I have a meeting today - a rendezvous with another riding partner. He has neither a name nor a body. He does not even have a motorcycle but he will ride with me today whether invited or not.
He always meets me at the end of the familiar black ribbon of road where the tar turns to sand, dirt and gravel. This is where he joins the ride and will be my constant companion until I leave the dirt behind and return by the blacktop home.
I am taking about the dirt road surface itself. Unlike the asphalt he is not reliable, predictable or solid. Neither is he dead nor sterile. He is a very real companion and will not be dismissed. Instead he demands interaction and joins the ride either as a friend or a foe. The choice is always mine whether to fight him or embrace him. The tyres will respond to him as directly as the handlebars will respond to me. He will ride from the bottom. I will ride from the top. The motorcycle frame, caught somewhere in the middle of these two forces will follow us both. That is why the dirt road surface is a partner. I cannot wander too far from his input. I can never be in total control. If he goes left I cannot go right! If he slides I cannot hit the brakes. If he heaves and bucks the bike up I must embrace him and hold on before we thump down.
I watch the end of the asphalt rushing up on me. I sweep the dirt surface left to right, near and far looking for traps and for traction. In an instant the ride changes and the surface rumbles amid a cloud of red dust. The motorbike squirms and slithers from side to side. The bike is confused and disorientated and aimlessly wanders. My eyes however are fixed twenty meters ahead on a long narrow island of good traction. In those vital seconds I can recoil or take charge. With my heart in my mouth I somehow rise to the challenge. I gently gas the big trail bike towards the good surface. For a moment the mororbike hesitates, looking to me for reassurance. I gas it some more. More confident now the bike straightens and we power ourselves onwards. That's how it always starts.
As the kilometres roll on I relax more and more. I begin to embrace and work with the input from the dirt surface. We fabricate the ride together each bringing our own unique input. The rear wheel snakes as I pour on the gas. I aim the bike for edges, lips and humps. The engine screams as the bike goes airborne for a moment. This living, constantly-changing surface brings to the ride its own character of fun. It wants more than simply a response or reaction. It wants to participate! It demands to be part of the thrill of the off road ride.
A critical element of off road riding is acknowledging that you are not in total control. Yes, you make the decision regarding the best line, offering maximum traction. Yes, you make the decision regarding the gear and speed, but then the ride is out of your hands! That is when the road surface as a living being enters the ride with great enthusiasm. Despite your best decisions the road surface will have its way and what you get is not always what you expected! The bike will squirm, move, and perhaps even buck around. The road surface working in conjunction with the motorbike comes up with its own thrilling symphony of movement entirely different from anything you could get from asphalt. Thus the surface is very real and its mood is constantly changing. Sometimes it is playful but it can also be bad tempered and demand the utmost caution.
The successful rider who overcomes their apprehension of off road riding is one who has comes to terms with the living nature of this road surface. The rider learns to release the idea that they are in control. They learn to accommodate, even embrace the fun and thrill that the surface will add to the ride. They learn to read to the constant mood swings of the surface and react accordingly.
Enjoying off road riding is therefore a decision . . . a decision to embrace this unseen companion and together come up with a unique riding experience every time you leave the asphalt behind.
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