A Generation Returns To Dirt Bikes
I am chasing Barry down another rarely-travelled unpaved road out in east central Georgia, barely able to make out his silhouette ahead of me from the cloud of red clay and gravel dust he and others ahead of him are kicking up. I’m alternating between sitting and standing, bouncing and sliding along about 45 mph, hard on the little 300’s throttle, trying to keep them at least vaguely in sight. I am telling myself, audibly at times, “Relax, breathe, keep a loose grip on the grips, let the bike float and move beneath you. You’re doing fine.”
It got real dusty, real quick.
I was riding in the 5th annual Scull Shoals ADV/Dual Sport Ride, put on by Georgia Dual Sport Riders and sponsored by Cycle World of Athens, who had invited me along for the event. Hosted at Georgia Off-Road Adventures, formerly known as Durhamtown, the ride left the expansive off-road playground in Union Point, Georgia and lit out down 150 miles of hard pack, gravel, dual track and forestry roads in this largely deserted, wooded region of the state.
And I, a street rider, was doing my best to give chase in the dirt.
How did I get talked into this? What the heck was I doing out here, decades removed from my youth years of small dirt bikes and fat-tire minibikes, bouncing through the woods behind our home in Fayetteville or my cousin Tommy’s place a couple of towns over? I’ve not ridden off-road motorcycles, not ridden deep into the rurals across unpaved paths in way too many years, and I was in no shape for this.
Yet here I was, enjoying every minute and mile.
Somewhere way off the Georgia beaten paths.
Of all the segments in motorcycling today (sport bikes, naked sports, cruisers, tourers, baggers, motards, motocross, etc.), one of the fastest-growing has been adventure bikes and dual sports. According to Motorcycle Industry Council studies, the “dual-purpose motorcycle” segment saw a whopping 46.2 percent increase from 2019 to 2020, and another 18.6 percent over that for 2021. Dedicated off-road motorbikes witnessed a jump of 42.9 percent between the same period, 2019-2021, which of course included small displacement bikes for children and adolescents not of legal road-riding age. The ADV/DS segment has been rapidly growing over the past decade or two, but has certainly accelerated over these recent pandemic years.
According to Barry, my friend at Cycle World Athens whom I was attempting to keep up with on the ride, the vast majority of adventure and dual sport motorcycles they sell go to men (and a growing number of women) ages 45-65. “Why do you think that is?” I asked him Friday night of the rally. “So many of us grew up on dirt bikes as kids,” he surmised, “that we want to go try our hand at that again, while we still have the knees, neck and back for it!” Mark, also with CWA, concurred. “I’ve always loved off-road riding more than street. Being out in nature, away from civilization, I’m just more at peace out here, especially the older I get.”
At “base camp” with my little CRF300L center, Barry’s CRF450L to the left, and Mark’s Teneré 700 right. We ride at dawn.
Out on the Scull Shoals ride, which is held not only to enjoy rural dirt roads as a group but to raise funds for the local Scull Shoals Historic Site, I eventually fell in with a small contingent of riders following a gal named Angie, who wore a neon yellow shirt beneath her chest/back protector, had a GPS rather than the paper scroller the ride handed out, and was keeping a more relaxed pace that I felt quite comfortable with. Honda Motorsports USA had loaned me a 2022 CRF300L for a month with the express purpose of practicing up and doing this ride, and the little single thumper was serving me well.
Despite my best efforts though, I had an “off” mid-morning when the entourage encountered a deep erosion gulley that cut completely across the current forestry road we were traversing. Each rider tried their best to gently negotiate it without dropping over, but a few did anyway, myself included. I hit the crevasse at an unfortunate angle and suddenly I was down on my left side, bike on top of my left leg. Unhurt, I pulled out, popped up, and had the bike upright by the time Barry and others had their bikes stopped to come to my aid. Fortunately nothing bent, broken nor missing, man and machine. We both now bear some scuffs, on its plastic and my gear, to show for the mishap however. Barry quipped, “We’re all gonna dump it once in awhile, but hey, that’s what dirt bikes are for, right?” Undeterred, I hopped back on to continue the dusty romp.
At the Scull Shoals Historic Site, already covered in a nice film of Georgia red clay and granite gravel dust.
At one of our stops, the actual Scull Shoals Historic Site, I chatted up Tony, another guy about my age who was following Angie with her GPS and pace. I asked him why he was “playing in the dirt again” in his late 50s. Tony replied, “I actually grew up in this neck of the woods in Georgia, when even more of these roads were dirt. We all had dirt bikes back then, to get around on the property and just to take off into the woods after homework and chores. I’ve always loved the solitude, the wildlife, the forests. I rode Harleys for years, but now I just want to recapture some of that enjoyment of my childhood I guess, while I’m still physically able to.” I think Tony’s response sums up what many of us Baby Boomers and Generation Xers are feeling about dirt riding, and why we are largely fueling the dual sport and ADV growth.
We are returning to the dirt, “from whence we came.”
Adventure and most larger dual sport bikes are true “go everywhere, do everything” motorcycles with taller riding suspensions, larger fuel tanks, and semi-knobby tires as well as all kinds of accessory kit available for long days or weeks out on the road. These bikes are both road-worthy and dirt-ready at the same time. They also offer more upright, comfortable riding positions for long-hauling, without sacrificing both on-road and off-road capabilities. These motorbikes are the true “Swiss Army knives” in the motorcycling world.
A small, slippery stream crossing which I negotiated without incident, fortunately.
I took my leave from the final portion of the Scull Shoals ride, when they rode to an old granite quarry. I’d been told the pass through the site held running water over slick, smooth granite, so I decided to forgo that part of the ride, given my off-road inexperience. Good thing I did- I learned later that numerous riders slid out in that section, Barry included, which I’d have most certainly done as well. I had opted to retrace a few of the dirt and paved roads I had particularly enjoyed earlier while rolling back to the campsite at GOA, and shot some additional video footage along the way. The perfect ending to an exhausting, dusty, but thrilling day of riding.
I’d like to thank Colin with Honda Motorsports USA for the capable little CRF300L dual sport motorbike, huge thanks to Barry and Mark of Cycle World Athens for bringing me along, and kudos to Glenn and Steve of Georgia Dual Sport Riders for accommodating this dirt newbie over the weekend.
*Rider gear: Sedici Marco Mesh jacket & pants; Bilt Amped Evo helmet; Sedici Vertice H2O boots; Goggs Eyewear goggles; Bilt Spirit 2 gloves.
*Action photos by Becky Pearman Photography
For some of our ride footage, click here without ever leaving this page:
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Great video. I sure miss my V- Strom
That was a great ADV, for sure. Could eat the miles on pavement, then slide around in the dirt just as well.
Great write up,
Next time you will have to traverse the granite “creek” 🙂
After learning that even Barry B slid out on the granite, I think it was wise of me to forgo that segment. Maybe next time… maybe.
Thanks for a fun article. Last fall I bought my first dirt bike in 45 years and have been having a blast riding with an old riding buddy. We tip over in slow-speed gullies and splash through mud puddle like little kids.
I’m still primarily a street rider, but the more I dirt ride, and get reasonably proficient, I’ll do it more, for sure.
As always, great to hear from you, Marco!