One of the most thrilling—and challenging—aspects of off-road riding is learning how to tackle different kinds of trails. Here are some of the most common:
Hardpack. Loose silt. Dry lakes. Tacky clay. Probably the most common terrain type, dirt trails vary from region to region and thus offer unique challenges specific to the surface.
Take the damp, usually muddy condition of the Pacific Northwest and Northeast, where trails tend to wind through thick woods and forests. Now head south to the deserts of California, Nevada, Arizona and Utah, where hardpacked dirt and sand (and in some places slick rock) is king. Dry lakes, naturally, will provide flatter, faster surfaces. And in the deep South and Hawaii, loamy, bright orange-red clay creates an entirely different riding experience.
Riding in sand is a blast, but it also requires a certain amount of finesse and technique best summed up in this rule of thumb: Accelerate sooner and brake later than you would on surfaces with greater traction. Your bike will naturally “track” in its path when riding in sand—don’t worry, this weaving sensation is normal.—so keep the throttle on and shift to a higher gear if possible.
You want to keep your speed up, which will then allow the bike to rise on top of, or “plane”, the sand. Also remember that your bike will stop much more quickly in sand than on harder surfaces, so adjust your braking accordingly.
Taking an off-road machine out in rocky areas can be somewhat intimidating for new riders, and if you plan on doing a lot of riding in rocky terrain, you might think about beefing up your skid plate protection
Riding a trail with rocks that are small and numerous, your bike will handle very similar to the way it does in sandy conditions. Conversely, if the rocks are larger, you’ll have to carefully plot a path around or over each one. Either way, momentum is your friend, so keep your speed up and watch for sharp-edged or jutting rocks that could damage a tire, rim, engine case or low-hanging foot.
This type of riding is arguably the best way to sharpen your technical skills. Woods and forests, much like rocky terrain, are much less forgiving of pilot error, with tight, twisty trails demanding precision. Quick, side-to-side transitions, coupled with evasion of such obstacles as roots, logs, fallen trees and rocks, are the norm. Some of the best enduro and off-road racers grew up riding in the woods, and it’s invaluable training regardless of where you typically ride.
One of the first, and most important, rules of thumb when attempting to climb or descend a hill is to always use common sense. Some hills might be too steep for your abilities, while others might be too steep for your motorcycle's capability, regardless of your own skill level.
Also, never ride past your limit of visibility—if you can't see what's on the other side of a hill's crest, slow down until you can.
Whoops, or whoop-de-doos as they're also known, are closely spaced bumps usually found in heavily used sections of a trail. (If you're a skier, think of a mogul run. Same idea.) Whoops create a roller-coaster effect when riding up one bump and down the next, and should be navigated while standing on the bike's footpegs.
Water and mud can hide obstacles (roots, ruts, rocks, etc.) on the trail, so it's always best to ride more cautiously during wet periods. Mudholes can also be deeper than they appear, so be alert for this possibility as well.