Stayin’ Safe: The Dirt on Riding Unpaved Roads

Even a large touring bike can be at home on unpaved roads when proper technique is applied.
Even a large touring bike can be at home on unpaved roads when proper technique is applied.

It’s the end of the road for many. But it’s just the beginning for those who are comfortable and confident when the pavement ends and gravel or hard-packed dirt begins. Why is it we get so uptight when things get loose underfoot (or under tire, as it were)? Because things feel a little weird and unfamiliar on dirt. The motorcycle moves around more beneath us on unpaved surfaces, the front wheel seems to wander and the handlebars come alive in our sweaty palms. In reality, while things feel loose, there is typically more traction on hard-packed dirt than riders expect. All of that movement the machine is doing? It’s just the bike’s natural way of finding a suitable path forward. That said, there are a few techniques unique to riding unpaved roads vs. a hard, smooth road surface.

Stay loose. Avoid fighting the bike’s natural tendency to meander on the uneven surface and, instead, loosen your grip and let the motorcycle find its way. Remember, the bike doesn’t want to fall any more than you do; it wants to keep moving ahead and staying upright. Keep your eyes up, looking well ahead and the bike will follow. Shift your weight from your seat to your feet. With arches on the pegs (or boots flat on the floorboards) and knees against the tank, steer with your lower body and less with your hands. Unlike riding on pavement, you’ll want to keep your body upright, allowing the bike to lean beneath you in corners to maximize traction. While all of this may feel a bit awkward at first, you’ll soon become more comfortable and more confident as you discover just how well even a large motorcycle can navigate dry, unpaved surfaces.  And the end of the pavement will be just the beginning of your next riding adventure.


  1. Just one more tip, choose a gear that keeps you well into the middle of the power band. The bike will turn much easier with more revs on tap.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here