Rider on a Beta fording a stream

Trail riding techniques

Riding position

Trail riders are usually up on the pegs. You should be as comfortable as if you were standing on the ground, so feet need to be well planted, not tippy toe. Keep your legs in touch with the frame or tank, as that stablises the bike, and relax without bending the knees. When balance is right, you are not putting weight on the bars, or only a little, which really helps with avoiding arm pump. Keep a gap between yourself and the previous rider and focus ahead. Choose your route pro-actively, not reactively. Many riders cover the clutch and front brake with one or two fingers.

Hills up

Lean forward and go for it! Most hills will be ridden in second or third. Avoid changing down; if the engine is struggling, slip the clutch a little to keep it going.

Hills down

When going downhill, you can stretch out and if very steep, you may feel the mudguard come up and hit your bum! If you know it is steep and difficult to slow down, start from standstill. As you become more experienced, you will develop a feel for the grip the front is giving you, and will learn to brake as much as is possible, releasing pressure just before losing grip. It is the front which will stop you, although extra pressure on the rear can be useful if there is a hairpin bend, as you can slide the back round. The slowest you can go is first gear with the clutch out (which can be surprisingly fast!)


Ride in the highest gear your bike will pull, look well ahead and if possible keep your hands light on the bars. Keep feet facing forwards and close in. If the rut is not smooth, beware of rocks in the edges which can sweep a foot of the peg. At best, it is painful – at worst, it can result in a broken leg. Gentle acceleration will keep the front wheel going ahead, light touch will allow it to centralise if it hits the edge. Really deep or very slippery ruts may need to be ridden sitting down with feet out frontwards or paddling.

After you fall off (because you will!)

If the handlebars are not jammed in the ground, pull the underneath one forward to make the front wheel face upwards. Use both hands on the lowest part of the handlebars to lift, as the leverage makes the effort required less. This helps protect your back from injury when lifting.


Most groups use a system to share out the work of opening and closing gates. Some favour second man open, third man close; some prefer the same person to open and close the gates so that unusual fastenings do not present a problem. If you ride an enduro bike, get on and off with the stand up, as the stand is only designed to support the bike, not bike and rider. When doing gates on a down hill, either find something to jam the front wheel into, or stop the engine and leave the bike in gear. If a rider in the group has a kickstart bike, it is considerate to allow him to do flat ground gates where he can leave his bike running in neutral.

Deep puddles, streams and river crossings

Water is risky! If you are unlucky and the bike is going over, kill the engine if you have time, as this will avoid it drawing water in. We advise riding deep water sitting down. This may not feel as controlled as when you stand, but at least you can get a foot down to try and save the bike if things go wrong.

If the bike ends up in water and you even suspect the air filter has gone under, check it before trying to start. If you have electric start and hit it accidently or deliberately and the piston moves up against water, it cannot escape in a four stroke engine. Either it will bend the valves or the conrod, or both. Two strokes allow the water in the combustion chamber to come out through the ports, so you don’t risk so much damage.

First look for a drain plug in the air-box (not all bikes have one). If water comes out or there isn’t a drain plug, take the air filter out and see if any part of it is wet. If it is, take the spark plug out and turn the engine over. If any water comes out, and it is a fuel injected bike with no kickstart, arrange for collection – you won’t be able to dry it out sufficiently on the trail. It can take up to an hour to get water out of the fuel injection system. If it has a carburettor, drain it, and keep turning the engine over until no more water comes through. Also drain water from the exhaust, as it can get into the combustion chamber from the front if you are really unlucky!

Preparing your bike

Unlike a road bike which you tend to ride very much as it came from the manufacturer, trail and enduro bikes are often modified to suit their owner’s height and weight. When bought new, the bikes are usually supplied with handlebars too low for an average or tall person, and may not be strong metal. If you swap the bars for ones a little higher, the cables should be OK, but if using bar risers, you may find you need to obtain longer throttle and clutch cables.

Not all enduro bikes have fans on their radiators (particularly older bikes, such as DRZ400) so bear in mind if riding in very slow conditions or when waiting at gates, it will overheat.

If your bike needs lowering, it is worth having it done professionally in order to keep the good handling you bought the bike for. Lowering one end without the other can make a bike ride very strangely!

Most trail riders use enduro tyres, but some favour road legal motocross, trials or dualsport. If you are doing a lot of mud, a hard tyre with chunky knobbles will be good on the trail, but terrible on the tarmac road. If you are riding on a lot of gravel or rock, you may prefer trials or dualsport tyres. If you fear having a puncture, you may prefer to have mousses fitted, but they are not road legal. It is also advised that you remove wheels between use so that the mousse doesn’t get a flat spot.

If you need help and advice, joining the Trail Riders Fellowship is the best place to start.