By Paul Berglund
I had the chance to ride my bike in the mountains last month. Three of us hauled our enduro bikes out to Ouray, Colorado and set up camp at the KOA just outside of town. I had slept in a tent before, but this was my first time living out of a tent for a whole week. I can’t say I’m a big fan now, but it wasn’t as bad as I feared.
Sev and I had ridden this part of Colorado several times before, but it was the intrepid Sarah Mae’s first time in the big league. We had a great time as you might expect. It’s the highlight of my year every time I can ride the trails that transverse some of the most beautiful landscapes in the world. Together we enjoyed the views and the thrill of riding motorcycles through my kind of paradise.
If you ride off road put this on your to do list. If you ride a road bike, there are absolutely fantastic paved roads to ride as well. I know first hand because we rode 550 south of Ouray to Silverton several times. Even on (street legal) dirt bikes it was a blast. Grab a map, hop on your bike and start riding. I don’t know about you, but this is why I own a motorcycle.
Having a newbie with us helped me see things with fresh eyes. We threw Sarah Mae in the deep end of the pool. She’s only ridden off road a dozen times, and we dove in head first. Thats the way we came into this world and thats the way we roll. While the pace was slowed somewhat, I got more out of each mile we rode. While coaching Sarah Mae, I had to think about what I was doing. Really think about what I was doing. That’s not my strong suit. I found several flaws in my riding technique. Things that I have been taught, things that I know to be true, that I simply wasn’t applying to my riding.
Like standing up. On many occasions I have complained about how uncomfortable motorcycle seats are. While that is undeniably true, (motorcycle manufactures SUCK at making seats) it’s also true that if you’re sitting on that horrible seat when you are trying to ride off road, you’re doing it wrong. That was a bitter pill for me to swallow. Standing up helps. Grip the bike with your legs, bend your knees and keep your elbows up. This gives you much more control over the bike. While seated, you are only along for the ride. My bike is far more capable off road than I am, but it can’t think on it’s own. It’s up to me to guide us along the path I choose, and not get in it’s way.
Another thing that I knew but never implemented was airing down tires when riding in the rough. I don’t know why, but I had a phobia about letting air out of my tires. I went so far as to pantomime letting air out while the other guys would be dropping their air pressure at the start of the trail. I tried riding the same very rocky trail with 25 PSI and then 15 PSI and proved to myself that life at 15 PSI is much easier. It really works!
Several times on this trip I found that the parts of off road riding that I struggled with were my own damn fault. I was making things harder for myself. I was preventing the bike from doing what it does best. I was riding behind a new rider and watching what she did right and wrong. I could see what she was doing, but it was more difficult to see my own rights and wrongs. The one thing that surprised me the most watching Sarah Mae ride was the determining factor of whether or not Sarah Mae made it through a difficult section wan’t skill, it was confidence.
Sarah Mae, you, me, once we have the basic skills down, it’s the fear – confidence equation that determines our fate. Yes you need skills to ride your bike. Take some classes, read some books and practice your technique. If you want to enjoy riding a motorcycle off road you have to replace fear and hesitation with confidence. When I was new to trail riding the fear of difficulty just added stress. It was hard to bliss out on the scenery when I was constantly feeding my anxiety, worrying that my skill would fall short just around the next bend. Once I made it down a difficult section, I didn’t feel elation or pride. I felt dread. What if we have to come back this way? Could I ride up this rocky mess?
I don’t know how to overcome this particular obstacle. I didn’t know how to give Sarah Mae confidence when that was all she was lacking. She had enough skill to move forward but her lack of confidence was holding her back. That’s a part of the ride that I still have to figure out.
I went from camping in Colorado to a nursing home in Arizona. My dad is 91 years old. He had knee surgery and they sent him home one day later. He fell at home and ended up in a nursing home to get rehabilitation. I haven’t been home in a month as I write this. I’m taking my turn looking after him. Seeing my father so weak he can barely get from his bed to a wheel chair is very disturbing to me.
I want to leave you with this thought. If you don’t get off the couch and go riding, before long you won’t be able to get off the couch at all. Don’t let inertia or fear hold you back. I’m still working on the magic formula for confidence. I’m sure it’s something we could all use. Make the plans to go riding in your paradise and then make the effort. Follow through, the pay off is worth all the work you’ll put into it..