BY KRIS FANT
So, you see this shirt? I’ve been questioning whether I can continue to wear it since learning to ride a motorcycle off the road. I’ve been repeatedly humbled by the amount of help I’ve needed to orient myself and my bike in the proper riding alignment, i.e., two wheels on the ground. Can I self-rescue? It turns out, the answer is yes. I can also be counted on to rescue other individuals, so I am starting to even the score of how much help I needed for so long. It turns out, there are some skills you can practice to help yourself become a self-rescuing princess.
As a new rider, I had lots of experience not getting enough momentum for a hill I was attempting to climb. This led to an inevitable stop and fall, and having to start on a hill. If you can lift your bike, getting the bike up when it has simply tipped over uphill is manageable. But as a tentative new rider, getting going on a steep hill with rocks and mud was always a challenge. I usually needed someone to ride the hill for me once I lost momentum. One way you can give your off-road skills a boost is to find a small, somewhat steep hill, point your tire up it, and kill the bike. Practice starting and going over and over and over, until it is second nature how much gas to give the bike, how to slip the clutch, and how much momentum you need for the surface you are on. It’s often easier to start on a small, easy hill, and then move to a hill with more challenges to refine your skills.
Before being towed down a trail (because you fouled a spark plug and forgot to pack an extra, or your master link on your chain failed), it makes sense to spend some time learning how to be towed and practicing being towed on easier surfaces.
Using a tow strap, tie one end to the rear of the frame of the tow bike. Wrap the loose end of the tow strap around the crossbar of the handlebars of the bike being towed and hold the end in place with the clutch hand. Do not tie this end to the bike; the rider must be able to release the tow strap. When being towed, if you feel the need to stop, first let go of the strap. Otherwise you risk bringing down both you and your helper, which is not always looked at fondly! I recommend first practicing in a flat parking lot, then on a more challenging trail.
What’s that? A bird? A plane? No, a windfall! My favorite, tool!
Most of my stories these days start with “I was listening to adventure rider radio, and….” Well, I was listening to the adventure rider radio, and heard a segment I paid particularly close attention to. It was all about getting yourself out of challenging situations, and the part I remembered most was “check your environment.” As it happened, the very next weekend I was out riding my DR650 on some particularly twisty trails. I can pick up my DR, but only if it is on flat ground, or if I happen to fall with my handlebars uphill from my wheels, which never seems to happen. Of course, when I fell, I was cross rutted, with my handlebars downhill from the seat. And, instead of trying to lift with all my might (which I know from experience doesn’t work) I remembered this podcast and started scanning my environment. It turns out, there had been a big windstorm, and there were a lot of fairly sturdy branches of all lengths that had fallen. Using a sturdy branch for leverage, I managed to drag my back tire around, so the bike was perpendicular to the trail, prop the bike up with some rocks under the handlebars and side racks, and pick my bike up as if it was on level ground. It’s amazing what is around you that you can use to create leverage or height for your bike. We ride on trails and roads with rocks and branches, we carry backpacks and wear gear: we can use any or all of this if we find ourselves stuck. Scan the space around you to see what you can use to get yourself right side up again.
Asking for Help
Motorcyclists are a friendly bunch. I have found that if I get in over my head, I can ask any rider for help – and they’ll gladly lend a hand. So, when I launched my dirt bike off a cliff trying to do tricks, I asked the three guys I was riding with to help me get it out. Luckily, it was caught by a friendly tree. When I get tired, I start falling (good cue to call it a day) and this is a good time to ask for help because I can conserve my energy to get to my stopping place. If someone is injured, it is definitely a good idea to ask for help, because our stubbornness can make our injuries worse. If you cannot pick up your own bike, you might want to stay on roads where you’ll be able to ask for help should your bike decide to desert you at the most inopportune moment.
The Front Tire Roll
One of the most helpful tips I’ve learned for helping rescue bikes from precarious positions is the front tire roll. One person pushes the bike from the handlebars, and one person rolls the front tire with their hands over the obstacle, up the cliff, or whatever was giving you the challenge.
But What If I Ride Alone?
I think of riding alone as a “plan for the worst, hope for the best” scenario. Planning a route with someone you can trust is often a good first step. Having someone to check in with at predefined intervals can be helpful. Staying on roads where there are people can be a comfort. But some folks like to get off the beaten path by themselves. There are some good options available if you want to get away from it all, but make sure you are covered in case of emergency. The Spot satellite tracker has been my tool of choice; the price point is good, it can be plugged into my bike’s power and can track my movements of the day. The DeLorme inReach system, while pricier, is a good choice because it allows for two-way satellite texting so you can be very specific when asking for help.
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