WRR47: Dealing with Gravel on Motorcycles



So you’re out on your bike, enjoying a beautiful day in the twisties.  You have a good rhythm going, hitting your lines, feeling great – when suddenly AHH! Gravel in the corner.  What do you do?  Your actions in this split second can mean the difference between riding it out or crashing.

The number one thing you need to take away from this, is DO NOT LOOK at the gravel.  Instead, look at the clear patch or the path with the least amount of gravel. Remember motorcycling 101: you go where you look. Quickly draw your focus to the best possible line through the gravel – hopefully keeping the bike in your lane. If you have time, scrub off some speed before you hit it – but once you are on the gravel, LET OFF THE BRAKES!  Braking while in a corner on gravel will usually result in you hitting the pavement.

20140429_175422Braking in a corner can also mean your bike stands up and goes wide, and remember, we are trying to stay in our lane. Wiping out on gravel is still better than having a head on with a car or truck!

Right before you hit the gravel, try to reduce your lean angle as much as possible.  The more upright your bike is the better, under one condition: you want to keep the motorcycle in your lane!  (Have I said that enough times?).I’ve seen quite a few wrecks where the rider panicked, avoided the gravel but ran off the road into the ditch only to crash anyway.  If you are in a corner you are going to have to stay leaned over to make that corner – it can be done.
20140429_175437Once you are on the gravel, you want to stay as loose as possible.  The bike may wiggle and slide around on you.  Obviously this depends on just how much gravel you are hitting.  If it’s just a short patch or a few pieces, you’ll be surprised how little drama there is.  You may skip a few heartbeats, but once you get accustomed to how this feels, it’s really no big deal.  As your front and rear tires heat each little rock, they will slide to the side – if you aren’t leaned over at 9/10ths, you should be ok.  Don’t hit the brakes, stay very neutral with the throttle, and just ride it out.  Once you’re on the other side of the gravel lean back into it to stay in your lane, and pull over to change your underwear if necessary.

Now lets talk about riding gravel for bikes that were meant to serve this purpose.   Tires and suspension for dual sports and adventure bikes will allow you to get the feel of sliding around much better than a street bike with street tires.  A street bike has a fine line between sliding around and crashing – whereas a dual sport can slide around and keep it on two all day long. Obviously the lighter the bike, the more true this is.

On a bike made for the dirt, with knobby tires – you want as much weight on the front as possible.  Sit up on the very front of your seat.  Weight the outside peg, and use the throttle to steer the back end around.  Be smooth with your inputs, loose on the bars, and let the bike sort itself out over the rough terrain.  It might be a little nerve wracking at first, and it can be hard to remember to stay loose, but your forearms will remind you.  If your hands and arms are getting fatigued on a dual sport – you are holding on way too tight.

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