This story is part of an ongoing blog about the realities of getting into dirt bikes: the good, the bad and the ugly. Brutal honesty only and there might be a naughty word or two.
Wednesday, January 8, 2020: T-minus 4 weeks until Morocco. Normally I wouldn’t be stressing about taking a big ADV bike out on some dirt roads, but a press launch ride is different. There’s no way to know what the route will be like in terms of difficulty, but it’s Morocco, so I’m expecting rocks and sand, probably no mud. The pace will be quick, but I don’t mind hanging back and riding my own ride. It’s one of the advantages of being female: I don’t have an over-inflated ego to protect.
Still, I don’t want to embarrass myself or my employer. There are expectations. So I figure the best course of action is to ride dirt as much as possible before my trip. The Triumph Tiger 900 we’ll be testing in Morocco will weigh more than twice what my KLX230R trail bike does, and with the same tall seat height. And I’m guessing it’ll make about four times the power.
I’ve been out twice so far since picking up the bike right after Christmas. The first time was with my friend Nic, the second with my boss. Both times I was completely dependent on them because I lack a truck or any other method of transporting a trail bike.
Nic wanted to hit a huge OHV area in the mountains north of us, which made me nervous. I’ve been there before and it’s full of sand and steep hills, with UTVs flying every which way, and frankly I didn’t trust him to stick to the easy green trails. Dudes have a way of doing that, I’ve noticed — saying yeah, no problem, we’ll just stay on the easy stuff, then casually leading you into situations way above your head and when you pause they shrug and tell you to “just ride through it.”
Fortunately for me, a massive snow storm forced a change in our plans and we ended up heading to a trail I’ve done before years ago on a huge BMW R 1200 GS, so I was a lot more confident that I wouldn’t be surprised by anything crazy. That’s mostly what’s stressing me out as I’m getting more serious about riding dirt: the unknown. I don’t yet trust myself and my abilities if the trail suddenly gets tough or I ride up on my kryptonite, the one thing guaranteed to make my heart pound and my stomach churn — a steep descent. I want predictability, at least while I’m getting comfortable on dirt again.
I have no idea how I’d handle loading and unloading a dirt bike by myself even if I had my own truck. It took both of us to get the KLX loaded into Nic’s Dodge Ram, and the reverse getting it back out at the trailhead (along with his much taller KTM moto). My stomach was in knots as we set out, and it didn’t help that just 100 yards up the two-track trail there was a rockslide that we had to negotiate.
Nic rode over it with little drama and I hung back, eyeing the obstacle anxiously and wondering what he was going to do. Tell me to just keep my head up and ride over it? Yeah, thanks. But to my relief, he rode up the trail a ways to get out of the way, then dismounted and jogged back. “OK,” he said, “here’s your first test. Here’s what I want you to do. You’re gonna get your speed going, not too fast, keep your feet on the pegs and let the bike bounce around under you. It’s gonna bounce around. If you feel like it’ll tip, lean right since the rocks are higher on that side. But just stay on the throttle and you should be okay. And keep your feet on the pegs.”
Hmm, okay. Solid advice. No bluster, and an acknowledgment that it wouldn’t be easy. Somehow that made me feel better about it, like if I failed it wasn’t a big deal. And I failed. I chickened out and let off the throttle at the first big bump, stalling out but staying upright. Shit. “No biggie. You gotta really throttle out now though, you’re stuck.”
I only succeeded in spinning the rear wheel, digging in even further. Shit. I was getting frustrated with myself. My inner voice was not helping: see, you’re not cut out for this, why couldn’t you just do what he said, you’re a chicken.
But then there was Nic, who without a word of complaint or encouragement, just a take-the-edge-off, “OK, now don’t totally roost me!,” walked over, and together we rocked the bike back and forth, me throttling with each forward push, until I popped out on top again…and this time I carried my momentum forward, bouncing over the rest of the rocks.
The rest of the day went pretty much like that, with Nic stopping at the end of any rough sections to wait for me, checking on how I was doing/feeling and occasionally making a cute effort to make me feel good (“Most of this stuff scares me too.”). On the return trip, I gave that rockslide the ol’ ugly eye and throttled my way over it (although I didn’t keep my feet on the pegs — baby steps!).
After that positive first experience, when my boss proposed a day trip out to the desert I was happy to accept. We spent several hours exploring the myriad of single-track trails, and even took an 11-mile (one-way) ride to the ghost town of Randsburg, where it seemed every dirt biker and UTV-driving family in the area had converged. He’s also much faster and more experienced than me on dirt, but for the most part he remembered to slow down and make sure I was still behind him as we rode the undulating desert trails.
My thoughts up to this point: your choice of riding partner(s) is probably what’s going to make or break your dirt bike experience. That certainly holds true for street riding as well, but it’s much easier to head out on your own on the street. Dirt riding pretty much requires a buddy, and you need to make sure that buddy is a good fit. It should be someone who is patient, respects your feelings — especially when that feeling is fear, is willing to teach without being patronizing and who makes you feel positive and confident.
That might mean the ideal riding partner, at least at first, is NOT your significant other. We often have too much emotional investment in our SO (and vice versa), and that can interfere in ways that might surprise you when you’re just starting out.
This coming weekend, I’m looking forward to heading out with some girlfriends. I have a feeling the experience will be totally different than it was with my guy friends, as positive as both of them were. The challenge will be transporting my bike, but I think I have a plan…. Stay tuned.