Preparing for Long Rides by Howard McKim
One of the great joys of off road riding is the amount of ground you can cover in a short period of time. You can traverse many mountain passes, endless miles of desert, or get yourself buried deep in the woods in short order. But the elation of the ride can disappear quicker than a cheeseburger in front of Oprah if you're not prepared for a variety of situations. It is critical to think ahead and remedy problems before they ever occur. When in remote spots, its not just comfort or discomfort, it can very well mean life or death.
Let's take a look at extended day rides, and then at multi-day rides, to see what physical and mental aspects must be covered before you hit the trail. What follows is purely personal opinion, with real life experiences to back it up. I've done a lot of remote riding, and have come across many situations, and merely hope I can help some of you that would like to do more remote riding. If you are riding solo, all of these things are compounded greatly, including the joy of the ride.
Extended Day Dirt Bike Rides
Think extreme. Think worst case scenario. Plan accordingly. First lets think about time and space. In one hour on the bike you can cover more ground than you can walk in a day. You might walk 6-8 miles in a day, and that could get ugly wearing MX boots. Time and space are deceiving when you're having fun. Therefore, to me, an extended ride is almost any ride. Unless you're literally riding right around your camp, you'd better prepare like you'll be gone all day, and maybe the night, even if your plan is for a short ride. A catastrophic bike failure, or a major injury to yourself could very well mean you'll be spending the night. This doesn't mean you need to carry a ton of gear. It does mean you need a few specific items though.
Clothes for Extended Riding
Bikes are replaceable; you are not. Lets start with the rider, then look at the bike. All my day rides have pretty much the same preparation. Rule number one is no cotton clothes. Regardless of the season, cotton is bad. It sucks heat away from your body at a rapid rate, does not insulate when wet and barely when dry, does not repel water, and takes just about forever to dry when its soaked. All this works against you in the backcountry. I admit there are times in the heat of summer when a cotton jersey soaked with water is the greatest thing to ride in. But I always have alternate clothing in case I get stuck.
For clothes think in terms of three layers- thin breathable first layer, fleece-type middle layer, and waterproof outer layer. My recommendation for the first layer is REI's MTS underwear. This stuff is awesome and the lightweight long sleeve top is outstanding to use instead of a regular jersey. There are many other brands that I'm sure work well too. For the fleece, I prefer Polartec 200. Doesn't soak up water, insulates even when wet, you can darn near shake it dry, and weighs almost nothing. Very warm too, but not windproof. That's where the outer layer comes in. For the outer shell, anything that is waterproof will work fine. You don't need all the high tech materials the industry shoves down our throats. For socks, Smart Wool rule the universe. I've put these things through so much off-roading abuse you wouldn't believe it. Wash them and they're like new. Don't look at the price, just get some. So for backcountry riding, I wear a synthetic top and underwear, wool socks, and waterproof riding pants. In my day pack is Polartec top and bottom, the waterproof top and bottom, and the bottom first layer if I'm not wearing it for the ride. All this weighs next to nothing, and prepares you for a very wide array of conditions. The MX industry is far more concerned with image than function. Don't let their decisions affect you in the bush. Shop for your clothes at an outdoor shop, not the MX shop, except for maybe the pants.
Must Have: Mylar Body Bag
A very key piece of gear is a mylar body bag. These come packaged smaller than your fist and there is no excuse to ever be on a ride without one. If you only carry one, get the bag. If you want more, carry the bag and the mylar blanket. You can get in the bag for the night, and tie up the blanket like a tarp over your head for rain cover. If you blow off everything else, carry one of these bags. I've tested these and they are roomy and effective. If you get separated and lost, you'll need it. If you break your hip 50 miles from your truck in Mexico, you are spending the night. If you run out of gas on a solo ride, you are probably spending the night. I ran out of gas one evening on a solo ride in Utah. I was only about 5 miles from town, but it was all uphill, so I may as well have been 50 miles from town. Fortunately another solo rider came by at dark and towed me to town. It is very nice to know you can spend the night if need be. Its also nice to know you have a tow rope.
Small Items Make a Big Difference
There are some smaller items that can make a big difference as well. I carry a small make-up bag with some key items. Dental floss and a needle for example. Not only can you floss the bugs out of your teeth after the ride, but floss can be used like industrial thread. When you rip your arm open on a broken manzanita branch, or slice open your knee on that sharp rock you would have rather not met, you can give yourself stitches. As you all know you will inevitably hit the ground, rocks, trees, or all of the above. Be prepared to repair yourself. Floss can also be used to tie up tarps and such, and repair ripped and torn gear. Its tough stuff. This small bag also has a compact tow strap, lighter, waterproof matches, compass, water tabs, small tube of sunscreen, lip balm, waterproof paper and pencil, iodine, and lots of Advil. Don't leave out the water tablets. They can save you. You need the ability to consume whatever water is available. I also carry a water filter pump that gets extensive use. You can't carry all the water you need for a long day, or especially multi-day rides. For food, Power Bars are tough to beat for energy. Decide for yourself what you need, but have it ready to go ahead of time. Dedicate these items to riding, and don't take them out for home use! Just throw the little bag in the day pack and you're covered. You don't have to think about the details for every ride.
Now for the Bike
We're fortunate to have such reliable bikes these days, but don't get too confident. They all have failures. These can result from poor maintenance, crashing, or those spooky demon type failures that are never figured out. One day I started out with 4 gallons of gas in my XR, and headed out with a buddy to do single track in Baja. Twenty miles later.. suddenly out of gas. No explanation, no warning, and quite remote. Both on XR's, I borrowed some gas from my buddy and continued all day without further incident. This mystery was never solved, and never happened again. Careful inspection of the carburetor turned up nothing. My point is that you can't plan for everything that can happen out there, so you had better be prepared for the things that you can control.
Stare at your bike. Work on your bike. Know your bike. Understand your carburetor and how to work on it in the field. Carry a spare circlip for the needle. Your bike will not run without it. Carry some different size jets. Think about the things that have gone wrong for you in the past. Carry a spare clutch and brake lever. You can also attach a spare clutch perch on your bars right between the triple clamp handlebar mounts. You'll never know its there, and a broken clutch perch without a spare is a serious bummer. I know. Bring some liquid steel or JB Weld. You'll need it when you crack your case on a rock. You also have to be able to remove both wheels and work on them. You have to learn how to change a tube before you're stuck with a flat in the field. Practice at home. Also, use heavy duty tubes and get new ones every time you get your tires changed. Regular tubes are much smaller and easier to carry on the trail though, and are easier to change out by hand. Carry at least 2 tire irons. These are the heaviest, most annoying things to carry, but there is no substitute for tire irons. This is the sole item that I believe can be shared among that day's riding buddies, given that you do not separate. But be sure someone has at least 2! A tiny bottle of Joy dish soap makes an excellent bead lube to ease the process. You might also carry some spare schrader valve inserts and lock nuts. These are easily lost when changing tubes. These type items are so tiny there is no reason not to have them. You also need a bicycle hand pump. Don't rely on CO2!
What to Carry for the Bike
Carry some zip ties and 3-4 feet of fuel line. I've had those in-line plastic filters crack and leak gas. Without some spare hose, you're hosed. You also need some length to the hose to bum gas off your buddies. Of course you'll need the standard tools. A minimum of 8, 10, and 12mm sockets and a 1/4" ratchet. Be sure you have the size for your axle nuts. You may need a 3/8" drive for that, unless you have one of those cool XR tools. You also need a ratchet screwdriver with various tips. Be sure you have one that will fit the tiny idle screw. A spare spark plug and tool to change it is never a bad idea, even for a 4-stroke. If your bike is liquid cooled, consider carrying a small bottle of coolant. Those tiny airline water bottles work great. Two stroke riders should carry 2 gallons worth of premix in this same size bottle.
Your own list will have to be custom tailored to your needs and your specific bike. Do not rely on your friends to have what you may need! Lay these items out at home, and categorize them based on weight and size. Carry the heaviest items on your back, the medium weight stuff in the rear fender bag, and lighter stuff in a handlebar bag. If you're not intentionally on a multi-day ride, all your stuff should fit in a mid-size day pack. This should not weigh much and you should have full freedom of movement. In other words, you're prepared for a vast array of circumstances with very little penalty. I've seen far too many riders lost or broken down, unprepared for what they face. Think in advance, and you'll have a much better time on the bike.
Embarking on a multi-day ride may seem intimidating at first, but with some forethought it can be the greatest kind of ride, especially solo. Not only are you prepared to stay the night, you're prepared to stay the night in complete comfort, with hot meals to boot!
Bike preparation is the same as day rides. You just want to be double sure you don't forget anything. And maybe double up on things like spare levers. Be sure you have ridden the bike since any work has been done to it. Take your time and plan.
You'll want some extra gear for yourself though. In addition to the clothes mentioned earlier, you'll want 'night clothes'. These are merely a spare pair of socks and one pair of underwear for use only after you are in the tent for the night. Your day clothes are your day clothes no matter what the conditions are. This is the only way to be as tidy as you have to be in order to go for many days on a dirt bike. Wear your riding clothes every day. Wash them in a creek or stream when you can. If you can't tolerate dirty nasty clothes you shouldn't be on a dirt bike.
Now for Your Camp
Space and weight are the main concerns. The main needs are for a tent or bivy of some sort, a sleeping bag, and a stove. If you can do without any of these things that's great, but in most environments much greater comfort will come by taking these three things. Which brand and style of these that you choose is purely personal opinion. My choices- Eureka one man tent (3'x8'), Wiggy's sleeping bag, and MSR stove. There are many good choices for all of these, so shop around and do your research. It will pay off.
I also take a small titanium pot, one plastic spoon (the unbreakable kind), and one plastic insulated mug. That's it for the kitchen. You do not need anything else. You can make coffee, oatmeal, Ramen, and just about anything in a mug. Your hands can take care of the rest. Keep all food and cookware in one bag that can be hung at night in bear country.
One luxury item I carry is an MSR dromedary bag. The beauty of this is that you can pump a bunch of water at once (I think its 2 quarts), hang it from a tree, and have a steady clean water supply. You can also put hot water in it and have an awesome shower. But again, this is a luxury item. The good news is that it is small and weighs next to nothing, so I usually take it for multi-day trips.
I no longer take a gps or cell phone with me. For me it takes away more than it gives. I also believe these two items alter decision making more than they should. Do not let the fact that you have a cell phone or gps change any decision you face on the trail. In other words, do not rely on these in a critical sense. These two things are the most likely of all to fail on you. They require batteries and contain circuit boards, both of which can and do fail in harsh environments. If you're not going to rely on them, then why carry all that weight?
For packaging, I use a long narrow North Face day pack. Its actually an ice climbing pack. Climbing packs have more freedom of movement that typical day packs. Holds a lot for its size too. Then I put a cordura river rafting bag on the rear fender. Super tough and waterproof. I've never torn it. I don't have a recommendation for a handlebar bag, except that it should be waterproof.
Well that just about covers the basics for heading into the backcountry on a dirt bike. I've mentioned brand names only when I have personally done extensive field testing. I'm a nut about gear, and test all that I can. I will be glad to answer any questions about specific gear. However, you will find that a few key quality items is all that you need in order to have a great adventure just about anywhere. So get your bike and gear together and head to the hills, but remember, the most important piece of gear is that grey matter inside your helmet. Use your head out there!
Credits: Article written and submitted by Howard McKim and edited by 4Strokes.com.
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