Cruisers on dirt and gravel [Archive] - Motorcycle Forum

: Cruisers on dirt and gravel

03-21-2007, 12:01 AM
What's the deal with cruiser bikes being no good on gravel or dirt roads? (And by cruisers, I mean the retro-style cruisers, not the chopper-style cruisers.) I can understand that when the conditions are wet, those fat baloneys for tires aren't going to give you the best traction, but how about when the roads are dry?

I live on a gravel road about 1.5 miles from the nearest paved road. For the last year, all I've read is that cruisers are terrible on gravel compared to the V-Stroms and any other dual-sport bike. Why is that the conventional wisdom?

Does it have something to do with tire width? Most cruisers tend to have 15 to 16" rims with 130 to 180 or more mm widths. The V-stroms have 110 by 19" fronts and 150 by 17" rears. The dual-sports have even narrower tires. My uncle used to have Saab cars; back in the 70's, all Saabs were outfitted with 16" rims and narrow tires, at least 3" greater in diameter than other compact cars in those days. My uncle said it was his opinion that narrow, wide-diameter tires were better for low-traction situations such as gravel, snow, sand and ice.

Does the generally forward riding position of cruisers affect the control of the bike in low-traction situations? I think that the dirt-bike riding position might allow you to use your legs better in controlling the bike.

But yet, in my "100 Years of Harley-Davidson" book that I got for Christmas, there are several pictures of the desert dawgs in the 40's and 50's racing their Harley flatheads in the desert. Those bikes don't look much different from today's Fat Boys, Vulcans or other cruisers.

So, what's the opinions out there? Are there any motorcycle physicists out there that can explain the physics of riding cruisers on gravel and dirt?

03-21-2007, 12:27 AM
Your really comparing apples and oranges. Although i can't compare them to a V-Strom (i've never riden one). I can compare them to other enduroes and dual sports I've ridden. The shock travel is totally different (a cruiser has less). A cruiser has less ground clearance. Makes a big difference for off road, but dirt roads and gravel aren't that much of a problem if you have the proper skill level. I've ridden my Rebel along side railroad tracks at a good clip. My S50 has seen it's share of dirt roads. They just aren't set up for really rough terrain. They are called the cruiser class for a reason. Kick back and ride the asphalt. Doesn't mean they can't do those other things they just aren't in their natural environment.

03-21-2007, 12:34 AM
But you may be on to something with the skinny tires and foot position. I have about 50,000 miles on different motorcycles.
I have a M50 right now and I really don't feel safe on gravel riding this bike.
I used to have a Honda 400 Hawk TII twin standard bike back in 1978 it was OK on gravel. I rode many of them. On the M50 my feet are way out front and on the Hawk they were straight down from my hip. So I think you amy be right on both of those counts. I don't have any experience on dual sports or dirt bikes.

03-21-2007, 12:50 AM
I don't make a habit of it, but I actually found the m50 pretty stable on gravel, as long as it's not too loose. I take special care to be gentle on the the throttle and try and use the rear brake a little more than I would on pavement...but all in all, it isn't that bad

03-21-2007, 07:12 AM
Tires, steering geometry, weight, ground clearance... all detrimental. Mostly, though, I'm with Geoff in thinking that you just have to practice a little. Folks nowdays are positively spoiled with roads and just don't venture off the hardtop often enough.

03-21-2007, 08:06 AM
Cruisers handle just fine on dirt and gravel roads. People are just scared of gravel and dirt because they have no experience with it. I ride my Intruder 800, Harley Electra Glide, and shovelhead FLH on gravel roads, dirt tracks, and even grassy fields all the time, and they do just fine. It fun! Hell, for the first 5 years I rode it was nearly 3 miles from our house to the paved road, so I was struggling not to laugh when the instructor at the MSF course years later warned us of the 'dangers' of gravel and dirt.
Granted, a dual-sport will pick its way through loose dirt better, give you a better ride over rough surfaces, and clear more obsticles thanks to its higher ground clearance, but the low center of gravity of a cruiser does just fine off the pavement once you get used to it.

03-21-2007, 08:11 AM
Well, I'll find out this weekend. I got a ride I'm committed to doing with some new folks....and all the roads are coated in sand still.

I'm praying for rain at the moment.

03-21-2007, 08:24 AM
I rode my big V-Strom on a lot of gravel/dirt roads & hated every minute of it. I did not choose to ride on them, but sometimes it was unavoidable in rural areas.

Hardpacked dirt was fine but soft dirt or loose gravel was a nightmare to me. Definitely white knuckle time.

I just couldn't relax & my shoulders,arms & hands were tense.

The fact that the big Strom was just too high for me didn't help.

I haven't tried my M50 on any yet. I probably wont be as intimidated as I was on the Strom as I'm sitting lower. The fact that my legs will be forward rather than downward is something I will have to experience.

I wont go offroad but if the road surface becomes gravel/dirt for a mile or so I will try not to freak out.

BTW: the Strom's suspension was great, with lots of travel both front & rear. The M50 doesn't have much rear travel.

03-21-2007, 12:50 PM
Unless you want to switch to a tire that's a bit more suitable for dirt roads, just give it some more practice. At one point, I was way too apprehensive to ride my sport bike on a dirt road, but it's really not all that bad. Once you become used to it, it'll actually help hone your instinct for what to do when you have limited traction. And as we all know, any motorcycle instinct is highly beneficial because it cuts out reaction time.

03-21-2007, 01:52 PM
68yr olds like me prefer the smooth asphalt, but there's not too much of that in Quebec!

03-21-2007, 05:42 PM
Tires, steering geometry, weight, ground clearance... all detrimental. Mostly, though, I'm with Geoff in thinking that you just have to practice a little. Folks nowdays are positively spoiled with roads and just don't venture off the hardtop often enough.
Mark it on your calendar :bluethum:

03-21-2007, 09:20 PM
I took my Shadow down a road that was paved...and then faded into potholes... and then into a completely bad news, washed-out rock road. I didn't have the heart to turn arround, until my girlfriend leaned over and said "If we see a dead body, we're getting the frack out of here." Yeah, it went from a nice road to Deliverance in a hurry.

That short story aside, you can take anything on a dirt/rock road, but I wouldn't do it alot. You have to go slow, keep balanced, and look for anything that might shake the bejeesus out of the ride, and lead to kickout. If any of you watched Alton Browns' "Feasting on Asphalt" you'll know what a good example of what not to ride on is. You know, the part where he rode down a deep stone/gravel road and the front tire just burried and...well, you know the rest. Packed dirt and light gravel are ok for riding, at least comfortably.

My $.02.

03-21-2007, 09:54 PM
Like many have said, any bike will get you down a dirt/gravel road, how fast you go, depends on your skill. Remember the throttle is your friend.

The thing that's most important in making a motorcycle dirt worthy, is tires.

Ever hear of a little race called Paris to Dakar. 600 pound BMW's, with 1200cc motors running 100+ mph in sand that is so fine, and loose that it comes over the top of your shoes when you walk in it.

I've owned a lot of full-on dirt bikes, and it's amazing how much difference a new set of knobies makes in the soft stuff.

03-21-2007, 10:04 PM
I have a little experience here. My brother is in the process of building his house up on his land in the mountains of NC here. It's 4.2 miles exactly from the blacktop to his property all on a gravel road with mostly small rock. I've ridden my M up there and also we've switched off and I've ridden his Kaw KLR650. The M feels very squirrely in the curves and I tend to go REAL slow. As long as you don't touch the front brakes however, you're fine. And yes, the forward foot position doesn't feel 'secure' when riding in this environment. Riding his KLR (excellent dual purpose) is totally a different story. You're up taller but because of the upright seating position you feel more confident in throwing a foot down at slow speeds. The bike is meant for this stuff and you can just zoom right up (it's all uphill, although low grade) without constantly watching your speed (done 35mph+ w/no problem) and zero "squirreliness". Of course the tires on the KLR which are knobby have a lot to do with it, and the overall geometry of this bike make it ideal for this kind of stuff. The M can do it, you just really have to take it easy and stay off the front brake.

Uncle B
03-21-2007, 10:05 PM
I ride .6 mile of dirt/pasture rode every time I ride my {C50T} bike.

03-21-2007, 10:18 PM
Thanks for all of the replies - lots of good discussion and this is what forums are for!

I was thinking the lower center of gravity should help contribute to stablity in low-traction situations. After all, how many flat-track races were won by Harley XR 750's? But I agree, experience should be the best teacher.

I know when I first got my GS550, I tended to not go over 25 due the squirrely feeling and high C of G.

03-21-2007, 11:10 PM
riding on gravel and dirt is as tricky as driving [a car] on snow and ice - on snow, you want skinny [car] tires to dig in and grip and not float like snowshoes, but on ice you need wide [car] tires for max surface area. probably similar for bikes - fat wide tires are best for asphalt / concrete, but skinny digging tires are best for dirt / gravel so that you can get between the pebbles and grab the firmer surface underneath.

if you had skinny tires on a cruiser, then you could ride on gravel without the back end rolling sideways on the marbles (stones).

03-22-2007, 05:32 AM
For me, it's the inability to stand up on the pegs, since your feet are on floor boards out in front of you. Riding gravel, sand or dirt means you'll need longer and softer suspension, specifically, your legs. On a standard or dual purpose, you can both stand and/or pull yourself up over the tank into the "attack" position. This gives you the option of loading weight over the front or back tire as you're riding, giving you more physical control as the bike gets loose on the soft surface. On a cruiser, you're pretty much stuck sitting there and are at the mercy of the dirt gods.

03-22-2007, 10:06 AM
I believe it was just last fall, when travelling with about 30 other riders, that I took my VS800 off the pavement, travelled about 40 yards through the grassy slope of a nicely landscaped ditch, dodged an orange traffic cone or two, circumvented a brick wall, and hopped back up on the road.

I think it handled great 'off road' style. :mrgreen:

03-22-2007, 10:10 AM
A couple of years back (2005) I had a Triumph Rocket 111. That monster has a 240 rear tire, and a 180 in the front. Now, that's fat meat for a motorcycle in anybody's book. Also, in case you don't know it, it has a traditional, feet forward riding position.

My riding partner had a V Strom, and couldn't stay with me when leaving a stop, so he wanted to show me that he could find a road where his Strom was faster than my Rocket. I knew he was planing on taking me to a dirt road, but I also knew that I'm a better dirt rider than him, so I wasn't concerned. The road was your typical back country dirt road, a lot of open fields so you could see around the turns, and none of the turns were tight, they were all fast sweepers.

The road surface was pee gravel on top of hard pack. We rode up, and down a 3 mile stretch about 6 times, he didn't want to quit, until he proved his point. On the last run he was riding way over his head, getting way out of shape, and I decided to just let him go, and declared him a winner at the end. It was clear that he was just going to keep on pushing it, and I didn't want him hurting himself over some silly crap like this.

The outcome was just what I expected, his more dirt worthy tires would get him the hole shot every time, but once we were moving, I could catch right up with him. I never did try and pass him, it just wasn't worth taking that kind of risk, but I could drop back a bit, and than reel him back in when ever I wanted to.

You guys that haven't spent any time learning to ride a dirt bike, are missing out on a skill that can come in very handy from time to time on the street.

Skill, confidence, and tires are what will get you down a dirt road on a motorcycle.

03-27-2007, 12:28 PM
we had an impromtu flat track race around a camp fire and a giant bush (an oval of about 1/8 mile). The surface was 1/3 fresh cut grass, 1/3 cut hay and 1/3 hard pack dirt. The best handlers were a Kawasaki Vulcan 800 w/the 21" front wheel, and an ironhead sportster. The worst was a Guzzi California and a newer VFR Honda interceptor. We swapped bikes and kept gouging for about an hour. When it was all over everyones lap times were very close no matter what they were riding. The fast guys were fast and the slow guys were slow. Practice your riding! It's the least expensive mod you can make to the bike.