The Noob Adventure Rider

I’ve never been embarrassed to go through awkward learning phases – as it pretty much sums up most of my life. It also perfectly describes every one of my attempts at a new bike genre. Adventure riding was no exception. Unfortunately for me, I am impatient to improve, and this has seen me break bones, skin my flesh, knock the air from my lungs and bruise my body and my ego. Luckily the bikes remain unscathed. I’d like to say I’ve learned from this. I think I have. I’ve certainly learned to get the best gear and tyres I can afford.

I’ve also been fortunate that for road, race and adventure riding I’ve had my partner with me, who was doing it all. Thanks to him, and because I’ve worked in a motorcycle store that serviced every bike imaginable – I’ve been able to avoid a lot of the confusion that new riders experience from information overload.

I’m not going to talk about my experience coming into adventure riding. Instead, I want to give you a fresh perspective. I want to put you in the boots of the “Newbie” aka the “Noob”.

This is written for the benefit of both the Noob, and for those of you further down the track who are offering up your wisdom, unfiltered. We need to ensure we understand what it’s like to be new to adventure riding, so we can make the Noob experience a positive one.

Let me take you on a hypothetical journey; through the lifespan of the adventure Noob.

Imagine then, if you are not already, that you are the Noob. You’ve ridden a little off-road and you’ve got some road riding experience. You have basic bike knowledge. One day you stumble across a Chris Birch promo video and before you know it, it’s 5am.

The next few weeks between work and outside commitments, you lurk on Facebook groups and peruse adventure websites. You’ve quickly become consumed by the idea of adventuring on two wheels – oh, the places it can take you that you didn’t even know existed! It’s like tramping, but for people who like motorbikes – not tramping. You then find The Long Way Round and by episode 3 of its sequel, The Long Way Down, you’re yelling advice at Charlie and Ewan as they try and fix their bikes on the side of the road. This is the unbridled enthusiasm of the Noob that needs reining in.

The Noob has watched this a minimum of 10 times.

You begin squirrelling away money, month after month, in an admirable attempt at self-discipline. But it’s not enough for the adventure bike you’ve set your sights on. You’ve no choice but to sell your road bike. It’s time to level-up. It’s time to start rolling with the big boys. You join an adventure riding forum online and start getting amongst it.

“Hey guys!” you start, optimistically, “I just bought myself a WR450 and just wondered what you’d recommend in the way of tyres. I’m just looking to do some local day or overnight trips at this stage, nothing too full on. Thoughts?”

You don’t have to wait long for the adventure community to rally around you with advice. Your phone starts dinging madly, and with each notification your cat is becoming more and more resentful. A fleeting skim read of the responses leaves you feeling confused. You revisit the thread in the middle of the night accompanied by an unopened packet of mallow-puffs and a feeling of dread.

Since you’ve been away, advice has flooded in. Most of it is positive, some of it is conflicting. Two people have started their own sub-thread within yours, passive-aggressively discussing one tyre brand versus another. There’s another person who appears to have no concept of others’ financial constraints. He declares firmly that only top-of-the-line products should be bought “or you’re wasting your time and risking life and limb”. Gulp.

Onward you scroll. There are a few different people suggesting the same tyres, you make a note of these. The next comment is a doozy. Someone questions the suitability of the bike you just purchased, suggesting that perhaps, “you might be a little out of your depth”. Hold up! You only asked for some tyre advice – who does he think he is? The audacity of this man! You stalk his profile but are unable to find anything to discredit his authority, so you decide you just don’t like his face.

After deciding on some reasonably-priced, inoffensive tyres, you’re having them fitted at the local bike shop. You’re wandering around the retail section, minding your own business and looking at all the cool products and gadgets you can’t afford. Wow look at that awesome adventure helmet, it’s over a thousand dollars – holy hecker! But gee, it’s so sleek and look at all the features listed! It probably won’t fit, but best you try it on to confirm. That way you’ll be able to relax knowing you couldn’t have splurged on it anyway.

It immediately envelopes your head in a luxurious custom fit. You can smell the quality. Gleefully you begin messing with all the vents and features. You take it off, read the tags, admire at it from various angles and put it back on again. You look in the mirror – oh yeah, badass space pilot from the future! Oh, and it comes in your favourite colours... Sweet Mother. Endorphins are now flowing through your body in the direction of your wallet. Even though you can’t afford it, you’re sold. Suddenly your intimate helmet fantasy is rudely interrupted.

“Don’t waste your money on that overpriced junk when you can get one that does the same job for a hundred bucks!” It’s a fellow shop lurker, and he’s uncomfortably close. “I’ve had mine for over ten years, and it’s done me just fine,” he says, knocking firmly on his head to prove he’s all good in the mental department. You’re not convinced that he is, but you do believe his helmet is older than ten years – a faint odour gives it away. It’s black and there’s no discernible brand.

“Once I’m done with this, I’ll give it to my wife – she’s just a pillion” he says, like he’s doing her a favour. “They don’t make them like this anymore” he brings the helmet closer for your inspection, “I’ve never even had to replace the visor – see?” He looks at you for a response. You’ve got nothing. You literally cannot see through the visor it’s so badly scratched. How is this man still alive? There’s probably 2% visibility at best.

Tiny flakes of dandruff drift to the floor as he generously offers you the prized helmet to try on. There’s just no way. Of course, you know, even without looking at it, that the inside padding will be discoloured, damp and peeling. The labels will be a rich mustard yellow from years of accumulated stale sweat. You stifle a gag. “Gets more comfortable every year,” he says.

Yes. Yes, it does. That’s because a decade of daily use has taken its toll. The interior foam – the bit that deforms to absorb the impact in a crash and protect your head – has disintegrating and is giving it that looser “more comfortable” fit. The helmet’s integrity is completely compromised. It offers about as much protection as a giant ping pong ball. This man is a bad source of information. Do not listen to him. Do not try on his ping pong helmet.

Acknowledge his social efforts by smiling – but not too much, you don’t want to invite more conversation – and back away slowly, avoiding direct eye contact. Offer a plausible excuse to vacate his company and do not reengage. I repeat. Do. Not. Reengage.

That was an obvious example of some terrible advice, and hopefully you never meet this sort of character in real life! It was clear he wasn’t a trustworthy source. Most of the time it won’t be this straightforward.

The Noob dreamscape. Photo by Dakota Monk

It’s important to know how to navigate through new information, weed out the good stuff and start pin-pointing credible sources. This is true of anything, but especially for adventure riding, where you are far from home and often without cellphone reception. Some of the best sources of information, product and services will be people actively working in the adventure industry.  

The adventure riding demographic is mostly male, over 40 and well-educated. They are, in my opinion, some of the most switched on, friendly and helpful motorcyclists you’ll meet. I think you’ll find there will always be at least a handful of people ready to offer genuine, helpful advice or who will point you in the right direction. The best thing you can do is make sure you give them all the information they might need to provide you with decent feedback. If you give them minimal or confusing information, expect a minimal or confusing response.

Next time a Noob asks for advice or your adventure expert friend wants your opinion – consider your response based on their needs and circumstances. It’s easy to become dogmatic about a passion you’re immersed in, and no one is immune. Often there is more than one “right” answer to a question. Understand the influence bias and personal circumstance may have on one’s opinion, it doesn’t mean you have to dismiss them, but consider how it may shape their view.

Take care when giving and receiving any advice. Question everything, but don’t let it stop you trying new methods, products or ideas. Adventure is challenging yourself, failing, and trying again and again until you succeed.

Noobs can't get enough of cheesy adventure riding montages
Author of this article: Casper