Low speed, high finesse, and lots of balance

“We all started out afraid of dirt.” That’s what I always say to those who wish to try trail riding but are a little afraid. No doubt they've seen pics of my rides in my "Banayad Adventures" album on social media.

Who can blame them? Most, if not all, the skills we learned and regularly execute when road riding go down the drain when it comes to trail riding. And when I say trail riding, it is not just compacted dirt roads. Rather, this involves real off-road riding on trails and paths that sometimes even a carabao would not dare trek through. Ask most 'dirtheads' and they'll agree.

Yet every adventure begins with a single step and to give you an idea of what skills you need, these are the basics learned from my own experiences as well as from more professional riding coaches like Mel Aquino of Mel Aquino’s Yamaha Offroad Training Camp and Johnny Chen, Certified BMW Motorrad Instructor. We've got a long way to go before reaching Chris Birch and Jonny Walker levels of expertise but their exploits and videos serve as great 'ride-spiration'.

To get you started off the beaten path, I've listed down a few basic steps to developing the skills of an off-roader, or should I say, trail rider.

Trail riding tips for beginners

Start Slow and Flat

Start riding slow on flat compacted dirt roads before getting into the more gnarly places inside the jungle. Practice in a closed and controlled environment facility like the KRB Offroad Park in Antipolo City or at the MX Messiah Fairgrounds in Taytay City. By doing this, you do not risk being sandwiched between mud and your bike and there are always helpful hands around to help.

Trail riding tips for beginners

Practice Proper Braking

Like I’ve mentioned earlier, the riding skills required for the road and the dirt are not the same. This is also true when it comes to applying those brakes. Generally, road riding is more of a front-brake skill. With dirt riding, it’s mostly a rear-brake skill. Front brakes are still used though, but be careful not to lock the front tire as it will cause you to lose control of the bike.

Trail riding tips for beginners

Do the 'Ocho Ocho'

This is not the dance craze popularized by Bayani Agbayani more than a decade ago. In off-roading, ocho ocho is the Figure 8 drill. Just place two cones, tires, or anything that can serve as a marking point wide apart enough for you to ride around and do the drill. This will improve your bike handling skills on surfaces with loose grip, like gravel, mud and dirt (which is all the time when riding off-road).

Trail riding tips for beginners

Learn to lift your bike

The possibility of dropping your bike while riding off-road is also very high. You could even say it's inevitable. So make sure to strengthen your lower body muscles as you’ll have to learn to lift your bike after spilling it.

1. Start by shutting off the motorcycle using the engine cut-off switch and/or ignition switch. Like any heavy object, the key is to use the strongest muscles in your body — your legs — to avoid back injury.

2. Turn the handlebars to full-lock with the front wheel pointed to the ground.

Trail riding tips for beginners

3. Sit gently with your butt or lower back on the motorcycle seat.

4. With one hand, grab the handgrip closest to the bike.

5. With the other hand, grab a hard part of the bike (frame, subframe, luggage bracket, etc.) and be careful to avoid hot parts and soft parts (plastic, turn signals, hoses, wires).

6. Spread your feet out in front of you about a foot apart with your knees bent slightly.

7. Lock your arms and take small, baby steps backward, keeping your back straight until it's upright again.

Trail riding tips for beginners

Learn to ride standing up

Riding while standing up is the best way to ride the trails. It keeps your balance centered and gives you a better view of the terrain ahead. Not only that, it will help you better control the bike and make the bumps more manageable. It's not simply putting all your weight on the footpegs. Part of this skill involves gripping the tank with the insides of your legs.

Trail riding tips for beginners

Don’t do it alone

Perhaps the last and most vital tip is to always make sure you are riding with a buddy when doing some off-roading. It's very easy to get lost and the tough terrain can be dangerous. It really is a relief when you have a buddy with you when things go south.

Trail riding tips for beginners

That’s it for now. Start slow, then gradually increase the pace as you feel more and more comfortable riding on dirt. Keep practicing these skills to be better equipped for your first ride. We will be discussing more vital tips and skills in a later article.