Techniques: Mastering gravel trails part one


Knowing how to properly ride gravel trails is a skill that any adventure motorcyclist needs to know, and in this two-part series you’ll learn everything you need to become a pro on the pistes

The mere thought of riding in gravel conjures up mixed emotions in riders, from sheer fear to a wide grin. Which reaction you have is likely borne through your personal experiences, level of knowledge about gravel, riding confidence and riding skill level.

So, what is it about gravel that can be challenging for some?

Well, it’s got real potential to be slippery and to get you sliding sideways, and to most uninitiated riders, those riding conditions are a pure nightmare.

Q. Is all gravel slippery?
A. No
Q. Then what is it that makes gravel slippery?
A. Here are factors that affect how slippery/grippy gravel is:
GravelThe thing with gravel surfaces is that it is highly likely to be a combination of all the above conditions. As you ride over it, it is probably going to change, from one second being comparatively grippy, to the next where it could be all over the shop.

To be in control, you need to know what the surface is doing, how it is changing. To do that, you need to be going at a speed where you can read the changing conditions. The faster you go, the less time you have to plan your riding for the conditions and vice versa. However, increasing speed has a tendency of sitting the bike upright which can help stability.

If you go too slow then this could affect your bike’s stability and balance. As Renton says in Trainspotting, “It’s a f*****g tightrope Spud!” So ultimately, you need to modulate your speed to ensure it’s correct for the changing surface grip level.

When riding, to be in balance, your focus (foveal) vision needs to be looking at the horizon at head level in the distance. You need to train your peripheral vision to read the surface, direction, etc. so that your focus vision can help keep you balanced.

To ride on any slippery surface, you ideally need three things in place:

1. To be looking at the balance point as described above.

2. Weight should be over the back wheel to help the drive wheel get grip (this is why standing up is better as you can move more weight around to balance the bike).

3. Sit the bike up using smooth power delivery – do not throttle hard or brake hard if you can avoid it.

So, that’s just an introduction to balance and speed when riding on slippery surfaces, steering and stopping also need to be controlled. In the next issue of Adventure Bike Rider, we’ll build on these skills and learn how to control these critical areas on gravel.