As for a days adventure ride...
...not much sucks worse than being out in the thick of off road adventure riding and losing your motorcycle mojo somewhere between point A and your next camp at point B after putting your bike down. But... it happens.
It’s happened to me. It’s happened to the best dual sport and adventure riders and it’ll happen to you.
I know this mostly because motorcycles have only 2 wheels. They go down and thats just how it is. And sand...sand is how they go down most often.
If you know what I mean… scoot your head over and let me join you in your helmet for a second during one of those going down moments. Together we might best convey the message to those who are struggling with or new to the matter all together.
High desert at noon… too many beers around the campfire last night. You woke up feeling a bit off and now you find yourself just not grabbing a hold of matters on the trail like you should be. You are last in line and your buddies ahead seem to be throttling along just fine having zero issues. The riding terrain is sketchy with side sloping trails and long patches of deep sand. The sand is simply eating your lunch…
Your breath is loud in the helmet. It’s erratic and clearly full of frustration....
You bark at the trail...
“Sheeez! More f@ckin’ sand!”
Every little rut and ripple pitches and jerks your loaded adventure bike to and fro. A boot kicks the sand here and there to avert going down. The labored breathing continues. You are thirsty and mumbling unsweet nothings between breaths. You ram a boot down again from your peg standing position. This time your seat and nether region slam together pretty good.
“Ummmph!!! Gah!!! RRRRR!!! Damniit!”
The sand gets deeper. Your buddies are STILL having much less issue than you, and slowly creeping ahead substantially. While thats good for them it does suck being the one having the most trouble. Today it’s getting under your skin.
In an instant, as your bike was gliding off into the bushes you dump the rear brake and immediately stop. Cockeyed on the trail, a little sickly feeling in the loins and lower belly from smacking the seat and slightly out of breath you stand there idling for a second, panting as you try to compose yourself.
‘Shouldn’t have left my long sleeve on’
you think to yourself panting in the heat of the day and the work. You know that you are a little off today but …
‘why the hell can’t I make this happen?’
Your buddies are up around several bends but you can still hear their motors singing along their merry way.
Frustrated, you twist the throttle and let er’ eat, throwing a rooster tail...
...and skiing your feet along waiting for enough speed to pop back up to your pegs. Your front tire catches a rut however and down you go… in slow motion as you hop one foot along—partly planning your ejection route, partly in denial trying to hold the bike up… but mostly… just pissed. The bike makes her way to the ground sending you lurching forward a couple steps...
...as you clear the handlebars with a hop accompanied by an explosively impassioned F-Bomb.
( Did I get all that about right? Lol )
You stand in the sand. Hands on your hips. Your breath is now a frothy, flustered panting. Sweat drips into your eye and pisses you off even more. You turn on a heel towards your bike and want nothing more than to kick it. You look up at the sky mumbling angrily, then down at the ground again muttering, then back up to sky.. etc. etc. A few moments pass and at least the froth has left your panting.
‘Ok. I gotta think. Why the….’
And like a ton of happy-ish bricks it hits you.
You let out a frustrated laugh but a laugh no less. You remembered why you are struggling. It finally made sense as to why it felt like you’d never ridden sand in your whole life for no apparent reason you had factored.
About that time you hear your buddies returning having lost you in their rearview. It’s a bittersweet reunion in that you are stoked for the help picking up Ol’ Bessy— the adventure bike / cow it is. But also it’s rarely a proud moment to be the only one standing next to a ‘sleeping’ motorcycle.
As the natural way of ADV goes, and hell any sport for that matter, your buddies hop off their bikes finding a stick to put under the kickstands and commence to taking a solid go at you….
“What’s wrong there buddy? Hahahaha.”
You pause dramatically a second too long to dodge the next jab.
“Sand got your tongue?”
Eager to defend your honor and mancard you instantly take the witness stand
“MAN!!! I just figured it out!!! I…”
Again a very natural interuptive response among men in such a scenario…
“ OH you did, did you? Got it all figured out. Yup. Looks like you are solving capers left and right, there…aaaaa… Sherlock Kneivil.”
Your buddies let out a hearty laugh. You join in a bit because that was kinda funny all things considered. You continue…
“Ya, my tires are at max pressure! Did you guys air down?”
“Ya, when we went to get coffee we both dropped to like 15psi on the front and a bit on the rear too. What are you at?”
“Like I said, I’m still at highway pressure. It’s been too long. What a rookie move! I gotta get some more dirt in around home.”
“Well crap, no wonder you are back here smelling the roses. hahaaha.”
You dump some air and, with mojo bent but unbroken, sail on out to point B in what would seem to be much calmer waters. And so concludes a moment in time that I speculate happens far more than even the night’s campfire yarns spin them.
If you already know this...
about tire pressure and sand you can attest to the accuracy of this tale. If you don’t already know it… you can at least attest to the matters leading up to the napping motorcycle and most likely also a couple more quickly following before successfully reaching port at point B.
While there is info out there on the matter I’m always shocked at how many people I talk to that do not know that lowering tire pressure for off road riding and ESPECIALLY sand is a vital preparation. I’m also surprised at the number of times I myself have been caught in that moment having simply forgotten.
It is a wonderful thing when we realize it’s not a waning skillset or inability to improve one’s riding that is causing the matter… but instead just an oversight or missing link of data in your motorcycle riding skillset arsenal. It’s also awesome to share this with people who did not know and see the excitement in their eyes when I confidently promise them that the next time they ride off road, lowering their tire pressure will make a night and day difference. And what is COMPLETELY awesome is getting contacted by that person later and getting to hear the excitement as they share their revelation experience.
And I guess ultimately that is what I am saying to you. If you didn’t know this, now you do. AND I too promise you the same that your sand riding just improved 100% by simply having this fundamental preparation knowledge.
Having said that, there are a few additional things to know on the matter that would be considered vital:
1. STAPLE GEAR
ALWAYS carry an accurate tire gauge. There are many options for this. From an old school reliable manual pressure gauge on through to extremely handy products like TPS systems as well as pump / gauge systems. Whatever case works for you consider the product. A couple bucks more for the real deal can end up mattering plenty in this context.
2. HOW MUCH AIR TO RELASE
Lower the pressure in accordance with the terrain. The softer the surface the lower the PSI.
For example, if your tire manufacturer calls for 42PSI front and rear, adjust in this way:
Hard pack terrain try 32PSI
Slightly sandy terrain 25PSI
Medium sand terrain 20PSI
Heavy sand terrain 20PSI rear and 15-18PSI front
Absurd hellish sand trap like terrain 20PSI rear and 10-12PSI front
( In the matter of PSI there is always the risk of spinning a tube in your rear tire, especially if you do not run a rim lock--which is likely the case for most adventure motorcycles. For this reason I rarely go below 20PSI on my rear tire if I can help it.
3. RESTORING PROPER PSI IS CRUCIAL TO TIRE LIFE
Changing tire pressure in this way will have not have a negative impact on the tire itself unless you get in the habit of not returning it to a reasonable PSI for pavement. It’s important to be vigilant about this. If you don’t carry a pump, stop at the first store for air and make that a strong habit. If not you will experience extremely premature tire wear and cupping of the front tread over a short amount of time. Once a tire begins to cup it snowballs quickly. 20, 30 miles here and there is to be expected but forgetting to air up habitually on even one smallish 800-1000 mile tour can ruin a tire.
4. WHY DOES LOWERING THE PSI WORK SO WELL
Contrary to what it seems… a fully aired tire on the road is more like an ice skate blade than a broad surface contact. Hence the effectiveness of counter-steering and leaning. A very small area of rubber meets the road at any given time—less than an ice skate blade in length and about an inch or so in width on the front for a standard 21” tire. In dirt clearly the more grip the better. A tire with lower pressure flexing under the weight, of especially turns, affords a rider that grip by almost double the contact area.
In sand the same applies in that even though the sand is all around the tire the energy is focused in one area all the same. A great example is imagine holding a butter knife by the rear of the handle and pushing it through a sand box. The blade ( your front tire ) will grab every ripple and redirect all over the place. Applied to a wiggly wobbly loaded down adventure motorcycle with a flustered rider, that’s hell. Now imagine that blade having a much flatter contact area. The knife becomes much more controllable. Consider this analogy in the following skillset bullet points I’ve included as refresher ideas for you to look into if you’d like.
5. COMMON SAND RIDING SKILLS TO LOOK INTO
Load your bike heavy items low and light high as much as humanly possible. Every ounce matters when your 550 lb. adventure bike is lugging your 50lbs. of gear and your 200lb ass while being pitched and yawed about by ruts in the sand
Always keep your body weight to the rear of the bike as much as possible.
Clutch the bike with your knees
Proper sand riding includes jerking movement as opposed to the stay loose mentality of other off road terrains
Stand on the pegs and mind the position of your feet in relation to the pegs
Consider your approach speed to sandy areas. Leave enough in your comfort range reserve to hit the throttle all the way through the sandy area if possible.
DO NOT use the front break in heavy sand travel… unless you are just plain starving… and love eating sand.
Look into the rare times when in sand that it is better to put weight towards the front
Remember that sand is rough on moving parts. Take care of Ol’ Bessy and she’ll do the same for you.
Minding this information…
first and foremostly you will be stunned by the difference it makes in your ability to utilize the other skills you have picked up for sand riding. Which if course will increase your confidence and therefore your ability to begin implementing new techniques as well as honing your existing skillsets— that prior to altering your tire pressure you had assumed you did not have. Hence the happy texts, phone calls and PMs I’ve gotten over the years from people making the discovery that my promise to them was not just encouraging lip service.
The rubber meets the road reward is of course reaching your point B camp with your mojo intact and some energy left to set camp and enjoy the evening.
Stay Safe Out There.
Story Moto Out.
BONNIE & BILLY J PODCAST INTERVIEW
BY ZEE TRAVELER & DAKOTA HOWARD
Billy J is co-founder of Story Moto ADV, a dual sport / adventure riding brand with strategic initiatives serving the health of the adventure touring community in order to develop a unified voice for speaking resolution into motorcycle land closures in the U.S. due to overcrowding and other public land use conflicts. He has been a rider for 45 years, an extreme adventurer for 31, and an avid dual sport adventure rider for 20. His first time living on a motorcycle for more than a year was in 1988 and most recently for 16 months living and riding full time with his wife Bonnie J and their kids on a tour that wrapped up in the summer of 2019. The are plugging away at the Story Moto ADV compound for another round set to commence in the Summer of 2020.
CONTACT BILLY J: STORYMOTOADV@GMAIL.COM
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