How-To Not Crash An Adventure Motorcycle

A quick reminder about motorcycling's golden rule

Getting the finger from physics.Michael Koelsch

The Crash

With bellies full of burritos and many miles behind us, our adventure bike test took a turn for the trailhead. A quick urination vacation and a bike swap, and I was back on the Triumph Tiger 800 XCA, moving onward, through some fast, sandy, and silty hills. Soon I found myself cresting a rise to find something other than the gradual dirt descents I'd gotten accustomed to. Instead, there was a steep downhill granite grade topped in silt. This was a technical section. I was not going at a technical pace. As soon as I applied some rear brake, my pupils dilated and I took a big bite out of the seat, my request denied. I added front brake instead; the front wheel loaded up, found a crack in the rock, slammed the bars over to the steering stop, and the change in momentum promptly tested my aerodynamics.

This was a technical section. I was not going at a technical pace.

“What’s the best sub-$15,000 ADV out there?” That was the question we set out to answer with three new adventure machines and a day set aside for testing on dirt and pavement. We would start on the highway, transition to dirt trails in the high desert and wrap up with another highway stint home. I was eager to spend a day testing because I was still fairly new to the staff. I also hadn’t spent a lot of time on an ADV bike in the dirt and wanted to hone my skills. Instead, I broke my bones.

The Lesson

Know your bike. Throttle and brake response, tire pressure, and ABS default settings are all critical information. I had forgotten the last one. The off-road ABS, which turns off ABS only in the rear, wasn’t enabled, and the Triumph defaults to full ABS when turned off—as it was when we swapped bikes. Another cardinal rule of motorcycling is riding within your limits. I was not especially comfortable in the dirt on heavy ADVs and was going faster than my skills could compensate for. Combined, the result was one broken finger and a lesson I won’t forget.