12 Mud Riding Tips For Adventurers
The final day of our Maschine Adventure Rally in Pot Macquarie featured a mud pit that saw many riders unable to make the climb up a hill. That hill on a dry day they wouldn’t have even considered a hill.
While some riders early on sailed through (or even wheelied through!) the mud pit, it left many riders unable to get up one slope. Then when they tried to turn around and head back the way they came in, they found that task equally challenging.
After helping get a few riders and their bikes out it prompted me to write a few tips to help survive a mud session:
Pretty obvious but having decent fresh knobby tyres on your bike is going to make a huge difference to your ability to ride mud. It is for this reason we always recommend riders have knobby tyres fitted for our events.
Adventure tyres with a solid band of rubber down the centre (like a Heidenau K60 or Continental TKC70) have their time and place but unfortunately their short comings are far too great when conditions become wet and slippery.
Proper knobs will dig in and clear out again ready for the next rotation into the soft stuff.
I normally run Motoz Rallz tyres on my 790 and they work awesomely well in most off-road riding situations including mud. That said, if I knew I had a ride coming up that was going to be in a lot of slop or hard wet clay I would go even more aggressive with the Motoz Euro Enduro 6 tyres.
Also, tyre pressures are another important point. I usually don’t vary my pressures at all from the 26psi I normally run on the KTM 790 Adventure R. However, if I found myself stuck in a mud pit I couldn’t get out of then for sure lowering my pressures could be the difference between walking out and riding out. On big bikes you can go down to 15psi or maybe lower and little bikes (250-700cc) can go down to 10psi or lower. Just don’t forget to pump them back up again when you get back on regular roads and your speed increases.
2. Low Front Guards Suck
Suck all the mud in that is!
We had a least two bikes on Sunday that got that much mud built up around their low mounted front guards that the front wheel simply stopped turning. Ever tried riding a motorcycle with a front wheel that doesn’t rotate? It is possible, as Dakar James proved on Dino’s Tenere, but it’s bloody hard!
If you have a low mounted front guard on your bike consider raising it up 20mm or so with a raiser kit before you venture off into the mud pits next time.
If you do have a low guard and get stuck, then your best option is get your tools out and remove the guard to ride out.
We also tried dropping tyre pressures to allow the tyre to flex in the hope it might help clear the mud.
Another warning is we have witnessed some real problems when that built up mud is allowed to dry up and harden. It can gouge front tyres out or even drop off at speed and lock up the front wheel unexpectedly when back on the bitumen. Not nice either way!
3. Don’t Go There In The First Place
Often the situation is that it’s not raining but there is a big mud puddle stretching across the track. Before plowing head first into it, take stock of the situation and ask yourself:
- Can I ride around it?
- Do I really need to ride this trail or can I skirt around it and take the next track over?
- Should I go down that hill that I may not be able to ride up?
Sure it may take some of the adventure out of the ride so if you’ve got a couple of strong mates with then you then go for it! What’s the worst that could happen?
But if you are solo adventuring then think twice before diving in.
4. Don’t Follow The Beaten Path
Riding up to the mud pit of doom as sweep rider it was really obvious that everyone had been following the same path up until that point. There was a really distinctive clear groove in the track where everyone had been playing follow the leader. I think everyone seeks safety in that clear line.
Reality is though often in situations where it is really wet, you may find more grip off the usual line.
- Maybe that grass on the sides will offer more grip because the roots help to hold the soil together?
- Maybe the built up leaf litter and sticks will offer traction?
- Use the terrain (edges of track) to maintain flow and momentum so you don’t have to execute sharper turns on flat slippery corners.
- Typically a shiny surface offers less grip so seek out traction in the less shiny bits.
I tend to flow from one side of the trail to the other and use the terrain to “lean against” and help me execute turns.
5. TC Or No TC?
Here’s a question for you.
Would your bike work better in mud with Traction Control on or off?
Although I ride most of the time with my traction control basically off (Rally mode slip setting 1 on the KTM 790) there are times when I will reengage traction control and use it to my advantage. One of those situations is wet roads. I have found in the past that the KTM traction control is so good it can often detect wheel slip before I can it it helps me to ride faster and safer.
What I always stress though it is so important to understand how the traction control and ABS work on your motorcycle and when it can help or hinder you. Understand your bike and experiment with the different modes.
6. Lug That Motor
You will generally find the greatest traction and drive when you allow your motor to be turning over nice and slow just above idle. Hell you are often better off being in 2nd gear and crawling along at snails pace with that engine just ticking away.
Our engines will deliver more torque lower in the RPM range and will be less likely to slip up and loose traction. So click it up a gear and ride that torque wave.
7. Give It A Rev Trev
Now I’ll tell you the complete opposite and tell you to give it a handful – sometimes!
One of the problems we get is mud building up between the knobs which reduces their ability to dig in and bite. To help reduce this build up it’s really helpful to give the back tyre a good spin up every so often and throw that mud out and clear the knobs so they can do their thing.
You can also do the same for the front tyre by speeding up when it is safe between mud holes or maybe launching off a jump face and slamming back to earth to help shed unwanted kilos of slop.
Also, when driving up a hill sometimes a spinning back tyre will dig down to drier ground underneath offering more traction. Use this tip with caution!
8. Get Ready To Clutch It
One of your “get out of jail cards” in the wet is your clutch lever.
I ride around 90% of the time with one finger resting on the clutch lever. This is because the clutch can be used in so many different ways when riding off-road.
When it’s really slippery be ready to pull the clutch lever in to disengage drive the very moment you start to feel the back end come around sideways.
Think it about it.
If we apply too much throttle and the back wheel breaks traction and starts to spin up and go sideways, our normal reaction is to shut the throttle off. Problem is the engine revs take time to die down and by the time the tyre has slowed down our bike has likely already done a graceful 180 degree pirouette underneath us! It is far quicker to pull the clutch in and immediately disengage the engine from our back wheel. This allows the rolling wheel to instantaneously match our ground speed and give us our best chance of saving the slide.
Go and practice covering the clutch and test this out on a wet grassy paddock. Tell me if I’m right or wrong!
9. Build Speed For The Slopes
Easier said than done but you need to choose your battles. If you see an incline coming up, muster up all the courage and concentrate all your skill on building speed before the slope so momentum can carry you up and over the rise. Otherwise you will burn so much more energy when you lose the battle halfway up and get stuck again.
Once you stop on a hill it can be very hard to get going again. I’m sure you’ve all experienced that!
10. Bulldog It Down
Often the best way to safely get down a really ugly slippery slope is to kill the motor at the top and leave the bike in gear. Then you can get both feet on the ground to steady yourself and use the clutch lever as a rear hand brake lever using engine braking to control your descent. Gently ease that clutch lever in with one finger and you can control your descent really nicely.
11. Get High With A Little Help From Your Friends
While one of our riders did masterfully deploy his electric winch to retrieve his R1200GS from off the side of the track, an electric winch is not something I recommend riders add to their kit!
You can however use a tow strap or maybe even a lightweight rope and pulley system to help retrieve bikes. Remember I showed those options at our talk on Saturday night?
For sure I think the lasting memory for most riders from Sunday will be the teamwork that came together to help drag each others bikes up the slopes and back on firmer ground. It is always more fun to share the adventure with others!
12. Save The Seals
Once all the fun is over and you get back to civilisation make sure you give those fork tubes a clean. If you let that mud dry overnight on the shiny chrome fork sliders, the next morning when you go over the first jump your forks will have the very hard task of wiping clean that concrete like mud. Nothing will destroy your seals quicker.
If you do happen to get a weeping fork seal, try getting a small zip tie or thin piece of flexible plastic card to swipe around the inside of the seal to clear the dirt out. You might get lucky and stop that seal from leaking.
I would love to do a mud skills training day sometime but reality is I don’t think we would not get many takers for it!
My best advice is the next time you have a ride planned and it buckets down with rain, don’t pull the pin on your ride. Grab a few friends and get out there in it. It’s in the face of adversity you will often pick up new skills that stay with you for life. It is adventure after all!
PS – this list started off as 5 but I kept remembering more tricks for you. There’s always more than one way to skin a cat!