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Everything You Need To Know About Off-Road Riding

Off-road motorcycle
Photo: fasteddy760 | CC

Many riders get acquainted with motorcycling on the street as adults. Well-informed riders know they need good education to stay safe on the street.

After a few years, many riders start asking, “How can I get better?” And the answer is to ride less on the street and more in a controlled environment, free from soccer moms and teen-aged drivers. The best way to do that without breaking the bank is to take your weekend ride off road.

What kind of bike should you get? Where should you ride? Do you have any business competing or racing? Read on to find out everything you need to know about off-road riding!

Off road vs. motocross bikes

Motorcycling is filled with confusing acronyms and only the truly obsessed have it in them to memorize all of them. This could not be more true for off-road machines. Most off-road bikes are intended as play bikes, but manufacturers also produce high strung, purpose-built race bikes for off-road competition.

Competition machines are lightweight, very powerful, and expensive to maintain. Most off-road racing bikes are designed for the sport of motocross. Play bikes tend to be heavier, less powerful, and easier for mere mortals to ride, maintain, and enjoy.

Like with sport bikes, it’s tempting for new off-road riders to throw their leg over a ridiculously overpowered machine in a vain attempt to satisfy their egos. Before you do a thing like that, remember many professional racers spend hours and hours practicing on XR100s in the off season to hone their skills. A big, powerful bike is more likely to get in the way of skills acquisition, especially at first.

Where to ride?

You’re in luck if you live west of the Mississippi. Motocross is extremely popular all the way from Sioux Falls to Los Angeles for less competitive off road riders for trail riding, timed enduro, and hare scrambles. The proprietor of a motocross track will usually own the land surrounding his track.

Even for non-racers, the best place to ride is usually the local motocross track and the trails surrounding it. A simple Google search will reveal if you have a motocross track within easy driving distance of your neighborhood.

Open spaces, federal land, and national parks all have designated Off Highway Vehicle (OHV) trails popular with off-road motorcycling enthusiasts. Ask your local motorcycle dealership or off-road shop about the best trails in your area.

Why compete?

Off-road racing is one of the most accessible forms of motorsport for the rider who must test his skills against others. Off-road competition doesn’t have to be expensive or even very competitive to be fun for the whole family.

The least competitive form of off-road “racing” is the Poker Run, which is just like the Poker Runs you know and love except in the dirt instead of on the street.

Next in terms of competitiveness is the timed enduro, which is a pacing contest instead of a speed contest. Competitors must arrive at checkpoints “on their minute” in order to avoid losing points. The rider who paces himself best goes home with a trophy.

Hare scrambles are similar to enduros. They take place on trails instead of a track. Hare scrambles are classic contests of speed. The fastest rider goes home with a trophy.

Motocross and supercross racing require specially prepared tracks. Motocross focuses on outdoor tracks and is very much a family sport. Supercross and arenacross focus on indoor tracks with a greater emphasis on large jumps, tight turns, and professional competition.

Other forms of off-road competition

Flat track and TT racing are very specialized and require racers to build heavily modified motocross bikes or special, one-off “framers” to compete. Many people are unfamiliar with Harley Davidson’s participation in off-road racing. The American manufacturer’s XR750 has proven itself a force to be reckoned with from the day it was introduced in 1970.

Flat track is the most spectator-friendly form of motorcycle racing. If you want to see how the pros do it, there is no better event in the world than the AMA’s “Indy Mile” Grand National flat track race held every August at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Baja 1000, Dakar, and other premiere events

Off-road riding is not limited to America’s back yards and national parks. And competition takes many forms including grueling, 1000-mile treks across some of the world’s most dangerous landscapes. One of the most storied races in history, the Paris-Dakar Rally, had to be relocated to South America after conflict in the Middle East indefinitely postponed the 2009 event.

The Baja 100 is an off-road stage race that takes place every year in November. Racers line their bikes and buggies up in Ensenada and race to La Paz or loop back to Ensenada. The course changes often and the fastest racer wins.

Riding off-road will make you a better rider, period.

The biggest reason to ride off road is that it will make you a better rider on the street.

Dirt riding is a lot more forgiving of mistakes when riders are keen on getting in over their heads. Dirt bikes were meant to be dropped, picked back up, and enjoyed for the rest of the day. Whether you decide to race or just goof off in the dirt with your family, the skills you gain from riding off road will make you a better, safer rider on the street.

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About the Author

Michael Padway is a motorcycle accident attorney with over 40 years of experience in motorcycle cases. He’s been a lifelong motorcycle rider, and fanatic for its culture, advocacy, and safety. If you need assistance with a motorcycle accident, contact him at (800) 928-1511 or visit michaelpadway.com for a free consultation.