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Starting Adventure Riding – 3 Things I wish I’d Know Before I Started

No longer the sole domain of middle-aged BMW riders, adventure riding is a past-time increasingly embraced by millennials. They’re coming out of the woodwork, getting skilled up and traversing new frontiers. Like any good explorer, they’re mapping their journeys, expanding on the network of adventure routes for the benefit of their fellow riders. Supremely passionate, adventure riders are going forth and spreading the “good news” of adventure riding like devoted Mormons.

Naturally, with more adventure riders joining the fray, the amount of knowledge and advice increases and diversifies.

BMW Adventure, Queenstown.

Most of us have been on the receiving end of it at one time or another – some of us more than others. Frequently the person giving it has delusions of grandeur about their prowess.

That’s right, I’m talking about bad advice.

As someone who has frequently drank until drunk from the waters of terrible advice and has also been known to dispense my own on occasion, I am well-qualified on this topic.

This is my second article focusing on advice for adventure riders. I think this is because, as much as I often write in jest and with deep sarcasm, I sincerely wish only to make better-informed and kinder adventure riders of us all.

So, here are three pieces of advice (based on commonly issued bad advice) that I wish I’d known before I started adventure riding. This information has been gleaned from observing rigorous "field studies", being privy to consistent themes of disaster as told by other riders and from my own embarrassing experiences.

Plan Your Adventure

“Don’t plan it, it’s meant to be an adventure”

While it's true that spontaneity can give life and excitement to an adventure, if you haven’t done some planning, you might find your fun limited. Running out of fuel miles from the nearest town, or being unable to cross a station because you failed to call ahead is just plain disappointing. In fact, forgetting even one item can be a real buzz-kill.

I highly recommend planning your trip. This does not necessarily mean compiling a comprehensive checklist, though for the list-loving perfectionists among us this might bring you joy so don’t let me hold you back! Nor does it mean turning your bike into a travelling gypsy caravan. Yes, it would be neat to have one of those hand-powered camp washing machines. What better way to clean your undies after you soil yourself trying to do epic power slides in an attempt at capturing your next profile picture. But it’s not a ‘must-have’.

Plan enough so you can relax and enjoy the trip, knowing you have a little more than what you need, and knowing you won’t have to inconvenience anyone else. You can always spontaneously change your plans.

Gateway to Molesworth and Rainbow Roads.
A tragic scene after a rider's enthusiasm exceeded his ability. Photo by Brent Cotton (also the rider!)

Ride Your Own Ride

“If in doubt, throttle!”

It’s one of those old sayings that somehow stuck. It’s probably responsible for a good percentage of broken bones and bruised egos. To throttle when you are not convinced it is the right course of action is completely bonkers. As is riding faster than you feel comfortable with just to keep up. Not to mention the views you'll miss riding at speed. To be challenged by others can sometimes help you ride faster, but I’ve only found this to be true for road racing.

I can also personally vouch for the illegitimacy of this advice. Early on in my off-road riding days, during a moment of extreme doubt, I enacted this instruction. At the time it sounded like it would either embolden me to take more risks or abruptly end my Evel Knievel  career altogether. You know the sound when someone drops a concrete slab from a 3-storey building? Neither do I, but I imagine it must've been pretty close to the sound I heard when I hit the ground. The sickening “thud” many of you will be familiar with was preceded by a furious scream from my bike before we both ate dirt. I learned quickly that in order to stay in one piece I had to trust myself a lot more, and trust others a little less.

Don’t ride outside your comfort zone. Counter “if in doubt, throttle” with another old saying “Ride your own ride”. It’s your life and your body, educate yourself and make your own decisions based on what feels right for you.


Think carefully, Just Don’t Obsess


“Stop overthinking it”

I am a prolific overthinker, but because I cleverly overanalyse my overthinking they cancel each other out. I definitely do not have a problem with overthinking. I think.

While we can all acknowledge that overthinking when adventure riding can be detrimental, let’s put some context around this frequently offered advice. Overthinking a manoeuvre for example, may be a sign you feel like it’s beyond your skillset, or perhaps you simply don’t understand exactly what you need to do, or maybe you’re anxious. That’s all natural, and no one wants to look like a fool in front of their friends (despite the countless YouTube videos that say otherwise).

In my experience, overthinking reduces when the skill becomes learned and as a result of muscle memory.

The next logical next step after thinking is to simply act, rather than further speculate about the "what ifs". Knowing when you’ve thought about something enough, is a skill in itself. Think carefully, but don’t obsess.

Author of this article: Casper