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Off-Road: Staying Safe on the Track and on the Trail

Going off-road is one of the most fun activities that can be had on a bike, whether it's at the motocross track or a long ride through the wilderness or desert. After all, that's half the point of the bike right? A bike is all about the lack of limitations, the flexibility to ride through any terrain, the freedom to go off the beaten path where 4 wheels can't take you.

We hate to be the one raining on your dirt-paved parade, but as always, fun only comes after safety. Trail or dirt riding is highly technical and then there's that added factor of unexpected obstacles (that?s all part of the fun!). When riding off road, you may find that you tip over more due to rough track surfaces and obstacles, but the good news is that the accidents tend to result in only minor injuries (as opposed to street riding collisions).

If you haven't already, take a read at our street riding safety tips. A lot of the same tips apply no matter what kind of riding you're doing. But going off-road does require a very different set of rules. In this post, we'll focus on safety tips for off-road riding.

Don't ride above your ability

Choose the correct bike: This is the first thing! Riding a bike that's too large (or too small) means you won't be able to control it as well. And that's especially important when going over uneven ground.

Off-road or dirt bikes also have a different seating position than street bikes, so it's very important to make sure you have a bike that suits you. Dirt bikes tend to have a higher seat height, but your feet should still be able to just touch the ground. And when you stand up on the footpegs, you shouldn't be pulling up on the handlebars.

For beginners, we recommend these off-road/adventure bikes:

- Kawasaki KLR250
- Yamaha WR250X
- Husqvarna TE310
- BMW F800GS
- Triumph Tiger 800XC

Ride within your limit: If you're a beginner, start small. Find a riding group or riding partner that you're comfortable with and that is at the same relative skill level as you so you can take your time and not feel like the slowest guy in the group. We've seen a lot of ego take a bike and ride to the ground in a bad way! It's okay, you?ll work your way up to the big boy stuff. And that's half the fun of riding anyway: to feel the gradual improvement and sense of accomplishment and to share stories with your buddies over the camp fire or local watering hole.

Wear the Right Gear

Just like on the streets, it is important to wear the correct protective gear for off-road riding. But going off-road has its own set of requirements. When you're riding off-road, you never know what kind of obstacles you'll come across, whether it's loose gravel on the trail, tree roots, a sand patch, or a rut. Any of these could make your tires slide and cause you to lose control.  And furthermore, having an accident on a trail could mean hitting your head against rocks or other objects. This could cause serious injury even at low speeds.

Here is the gear you should always be suited up with:

A helmet: This is the most important piece of gear and we highly recommend splurging for a quality one. The helmet should fit snug. Dual sport helmets have a visor edge to shield from the sun and debris. A dirt bike helmet has an open eye port, so it's lighter and you have the option of wearing goggles. But if you're going for a helmet that can be used for the street as well, look for one that is DOT approved (approved by US Department of Transportation).

Gloves: Gloves will not only protect your precious skin in a fall, they'll also protect your hands from rocks, debris, and other flying obstacles you may encounter. It's impossible to find a glove that does it all, so use one that suits your riding conditions and the weather (hot, cold, wet) that you'll be riding in.

More in-depth read: Beginner's Guide to Motorcycle Gloves

Goggles: If the helmet doesn't have a face shield, goggles will protect your eyes from dirt and dust, branches, and any debris that may fly your way. Goggles with tear-offs are a great option. When you're hit with a face full of dust, simply tear off one of the layers and have a clear field of vision again.

Boots: Boots will provide protection for your lower legs, ankles, and feet. Most off-road boots are designed to be worn over the pants.

Jackets and Pants: Off-road riding jackets and pants are specially designed to be comfortable, lightweight, and flexible. They're usually made of a light textile in a highly breathable material (this is important so you don't overheat on your excursion!), and don?t offer as much protection as street gear does. If you're going to be riding split-shift on the street and off-road, then go for a higher abrasion resistant dual-sport or ADV riding jacket and pants instead of purely off-road apparel. 

Protective Gear: Because the jackets and pants don't come with too much built-in protection, dirt bike riders typically wear their armor separately. Chest protectors, knee braces, and knee & elbow pads are common additional protective gear worn by MX and Off-Road riders.

Be prepared for the journey

If you're heading out for a longer length adventure ride, it is absolutely essential to make sure you have packed the correct supplies. Even if you have all the protective gear, not having the supplies you need could quickly mean the difference between a pleasurable adventure ride and serious trouble.

Stay hydrated: Probably the MOST important thing you can do is to stay properly hydrated during your ride. Check out the highly performance-focused hydration packs from American Kargo that are designed to fit over the protective guards and allows you easy sipping while riding. This is a MUST, we say.

Bring the proper supplies: At a minimum, we recommend bringing a GPS, an extra gas tank, water, and a tool kit to do repairs such as flat tires.

Be prepared for changing weather: On a longer ride, the weather can change in an instant and you need to be prepared for any possible weather conditions. Rain can drench you in an instant and turn your ride into a complete misery. Pack a rain shell to keep yourself comfortable and dry. Motorcycle rain gear is designed to keep you dry while still providing ventilation.

Be ready for any temperature swings with base layers and mid layers to insulate the body from the cold and wind. Look for moisture-wicking material that will aid in cooling as you ride.

If you're on an overnight or multi-day adventure: Look for small compact tents and sleeping bags (down is the lightest and warmest). Pack camp stoves and non-perishable food (freeze-dried meals are good options). Even if you're not on a long trip, packing snacks is always a good idea in case you run into trouble and lose time.

Have a first aid kit: As most injuries off-road tend to be minor (if you're wearing the correct protective gear, that is!), it is handy to learn basic first aid kit. Your kit should contain supplies to bandage scrapes and treat burns.

Use the buddy system: Always ride with a buddy or in a group if you can. If you're riding alone out in the desert and get into an accident, it could be a long, long time before anyone even realizes you're in trouble (especially if you're not supposed to be due back until a certain time).


With these safety tips in mind, go out there and have fun! Riding in the trail or dirt present a whole new slew of challenges but that's all part of the fun. Don't be discouraged if you're a beginner and falling over a lot. Just practice safety and wear the right protective gear at all times, and go out there and ride with confidence!
By Daniel Relich

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