At some point in your street motorcycling life you’ll find yourself faced with riding in gravel. Roadside pullouts that are not paved and road construction are the two most common scenarios where you’ll encounter loose rocks and/or dirt and sand.
Another common gravel scenario (one where you could kick yourself for not asking about ahead of time) happens when youve arrived at that cute B&B or lodge where you had planned to stay only to be faced with a long, deep gravel driveway.
Gravel happens. Street motorcyclists rarely choose to ride in gravel. You can choose to turn around, but that’s not always an option. You need to be able to get through it in one piece. (Experienced rider tip: when making lodging reservations, always ask if there is any gravel on which you must travel to get there.)
Minimize the motorcycle’s lean and abstain from any sudden input
Whether it’s gravel, dirt, sand, grass, or any slick surface, the same rules apply. You want to minimize the motorcycle’s lean and abstain from any sudden input such as braking, accelerating, or swerving.
I’ll say it again: Minimize the motorcycle’s lean and abstain from any sudden input such as braking, accelerating, or swerving.
When we lose traction, defined as the “grip of a tire on a road,” it’s easy to lose control of the motorcycle. But don’t lose your head.
If your motorcycle is already in motion and you come up to a patch of gravel in the road, don’t panic. It’s best to maintain the momentum the motorcycle already has and slow down gradually, with very light use of both brakes. Your tires will slide easily, even on a light gravel surface, so if you brake too hard too fast you’ll likely produce a skid, lose control of the motorcycle and you may go down.
When the road ahead promises miles of gravel, you can turn around and find another route, or you can use these techniques to get through it.
- Keep your arms and shoulders relaxed, and steer the bike without fighting against it.
- Use a gradual throttle roll-on to accelerate and maintain a steady speed, which will most likely be a reduced speed. Try not to stop, but if you have to, start out again by using very light, gradual acceleration, so your tires dont spin out.
- Keep the motorcycle as straight up as possible, that is minimize lean, which may mean taking wide turns and using most of the road.
- Keep as much distance between you and other vehicles as possible to allow yourself a lot of extra room to gradually slow down to a stop.
- Remember the rule that you go where you’re looking, so avoid looking down. Stay focused on where you want to ride to, but continually scanning near and far, checking the road surface conditions so you’re aware of any big rocks or potholes to avoid. Looking far ahead will keep you heading in the right direction.
- Remember to breathe slowly with controlled breaths to keep your body calm so you don’t tense up. WRN founder Genevieve Schmitt advises using a Pilates breath. “I’m a Pilates instructor so I’m always using my Pilates breath to get me through tense situations calmly—like riding in gravel. Pilates breath is done by breathing in through the nose, and out through the mouth. This kind of breathing is best for controlling your breathing pattern so your body stays calm. The calmer you are, the more your mind will remember what to do so your body can respond appropriately to move you through the gravel successfully.
- Tell yourself you will get through this.
- Listen to your inner voice. If you’re feeling confident then go for it. If the voice in your head says to turn around and you can, then listen to it.
- Don’t allow any negative thoughts to invade your brain like how bad it is to ride through gravel or that you will fall. If you employ the above techniques, you’re likely to power right through and be celebrating that you did so before you know it.
Seasoned street motorcycle riders know riding in gravel is inevitable. If you ride any long distances at all, you’ll likely hit upon road construction where fresh gravel has been laid for future pavement. It’s not a matter of avoidance, but a matter of learning to ride through it.