If you travel on a motorcycle, at some point you are going to encounter gravel. Therefore, it's best if you know how to handle it. We ran into a good amount of road construction and gravel in Alaska earlier this year (read Alaska: A Bucket List Destination in Inside Motorcycles Vol. 17, Issue 05) and the repairs on Going-To-The-Sun Road in Montana (Pass Time South of the 49, Vol. 17 Issue 03) were a bit tricky to navigate on touring bikes after a rain.
There are three simple rules for riding on gravel. If you can master these, you should be fine.
Look far ahead. Keep your gaze up and look ahead; this makes it easier to keep the motorcycle balanced and going in the direction you want. If you look too close to the front of the bike, you will not be able to control the machine easily.
Relax. This can’t be stressed enough. Relax and let the bike move around underneath you. A moving motorcycle is inherently stable and it will stay upright if you don’t fight it. White knuckling the bars with stiff arms is a great way to ruin a nice ride.
Stay away from your front brake. Another quick way to take a spill is to use your front brake. That just drops the front end and puts too much force where you don’t want it, so the rear brake is your friend on gravel.
Follow the pilot vehicle. On some long stretches of road work, there will often be a pilot vehicle to guide the lines of traffic back and forth. Follow where it goes so you don’t get into trouble on a construction site.
Wave to the flag girls. Yes, with a nod to Douglas Adams, a trilogy of simple rules in five parts.
On an off day in Yellowknife, my buddies and I had the chance to ride out to where the ice road begins, the one featured in the first season of a reality TV show. Sounded kind of cool but one of the guys was leery of the excursion because it meant 40 clicks of gravel in each direction. With a little coaching using the simple rules above he was able to complete the excursion and afterwards, with a note of pride in his voice, said that was more gravel than he had ridden in his life. He won’t win any dirt bike competitions, but he isn’t afraid of gravel any longer.
Another situation that is a lot like riding on gravel is a metal surface bridge. The same rules apply. Look far ahead, relax and let the bike move around under you, and use your rear-brake.
With a little practice you will get comfortable and when you head off on a big trip such as Alaska or Montana you will be able to relax and enjoy your tour rather than worrying about the inevitable.
Ride responsibly and enjoy your travels.
-- R. Bruce Thomas