First time in the dirt in 17 years
I am the newly proud owner of a 2009 wee and just got it out into the dirt for the first time. It's been 17 years since the last time I've hit the dirt and that was on 2-strokes. At the time I was a fairly decent rider, but had little training and I've long since forgot what I did know.
Needless to say it was a different experience now. I've thought about how I did and where I had trouble and wanted to solicit advice/tips.
I went to an off-highway vehicle location called Rowher Flats north of Los Angeles. I followed a friend in a pickup truck as he led the way. It started out as a 1/4 mile dirt road with lots of gravel and some rocks. The road went up over some hills and back down. I was in a state of near-panic so I don't really remember anything about my technique except that I got to the staging area without stalling, falling, or looking too stupid (I think). I did remember to stand up on the pegs after a few minutes. After that short ride I was exhausted to the point that my legs were shaking, but in good spirits.
After that I took another short trip along a road in slightly worse condition, but mostly flat with short ups and downs. It started to get fun at about that time.
Another short road in much the same condition and I was starting to feel comfortable, but the physical effort was really catching up with me. My arms were tired, but my legs were on fire.
Finally I got to the location we were going to ride around in. It was a mostly flat area with a bunch of very short and easily avoidable technical sections. A pretty good place to practice. By that time I was confident while steering at speed, but still couldn't turn well while going slow.
I did some up-hills and down-hills, some rocky stuff, and even caught a little air off a jump. Then I dumped the bike at around 5 MPH while trying to u-turn and flipped over the bars. I was fine and the bike was fine, but I am in the market for a new turn signal! I got a bit more cautious after that and we ended the day a while later.
On the way back out to the highway I managed a few more technical errors like downshifting two gears on a downhill and getting the bars to slap the tank a few times before I got it under control. On downhills I thought the front end was really mushy. I stopped to check if I had a flat tire but nothing was wrong.
Things I learned: Stand up. Feet forward until you balance and don't have to use your calf muscles. Hold the tank with your legs. Don't death-grip the handles (still having trouble with this).
Specific questions: At low speeds (first gear and a little in second gear) I was in constant danger of stalling and had a lot of trouble regulating my acceleration. I eventually remembered to "feather" the clutch, but really didn't have a clue if I was doing it right. I mostly just kept the clutch half-in when I was in first and that helped. Also: "Don't look at that rock!"
While turning, I remembered that I shouldn't lean in the same way that one leans on the road. I tried to keep upright and let the bike lean under me but felt extremely unstable while doing so. I always felt like I was about to lose it. Steering while at speed was easier but I didn't really know how I was doing it.
Big question: People ride off road for hours and hours. I couldn't possibly have done that. I needed to rest regularly and I am not a weak person. I know for a fact that much of my exhaustion was the result of poor technique, but don't know what exactly. I felt like I was fighting my own muscles and the bike all the time.
Long story short: I had a great time, but came away with more questions than answers regarding off-road technique. I'd love to hear your input!