Hard Enduro legend Chris Birch’s list of important things to avoid while riding your dirt bike.
Chris Birch told me that once but immediately insisted that I erase the visions of hard enduro competitors sucking wind while immersed in the massive rocks of Karl’s Diner at the Erzberg Rodeo. I agreed and asked him nicely if he could possibly teach me some things to work on in order to improve my riding. While I could have very well signed up for Chris Birch Coaching and taken one of his classes, I was opting for a more verbal approach and hoped he would just tell me, not put me through some hands on, ill-fated trial-by-fire. If he had his way he would probably just toss me down a steep hill in Romania.
Chris just grinned (as he always does) and asked me, “How about I tell you some things not to do when you go riding?” Chris came up with 10 ‘deadly sins’ of riding dirt bikes – all of which he has seen – or committed himself – during his two-wheel adventures.
1. Run out of fuel:
That is easier said than done sometimes; dirt bikes are hard to push, especially over any sort of distance. One time in Lesotho we pulled into a town thinking that there would be fuel available and they didn’t have any petrol at all. This African guy with a big smile on his face pulled some fuel out of a barrel. I got about five kilometers down the road and the bike started to belch smoke. It turns out he had sold us lamp oil. I found out that a two-stroke will run on lamp oil – not very well, but it will run. It was enough to get us to the next town that had
some proper fuel. I can still see the black cloud billowing out the back. We used up three spark plugs as well.
2. Forget to bring tools:
I have this one kid that I have done a fair bit of coaching with and I am always trying to teach him to be self-reliant. On this one particular ride he hadn’t bothered to bring his tool bag with him. When he fouled a plug I thought it would be a chance to teach him a good lesson: rather than just fix his bike for him I made him sit there and wait for
us. As it turned out it ended up being a really long ride, by the time we got back he had been sitting on the same rock for nine hours! Lets just say that kid never forgot to bring his bum bag again. Even if you don’t know how to use the tools, if you have a spark plug and a spanner that fits your bike you will usually find someone that can fix it.
Bringing food is also important, especially if you are a skinny guy like me – once I get hungry it’s game over.
3. Fail to check tire pressures:
Having your tires set at the right pressure is your first line of defense. As soon as the terrain gets slippery or horrible you need to let some pressure out. Doing that gives the tire a bigger footprint, which gives the bike better grip. When I am on a group ride and someone asks me to push their bike up a hill I will always air the tire down first and tell them to give it another go. Beginning any ride with low tire pressure can backfire as well; do that and you are just inviting a flat.
4. Leave the group:
A mate of ours fell off the back of the group out trail riding once. Before we noticed he was gone, he had become lost. It took us so long to find him that when we finally did, he was sitting on the mountain on a digger (a large machine that digs earth). He realized that he was starting to get hypothermia and (being a diesel mechanic) had managed to hotwire the digger. He had the digger wide-open on the rev limiter and was sitting on the engine cover hugging the exhaust pipe to keep warm.
5. Don’t put your helmet down on a hill:
I have seen this happen a few times: guys will take their helmet off and put it down on the side of a hill and it just rolls away. You have to be careful where you put it down. Hang it off the handlebar or the foot
peg where it is not going to roll away. The first year I did Romaniacs a guy came in to the finish with no helmet on. He had all these scratches on his head and his hair was full of crap. It turns out he did half of the ride with no helmet on because he had placed it on a hill and it rolled away down into the bowels of the Carpathians Mountains never to be seen again.
6. Jump over something without looking first:
In the forestry near where I live they often dig a big ditch and then pile the dirt up on the other side in an attempt to stop four-wheel drives from going through. At first glance it looks like they have made you a perfect jump. When I was a kid I launched off of one of them without thinking where the dirt had come from and tossed my XR100 into this huge hole on the other side. The old saying ‘look before you leap’ applies here. Think to yourself first, ‘Where did all that dirt come from?’
7. Turn and look at you own roost:
This is the classic rookie error: you come out of a corner and give it a big handful, turn around, look behind you and say, ‘This is sweet!’ only to ride straight into a tree. What is behind you is in the past. Always look ahead; that’s the way you are going.
8. Don’t tell anyone you are riding alone:
This is a basic rule of survival: tell someone where you are going. I have had some of the biggest crashes in my life trying to be careful. You have to tell someone what area you are riding in. I recently got my massive KTM 1190 Adventure R stuck upside-down in a sand dune and had this immediate moment of clarity. I thought, “I am all by myself, I am on a 230 kilo motorcycle, I haven’t told anyone where I am and there is no cell phone reception.” Luckily I had the skills to get myself out of there eventually but it was at that precise moment that I thought, “I am such an idiot and I should know better than this.” All of the basic survival skills they teach you at Boy Scouts I had failed to do.
9. Use the wrong tires:
You should always use the right tires of for right conditions. You have to look at the bikes tires as its shoes: you can’t go dancing in bowling shoes, if you know what I mean.
10: Forget that riding dirt bikes is fun:
Riding motorbikes is supposed to be fun. People start getting carried away with trying to find the right sponsors, trying to win, beat all of their mates and all of that. You have to remember why you got into
dirt bikes to begin with. It’s all about the joy of riding the bike and ripping around in the bush. Emergency room nurses don’t like dirt bikes because they don’t ride dirt bikes. The occasional broken arm here and there is totally worth it. Sure, it really sucks, but if that’s the price you have to pay, then I say no problem. One of my mates from South Africa just came over to race a New Zealand enduro with me. At the end of the race he broke his wrist 200 meters from the finish line. He still reckons it was the best ride he’s had in the last two years. He got on the plane with his arm in a cast and a massive smile on his face.