Drive any bike off-road - TOP TIPS

Drive any bike off-road - TOP TIPS

In the beginning, all bikes were adventure.

Let's face it, motorcycles where the symbol of freedom and no free human was going to be shackled by the limits of the tarmac.

As evolution start hitting the motorcycle industry, we started getting a clear divide between road bikes and off-road bikes, and that allowed riders to decide what bike flavour their fancied most.

On the one hand, the ones that had dirt in their DNA, on the other, the ones that lived for the thrill of the open road.

Years later, hybrids came to light, and dual-sport and adventure bikes flooded the market, allowing for riders to yet again be free of choices, and with one motorcycle, go everywhere.

But what if I tell you don't need an off-road biased motorcycle to tackle dirt, and that all bikes are still adventure?

That would force a question, a question that I will answer today.

How can we adjust our driving to take any road bike, off-road?

Although it depends a little bit on how we define a road motorcycle in today's world, some things go across the board.

Let's start by sub-dividing road motorcycles into two main groups:

    • Road biased bikes like the CB500X or the V-Strom can be driven off-road in the same way any adventure bike can, so no special tricks there other than the advisable ones for big adventure bikes.

      Get yourself some bar risers, a suspension tune, and a good set of 50-50 tires, and you are good to take your road biased bike off-road on a regular basis.

      Using proper adventure bike driving techniques and keeping in mind that the ground clearance will be lower, you will be impressed with how capable these kind of bikes are, even in more aggressive off-road situations.

    • Pure road bikes like cruisers or sport bikes to name a couple, do indeed require a bit more of adjusting.

      But let's remember, all bikes are adventure, so don't cut your adventure spirit short just because your bike doesn't seem ready to tackle a Dakar, it can do more than you think!

      The images and videos below are a clear example of that!

    Motorcycle on the dirt | Braaaaaapp

    Reference: Image from of “Arrepiado” racing his GSRX in the Portuguese BAJA Portalegre. 

    Reference: Video from EnduroPro youtube channel

    Motorcycle on the dirt | Braaaaaapp

    Reference: Image from

    Reference: video from DanTheFireMan youtube channel

    Now, do I advise you to grab your road bike and mimic any of the examples above?

    No, and probably it is also not what you are thinking of doing in terms of off-road, so let's focus on what we need to keep in mind.

    Although capable, a road bike is not a dirt bike, and this means it is essential to remember some critical differences in order to adjust how we can tackle any terrain:

    1. Your suspension travel will be extremely short
    2. Your ground clearance will be extremely short
    3. Your brake disks will most likely be oversized when compared to dirt bikes, so damage from ruts, holes or rocks is possible
    4. Your wheels are most likely not laced, so damage to the rims is possible as well as extra stiffness when riding
    5. Your foot pegs and foot levers are most likely not designed for you to have grip, stand and operate them while standing
    6. Your seat may not be intended for you to be mobile on it easily
    7. Your exhaust is probably very low and unprotected
    8. Your plastics or chromes may not be protected in case of a fall
    9. You will not have fast and sharp steering
    10. Your street tires will want to wash out

    All of that and much more could be said, but on its own, all it means is that you need to drive carefully, not that you cannot drive anywhere.

    If you intend to take your road bike off-road regularly, I will strongly suggest you mod your bike to eliminate some of the points on the list above, but assuming you want to run it stock, here are some of the techniques you should apply:

    NOTE: Some of these techniques may take longer to prepare, then it will take you to drive a couple of miles carefully, so user discretion is advised.

    • Lower your tire pressure

    Road tires tend to run high pressures, and since they are not designed to grip off-road, you may want to take advantage out of the larger footprint of a deflated tire.

    Your bike will not be that jumpy, and you will gain some traction.

    On the other hand, you need to be careful not to lower your pressure so much that you will pop your tire out.

    Also, don't forget to re-inflate the tires as soon as your off-road adventure ends, as a deflated tire on the road will not handle safely.

    It is also essential to keep in mind that lowering tire pressures is not just benefits, as it will also decrease your already low ground clearance.

    Motorcycle in dirt | Braaaaaapp

    Reference: Image from

    • Adjust your suspension settings

    I have no idea what kind of bike or suspension setup you are running, so I can only say, adjust it accordingly if your suspension allows for it.

    Off-road will be bumpy and shaky in the best of days, so road suspension setups will make keeping a driving line harder, and your suspension may be bottoming out constantly.

    If you can’t adjust things like pre-load and compression, try and avoid bottoming out your shocks every couple of feet, drive slower and be thoughtful in your line choices.

    • Brakes and electronics

    Finesse and electronics OFF are mandatory!

    ABS and traction control will make driving a road bike off-road impossible, unsafe, a nightmare… take your pick, and once you choose an adjective, turn all your electronics off.

    If your bike does not allow you to turn them off, reconsider the idea of going off-road to start with.

    Road brakes tend to be far more powerful than off-road brakes, so be gentle.

    Reduce how much you brake until you get a feel for the bike’s feedback.

    You will find the sweet spot, but until then, some testing and finesse may be in order.

    • Power

    Although some road bikes are torque monsters, they all tend to rev differently than off-road motorcycles.

    With this in mind, you will need to be super gentle on the throttle, and momentum will be your friend.

    If you see a section that you believe may get you in trouble, like hills or sandy patches, it is not wrong to do them on foot first to choose a line.

    If you have to start from zero midsection, you may find yourself in added trouble as you road power delivery mixed with road tires may want to dig instead of pushing you out.

    On the other hand, with the right momentum and line, you will be able to cross virtually anything.


    • Body positioning

    Not all road bikes are comfortable to stand, regardless if you can do it.

    Taking a road bike off-road is not an exercise of grace and performance, but one of survival, so if you are more comfortable and in more control seating down, stay that way.

    Flap your feet, move your body, even manoeuvre the bike by hand if you must, what you need is to find the position you feel more comfortable in.

    The more comfortable you are, the more relaxed you will be, the more you will drive with the bike instead of against it.

    At this point, you are probably wondering if standing wouldn't be better.

    And with reason, standing it will lower the centre of gravity and increase your bike control, but in some bikes it just impossible to stand for more than a second, let alone control it down a dirt path.

    Pick your battles and adjust accordingly.

    Regardless if standing or not, when off-road, remove the rubber foot peg protections if you can.

    Rubber foot pegs off-road are a big no-no as your feet will keep jumping off instead of gripping to the pegs raw metal.

    • Different kinds of terrain

    Off-road has many different kinds of off-road in it.

    Mud, sand, gravel, rocks, they all have their quirks and techniques.

    If you are on a pure road bike, try to learn proper off-road techniques on an off-road motorcycle before you tackle anything with your road bike.

    One thing is to adapt yourself to a bike if you know how to tackle the terrain, another is to learn everything from scratch using a motorcycle that was not designed for what you are using it.

    If you are keen on doing and learning more off-road, I would strongly advise you to get an off-road bike.

    You will enjoy more, learn more, be safer and you won't be damaging as much material.

    In the end, yes, all bikes are adventure, and yes, you can take your road bike off-road if you are thoughtful and mindful of the limitations you have at hand, but that should not stop you from thoroughly enjoying the freedom all bikes bring, on, and off-road.

    Drive any bike off-road

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