As we progress through our fundamental exercises, focusing on implementing another fundamental skill each time, it is now appropriate to move to an exercise we call the "Slow Ride". The name pretty much is self explanatory in terms of saying that the goal of the exercise is to ride from Point A to Point B as slowly as possible. If you are able to stop on the spot without moving (and not putting your foot on the ground) while doing this exercise then that means you will be able to execute it at a higher level. The "Slow Ride" now has a strong emphasis on incorporating our third fundamental skill of balance with the first two that we have been working on, that being our body position on the motorcycle and our throttle/clutch control and coordination relating to putting the power to the ground.
The first key point of our "Slow Ride" exercise is make sure we look ahead. This not only helps to keep us in the prefered position of being able to better scan the trail for upcoming obstacles but also for giving us better balance. It's like thinking about a person who walks between high rise buildings on a tight rope. They don't look down at their feet as they are walking the rope, instead they look ahead towards the horizon as this gives you the ability to have better balance. The benefit of this increased balance not only works for the "Slow Ride" exercise but also for when you are fanging down the trail. Standing up also allows us to have a better range of motion in moving our body around on the motorcycle to maintain and regain our balance.
By coordinating our body position, throttle/clutch action, and brakes we are with practice able to eventually come to a complete stop and then stay stationary for a period of time before finding it necessary to move forward to regain our balance instead of toppling over. Before this action is needed though we are able to maintain our balance for a longer period of time by using the technique of turning our handlebars in the direction that we are losing balance or falling over, and by moving our upper body in the other direction to counteract this loss of balance. At some stage whilst stationary this technique won't be effective enough to maintain your balance and you will end up starting to fall all the way over. The only way to regain your balance in this situation is to let the clutch out and put some motion into the wheels. This creates balance and allows you to get back in control of the motorcycle.
The benefits of this exercise are noticeable in many situations out on the trail, and some of these include when riding in deep sand and mud that generally the faster we are going, and the more motion that we have in the wheels, the more we seem to be in control or at least have the sense of having greater balance. The more balance we "feel" the more in control we will be for the conditions at hand.
There is a direct relationship between actions and skills used while performing the "Slow Ride" exercise and that with tackling the advanced trail situation of long, deep, straight ruts that are running down the trail. Generally when faced with this situation the inexperienced rider will not trust their balance skill and thus sit down with both feet out, having to "paddle" their way through the ruts and to maintain their balance so as not to fall over. The experienced rider will stand up on the pegs, looking towards the end of the rut for better balance, apply the throttle accordingly to increase the amount of motion (balance) in the wheels, and should they start to lose their balance while traversing the length of the rut they will lean their upper body in the opposite direction at the same time as they turn the handlebars in the direction that they are falling. Now by turning the bars while that front wheel is in the rut it is going to have a far greater effect of regaining your balance than it does on flat ground because the side knobbies will catch the edge of the rut and prop you back upright much quicker. By making use of all of the above actions, and being able to coordinate them effectively you will be able to ride through those long, deep ruts faster, safer, and with less energy usage as opposed to sitting down, second guessing yourself and hesitating, and then having to use a lot of energy to paddle your way through to the end of the rut.
Be sure to check back for more ThumpeTalk exclusive off-road riding technique tips in the new year. Also, checkout my web site for additional tips and training resources. Keep the rubber side down!