From the Pavement to the Dirt: Beginner’s Guide to Off-Road Riding

March 31st, 2022 by Adam Luehrs

Committed road warriors often reach a point where they wonder if there is anything else, any other challenges that will scratch their itch for traveling adventures. There is, a lot. If the grass is always greener in the other yard, the dirt is always browner, well, where there is dirt. In fact, untamed land invites audacious drivers to conquer its sometimes menacing terrain. Still, jumping to the next level is best and most safely done with some degree of knowledge. Attacking off-road courses is successful when the inexperienced challenger knows how to navigate dangers and take care of the vehicle.



Pick Your Terrain

Needless to say, the earth is not a uniform, smooth and even surface. Otherwise, we would not need roads. Off-road drivers encounter three broad categories of terrain, each of which demands a different approach.


  • Dirt is probably the easiest topography to navigate. making it the ideal starting point for freshman off-roaders. Learning how to dodge obstacles and negotiate turns on dirt surfaces gives confidence for more rugged landscapes.
  • Mud puts fear in the hearts of even the most experienced drivers because its consistency changes over the course of the ride, and even from yard to yard. Key to driving in mud is to identify the driest and shallowest parts of the track — and sticking to them.
  • Rock crawling needs excellent traction so drivers will often release nearly half the air from each tire to traverse this tough ground. Some well-seasoned drivers walk the course before driving in order to discern the smoothest terrain ahead of the drive.


Choose Your Vehicle

The type of off-road vehicle follows to some degree from the quality and grade of the terrain, without a doubt. Nevertheless, other factors will affect the selection of transport. The variety of off-highway conveyances include dirt bikes, side-by-sides, all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) and four-wheel drives (4X4s) like jeeps and certain trucks. Dirt bikes have the every-man-for-himself appeal while side-by-sides afford the driver a companion to share the thrills and the danger. Larger 4X4s can handle challenging landscapes on the way to a campsite or hunting stand. Clearly, the choice is personal, but every vehicle should meet specific criteria:


  • 4X4s should offer a strong element of traction control. The vehicle should be able to easily transfer angular momentum, or torque, from the wheels to the ground.
  • Dirt bikes should feature tall suspensions, IE. structures that insulate the rider and chassis from the ruggedness of the surface, knobby tires for optimal traction and a tight radius when turning.
  • Side-by-sides likewise call for robust suspension and tires suited for strong traction. Also desirable is a high-performance engine and lots of cargo space.



Choose Your Protection

Even if the temperature is blistering hot, drivers and riders must protect themselves from flying debris. Long sleeves are essential for off-roading, and it is not too extreme to invest in a riding jacket or protective vest. While many riders opt for jeans, dedicated trail-riding pants cushion against inevitable jostling.

Posted in How To's, Tips