Desert is an acquired taste. Just like coffee, beer and monkey brain stew, you aren?t born with the innate craving for desert riding. You develop it after little exposures here and there. At first, the sand seems bottomless, the rocks seem dangerous and the cactus?good grief, the cactus. Then it all comes together. Pretty soon a rim without a few good dents just doesn?t look right. And if you aren?t pulling a spine or two out of your hands, you don?t feel like it was a real ride. Just ask Steve Hatch. He grew up in upstate New York, was raised on ISDE qualifiers and national enduros and then migrated west. After a stint in northern California, he moved to the desert north of Phoenix, Arizona. Now he?s a full-on desert guy. His tutor in the ways of sand and rocks was Arizona hero Destry Abbott. Almost every day, the two of them plunge into the cactus and come out a little battered and dusty, but better riders. We asked Destry to share some of the tips that turned Steve Hatch into a full-on desert guy. Here?s what he said.
SAND ? Stay centered on the bike. If you?re too far forward, the front end will knife. Too far to the rear and you?ll never be able to turn. A good sand rider doesn?t use very much energy simply because he doesn?t move around on the bike that much. ? Go light on the rear brake. You don?t have to brake that hard because the sand will do it for you. As soon as you roll off the throttle, the bike will lose speed on its own. ? Steer with the rear wheel. If you wait until you?re in the turn to open the throttle, it?s too late. You actually have to start gassing it before the turn. Just grab a handful and drift the rear end around. Sand is super forgiving of too much gas. If you were that aggressive with the throttle on hardpack or in mud, you would be asking for trouble. ? Don?t worry about the ruts. Riders see sand ruts from other bikes and try to follow them exactly. It can?t be done, so don?t try. Those ruts aren?t that substantial?just plow through them and make your own. ? More throttle cures almost anything. Sand only gets nasty and unforgiving when you aren?t being aggressive.
ROCKS ? Rocks and sand are the toughest combination because they require two opposite techniques. You need to be aggressive in sand. You need to be smooth and conservative in rocks. ? Aim for the big rocks. If you try to steer around all the rocks, you?ll have a terrible time. Instead, try to go as straight as possible. The small rocks will just sink into the sand. The big rocks you can ride over. It?s those medium size rocks that can be trouble. ? Flat rocks are better than round rocks. The worst thing about rocks is that they move and can cause your front end to wash out suddenly. Aim for the flat-looking rocks?they are more likely to stay put. ? Beware of buried rocks. This is something that time and experience will teach you. Sand has a certain look when it?s covering up something hard?irregular and less fluid. You can hit buried rocks as long as you?re braced and ready. Don?t let them catch you by surprise. ? Rock fields are easier to deal with than sand and rocks?stand up, don?t try to accelerate hard, don?t try to brake hard and don?t try to steer around every rock. Maintain steady speed in a tall gear. ? Keep your toes up. There?s nothing worse than smashing your foot between a rock and the footpeg. You don?t need to use the rear brake or the shifter that often if you?re doing things right, so ride with both toes on the pegs.
CACTUS ? Cactus is a great teacher. You?ll learn to treat it with respect without anyone telling you. ? In the east, you learn to brush foliage out of your way with the bars and with your shoulders. That?s why new desert riders think that cactus spines jump out and grab you. ? Learn to hide behind your handguards. Forget all that elbows-out, attack-position stuff. That?ll just make you bleed. ? If you must hit a cactus, then hit it good?dead center with the bike taking all the spines. A glancing brush with a cholla is the worst kind of encounter because your shoulders and legs take all the spines. ? Some riders carry a hair comb in their tool pack. If a big, spiny ball gets stuck on your arm, you can get it off without touching it. Tweezers are another good idea. ? Set up your bike with slime in the tires (if not foam inserts) and big handguards. ? Just say no. If you sacrifice a millisecond or two by giving cactus more room, then so what?
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