The title to this story is a bit cryptic, but let us clear the fog for you. In this article, we will see what you can do when you find yourself in a situation wherein you cannot control your motorcycle through instinctual inputs.
Riding on asphalt is a fun exercise, especially when you have a purpose-built motorcycle under you. The surface is even and consistent, friction with the road causes the tyres to warm up and grip easier with each passing minute, and you know how to steer the bike into corners depending on a variety of factors that present themselves to you.
Once the tarmac ends and you find yourself on unpaved terrain, all that you learned and committed to muscle memory in terms of controlling your motorcycle is suddenly invalid. Each corner on dirt needs to be tackled in its own way. Handling the bike as you would on paved roads is counter-productive. Let us consider loose sand as an example.
Before we talk about sand-blasting, we assume you have a purpose-built dual sport or adventure motorcycle underneath with knobby off-road tyres. Sand is basically fine dirt that has a tendency to stick to your bike’s tyres, effectually turning them into slicks. Knobby tyres help up to some extent, but even they fall short of gripping if the sand is wet.
When you enter a patch of sand with good velocity, the first thing you will notice is the front end of the bike starts weaving. Suddenly, the motorcycle does not want to stay on the path you intend to take it on, and seems to have grown a mind of its own. Our first instinct is to grip the handlebar tighter and steer the bike on the course. This is where the first accident can happen. The front-end won’t respond positively to your forced inputs, instead choosing to wash out, taking you down in the process.
This is the greasy feeling I am talking about. Forget your instincts and your learnings of the tarmac; you are in an entirely new situation that does not conform to conventional road-based physics. So your bike is behaving in an entirely new, slightly scary manner. Don’t go rigid, go with the flow. Back off the pace, and calmly assess where you are. Stop if you need to. Once you have spent a few klicks riding over new terrain, you will start to get a feel for the bikes new pattern of progress.
Over loose surfaces, it is better to steer the bike with an easy hand than force it. Assess where your bike wants to go over the terrain. Let it have its head, making minor corrections to its course. Drastic inputs, however tempting, are not the way to go. Point it steadily in the general direction you want to go down. Over a few more klicks, you will find yourself riding more confidently through sand. One crucial tip to keep in mind: lighten the front end, load up the rear. If the rear digs in, it will find more purchase to push the bike through deep sand. And if the front end is kept light, it will breeze through sand without bogging down.
Above all, keep calm. Riding over sand is a new experience, which if done right, is an exhilarating one, and you get new skills to add to your repertoire. Talks over beer later that evening will suddenly be more interesting, no?