaces common sense. Always be sure that you are riding within your skill range and that where you are riding is legal—but get out there and explore your world. Few things compare to the discovery of hidden waterfalls, valley vistas or the feeling of self-reliance that an off-pavement trip can provide.