Just as you have to learn to walk before you run, if you want to go fast on an off-road or adventure motorcycle you first need to learn how to ride slowly. It’s a skill that enhances your overall motorcycle control, no matter what the speed.
The most essential tool for learning these skills is the friction zone of your clutch. That’s the position between fully engaged and fully disengaged, where only some of the engine’s power is transmitted to the rear wheel. Think of that zone of “grab” you pass through when you take off from a stop, where the clutch is slipping but the bike is accelerating. That’s the sweet spot. Using it along with your brakes and throttle will help you maintain speed and balance at low speeds.
“Look where you want to go, and don’t look where you don’t want to go” is one of the fundamentals of motorcycling. It applies at low speeds, too. If you look down, you’ll go down. Keep your head up and your eyes focused some distance ahead of you to help you assess what’s coming up and let you see what lines are available to you.
Stay loose on the bike, allowing it to move underneath you. Standing on the pegs is the best way to do this, using your knees as part of the bike’s suspension so it can respond to bumps and small changes of direction without having to deal with your weight as well as its own.
Trail braking is another valuable skill for slow-speed riding. Using slight pressure on the rear brake along with the clutch’s friction zone lets you make small adjustments to your speed. Use the clutch to keep the engine from stalling if you suddenly lose momentum.
Like any other riding skill, slow-speed riding takes practice, and there are some drills to make it fun. Ride as slow as you can in a straight line, using the friction zone, the throttle, and your body position to maintain balance and forward motion. Challenge a friend to a slow race, where the apparent loser is the actual winner.
Try bar stops––no, that’s not what you think. It’s when you come to a stop beside a tree or a wall and lean your handlebar end, your elbow, or your foot against it, coming to a complete stop without putting your feet down, then taking off again.
A step up from riding slowly in a straight line is the slow weave, using cones, rocks, or anything else you have handy like your really, really good friends. The constant change of direction––left, right, left––teaches you how to modulate the power and lean the bike to make tight turns without putting your feet down.
A more advanced drill is the rolling dismount/remount, in which you ride slowly along, swing your feet over the saddle onto the ground as if you were getting off a stopped bike on the sidestand, walk alongside the bike for a few steps, and remount. Because this is an advanced exercise, be prepared to drop your bike once or twice until you get the hang of it. Start off in soft dirt or on a lawn.
Practice your slow-speed drills often, because the times you really benefit from them can be few and far between, and you don’t want to be caught out when it counts. Tell us in the comments about your own tips and tricks to improve low-speed riding.