We get muddy spending a day at the Triumph Tiger Trails and learn a thing or two about off-roading
These last few weeks have certainly been rewarding for me. First, I attended the Honda Ten10 Racing Academy (HTRA) where I learnt the basics of riding on a race track. And a few weeks later, in came the invite for the Triumph Tiger Trails to learn the basics of off-roading. Organised close to home in Lonavala (Maharashtra), gave me a geographical advantage and this time around I didn’t have to squabble with my colleagues to be a part of it.
Just like HTRA, at the Triumph Tiger Trails too, we had to attend a classroom session before hopping on the motorcycles and putting it through its paces. The session was led by Vijay Parmar, veteran rallyist and chief trainer of the Triumph Tiger Trails. 15 minutes in, I realised that the classroom session would probably be the only common factor between the two rider training academies. Off-roading was going to be a completely different ball game altogether and very little of what I learnt at the race track would be of use here. It was going to be an exciting day indeed!
Inspect your bike:
Whether you are riding on a race track, off-road or even while touring, this one aspect remains common and possibly the most vital. Vijay Parmar insisted that we take a walk around the motorcycle, sit on the saddle and spend a few minutes with the machine before starting to ride. By doing this, you will not only get a feel of the bike and its ergonomics, but it will also help you find out in case some parts have come out loose or need a quick turn of a wrench. Tyre pressure is also vital while off-roading. It is advised to drop the tyre pressure of your motorcycle when riding off-road. The physics behind it is simple – something that we have all learnt in school – area is more, the pressure is less. Dropping the tyre pressure increases the footprint of the tyres, thereby reducing the pressure on the ground. This will not only help you get better traction but will also improve the ride over rough surfaces.
Look where you want to go:
This is another rule that applies to motorcycling in general, and our first activity of the day was all about that. Triumph had made a slalom course with cones placed at near equal distances. We were to go around each one of them without touching our feet on the ground. While Vijay Parmar made it look rather simple, for us newbies it was easier said than done. Standing up on the pegs and riding slow around the cones, at first the attention immediately went at the front edge of the motorcycle. But once we managed to get it right, it was half the battle won. The other half, however, was all about the next point.
Posture and Weight Transfer:
When riding on the track, it is advised to lean into the corner but when riding off road, you need to push your body in the opposite direction of the turn. This will automatically help you balance the motorcycle with a better centre of gravity. A combination of your vision and the right body posture was key to successfully completing the slalom course, something that a lot of us struggled with. In fact, even on some of the other activities, your posture would end up determining whether you make it through or not. Going uphill, you need the transfer the weight at the back to ensure that the rear wheel has better traction and vice versa.
The follow through after the slalom course was a small patch with pebbles and stones leading to a descent. Riding on the road we are habituated to using the front brakes. But during off-roading when going downhill, using the front brakes may result in loss of traction or the front folding-out on you. For better control in such situations, just a tap on the rear brake generally does the trick. As I rode through this section, I had to drill it in my head to make use of the rear brake. But it was only when I completed this section did I realise it does result in better control and thereby more confidence.
Next up were a few water crossings. Not knowing what could possibly be hiding under the muddy water is a scary thought – one that concerned all of us. In such situations, it is only human nature to grab tightly onto the handle bar, and that can possibly make a simple water crosser much more difficult. When you hold the handle bar tight, you are essentially fighting the motorcycle and forcing it to do something that doesn’t come naturally. The trick here is to lean forward and have a relaxed grip on the handle bar allowing it to plough its way through the water. This one was possibly the most fun and easiest activities of the day. It was no wonder then, that we kept going at it again and again until the folks at Triumph were forced to call it a day.
Trust the motorcycle: The Triumph Tiger is quite a capable motorcycle. It has the makings of a good off-road machine that has been built to take all the beating you could possibly throw at it. Through the course of the day, quite a few of us had fallen but it was only a matter of picking it up and going at it again. Of course, considering its 200+kg weight, lifting it off the ground was quite a challenge, but thankfully, at the Tiger Trails, they also taught us how to do that. Push the bike up, with your back against the seat, one arm on the handlebar and the other on the grab rail at the back. No, it isn’t easy but this method of picking it up just makes sure that you don’t hurt yourself in the process.
Right Riding Gear:
Quite a few of us who don’t ride off-road frequently had worn street/track-spec boots. While these are no doubt protective, the support for your ankles, its grip on the foot pegs just isn’t enough. Vijay Parmar explained to us the consequences of riding without appropriate protective gear. Yes, safety apparel is expensive, but you’d much rather spend the money than shed blood, right?
The Triumph Tiger is a big and bulky machine, especially for someone of my size. It feels daunting to look at and heavy to manage, but after spending a day learning how to manage the motorcycle, I felt a lot more confident. As we spent more time with it, all the nervous energy was gradually converted into childlike excitement and as the evening sun vanished into the horizon, we reluctantly handed the key back. How we wish we had more time to play with it…