Dr. Frazier: Tips on Dropping Adventure Bikes

July 15, 2010
Dr. Gregory Frazier
Dr. Gregory Frazier
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Having made multiple runs across the globe, round-the-world adventurer Dr. Frazier imparts some of his motorcycle traveling wisdom in his monthly Dr. Frazier Rides column.

Dropping big adventure motorcycles, or experiencing small get-offs, seems to be part of my personal equation for adventure riding. Because I often travel solo, these slight bumps during my adventures quite often go unrecorded or unreported. It is with no shame that I admit herewith to experiencing numerous driving burps as a two-wheeled adventurist, while sharing a few tips.
 
Pictured is a new Suzuki V-Strom adventure rider trying to figure out how adventure riding got so turned around and nearly upside down.
A new Suzuki V-Strom adventure rider tries to figure out how adventure riding got so turned upside down.

One of the reasons the adventure rider often escapes the embarrassment of having their small crashes exposed is attributed to monkey gland juice or adrenalin. When a big adventure motorcycle falls over, whether at slow speed or even parked, the first reaction of the pilot is to rush to pick it up. If done quickly and no one is around to witness the get-off or record it with a camera, the event can be likened to a tree falling in a silent forest when no one is around to hear it, or in the dropped motorcycle case, see it lay down.
 
Seldom was such my luck. For some reason when my motorcycles ended up on their side or upside down there was usually a crowd of onlookers to witness it or capture the image with a photographic tool. I have grown accustomed to these embarrassing Kodak moments and join the gawkers snapping photos for a few moments before rushing to right the downed two-wheeled beasts. If the incident occurred in view of a crowd, my calmly taking a camera out and recording a few images seemed to send a message to those watching that the episode was no big deal and they reacted with less surprise. The awkwardness of the situation was reduced further if I talked loudly to myself, saying things such as: “It’s OK. This happens all the time. I’m testing the crash bars for a magazine article to see if they work.”
 
While driving through a small village in the Issan area of Thailand a dog darted in front of me. My overreaction of clamping the front brake lever to the right handlebar grip resulted in a 2-5 mph get-off when the front wheel washed out on the gravel surface of the road. Stepping off the motorcycle as it dropped on its side and then turning on one foot to pivot away likely looked like a ballet move to the numerous villagers who had been watching me cruise through their village. I calmly walked back to the motorcycle and turned the key to ‘Off’ while speaking loudly, saying “It’s OK. This happens all the time. I’m from Australia and this is how I test my gas tank to see if it leaks” or some such nonsense. The tip to not losing face in a village where face was more important than money was to stay calm and pretend like dropping the motorcycle was a common occurrence.
 

My dropped Yamaha Tenere had to be unpacked before it could be lifted upright  part of the entertainment for the surprised villagers watching and listening to me mutter English words in Thailand.
My dropped Yamaha Tenere had to be unpacked before it could be lifted upright, part of the entertainment for the surprised villagers watching and listening to me mutter English words in Thailand.

Knowing I alone could not lift the loaded Yamaha Tenere upright, I unstrapped the luggage and set it aside. Then I walked back 10 feet and captured the image on my camera. By then the villagers had closed their open mouths. Nodding to the watchers I smiled and beckoned several over to help me lift the dropped motorcycle. Within a minute the big adventure touring bike was upright and no longer leaking gas. I repacked, shook hands with the helpers, and drove out of the village waving goodbye. Likely the villagers were still talking a year later about the foreigner who dropped his loaded motorcycle in the center of their small village. For a village without electricity and thus no televisions, my performance could be likened to a community service, the provision of free entertainment. Extrapolating it even further, the entire occurrence could be viewed as a form of free international aid from the United States to a remote village in Thailand.
 
While traveling through Peru with a pillion on a ride around the globe (www.ultimategloberide.com) we had to cross a small stream. The motorcycle was a 1983 Honda Silverwing Interstate GL 650, the model with a full fairing. Thinking it would make an interesting adventure picture we parked the overloaded GL 650 in the middle of the stream and walked to the bank. While focusing my camera on the Honda I noticed it was tipped further to the left than when I had walked away from it. The side stand was slowly sinking into the sand and gravel. As the shutter of the camera clicked, gravity won and the fully loaded touring motorcycle was in the next instant resting on its side with a foot of water washing over it. Because the tank bag was open and I had my second camera, passport, wallet and money in it, I wasted no time talking to myself as I rushed to lift the motorcycle upright. I may have yelled some English words – likely four-letter ones. The only recording of that adventure motorcycle on its side was recorded on the cranial hard drives of me and my pillion. The tip was to have a helper when traveling with a motorcycle too heavy for one person to lift upright in the middle of a cold, wet, slippery mountain stream.
 

Often the biggest decisions is to decide whether it is wiser to continue uphill or downhill  turning  the motorcycle so that it is pointed in the right direction for the easiest lift.
Often the biggest decisions are to decide whether it is wiser to continue uphill or downhill, turning the motorcycle so that it is pointed in the right direction for the easiest lift.

Recently a V-Strom rider from Florida joined me for a day ride on Kodiak Island, Alaska. My Kawasaki KLX250S was ideal for the logging roads and gravel tracks, nimbly picking its way through the tough stuff. For my riding pal however, these were major challenges. Not only was his Suzuki mounted on street tires, he had never been off-pavement before, the latter fact not known to me. After he dropped the V-Strom three times in a 100-foot section of ugly uphill gravel and round roller rocks, he enlightened me to his newness to the off-road riding world. Prior to that I had been calmly taking pictures of his downed Suzuki before helping him lift it upright, assuming he was used to an occasional drop or get-off.
 
He was a good sport about the minor scratches and dings, once saying, “Now I’ve got matching scratches on both sides.” Admittedly both of us were worn out after the third lifting affair, stopping at the bottom of the hill to rest our older and well-taxed bodies before deciding we had adventured enough off-road for the day. The lesson we both learned that day was if piloting a 500-lb adventure motorcycle with street tires fully inflated over loose, ugly rocks, it was best not to be alone. My personal tip, if I did not want to hurt my back doing some heavy lifting, was to ask a new acquaintance if they were comfortable going off-road.
 
Knowing the limits of the motorcycle and the pilot, not letting ego and alpha-maleness set the path, was another tip I learned after an afternoon in the hot sun while struggling through a desert, a personal taste of adventure riding in Hades. My mental picture was to drive across a section of the desert that looked to be less than one-half mile in width. Heavily skewing my vision to “I can do this” were images of motorcycle racers skimming over the sands during the Paris-Dakar Race through the Sahara. After the first 200-300 yards, the motorcycle and its driver were both dog tired

Know your limits  and those of your motorcycle. Pictured here I am whipped  first from lifting the motorcycle upright  then from pushing the flooded motorcycle with a dead battery to harder ground for a bump start. I should have off-loaded the luggage  or stayed out of the sand.
Know your limits, and those of your motorcycle. Pictured here I am whipped, first from lifting the motorcycle upright, then from pushing the flooded motorcycle with a dead battery to harder ground for a bump start. I should have off-loaded the luggage or stayed out of the sand.

and each quit. The wheels of the motorcycle were horizontal to the sand, the driver panting like a hound in heat and flat on his back next to the dropped big adventure motorcycle. After unloading the motorcycle there was still hard work ahead to get traction in the soft sand, so much so that I was again flagged and panting after only 10-20 feet from where I had righted the Kawasaki KLR650. With no luggage and appropriate tires, the adventure across the sand might have been successful, but given the added accessories, pavement-favoring tires, luggage weight and alpha-male cranial thought processes overriding common sense, my adventure became sweltering torture. The tip was to let common sense paint the image on my cranial hard drive of a hot, sweaty, tired and foolish adventurist before believing my personal riding envelope was close to Sahara racing limits.
 
In a normal year my riding motorcycles ranges from high-speed autobahns to flogging through jungles or over high mountain goat trails, averaging 40,000 – 60,000 miles annually. During that time I drop motorcycles numerous times, either through foolishness or by accident. Often the events are harmless get-offs unless ego raises its ugly existence. When it does, my #1 tip for lifting dropped big adventure motorcycles is to laugh at yourself. Like the villagers in Issan, who likely are still laughing about my antics with the dropped Yamaha Tenere, adventuring for me is fun, and fun means laughing, even if it’s at myself.

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