by Paul Berglund
Not a lot of things improve with age, unless you count the ability to grow hair in your ears, and your riding skills may dim with the passage of time. The joy of riding might be fading, too.
That’s what was happening with me; until I found trail riding. I got a new bike, new gear, learned new skills and went new places. The joy was back and my road riding improved. Intrigued? Want to try? It’s simple really. Here are a few easy steps.
Step #1: Buy a bike. Don’t go online and research. I know you want to. I did and it led me down a very expensive path. I started out fine with a used Yamaha 400 that had been converted to being street legal. I got the bug and after going trail riding six times figured I needed a better bike. I went online and researched. My ultimate conclusion: a KTM 950 Super Enduro. I won’t bore you with the details, but let’s just say that a 440-lb., 36-inch seat height bike will only bring you terror and pain. I couldn’t catch it by putting a leg out when it started to tip. I couldn’t use the horsepower out on the trail, and the enormity of the bike was a huge liability. Learning how to ride off-road and doing it on a $11,000 bike will break your heart and wallet. Don’t go there.
You can buy an off road only bike or one that is street legal. If it’s off-road only, you will need a pickup or a trailer to haul it to the trail. Street legal bikes can be ridden to the trail. But you may find that to be problematic, because if you break your bike while trail riding, you lost your way home. If you live in the Twin City area, trails can be two hours away. I prefer a street legal bike that I trailer to the off road parks. In Minnesota you can ride most any bike on the state trails, provided you have a DNR sticker and you don’t have a straight pipe on your bike. If you want to ride out of the park or trail and go into town for gas or lunch, you may want a street legal bike.
What bike is best? A small, cheap, used bike. I know you can afford a better bike, but that’s not how you learn. Was your first car in high school a brand new sports car or was it a turd? Yeah, it will be hard on your ego, but get over it. What you want is a low and light off-road bike. For a street legal bike look at a Yamaha XT225, Suzuki DR200 or a Kawasaki KL250 Super Sherpa. There are many more bikes in this food group. Why not a DR650 or KLR 650 or XLR 650? Too much bike to start with. It’s not the power, it’s the size and weight. Go small and you will be much happier. If you get one at a good price you can ride it for a year and sell it to one of your friends who sees how much fun you’re having. You’ll get what you paid for it if you don’t set it on fire.
Step #2: Prep the bike. By that I mean put gas in it and ride it. Don’t spend a lot of time and money on this part, just get in at the low end and see if you like trail riding first. You don’t need skid plates, racks or a bigger gas tank. Just find some trails and ride that bike.
Step #3: Prep yourself. Safety gear will make trail riding so much better. An off-road helmet, goggles, gloves, boots and some form of armor for your legs and arms are important. You will be falling down. Not in a high-speed tumble, but more than likely in the form of a tip over. And it will happen many times. Off-road riding also is more physically taxing than road riding, so hopefully you’re not the type to wheeze after climbing a flight of stairs.
What will you do with all that money you just saved? Spend it on learning how to ride. Take off road riding classes. Buy books on how to trail ride. Get some skills and find some people who want to ride off road with you. It’s safer, more fun and economical when you trail ride with a friend. Plus, riding with someone who knows what they are doing can help you learn how to be a better rider. And if that rider happens to own a trailer, they will become a cherished friend. See you on the trail!