Sunday, December 30, 2012

Part 4 - Now That THAT's Out of the Way

So I made my first attempt at riding in Real Dirt (OK, sand), didn't fail miserably, found out my limitations, and actually had a bit of fun.  Unfortunately, since it wiped me out so quickly, I made the decision to wrap up early and head home.  Fortunately, the lengthy ride home gave me time to reflect and recoup. 

Of course, getting home means cleaning up, putting stuff away, etc.  Which means - since I'm responsible for maintaining my own bike - I get to clean my own bike.  When I first brought the bike home and my friend and I went through checking it out, giving it an initial bath, etc., he also used some spray wax (super easy spray-on-wipe-off sort of stuff) on the plastic to help make it easier to clean.  Since I didn't ride much or hard all it took was a quick rinse off with the hose.  There will be more about maintenance later; but for this initial ride, all the bike needed was a quick hosing.

Of course, we were talking while putting gear away and cleaning up and it was suggested I might want to ride around in the yard a bit if I was feeling up to it.  Well, that sure sounded like a challenge to, put my pants, boots, gloves, and helmet back on and rode around the front and back yard to get a better feel for the bike.  Nothing crazy, especially since I wasn't wearing my armor and had only a tank top on, just riding around in slow ovals and Ls pretty much....until the pit bike came out.  I have a Kawasaki KLX 110 that gets used as a pit bike, and now as a demonstration/practice bike in the yard.  My friend grabbed the pit bike out of the back garage and started running around the yard on it; first just for kicks and grins and then started having me follow him in a big L-shaped loop in the backyard and imitate what he was doing. 

The main thing we practiced was sticking my foot out to corner and powering through the corner.  We ended up going clockwise, which turned out to be the side I need to work on the most.  When we were still at Croom, we rode the little practice oval counter-clockwise and sticking my left foot out in the corners was absolutely natural - I didn't think about it the first time or any time I did it.  Just threw it out there; don't get me wrong, I was surprised when I did it and even more surprised when I had a positive outcome by doing so, but it didn't require any thought.  For some reason, though, my right foot just doesn't want to leave the peg and when it does leave the peg, doesn't want to quite touch the ground or ends up getting dragged rather than what it's supposed to.  Hmm....question for the future - what IS my foot supposed to be doing?  Pushing?  Being a pivot point?

He spent a little time following me to see what I was doing correctly and not correctly.  He also had me hop on the pit bike with him so we could go around the yard together and he could show me where/when I needed to put my foot out, how it needed to be touching the ground, where the front wheel needed to be pointing, and when to start powering through the corner with the throttle.  (I soooo wish I had a picture of that!  Imagine a 6'4" beanpole squid* (my friend) with a 5'8" half-geared up newb (me) in front of him on a KLX 110 riding around the backyard!  I'm sure we made quite a sight, lol!)  So I kept practicing on the pit bike while he then hopped on my bike and followed me around until I got tired and started getting worse rather than better.

This is me on the KLX 110 and my friend on his track bike.
Now imagine BOTH of us on the KLX!

I'm glad I hopped back on the same day and did some practicing; it made me feel a little more confident.  I'm just as glad I quit each time when I did so that I didn't get so frustrated that I wouldn't want to do anymore - I'm pretty good about knowing my limits and when not to push them.  I'm still not planning on going back out, though, until January - I feel I need to get some physical conditioning started before I attempt another run in the dirt.  I've been told by many, and I certainly believe it, that more riding will lead to better cardio and physical conditioning, but I feel that I need a much more solid baseline than I currently have!   Can't wait to get back out there, but until then....

Next step - get fit! 

* See Side Notes - Part 4

Monday, December 17, 2012

Part 3 - My First Time

Yikes!  So, here it is, time to talk about My First Time!  Well, I'm ashamed to say - I didn't last very long, lol!  Now, I knew going in that it was going to be hard and that I was going to need to get into better shape.  I didn't know I was going to half have a heart attack after 10 minutes!  Here's how my day went:

My friend and I drove up to Croom Motorcycle Area at Withlacoochee State Park in Brooksville, FL on a Sunday morning after it had rained Saturday evening - so the sandy trails would be a little firmer.  We ended up getting a bit of a later start than expected, but still got out there before lunch time.  The day was beautiful - warm but not too hot - a bit overcast/foggy. 

Once we got geared up and bikes started up we headed out on a trail my friend remembered as being slightly less sandy, slightly firmer than other trails.  The first part of the trail went up; nothing too bad but seeing as I was new to this whole dirt slippy slidey stuff I sort of wiped out into an embankment.  Nothing too bad (wasn't going fast enough to do any damage to anything) and I didn't even notice really that I had fallen over other than the fact that I was no longer moving forward and was sort of at an angle in the sand, lol.  This is where I made my first mistake - I tried pulling the bike toward me off the embankment - and exerted too much energy.  Once it was pointed out that I needed to get on the embankment and push the bike - it stood up a lot easier.

So we kept going down into a little bowl and back out (no problems there - just watched what my friend did and did the same thing myself) onto the trail.  This is when we started hitting the "whoops" - little hills and dips in the trail.  I did OK on these but started getting tired quickly and ended up wiping out again (and this is where I burnt the hole in my pants - oops).  This time, though, once I got my bike upright again my heart was racing, I was breathing really hard, and felt like I was going to vomit - between wiping out twice and picking my bike up and probably no more than 10 minutes of riding I couldn't go any farther.  I seriously had to sit on a log for 30 minutes (and have my friend get me some water) before I was no longer light headed (and no longer felt like vomiting) and could ride back to the truck. 

Wow - talk about embarrassed!  I mean, I knew it would be hard - but I didn't realize that it would be THAT intense (and that I was THAT out of shape from sitting behind a desk for the past 4-5 years with little working out).  So, wanting to understand where I went wrong, my friend and I discussed what I did and didn't do. 

The first thing is that I exerted myself way too much trying to pick up my bike the first time, which led to getting tired a little quicker than I otherwise would have (not much, but a little).  So that's one thing to work on - picking my bike up more efficiently. 

While I was recouping before heading back to the truck, my friend asked if I was remembering to breathe, as that would have an effect on how quickly I tired - so I paid attention on the ride back and discovered that, sure enough, I was forgetting to breathe.  I don't have this problem on the street so I'm not quite sure why I'm not breathing normally while on the dirt bike.  So that's a big thing for me to work on.

Taking things in stages for now, I think, is going to be key.  After I spent more time recouping at the truck we spent a few minutes riding around in a circle in the parking lot just so I could get more comfortable on the bike, putting my foot down in corners (which is oddly instinctual for me - but more on that later), and throttling to make the corner.  So, after wiping out once I had been around several times, and not having the energy and strength to pick my bike back up again, I decided to call it a day.   I think for the time being I foresee a day trip being 10-15 minutes of riding followed by 30-60 minutes of rest and then another 10-15 riding, followed by rest, etc. 

Despite being super embarrassed about not being able to ride more than 10 or so minutes without feeling like I was going to die, I thought the day was a success.  The three times I wiped out I hardly even noticed; which, surprised me, honestly.  I figured it would be pretty noticeable and I would hurt right when I wiped out.  Instead, my soreness came later in the day, but it was a good kind of overall sore - like when you have a good workout, rather than like when you bark your shin on the edge of a coffee table or something. 

There's more to the day, but I'll save that for Part 4 - Now That THAT's Out of the Way.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Part 2 - The Bike

Finding the right bike at the right price wasn't too difficult of a process.  As I already have street bike experience, it was suggested to me that I would be fine getting something like a 250 4-stroke, which would be enough power to allow me to keep up with the guys but not so powerful that I couldn't handle it.  It was described to me as starting out on something like my street bike, which is a Kawasaki ZZR 600.  I was also steered away from anything like a 100 cc or 150 cc bike as it would likely be too short to be comfortable for me (I'm ~5'8" with a 33" inseam, so, longer legs than most guys my height).  I was also steered towards Honda, and was leaning that way anyway, as I've heard so many people talk about the reliability of Honda as a brand.  I'm sure other brands like Kawasaki and Suzuki would have been fine too, but I kept hearing Honda from other people over those two brands, so that is what I looked for.

So I hit Craigslist (see Side Notes - Part 2) and bookmarked like crazy; I was primarily looking for a used Honda CRF 250f.  However, a friend that is in a similar situation mentioned that she was possibly looking at Honda 230 trail bikes as they are a little more forgiving and also have an electric start, as opposed to the kick-start the 250f has.  She pointed out that it would be more difficult to kick start the bike as I would ride throughout the day from becoming more and more fatigued.  That was an extremely good point that I had not considered, so I added the Honda 230 to my Craigslist search.

I was noticing that most of the used bikes I was looking at were ranging from $1200 - $3500 with most of them hovering around $2000 - $2200; I was expecting to pay up to $2000-$2200 but hoped (of course) I could find a better deal than that.  My friend that is helping me through this process ended up calling about a 2005 Honda 230 we saw online that was still pretty much stock and hadn't been ridden much; a couple had bought it for their son who rode it a little bit and then lost interest and it ended up sitting in their garage (which seemed to be the story for quite a number of bikes on craigslist).  My friend went and looked at it, called me and said he thought it looked like a good deal, so that evening we went and bought it for $1400 and brought it home.  It happened to be Black Friday that day (and I don't "do" Black Friday) so I felt like I got my own version of a good Black Friday deal, lol.

So here it is - my new (to me) 2005 Honda 230 - bone stock and in pretty good condition.  It could use a new left rearset, left clutch, and the handlebars could stand to be a little straighter (I'm guessing someone took a pretty nasty spill or hit a tree on the left side), and parts are on order, but what is there now works just fine.  We also had to give the chain a serious cleaning and lubing, and the bike a bath.  I have also been told by my friend - in no uncertain terms - that I am responsible for the care and maintenance of this bike. I'll get more into my own personal Zen and the Art of Dirt Bike Maintenance in a later section. So far I'm just in learning mode - I watched the chain getting cleaned and lubed, watched the oil filter get cleaned and re-oiled, and watched how to clean the bike. 

The other two things my bike got in short order were a name, Kit Katt, and a Girl Riders sticker.  I'm actually surprised this bike got a name so quickly - I've never named any of my cars, my first street bike never had a name, it took 2 or so years before a name popped into my head for my current street bike (although, again, I wasn't planning on naming it).  Again, I wasn't planning on naming this bike - but there it was in my head that weekend, so Kit Katt it is.  Oh, and the GR sticker is just the first of what I expect to be many - I can't wait to sticker this thing up (I'm gonna have so much added hp  with all those stickers, lol!)  (see Side Notes - Part 2)

Next step - go for a ride!  

Friday, December 14, 2012

Part 1 - The Gear

This was the fun part - there seem to be so many more options and styles for dirt than there are for street!  I probably, OK - I did, go a little overboard with the gear.  I could have spent quite a bit less than I did, but I ended up buying the items I wanted and liked - and none of it was cost conscious I'll admit. 

I did a bit of online shopping and asking around first to see what brands were out there and which ones were "better" than others.  O'Neil, Fox, Alpinestars seem to be the prevalent and decent/better brands; although I'm sure there are others.  I then went to Cycle Gear to start trying on items for sizing and was planning on ordering what I wanted either from CG or online based on that.   I ended up being able to order everything from Cycle Gear and was able to get pretty much the same or better pricing than I would have on any of the items from online sources.

Here is what I ended up getting and what my thoughts are so far on them:

Alpinestars Tech 3 boots - A* makes great boots, the fit is true to size.  They do not have flexibility like street or track boots, so they're taking some getting used to.  Price was higher than brands like O'Neill.

Alpinestars Stella Bionic 2 jacket/armor - I could have gotten chest and other armor protection in separate pieces, but I've always liked the look of this and have been told that it's a little simpler and nicer to have armor held together by mesh like this.  I couldn't find this in any stores to try on, so I had to guess on size.  I ordered a medium and had a couple of the guys that ride dirt at the CG store take a look at the fit (on me) when it came in.  Their judgment was that it fit fine; however I wasn't entirely convinced.  After having ridden once now with it on, I'm still not convinced and plan on ordering one size up.  I think that it's riding too high overall and that even though it just fits around my arms and chest, because of my height I might need one size larger and then use the straps to cinch it in where needed.  So the jury is still out on this one.  I didn't price out separate armor but I"m going to guess since this is A* it's higher priced than other brands.

Troy Lee Designs pants and jersey - As soon as I saw the Voodoo design in purple and orange, I knew I had to have it!  The pants run true to size; I tried on O'Neil 9/10 pants and the TLD 9/10 pants fit just the same.  I like that the waist has velcro straps to cinch it in.  I had to get a size XL jersey (the largest size they had for women) in order to fit over the armor.  I'm a little disappointed that they don't design the jerseys to fit over armor so that you can order your regular shirt/jacket size.  I normally wear a size medium top and usually a size large street jacket (so the sleeves fit - I have long arms); so I'm wondering if women any larger than I am need to wear men's jerseys for the fit.  The cost of the jersey was comparable, maybe slightly higher, to other brands such as O'Neill and Fox.  The pants were quite a bit more.

Troy Lee Designs gloves - Voodoo to match the pants and jersey :)  Tried on some O'Neill and Fox gloves in the store and found size 10 O'Neill fit perfectly.  The TLD 10 is a slight bit smaller but still wearable.  I did end up getting the O'Neill ones too though (just in case).  It's still a little weird to me that there isn't any real protection to the gloves; guess they're just to protect your hands from scratches and maybe to help soak up sweat?

Troy Lee Designs helmet - I sooo wanted the purple and orange PistonBone design - it was fabulously obnoxious (sparkly purple and bright orange!) but it was last year's model and no one had my size anymore.  So I went with this year's PistonBone in sparkly black/charcoal and bright orange - it's fabulous!  Small seems to be my size in any helmet, so I was pretty confident ordering a small - and it fits (and looks) great!  The helmet was honestly more than I wanted to pay for a dirt bike helmet - but since I could afford it, and it's just so fabulously obnoxious, I couldn't pass it up!

Oakley goggles - I decided to go with sand goggles since the trails at Croom are mostly sugar sand and I'll be wearing contacts when I ride.  They came with clear and smoke lenses along with some tear offs.  The one thing I've noticed so far is that they fogged up when I was stopped for a few minutes breathing hard.  Not sure if any goggles would have done that or if it's because they're sand goggles.

Other Thoughts - So the funniest part about most of my gear is the color - mostly white.  I find it quite funny that I hardly ever wear white on a general basis, but yet I buy white boots and outwear to specifically play in the dirt, lol! 

Something I think I'll have to report on later is the durability of the gear I got.  After one wear I already have a hole in my pants - but then again, if I hadn't pressed my knee up against the exhaust while picking my bike up after wiping out I probably wouldn't have burnt a hole in the pants (ooops!)  So, next thing I need to do is order one size larger A* armor and see how that goes!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The History and Why I'm Writing This

Adventures in Dirt Biking
(or, The 40 Year Old Dirt Bike Virgin)

Yes, I am 40; and, yes, I am a dirt bike "virgin."  This is an ongoing chronicle of my adventures in dirt biking as I am anticipating that this new pursuit will do one of two things:  kill me, or make me stronger.  I'm hoping for the latter!

The History and Why I'm Writing This:  I've been riding street for about 5 years now; started out completely from scratch - I didn't even have previous manual transmission car experience let alone two-wheel experience.  A few years in I tried the track and had a great experience until I made a stupid mistake and grabbed a handful of front brake in the grass (I should have known even as a street rider that this wasn't good to do, but I do feel I might not have done it if I had prior off-road experience).  I had heard a number of friends and acquaintances mention that they had started on dirt bikes before moving to street bikes and have felt more comfortable as a result.  Plus, being outdoors and being active appeals to me.  With all of these considerations in mind, I decided I'd like to try dirt biking, specifically trail riding.  Skip forward a couple years to now and I'm finally putting this into action!

I'm at a point in my life that if I don't do it now, I might not do it.  Plus I have the time to do this and the funds to make it happen.  The one thing I'm concerned about is the physical toll.  I've never been one to work-out or go to a gym; I've always relied on natural movements and activities to keep me active.  It's amazing how many of those disappear once you start working from home; so over the past few years I've lost a significant amount of energy and stamina.  So, as with many others that post on facebook or write a blog to keep them on track with diet or exercise efforts, I've decided to take a similar tack to keep me on track when I'm feeling frustrated.

So that, in a nutshell, is how this thread has come to be.  I hope you'll enjoy reading about my start, my frustrations, my victories, and my adventures.  Feel free to ask questions, add comments, advice, and stories of your own.  This is an ongoing story and I hope it will be an ongoing dialogue with you too!