by Kevin Driscoll
Hey Driscoll!” It was one of my co-workers. “I hear you went riding with the guys yesterday.” It was true. Two guys at work, Mike and Craig, decided to put a ride together on a Wednesday since everyone is busy on the weekends. Pure genius. The co-worker pressed on. “I hear Mike is a heck of a rider. What did you think?” I had to ponder the question. Finally I had to admit it. “I can’t really say I got to see him ride much. He was out of my sight 10 seconds after we started.”
Yes, I am a floundering, mouth breathing, tank slapping newbie where as a few of these guys are hardened dirt racing veterans. Oh sure I’ve ridden trails a lot, but almost exclusively the wide groomed trails with my son on his PW80. I thought since I could assault a tight dirt corner with the motor red-lining in first gear I must be reaching the upper ranks. I figured that it must have been some clerical error that a factory sponsorship wasn’t waiting for me back at the trail head. Yea, that’s right, I RIDE DIRT, Beyatch! Racing through single track (motorcycle only) trails with guys who DO know how to ride showed me what a tree banging, handlebar rutting rider I am. And even though I have a good bike and was giving it everything I had, I couldn’t even get the leaders back in sight. My Husky was tough enough since it survived being dropped hard three times and being run up into the fork of a tree. Yes, I got my bike stuck in a tree trail riding! Not one of my finer moments. And it was wedged in there but good, too. I went home sweaty, dirty, tired, hungry, sore, and humbled with a bent sub-frame and an intermittent starter switch. Total for the day for eight riders: Two riders down and one motor seized. The rest of the guys put in another few hours after I left which I am sure was just to point out what a wimp I really am. Hey, It’s all about me. But, after all is said and done, I have to admit I’m hoping to do it all again real soon.
The original reason I bought a bike a few years back was because my son, who was 9 at the time, bought his first dirt bike, a Yamaha PW80. Later that summer we went up to a friend’s cabin where he lent me his dirt bike and, along with his 12 year old, spent the weekend riding the State Forest trails around Crosby. After that weekend I had the shakes, cold sweats, hyperventilation fits, permanent bug eyed expression and kept making motorcycle sounds (two stroke, mostly). Yep, it was dirt bike DTs, and I needed a fix real bad. So after much searching, asking advice, and inserting a little personal want, I bought a used Husqvarna TE400E Dual Sport. Lived happily ever after? Well, so far so good.
I recommend dirt biking for anyone who wants to get out into the great outdoors and have a little motorsport fun. The time my son and I spend riding is by far the best I ever have. We don’t ride hard or too fast and we stop a lot to talk out our plan, pick trails or to just enjoy where we are. We usually pack munchies in the Camel packs to stop and have snacks along the trail. We sometimes wear swimsuits under our riding pants so we can stop off for swims in the lakes along the trails. Cleaning, oiling, greasing and prepping is a Father-Son project done the day before we leave. With the kind of riding we do, there has never been an injury or a breakdown.
So, you want to get started in the wonderful world of trail riding? Good call. Sure motocross looks fun and I tried motocross when I was younger but found I was lacking a critical element; skill. My son just isn’t into competition of any kind. And after watching so many competitors get hauled away in meat wagons, I decided not to push it. Also, in trail riding, you don’t need the latest and greatest machine to have a good time, nor will it require a bike rebuild on a regular basis.
Do you need a dirt bike? Check around. Most likely someone you know has one in the back of their garage that you can pick up cheap. You don’t need anything new or fancy. Heck, whenever I ride Nemadji State Forest, I enjoy sitting at the trail head around lunch time as people come in to eat because you get to see every age and style of dirt bike and most are chronologically challenged. So if your bike is from the 70’s, you will be in good company. My son never knew that dirt bikes used to have TWO shocks on back. Kid bikes are a little harder to come by used. People just never seem to get rid of them. But there are a lot of new choices out there and seem to be more offerings every year. Your bike has to have a US Forest Service approved spark arrestor and can’t be louder than 96db.
Where do you ride? Minnesota State Forests, that’s where. Contact the Minnesota DNR or look over their Web site. They have most of the trail maps on the web that you can print out. I called them up and they sent me a trail packet that had the latest regulations book and about two dozen well marked trail maps. You do have to register your bike with the DNR, which you can do at any place you can get car tabs. It could not be easier. I have only ridden a few places around the state, but my two favorites so far are Nemadji State Forest and the Spider Lake trails in the Foot Hills State Forest. The main trails are wide enough for ATVs to pass each other and are easy to moderate to ride, but the single track trails can range from challenging to outright nasty.
Please be kind. There are a lot of rider and ATV clubs fighting hard to keep the trails open and the battle gets tougher every year. The biggest threat to our sport is the knuckle-dragging, moto-dip, water-heads who like to blaze their own trails, rut the existing trails and generally tear up anything they can find. A no-no in the rules book. Then along comes some Eco-Lib with a camera that feels the internal combustion engine has no place in nature and the next thing you know the photos are published in the local Paranoid Observer and there is an outcry to shut all the trails down. “See, they scarred Mother Earth’s mud flesh. Let’s all sign a petition then perform the Earth Mistress Healing Dance.” In other words, come on out and ride with us. We’d love to see ya. Just don’t screw it up for me and everyone else. But mostly, don’t screw it up for me. There is a lot of trail out there I haven’t dropped my bike on yet. Remember, for every action there is an equal and opposite government regulation.
So, whatever your taste might be in riding, be it an easy day of riding though Minnesota’s finest real estate with family and friends or ripping through the deep woods, or a combination of the two, you can find it here and get into it easily.
Now get out there and ride. If I can do it, you sure can.