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Desert Riding Basics

It's your first time heading out into the desert to ride your dirt-bike, without the support of a tour company or guide; how do you do this safely and effectively?

Before we proceed I have to add; that if you have no experience in riding in the desert, or furthermore no experience in riding a dirt bike at all, I highly recommend getting some professional training before attempting to ride anywhere.

Okay, let's jump in with the all-important first point: safety!

1. Safety should be your first concern when venturing into the desert for a ride. The first point to consider is protective gear. A complete set of gear consists of:

  1. Helmet

  2. Goggles

  3. MX Gloves

  4. MX Boots

  5. MX-Style Riding Pants and Jersey

  6. knee Guards

  7. Chest Guard

These basic protective pieces will help you walk away from mild mishaps and ensure your ride isn't ruined by a silly error. They could also save your life in the event of a big accident! Adequate hydration is vital. Desert riding conditions typically include intense sunshine and soaring temperatures, with limited, if not non-existent, natural water sources. It is absolutely vital to take enough water with you on your ride. To be safe, make allowance for at least 1L of fluid per hour of riding time, and consider the potential for being stuck out there after a breakdown or accident while waiting for recovery (an important point to follow). We recommend adding ORS Hydration tablets to your water for added electrolyte replacement benefits; pop into our office at MotoZone and try a free sample!

You're geared up, you have a camel-pack filled with ORS Hydration water; you're almost ready to start ripping up the dunes, BUT, do you have a buddy to join you on your ride? One should never ride alone in the desert. It is always advisable to ride in a group, or at least have one person join you for a ride in case of emergency or mechanical issues. Your party should notify family or friends of your intentions to ride, as well as the intended route and/or location of your ride. This goes hand in hand with a strategy for recovery should anything go wrong. You will need a cell phone, or satellite phone, depending on your location, to make emergency calls, and a GPS to provide coordinates for any recovery efforts.

Plan for the worst-case scenario, so that any minor issues can be handled with confidence and ease. The name of the game is getting everyone home safely after a fun-filled day in the sand.

2. Practical considerations for riding in the desert include planning your route. Have a good idea about where you're heading, how long you're planning on riding, and how challenging or easy you want the ride to be (how experienced is your riding buddy or group; how experienced are you?).

Do you have enough fuel for the entire ride, or are you looping back to the start point to refuel? If there are fuel stations in the area, plan your route accordingly and make a stop if necessary.

Pack basic tools and parts with you. It doesn't make sense to load yourself with your entire home workshop, but a few simple items could make all the difference in the event of a crash or mechanical gremlin in the middle of nowhere. I would recommend:

  • a multi-tool with pliers, screwdriver heads and blade features

  • a small socket set with sizes that correspond with common sizes on your bike

  • zip-ties and grip-wire

  • an axel nut spanner tool

  • a spare chain link

  • spare sparkplug (2-stroke)

3. Your bike set up. There is certainly no one-size-fits-all approach to setting bikes up. Everyone is different, skill levels vary, and preferences vary too. The demands of an advanced rider or professional of their motorcycle suspension and chassis wouldn't compute for a novice or intermediate rider. That being said, there are a few things we can consider which could help improve your experience.

Sprocket ratios for desert riding typically would be geared (pun intended) towards more top-end speed. The riding is on average faster than motocross track conditions; therefore, a smaller rear sprocket or bigger front sprocket will give you some more legs. One tooth up in the front equates to roughly 3 teeth down on the rear. I wouldn't exceed one tooth in front, or more than 3 on the rear from standard MX ratios. If you ride an enduro bike or cross-country-specific model, your sprockets should be fine for desert riding.

Pull your forks down in the triple-clamps to raise the front end of your bike and lengthen your wheelbase. This will stabilize the bike at speed and improve its handling in deep sand conditions.

I am cautious in recommending blanket statement suspension adjustments, as there are so many variables between bikes, internal settings, riders and conditions. However, from my personal experience, a slower rebound setting both front and rear will help settle the bike at speed in the sand. More compression can also help to prevent excessive "dives" in the sand and help your bike ride higher in the suspension stroke.

When it comes to mechanical work, suspension set and personalization, come and see us at MotoZone and we will gladly assist you.

4. Desert riding technique. The term desert doesn't necessarily only equate to sand, but when it comes to Dubai and its surroundings, sand is what we have!

Riding in sand requires both confidence and consistency in acceleration. Without good, consistent drive, you have no momentum in the sand. Without momentum, you have a really tough time getting on top of the sand (what you will have is a hard time keeping the bike going in a straight line, and more than likely plenty of tip-overs).

Generally speaking, you want to sit centrally on the bike, and at higher speeds a little further back. This keeps the front-end light and prevents it from digging into soft sand and throwing your body weight forward unexpectedly.

It is advisable to be very cautious in using your front brake. Thick sand provides a lot of resistance to your wheels, and therefore simply coming off the accelerator will significantly reduce your speed. Adding the front brake to this effect can cause the bike to dive excessively and knife your front end. In an emergency stop situation, use both front and rear brakes together and anticipate the dive from your front end.

Once you've mastered sufficient, confident acceleration, and a balanced central body position and you're anticipating the braking effect of sand on your bike's momentum, you're ready to tackle some dunes. Always be cautious when cresting dunes; there are often holes, bushes or camel grass mounds on the blind side. Make sure that you have enough momentum to reach the top of the dune, shut off the accelerator to brake your speed and still reach the crest, check the back side, and then promptly accelerate over the top and down the other side if it is safe to do so. It will take some time to master the timing.

As with anything in life, it's a question of time investment. You can streamline your learning process by taking training with MotoZone, or simply taking a tour with one of our experienced guides and spending time in the dunes under our expertise.

We hope that you've found this article helpful, and hope to see you out in the desert soon!

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