Things I Learned In The Dirt

When I started riding motorcycles, I didn’t know much about riding offroad. I still don't! Read: city girl, born and raised. But, a few weekends ago I took my little '94 Yamaha XT225 Serow offroad for the first time and it was probably one of the most challenging, exhausting, and exhilarating things I have ever done.

For my first forray into the dirt world, I trucked my bike out to Freeland PA and met up with a co-worker who grew up around the coal mine there. It's not exactly an area designated for motorcyclists, but people ride there anyway. We rode through what I assume are normal dirt trails but we also hit mud, some silty sand-like terrain and a few sketchy trails that were full of rocks. Here are a few things I told myself while trying not to eat it.

Don't use your front brake. I’ve never purposely ridden downhill into a crater-like pit before because it looked fun. In fact, watching people skate deep bowls makes my stomach a little knotty. But, this looked kind of sandy. So I figured what the hell, the worst that can happen is I fall into some sand. And, that’s exactly what I did. Before my second try, my co-worker stopped me and gave me some sage advice. Don’t use your front brake. Doing so while riding downhill can literally flip you over the handlebars. It makes complete sense now, but it was nice to have someone there to actually say it.

Don’t look down. We started off in that weird black sandy bowl but eventually made our way to some semi-narrow, woodsy trails. At first, I kept looking down in disbelief that I was finally riding offroad in the woods. I was also looking down to brace myself for every rock I passed because I didn't really know what I was doing. After eating it in the first tight turn, I kept my head up and set my sights on what was in front of me instead of panicking about what was below. What I realized was that by looking down, I was missing the best part of the ride. Looking ahead, I watched and felt the trees pass by and couldn't help but smile. This is the view I had been waiting for.

Trust the bike. This reminds me of when I got my second bike, an 883 Sportster. I didn’t love the cantankerous added weight of a Harley and riding fast made me nervous because I didn’t feel as in control as I was on my first bike, an old little ‘74 Honda CB200. But over time I realized that the Sportster was actually easier to handle at speed. I just needed to trust it! With the XT, it was the same lesson all over again. Those rocks I kept seeing? I realized I couldn't always go around them. I needed to trust the bike to take me over them. After all, there’s a reason the bike's front end feels that way.

Next time, bring more water. Three- plus hours and one bottle of water? Rookie move.

Get a GoPro. This was my first ride offroad, and being the sentimentalist that I am, I wanted to document it. But I didn't have a way to carry my phone with me, so I had to make Dan stop whenever I wanted to take a photo. In the gnarlier trails, it just wasn't worth it. Truth be told, I was too busy picking my bike up.

Never underestimate your street smarts, even in the woods. We found ourselves by a coal mine that was so vast and deep, there was no going through it. I was nervous even getting close to the edge of it. The only thing to do was to go around it or go back the way that we came. But at that point, we had been riding for a few hours and we kind of just wanted to go home. I was also starving and home was a lot farther for me. Of course, that’s where my co-worker Dan’s bike got stuck. His 400-plus pound BMW F800GS didn’t make it a foot through the mud before the rear tire started spinning and the front tire started sinking. After trying to get it out for a few minutes, we took a step back and just watched as it stood there unmoving. As I looked down into the coal mine, I could feel my mind wanting to go into panic mode. There was no easy way out.

But, I knew that panicking would only make things worse so I pushed all of that out of my mind. Instead, I tried to help push the bike again. It didn’t budge. At 5'2" and 100 pounds, I felt like a bird hitting a window. After a few more tries, I took another step back and remembered another moment where I had seen someone on wheels get stuck in mud. Three words: My Cousin Vinny. I had recently seen the movie for the first time with my boyfriend's family. In the movie, Joe Pesci's car gets stuck in the mud on a hunting trip and he needs to make it back to the city for a court hearing. To stop his tires from spinning, he grabs the floormats from the car and throws them under the wheels. So, I found a plank-like piece of wood on the side of the road and stuck it under Dan’s front tire as he pushed and throttled it out of the mud. It worked. I immediately thanked whoever made that movie in my mind and was beside myself that I came up with an idea that actually worked. Meanwhile, as I stood there practically jumping for joy, his rear tire completely roosted me with mud.

photo by Dan M.

I drove home watching the sun set on my little mud covered thumper through the truck mirror. She was all banged up and dirty - exactly how she should be.

If there is something you want to go for that you're just not sure about, try it.

It might not work out. But if it does, it could be just as fun as you thought it would be... 

Spring Is In the Air

Two years ago I started working at RevZilla and I had no idea what a dual sport bike was. I had heard the term Enduro, but even that was just a Craigslist term that I wasn't 100% certain the meaning of. I was a novice and I really just loved old bikes, even if I didn't know a ton about them. Since then, I've been exposed to so many different bikes and I've had the pleasure of speaking to a really diverse mix of riders.

Of them, the off-road crowd just wins. They don't stop grinning when they describe the type of riding they do. It's infectious and I've felt my face get flush with envy every so many times while hearing them talk. So about a year ago, I started my quest for the perfect off-road machine (for me).

I looked at a few bikes in person and scoured Craigslist daily like everyone else. All of the bikes I saw were either too tall or too small or too old. At 5'2", they were mostly too tall! So, I began looking at forums for bikes with lower seat heights that were also street legal, reliable and not too expensive. Soon after, I found a '94 Yamaha XT225 Serow with a few scrapes and dings at a fair price. My favorite thing about it so far is the DG exhaust. Problem is, it stopped running the day after I brought it home!

So, I spent last Saturday in the garage with DCar and our friend Adam from Cast & Salvage. It took us a few hours to get everything back in order (carbs needed cleaning / re-jetting and the airbox was full of oil that presumably overflowed from the crankcase), and the garage was cold as hell, but we finally got it running that evening. I didn't think to take any photos of the process because I wanted to learn, but I did get a silly photo that caught everyone's surprise when we finally heard it turn over :)

By the time we got it running we were all frozen and tired. But on Sunday I got to ride the XT for the first time with my friend, Jim, and his wife Kelli. Naturally, we ran into some other people who were enjoying the sunshine.