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DavidEasum

Getting the Hang of Riding Off-Road

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After having rebuilt the top end of my recently-acquired '02 XR650R - and going through a fair number of other problems on this bike that had not been well cared for, I have finally managed to take it out into the dirt.

 

Prefix: I have never been off-road for more than a few minutes, and I have only once or twice in my life ridden a dirt bike. I am more accustomed to big bore sport and super-tourer type bikes - on the road and on the (paved)track., Plus, I'm an old dog for whom new tricks will come with difficulty.

First impression: What a blast!

 

The venue was what we call "la plaine de l'Imbo." It's a flat, somewhat sandy area that lies in the valley/river bed of the Rusizi river, north of where it pours into lake Tanganyika. There are a few jeep tracks that lead into it and then it gives onto some sizeable sandy/grassy open areas where you can get some serious speed if you want. The few people out there are rebels or soldiers or cattle poachers. The fauna is a few cows, hippos, birds, and probably a few crocodiles. Vegetation is thorn bushes, reeds, palm trees and sisal plants. The thorns are a common problem according to my buddies. I'll try to put up a YouTube link to footage taken from a remote control helicopter thingy.

 

As we rode in, I tried to follow the leader (he is an experienced fast-boy and was on a proper Yam 450 dirt-bike). It felt pretty good at first (I thought I was Superman, actually), but after losing confidence in a couple of sandy parts, I turned the throttle down a bit. Despite easing off, I got caught out by a little S bend in the trail and I washed out the front. In attempting to recover, I got crossed up on too much throttle and had my first crash. And it was a Duzie! Classic high-side - up and over the bars, landing on my back and head, facing the opposite direction! So much for my brand-new expensive helmet  :wacko: ! I didn't want to have to replace it in such a short time, but the whack was surely enough to compress the styrofoam at the back. The rest of the gear apparently did its job well. Though I'm sore today, it surely could have been worse.

 

Unfortunately, the crash broke off the clutch lever. A bit of a downer, especially since it broke in such a way that you couldn't just hold it in place for starting off. Nonetheless, I ran nearly down to reserve, practicing sliding the front and rear, seeing how the bike moves around under me, testing out different behavior as a function of body position. It wasn't enough for me to say that "Oh, if I do this, the bike will do that," but it was enough to start getting the hang of things (and enough to have me fall off a few more times :) ). One thing is for sure: staying in the throttle will save a lot of scary situations. 

 

So... off to replace the clutch lever, tighten up the lever protector/bash guards, and maybe loosen up the clamps holding the lever gear so that they might survive the inevitable crashes I will have soon enough! (Riding tips and advice on how to avoid lever/handlebar damage will be much appreciated).

 

D.

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David...This sounds, quite literally, like a "crash course" in dirt riding!  The XR650R is a monumentally strong motorcycle for any terrain, and it's at its best when enduro riding: open single- and two-track, even sand and looser traction so long as you keep the front end light.  That's the balancing act, because keeping the front end light requires more throttle with this machine.  Throttle raises the ante on risk while at the same helping this machine "steer" on dirt. 
 
Frankly, despite the Euro dress code, you've stepped up for a pro rider's dirt machine.  The XR650R, more than most bikes, is purpose-built for riding hard in the desert.  This is not the quintessential "trail bike" or motocross machine, though it can be mannerly, and that's the zone where you need to learn the nuances of dirt riding.  Traction on loose surfaces must be explored without damage to bike or rider.  You'll gradually, and eventually confidently and predictably, apply more throttle—with positive results.
 
One helpful approach, especially after your initial experiences (likely your helmet is still okay?) and orientation to dirt, is to watch pro motocross and enduro riders on a dirt course or practice session.  If by course of miracle you have streaming Netflix at Burundi, you can watch "Dust to Glory", "Moto 4 the Movie" and "Moto 5 the Movie".  Even "Long Way Down" would be useful, certainly close to your current home, containing a lot of what not to do...Despite the Moto 4 rider age and a cultural divide between us and these youthful pro riders, their riding skills are what you want to study.  In particular, watch how they steer with the throttle.  For practicing, this can be done at much slower speeds, without flirting with laying the bike down or a high-side.  High-siding is off your future to-do list, I'm sure.
 

 Watch the full-length version of this movie. Note the use of throttle to steer these dirt bikes and corner at speed. To learn these techniques does not require anywhere near the speeds illustrated, nor am I encouraging that speed! Start much slower, learn the "feel" of cornering and overall handling. Eventually become one with your bike on dirt!...Frankly, I puzzled over what to expect with my XR650R.  The motorcycle has been immortalized by Johnny Campbell, Andy Grider, Mouse McCoy and Steve Hengeveld at the Baja 1000 in "Dust to Glory". To my satisfaction, the Honda XR650R, uncorked, cam upgraded and tuned, is really quite predictable! I'm holding the key to my well-being: the throttle!  (Thanks to "Moto 4 the Movie" for this shared trailer at YouTube.)

 
You bring useful skills from your asphalt riding despite the extreme differences in handling and riding technique.  (Many Superbike and Moto GP riders use dirt training in the off-season to sharpen reflexes.  You can see why now!)  You have all of the fundamentals down.  Slow the speed, there's really nothing gained by going over the handlebars unexpectedly.  With your riding skills, you should know when you've reached that threshold.  Skills can be developed at a slower pace...Pick up the pace later.
 
Note: I had a great deal of asphalt experience and far less dirt riding time when Argus OFF-ROAD's editor, Rick Sieman ("Super Hunky") offered me a recreational day ride in the California high desert.  We rode race prepped Husqvarna two-strokes.  Apparently, he had unending confidence in my abilities, after all, I was a writer/photographer contributing 33 published pages to the magazine each month at the time!  This was the '80s, and the desert meant fast.  My Nevada riding had been on the BSA 441 Victor scrambler that could have starred in the cult classic "On Any Sunday" and the Barstow to Vegas Race...These Huskies were hot bikes that could eat up dirt.  I learned within the first five minutes of riding that either I could mimic every move Rick made, or I would likely high side before the day ended.  As the founding editor of Dirt Bike Magazine, Rick rode fast and at the time carried the AMA Veteran Class #1 dirt plate.  He did not hold back, which turned out to be a good thing, as I rode on the edge and throttle all day, never crashing or laying the bike down despite sand trap washes, endless tight, loose turns and eye opening hill assaults!  Rick attributed this to my skill level.  I knew it was more like the largest amount of adrenalin my body could tolerate in one day!  Why was this such a success story?  Because Rick was a qualified rider at both motocross and enduro terrain.  I could follow his every move to a good end.  Had he been less skilled and not on his game, my day would have ended differently.  Rick made that fast ride possible.  I will take credit for quick reflexes and an array of motor memory moves derived from many years of riding motorcycles.  The point here is that keeping up with the wrong "fast" riders is not a good learning experience.  Rick kick started my subsequent, enduring enthusiasm for dirt riding! 
 
As for handlebar lever survival at Burundi (what exciting country!!!), consider bark guards.  Look at the Acerbis catalog online.  You'll see how effective these aluminum guards can be.  I have bark guards on my '84 XRs (both the 350 and the 500).  Enduro bikes can benefit from bark guards—even in the desert.  I will likely add a pair to the XR650R at some point.  The factory "weight saving" plastic guards have nothing to offer.  During the get ready on my XR650R, I replaced the clutch lever stanchion pin and left plastic hand guard.  Each had suffered damage by the previous owner.
 
Moses

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Hi Moses,

 

Great tips. Indeed, I have found that throttle is your friend. Now I need to learn to dose it appropriately for the conditions - traction, lean, speed, RPM etc.

 

I'm amazed at the amount of soreness I am feeling right now - abs, neck muscles (probably from falling), knees in particular. Goes to show what a good work-out this sport provides!

 

I have the bark busters - I guess. But they're plastic. I'll attach a photo in a minute. I think I should make sure that they're real tight and that the lever clamps are looser. Not sure about how tight to make the handlebar. All of it had sustained previous damage from the previous owner(s), but I had replaced the clutch lever carrier, pin and bushing, as well as the lever. The carrier survived this fall, but obviously the new lever did not. I might consider better levers at some point.

 

Helmet (Arai XD4 I think it's called) will need replacing at the next opportunity though. There is no visible damage (maybe a scuff) since it hit in the sand, but the violence of it made me wonder whether I should stand up immediately or not.

 

The trailer is great - I'll try to do the Netflix thing through my sister's account - but not sure it will work.

 

D.

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David...My bark busters are aluminum and won't collapse like plastic.  The obsessive trend toward weight savings has created the plastic bark buster, an oxymoron really, as they can't bust anything except fingers and the levers!

 

As for exercise, riding motocross, GNCC, trials or desert enduro ranks as the #1 "sport" for exercise.  You work all 5 muscle groups and enhance your reflexes.  On the XR650R off-pavement, I'm pitting my body against 49 ft-lbs of torque, 55 horsepower and reduction gearing—while wrestling a 300-plus pound machine!  You're now experiencing a taste of this.

 

One needs to be in condition to ride.  The riding activity itself takes us physically to the next level.  I'm hitting the gym at 5:30 a.m. six days a week with dirt motorcycling as my incentive.  I know how this one works!  If you can stream Moto 4 or Moto 5 the Movie, these guys are athletes, first and foremost.  Exercise and conditioning become a major part of the regimen.  Otherwise, this sport will beat you up!

 

As for helmets, you're following the prudent caveat: tough knock, no longer reliable.  Can you have the helmet inspected through Arai?   I need to get a new helmet, mine has been dropped numerous times (fortunately without my head in it!).  Incidents like the helmet rolling off the seat while parked, with the helmet bouncing across a cement surface.  I'm looking at the 6D technology, very spendy but uniquely protective:  http://www.6dhelmets.com/#!editorial/c77.

 

Netflix can be streamed through a player (Roku, Chromecast, etc.) onto your television or viewed on a PC monitor.  If you have an account access, either works.  A smart TV is another approach.  In addition to the Vimeo On Demand rental how-to videos, I've added 112 Vimeo videos for free viewer use.  Vimeo now offers streaming through major players.  Seeing this stuff on the big screen is impactful!  Each of the moto videos I mention is available via Netflix.

 

As for the Moto 4 trailer, I was not encouraging X-Game level jumping.  In fact, our XR650Rs are not candidates for that kind of action, they're too heavy and best adapted to sand traps and fast-paced gravel or "fire" roads.  Outback Burundi more than fits that paradigm!  Keep the XR650R on the ground, perhaps a lightened front wheel when practical or necessary.

 

I'm very excited about your introduction to dirt riding.  Beginning properly, with riding partners who have founded skill, you will quickly make your way.  Astride an XR650R is every bit the challenge I experienced in the transition from road bikes to a BSA Victor 441 over four decades ago.  My intensive riding lesson with Rick Sieman (1987-88 era) opened a whole new level of appreciation for dirt motorcycling!

 

The saving factor here is that the XR650R is probably the best suited desert enduro machine for your terrain.  Back off on the speed for now.  Once you get your footing, dirt riding will be a fun and "safe" motorcycling outlet.  With the Honda XR650Rs, negotiating asphalt or graded gravel is within the design limits of these machines.  They're true dual-sport bikes when called upon!

 

Moses

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This is the "Plaine de l'Imbo".  There I am front & center in the opening seconds. The XR is in the background. I'm still a little dazed from the beast having bucked me off...  :wacko:

 

We are starting to worry however about our ecological impact on the plain, so we might have to constrain ourselves to a more delimited part of it. And the black Yamaha Tenere you see in the video makes so much noise you could probably hear it in Nevada!

 

But this is not the only riding venue we have - and this is not typical of most of the rest of the country. Here's another link that will give you an idea of more typical scenery. 

 

 

 

There are single and two-track trails of all sorts going from hill to hill.  We basically live in a moto playground - just stay off the roads as Burundian traffic is dangerous for bikers!

 

David

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David, this is utterly amazing, fantastic country!  The lake is incredible.  Filming vantage, soundtrack and editing are superb!  So, who has the drone?  Looks like GoPro footage on a 3-axis Gimbal.

 

As for riding, you do have it made.  (So do I really, we're on dirt in less than 10 minutes from home and can ride up to 120 miles without crossing a paved road at much of northern Nevada.)   You have an enthusiastic riding group with great bikes.  Thanks for considering the plain's ecology, looks somewhat fragile and susceptible to injury from wheeled vehicles.  We have that at Nevada, too.  Most don't realize the extreme fragility of desert.  "Pioneering" trails in uncharted areas can result in a 150 year cycle of sagebrush regrowth.  Our approach is the Tread Lightly formula:  Stick to existing, designated trails, logging roads, mining roads, fire roads, single-tracks, two-tracks, gravel "highways" and such.  This is not really inhibiting, just considerate of our outdoor recreational legacy.

 

David, thanks very much for sharing this fantastic footage and helping us wrap our minds around Burundi.  You live at one of the world's most pristine venues.  Trust it will stay that way, the geography must make this a remarkable tourist destination and living space!

 

Moses

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Hi Moses,

 

The drone belongs to one of the guys. It's very cool, and he seems to be quite proficient at flying it. GoPro is the camera. I don't know which one, but there's a new one out and he wants it bad!

 

He was trying to get some shots from the front, but that meant flying backwards with no way to know if there was a tree coming! Yikes!

 

David

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Really nice footage, David...I recognize both the drone perspective and the GoPro for its wide-angle view.  Your cam operator made much of the footage look like helicopter vantage, a real accomplishment!
 
I film with a Hero3, the new model is the Hero4, and I'm on for that one, too!  GoPro will have a large booth at the SEMA Show, Las Vegas next month.  It's like a magnet at this automotive and motorsports show.  GoPro has become the norm for action filming, 4x4 and motorcycle racers use it routinely.  I use the GoPro for close-up and flowing work as well, including some segments of the HD how-to videos in true 1080P.  Alongside an HMC40 Panasonic camcorder and complete Nikon D7100 system, the GoPro rounds out my video equipment for the shop studio and in the field!
 
For your riding angles on the ground, try a GoPro Chesty harness rather than the helmet mount.  It's a handy and "real" perspective, I used the Chesty in the Michelin tire testing and road shots of the TCI/Nelson Rigg equipment.


 

 

The GoPro is the moving footage on the bike.  In the Nelson-Rigg video, watch from 6:01 onward to end, you'll like the handheld GoPro close-ups and walk-around plus Chesty perspective on asphalt!  I do use the optional GoPro LCD back for framing and viewing the close-up and walk-around scenes.  For the road, the GoPro battery lasts much longer without the LCD back in place!
 
There's a new 360-degree pole mount for the helmet available from a 3rd party:  www.killershot.com.   This is counterweighted, you've got to see it!  For catching wheels and all angles of riding as a solitary cam unit in motion, this is the tool.  The Go Swivel can provide your front shots, ground level.  Share the link and point to the Go Swivel.  I'm getting one soon.  One caution:  Avoid being seen in public with this Go Swivel "propeller" on your helmet!
 
Moses

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