Jump to content

Help an old guy's off road riding techniques


Recommended Posts

I am a 60 year old newbie to off road riding. I began riding later in life - now its been about 22 years, around 100,000 miles, and virtually all of it on pavement. Always had touring bikes (for the last 10 years, RTs) and when I got on gravel, etc., I felt very uncomfortable. I know there are plenty of experienced riders out there who do feel comfortable off road on an RT or whatever, but I am not one of them and living in an urban environment, just never had many opportunities to practice.


Did an organized tour last year for a couple of weeks and was off road for about 20% of the time. Definitely the most off road I had ever done. I did just fine on hard dirt and rocks, but not so good in the mud. We never encountered sand or very much water.


Just bought a F650GS on a bit of a whim and traded my older RT so

I could enjoy some off road riding in southern Arizona where I am now trying to spend some time. My first experiences this past week were a mixed bag. Dirt roads, rocks, hard packed gravel not too much of a problem; sandy stretches and a lot of loose gravel were tough. I did lose it once in some sand but I think I was probably going too slow and tried to stop and dropped the bike on its side in the process. No injuries to the bike or me (just a little wounded pride) and I was happy to see I could lift it up without too much of a problem. Also, I forgot to take the ABS brakes off that time but Im not sure if it would have made that much of a difference.


I'm not very good at giving up on anything, and the bike is really fun to ride, so a couple of questions for you experienced off road riders (sorry if these sound dumb):


1. When standing on the pegs, I assume you should keep your knees bent somewhat, but what is the recommended position - in otherwords, where should your head and body be in relation to your handlebars and seat - I'm 6' and if I try to stand up too straight, I end up bending over the front of the bike since my legs are too long for my arms to comfortably reach the handgrips (probably should have realized that on my test ride).


2. To keep my body from bending over the front of the bike, I have to stay in a bit of a crouching position which I have to admit is very tiring for any length of time for me.


3. Is it an option to put some sort of risers on the handlebars so I can stand straighter when I want and take some of the pressure off of trying to hold my legs in a constant bend. Not sure how uncomfortable that would be when I'm in a sitting postion.


4. What is the best way to get through sand or real loose dirt or deep gravel?


5. Any books or instruction videos out there? - I did see an Arizona dirt riding course which may be my best bet if I can get the time to do it.


All responses welcome and thanks.


CC Rider

'11 F650GS

'08 R1200RT

'74 R90/6 with sidecar (for sale in Texas)

Link to comment

Some fantastic stuff in these videos!!!!!




Others who articulate better will chime in on your questions but they are all answered in those videos When it comes to dirt instruction, I get it, but can't articulate it very well.

Link to comment

Sure there are optional handle bars which can raise the grips a bit yet one fact of dirt riding is that the "attack" position, i.e., on the pegs, knees bent, body crouch, is tiring. I'd suggest using that stance only when the going gets tuff and the added "suspension" of your knees flexing is required. Otherwise have a seat. And speaking of sitting, where you place your butt affects weight distribution and handling, e.g., sit as far to the rear as possible when riding thru deep sand; also a bit of speed helps the bike ride on top of the sand; sitting as far forward as possible is the dirt riding hot set-up for aggressive cornering.

Best of luck in this (dirt riding) the most physically demanding form of riding. And btw, 60 is the new 50(plus ten): or maybe 60 is the new 70 (minus 10), I'm not sure.

Wooster @ 60 his self

Link to comment
Danny caddyshack Noonan

+1 to Woosters advice.

You don't need to stand tall and hold the attack position on the pegs like the "T"s do. Those whose age starts with a T.

F's and S's can get by just fine by sitting but compromising with lowering the center of gravity of the bike/rider by weighting the pegs more or less as needed. You can put almost your entire weight on the pegs without lifting off the seat. It's less work to stand straight though.

The key to this is learning when and how, moving weight forward and back even left and right peg and adjusting speed accordingly. BTW, stop when tired and don't forget to say that you just wanted to enjoy the view if there are younger riders.

I'm no intermediate dirt rider by any stretch but, this is what I've found and remembered in the last year getting back into dirt as an upper-middle F with lots of broken and healed parts.

Most importantly....ride and have fun.

Link to comment

Search the web, you will find lots of good into. Order the DVD's from neduro, good stuff. Search for his stuff, it can also be found on Advrider.


As a matter of fact, get over to Advrider and play around on that site, great info….Stay out of Jo momma :eek:


Best advice, take a class or clinic. You can start with the MSF Dirt School. It is a one day class and they supply the bike, at least they do out here. Search on line for MSF Dirt School.


Have fun


Link to comment

You sound like you could benefit from firstly having the bike set up for you, not some generic tester in Germany.


Have you set the suspension "sag" for your weight. I don't know what the new F650 suspension is like, but my F650 single was set up from the factory for a 5'5" 110 lb rider. Being 6' and pushing 190, this set up didn't work well (obviously). I put some preload spacers on top of the fork springs to lessen the sag and fork dive and changed the oil weight from 7w to 12 1/2w. This improved fork action tremendously. In stock condition the forks lost 1/2 their travel just taking the bike off of the center stand. Check your manual and see what the stock oil weight is and compare the fork action when you're riding it. You will really notice a difference in loose rock and sand. There won't be so much fork dive and "plowing". These bikes are not good sand bikes anyway, so you might as well make the best of it. This sand was a little deep for my tastes:



When you venture off road, lower your tire pressure accordingly. Be sure and take a mini air compressor or tire pump with you to air them back up when you're finished. With the non-wire wheels on the new bike, don't go too low as you'll bend those rims. I run 20 psi front and 22 rear when off roading mine, but I have spoked wheels. I also recommend the Mefo front tire. It works way better than the Distanzia and Tourance I ran up there first. Much better manners on rocks and gravel than the others. You'll give up a little on the street with them.


Instead of bar risers, you may wish to look at Fastway foot pegs. If you reverse them, they drop peg height 1 1/2". I don't know if they fit the new twin or not. This will enable not only a more comfortable standing position, but more support for your feet. You will lose some cornering clearance if you're a "peg dragger". The foot peg choice will also mean that you won't have to change brake lines to fit the new bar risers (usually the case).


Another trick is to loosen and rotate your hand levers for a more compromising nuetral position for both sitting and standing. I always put a little vasoline under the levers at the bars and don't tighten them too tight, so if you tip over, you won't snap off a lever.


Make sure and rotate the handlebars themselves to a neutral sitting/standing position. This will ensure comfort in both positions.


After the bike is set up, then work on your riding technique. Don't "target fixate". Look where you want to go NOT at what you want to avoid. See the better travel line. Don't ride the line everyone else has ridden. It's usually the one with the big rock or rut to fall in/on. Keep your arms loose and don't "death grip" the bars. Use your legs as shock absorbers. Learn to feather the clutch in the tight stuff.

Then...practice some more.

Link to comment

You folks are all terrific - really appreciate the time you all took to respond. A lot of great ideas. Heading back to the northern tundra tomorrow a/k/a Chicago (and then get to ride in those plus or minus 20 degree days (the electric jacket liner and gloves really do make the distance and you can't wait 6 months just to take a ride). So I'll spend my time over the next couple of months trying to do as much book/video learning on off road riding as I can. Obviously, no substitute for the real thing, but it will have to do for a few months.


BTW - I had become an "inmate" I think they call posters at Adventure Riders last summer. I was going to ask my questions on that site, but it took me an hour to remember my name for that site (finally remembered it was MLTDWN - my license plate in Illinois - for anyone wondering, that refers to one's mental state if you don't get to ride motorcycles and not the economy) - I got frustrated trying to remember my own signin name and also figured this BMW site is the best in my experience and the most read so I put my questions here. I found ADVRider last year planning a short trip into Ontario and a member named Old Fart (how appropo) gave me some great ideas for the northern most road in all of Ontario. Route 599 takes you as far north on paved roads as you can get, to the twin cities of Central Patricia and Pickle Lake, 300+ miles from Hudson Bay - all very pretty and VERY remote - it was on that trip with my RT I encountered some dirt road stretches and a bunch of loose gravel that started me thinking about changing my ride in Arizona.


Again, thanks all, and a very happy and healthy new year to all.


CC Rider (or is it MLTDWN - gotta strive for consistency - easier to remember!)

Link to comment

CC, I live and ride in southern AZ and would be happy to take you out for some great dirt road riding. My favorite area is the Sonoita valley in the winter and the back side of Mt. Lemmon in the summer. Give me a shout (PM) when you're in the area and we'll get together

Link to comment

CC, the F650GS is light compared to your street bikes, but still not light enough to learn dirt biking on. I recommend you look at picking up something like a KDX200 for learning how to ride in the rough stuff and plan on trail riding for a couple of years to gain experience before putting the GS to the test. The GS can be alot of fun once you get some good dirt biking experience though!


The trick with loose gravel and sand is to keep the front end light, carry some speed but not too much, and have the right tires. I like the Karoo 2's on my KLR and they worked well on my R100GS, however there are a number of hotly contested favorite tires out there. It can be tiring though.


Other tips: Keep your elbow's high for added leverage as part of the attack position when in the rough stuff, keep your hands loose on the grips, learn to trust your front tire, be loose not stiff, work out and warm up, don't ride alone, and ride off road alot! Enjoy!



Link to comment
CC, the F650GS is light compared to your street bikes, but still not light enough to learn dirt biking on . . .

This was my first thought. Kinda surprised nobody else mentioned it. IMO you would benefit greatly from some time on a much smaller bike, and much less chance of serious damage to you or the bike.


Link to comment

Johnlt - sounds like I will need a lot more experience before tackling the back end of Mt. Lemmon. I've ridden my RT up the front end a few times which was great, but the other side sounds daunting. I won't be in Tucson until spring but I will keep your offer in mind and will try and touch base with you - thanks.


Dmottv, and kobukan, - I now realize you are right. In a off road riding guide I saw (after making my purchase) my bike was listed as an intermediate size off road. I am looking into Arizona dirt bike riding class and maybe instead of bringing my own bike which I thought I would, I will use one of their lighter bikes. I still would have likely gone with the 650 since my primary desire with a new bike was still more for touring while at least giving me some off road capability. Good thing I didn't go for the F800GS that I was also looking at since that was even heavier. The suggestion to get some experience with a lighter bike is a good one. My very limited off road riding experience was in Tibet where we used 200cc bikes that didn't weigh much more than 300 pounds - still over 100 pounds lighter than a F650. Clearly makes a difference but still didn't help me much in my first encounter with deep mud following heavy rains at 15,000+ feet! Was my first crash ever but I guess if you are going to lay the bike down, doing it in mud or sand is probably as good as it gets.


Thanks for the riding tips - I will definitely try them.

Link to comment

Morning CC,

A bit of history, I am 46, raced MX and desert for forty years, and even did 1 round of SX in the 90s. I have a friend who teaches MX training to up and coming racers and I helped with his camps group training sessions he would do.

I am in no way an expert at this but I do have experience, and my Ideas are tempered by age and many broken bones.

Some of what I will say has been expressed already but I will give you a review of my experience.


1} foot peg weighting is very critical. When you NEED to stand up, which only when it gets rough and bumpy (we call them whoops) or bigger rocks, you want to keep your knees bent. But your hips stay over your foot pegs. Your elbows up somewhat with your body a bit forward over the tank. Your knees and elbows will move with the bike but your body should stay "realatively" level. As the front wheel goes up and down thru the bumps your elbows will bend back and forth allowing the front wheel to roll up and down with your arms absorbing the movement. The same with the rear wheel. Your knees will bend up and down as the rear wheel goes up and over the same bumps. Think of the ground as a snake. front wheel rear wheel rolling up and down in an S shape and your arms and legs following the movement.


Also on peg weighting, you want to ALWAYS weight the OUTSIDE or TOP footpeg. That is PART of the reason we put out our leg in turns, to UNWEIGHT the down or inside footpeg. But takes more than just your top foot on the peg. You want to roll your butt cheek slightly up and over the top edge of the seat. In tighter turns you will want to sit down as you complete your braking and lean into the turn. To use this type of turning you want to sit as far forward as possible, inside foot out, and out foot pushing hard down on the peg.


2} Braking. Complete all braking before turning. Keep your head up, watch far down the trail, plan your lines, and watch where you want to go, not what you want to avoid. {target fixation, just like the street}.

Do NOT be afraid of the front brake!!!! Learn to use it with confidence. You will want to push back and straighten your arms some, NOT elbows locked straight, just a bit straighter than while riding.Front brake is for stopping, rear braking for steering. The rear bake can be used to slide the rear end around in tighter cornering, but that is an advanced technique not to be worried about now. Use the rear brake modestly just to keep the bike straight entering a corner.


3} soft terrain {sandy} You can sit thru soft sand as well, UNLESS there are alot of 6" or larger rocks mixed in. Sitting while going quickly thru sand and hitting a patially hidden rock will cuse the rear end to kick quite harshly, even bucking you off. Learn your local terrain. Sand requires speed and moving back on the bike. DO NOT worry about the bike wiggling left and right a little. It will wander a bit as it tracks thru the sand. Do NOT try to fight this, it will only make it worse and make the bike more feel out of control. Keep your grip light on the bars, scoot back, and let it meander. Just keep the bars pointed in the basic dircetion you are wanting to travel.

Sorry for the long windedness, but this is a big subject and take alot practice to get confident.

Try some repition drill like they do for any sport practice. Set up a cone or pick a spot and keep repeating the same turn, progressively getting the feel for your braking, lean in, weighting, cornering, and rolling on of the throttle coming out of the corner. Pick a set of whoops 10-20 long and keep repeating them until you can increase your speed to a speed that the bike goes straight thru them, not sloppily wandering thru them.

I hope this helps.

Link to comment

cc u sound like me. Got the 650 to get off the pave here in GA and on mtn fire raods etc. Not much been done so far and today is my last day in my 5's


Went out today in 28F weather on the RT and boy it is great. The F650 (single) is so different and it feels too low for me but I guess it is ok on more off road than I ve done.


great advice.



Link to comment

kmac - sounds like you know than just a little. really appreciate the tips. I'm definitely trying to avoid the broken bones - won't heal too quickly at this stage. I'm out of state and won't have the chance to practice for a couple of months and even then, it will have to be hit and miss (no pun intended). I'm interested in looking at the Fast-Way pegs (which someone suggested on this thread) to give me the option to lower the pegs since the way they are now, I really have to crouch down to try and maintain the position you described. Hopefully those could help. I was in first gear much of the time on my initial forays off road with the 650. Too nervous to go much faster. I definitely did all of the wrong things in the sand - went too slow, fought the bike, forgot to take off the ABS brakes and so on. I got some books to read and a video to watch for while I can't ride so maybe I'll learn something. I know no amount of reading will do the trick. I'll always be mostly a pavement rider, but it would be fun to be a little proficient when the opportunity arises.


Thanks for the advice.

Link to comment

You've gotten a lot of different advice. My last bit (hopefully) would be to tell you to leave the sand riding for last. Learn to ride with good technique on easier surfaces first. The only good thing about sand riding is it is usually softer to land on...which may happen frequently :/

Link to comment

A road bike is what it is, if offroad, survival mode. Dirt bike for dirt, it is lighter and better wheels/tires and suspension.


Standing on the pegs allows the bike to work under you, if it is not comfortable to you then it will not work very well. The bike wants to move, let it, steer with the pegs.


The most important thing you could've done is ride small dirt bikes as a kid.

Link to comment



If you've watched Dakar, & I'm sure you have, that's the wuss stage. I KNOW you've seen the mud section. :P


And as you know, I can ride like Marc Coma.






In my dreams. :grin:

Link to comment

We can ride like that, only a little slower and just for a few hours, NOT for hundreds of miles a day every day for a WEEK! And, with lots of noise around our tent so we don't get good sleep. Oh, and keep the bike in top shape so it will be ready each day!


Wished they had kept a heli overhead the whole race.

Link to comment


If you've watched Dakar, & I'm sure you have, that's the wuss stage. I KNOW you've seen the mud section. :P


And as you know, I can ride like Marc Coma.


More like Mark in a coma... :)

Link to comment

I keep falling out of the habit of checking in more regularly.


Hollow Rd. Rider - you are absolutely right, my avatar is not in the Chicago area. And I am completely sick of the white stuff and cold myself. I've usually been able to ride through the winters if the roads are dry (Gerbings is the answer there) but that hasn't worked too well this year. My pic was taken a few years ago in Custer State Park leaving the Badlands - if I recall, the sign says something like "Buffalo Are Dangerous" (no kidding), but I was lucky to get any picture up as an avatar and didn't know how to enlarge it.


roadscholar - thanks for the YouTube site. pretty fascinating stuff. I have just finished reading the book To Dakar and Back by Lawrence Hacking, a Canadian privateer who at 46 years old was the first Canadian to finish the Paris-Dakar - he did it back in 2001. So I got a real kick of seeing the YouTube videos - will have to look for some others. I was trying to follow the Argentina - Chile race this year. Too bad they can't do it in North Africa anymore.


Too late for me to grow up riding dirt bikes, so when I do get back to having a chance to get on my GS again out in AZ, I'll print off the numerous suggestions on this thread and try to improve my limited off-road skills - they can only really go up. Until then its looking at DVDs and dreaming. And a sign up for the Arizona Dirt Bike riding school may be in my future. But I'll be on pavement most of the time anyway - planning a trip this year from Tucson to Seattle and back - maybe a little off road along the way. So you all take care.

Link to comment

and BTW - if any of you read the Hacking book, its hard to believe how tough it is day after day for three weeks to do what these guys do, especially those who aren't part of manufacturer teams (the privateers). Very very impressive. Not only to be able to ride every kind of terrain but also to have the mechanical skills and drive to work on the bike every night after hours of exhausting miles (I mean kilometers). You get that much more of an appreciation for their achievement. Makes my Iron Butt Saddlesore 1000 several years ago seem like a day in the park.

Link to comment


This topic is now archived and is closed to further replies.

  • Create New...