Just because you are riding a cruiser doesn’t mean you have to find a detour when the road turns to gravel or you hit some rough roadworks.
We can understand those riders who choose to avoid such situations because they don’t want to get their chrome dirty or their paintwork pitted by stone chips.
However, there is no need to take the long way round just because you are scared of dropping or crashing your cruiser in gravel.
There is a special way to ride a cruiser on gravel roads and through roadworks but it basically comes down to slow and steady. Don’t be a hero!
Check out this video where a female successfully rides a Harley down a gravel road while a male on a BMW R 1200 GS embarrassingly drops his bike!
In fact, there are even some advantages in riding a cruiser on a dirt road:
- The big flywheel keeps the bike stable at a slow pace;
- The low centre of gravity;
- Wide handlebars to control the front wheel which may be pushed around by stones or a soft surface;
- Some cruisers have a big and slim front wheel which cuts through gravel and soft stuff without flicking around;
- The effectiveness of the rear brake; and
- The low seat height that allows you to reassuringly put a foot on the ground.
All these will allow you to ride dirt roads and roadworks if you take a slow and steady pace.
Although, competent riders can take cruisers at a more brisk pace.
Check out this video of US Army dispatch riders training on Harley WLAs.
We’re not saying cruisers are off-road bikes.
There are several disadvantages of a cruiser on dirt:
- The excessive weight may get you bogged in loose stuff;
- If you lose your balance, they come down quickly;
- They are more difficult to pick up if dropped; and
- They don’t have knobby tyres to dig into the surface.
So how do you overcome these issues?
The first rule of riding in dirt is to stand up. That allows the bike flop around without alarming you and your weight adding to the movement.
It also gives you a better look ahead for obstacles.
However, it is difficult to stand on a cruiser, so we suggest just remaining seated.
And don’t bother dropping the tyre pressures unless you are riding in sand. You won’t puncture a tyre if you are going slow.
Gravel busting tips
So here are 10 things you can do to ride your cruiser on dirt:
- Breathe. You will get through this, but first you have to breathe deeply, relax your shoulders and handlebar grip, and don’t get too stressed. The more relaxed you are, the less likely you will overreact to any bike movements. It’s important to let the bike squirrel around a little bit.
- Leave a gap. If you are in a conga line of traffic, don’t tailgate. Leave a fair gap to the motorist in front and if you are being followed closely by a vehicle, turn around and ask them to back off while you get through or they could run over you if you do drop the bike.
- Be smooth. Accelerate, change gears, brake and steer smoothly. Sharp inputs can have drastic effects.
- Don’t paddle. Keep your feet on the footpegs. This gives you more control. Paddling with your feet will only slow you down and may not prevent you from falling, anyhow. However, a low cruiser will still allow you to have the odd dab at the ground for added stability.
- Look ahead. Don’t look down or that’s where you will end up. Keep an eye ahead so your bike goes where you are looking. It also helps you identify any obstacles such as ruts, mud or deep gravel.
- Accelerate. Ride into the roadworks very slowly so you can gradually increase your speed without having to touch your brakes. By applying a bit of throttle through the roadworks, you control the bike though the back wheel and keep pressure off the front, preventing it from tucking under. If the road ahead is sand, you may be in a bit of trouble as that requires a light front end and acceleration. But it can be done with some practice and bravery pills!
- Don’t brake. Only if absolutely necessary, should you apply the brake. And then, it should be smooth and mainly rear brake. If you have ABS, that’s actually an advantage in dirt when you are sporting road tyres!
- Turn slowly. If the roadworks goes around a corner, you will have to turn, but try to make a big arc through the corner by staying in the outside wheel track.
- Pick a wheel track. Even if you go around a corner and need to arc out the angle a bit, try not to get out of the wheel tracks as these are drier and firmer.
- Don’t stop. Most riders drop a cruiser when they stop in tricky situations. Try to keep the bike moving, even if very slowly. Rely on that big flywheel and maybe slip a little clutch to monitor your speed.
(Thanks to my mate Peter Davis who rode his Honda cruiser up and down this steep gravel hill for the video.)