Common Tread

Dear Lemmy, I bought a dirt bike! Now what?

Jun 23, 2017

"Dear Lem, I bought a dirtbike!"

Actually, that’s not how the email began, but that sounds good for the article title. Kyle’s email actually started with a picture of a dual-sport, a big Honda XR650L.

“I found it used! It's a ‘15 with 200 miles on it. I'm excited, man,” he wrote.

Subsequent emails from this reader made one thing clear: He hadn’t ever gone riding off-road extensively. I don’t think he planned on purchasing much gear at all, and I had to strongly discourage him from riding trails alone. (Have you ever been pinned under a bike? It sucks! And that's if you don't break anything.)

So I shot him a link to the article I wrote right after I spent my first day on the trails. It has a few laughs in there, and maybe a couple of pieces of worthwhile advice. And then I re-read it myself. I realized that the article has some solid tips, but it is clearly written from the point of view of a freshman, as the title indicates. So, to celebrate my moving up to the JV squad this year, I thought I’d revisit the concept and cover a few things I learned in the 393 days since that article was published.

Dirt bike
"When I get home, all I have to do is adjust the clutch, change out fluids, replace my rear tire, double-check that subframe weld is still holding, adjust the chain, replace the wheel bearings, and check the rear brake pad thickness. I got off easy this ride!" Photo by Cpl. Bobbie A. Curtis.

Congratulations, you are a bike mechanic now

I mean, I am a bike mechanic. It’s literally part of my job here at RevZilla. Statistically, it’s likely you probably are not. But you will be! You can’t take your bike to the shop for every little thing: a jetting change here, a torn set of grips there, maybe a fresh set of plastics after one too many close-up examinations of the local timber. It adds up too fast in both money and time. It’s faster and easier to just fix things yourself. However, you will soon realize that you are always fixing. And since you’re gonna fall and crash a lot that first year, breaking all sorts of different things, you’ll turn into a crackerjack mechanic in no time flat.

Nice truck

If you don’t already have a truck, you’ll just break down and buy one. Even if you have a bike with a license plate, it’s often more prudent to throw it in the truck. If you ride hard enough to break something on the bike, you can still get home. Embarrassingly, I have also been happy to have had a truck when I pooped myself out too early. I’ve absolutely ridden hard enough on single-track to the point where I would not have been able to ride home. I personally cannot fit all the tools, beer, parts, lunch, and beer I need onto a two-wheeled conveyance. 

Bayer Pharmaceuticals will send you a Christmas card each year

You — and other aging idiots like you — are keeping that business afloat. This is your life now. When I want ride time on a street bike, I just get on a bike for commuting and errands. Street riding integrates easily into the lives of most people I know. Dirt, however, is a bit different. “Nope, not this weekend. We’re gonna go ride some trails.” Get used to saying that. You already bought the truck. It would be a sin to let it sit unused for its intended purpose. And you’ll get tired after two hours of riding. But you already drove so far, why not stay on the trail just a liiiiittle bit longer? Maybe you better pack a cooler. “Hey, look on Google Maps, babe. There’s a hotel around the corner! We could just make a weekend out of it.” Off-road riding doesn’t dominate your life, it becomes your life.

"Hopefully this won't be any worse than a quick visit to the doc-in-a-box." U.S. Marine Corps photo.

Someone in your marriage is probably intelligent, and it’s not you

“Honey, you seem to ride and don’t stop until you break something on your bike, which is getting kind of expensive. And then you whine all week about being sore. And then you don’t mow the lawn. And I’d really prefer to stop spending weekends in hotels whose claim to fame is being near a good trailhead. Maybe next time we can find a place with cable and Wi-fi.”

Kid on a Kawasaki KLX110
Who does that kid think he is, anyway? Kawasaki photo.
You will begin to dislike children

At some point, you’ll find yourself at the top (or bottom) of a seemingly impassable precipice. A child aboard a dirtbike will enter your field of vision and effortlessly scale or descend the grade without so much as a pause. Your temples will begin to hurt, and you’ll be wishing you’d thought to bring some of the fine Bayer products you enjoy so.

Dirt bikes are not very good

If all my notes are correct that I collected anecdotally over the past year, this is what I learned from riders who are supposedly in the know:

  • four-strokes are awful
  • two-strokes are junk
  • KTM makes a terrible bike, along with Yamaha, Honda, Suzuki, Kawasaki, Beta, Sherco, Gas-Gas, Husky, and Husaberg 

Better riding stems from laziness

You’ll learn better technique simply because you’re tired… of being tired. You can learn to move around on the bike and re-weight it, or you can fall off and pick the bike up over and over.

Dirt bike
"At this point, I would even take one-ply." Photo by Donna Burton.
You can cover your levers, or you can bog out on the middle of the hill and return to the bottom for another attempt. Your stupid body will eventually force your stupid brain to get smarter... or you’ll look like Ryan Dungey in The Body Issue.

Keep some toilet paper in your tool roll

Just trust me on this. The truck isn’t always as close as it seems.

“The roots of education are bitter, but the fruit is sweet.” — Aristotle