7 Useful Tips for Riding a Motorcycle on Gravel Roads

Motorcycle riding on a gravel road

If you ride dirt bikes, driving on gravel roads is fun.

But, like me, if you have rarely driven on off-pavement roads, gravel roads can be tricky.

So, here are 7 useful tips for riding your motorcycle on gravel roads:

  1. Relax your handlebar grip
  2. Don’t ride in the middle of the road
  3. Avoid front brakes as much as possible
  4. Ride in straight lines
  5. Counter-lean while cornering
  6. Keep your eyes up and forward
  7. Don’t go overboard with speed

Let’s dig deeper into each of these tips and look into how they help gravel road riding.

#1. Relax your handlebar grip

A rider gripping the motorcycle handlebar on road

For someone who rarely rides off-pavement, my instinct had always been to hold the motorcycle tight whenever I hit gravel roads.

It took me some time to understand, a tight grip is bad on these roads.

The tightening grip also has to do a lot with me tensing up.

The motorcycle squirms, slides, and wiggles a lot on gravel and dirt roads.

As a result, one can easily tense up. I did.

The tension makes you go rigid. The shoulders become stiff. And you start holding the handlebar tight. As if your life depended on it.

So, the first tip for riding on gravel roads is:

Loosen up and relax your grip on the handlebar.

Take a deep breath if you are too tense.

The motorcycle squirming and sliding is normal on these roads. You will get used to it.

For that, loosen your tight hold on the motorcycle handlebar first.

#2. Don’t ride in the middle of the road

Motorcycle on a gravel road with clear blue skies

Gravel roads do not have painted lines to distinguish lanes.

And what do the vehicles do?

They commonly take their half of the road. And ride in the middle.

But most gravel roads also come with lots of turns and corners.

It’s a topsy-turvy ride.

If you are riding in the middle of the road, you might face a car turning the corner abruptly.

Or you might think you are in the middle but you might be slowly switching to the other half.

In any case, it is not safe to ride in the middle.

Especially for motorcycles.

So, stay to the right on these gravel roads.

(Or left depending on which side you drive in your country).

Here is a map showing which side of the road to drive in different countries of the world:

Countries drive by left and right side of teh road - infographic
Source: Statista, WorldStandards


Do not ride in the middle on gravel roads.

Stick to the right of the road (or left depending on the country you drive in).

#3. Avoid front brakes as much as possible

A rider gripping the front brakes of a motorcycle

Using front brakes on your motorcycle abruptly while driving at high speed on gravel roads – can cause the motorcycle to skid.

Especially on gravel roads.

The motorcycle will be vibrating and shaking a lot.

So it’s better to use rear brakes and go for engine braking (rolling down the throttle).

Now, does that mean one should not use front brakes at all?

Not at all.

You can use front brakes on gravel roads. But cautiously and rarely if possible.

If at all you are going for front brakes, use it when:

  • The motorcycle is slowed down; or
  • If there is a vehicle passing by and you need to stop
  • If you are trail braking

Else, you are better off using rear brakes and decelerating the bike almost all the time.

#4. Ride in straight lines

Motorcycle riding on a gravel road

If you are a beginner rider and that too on gravel roads, try to drive in straight lines as much as possible.

If you are an experienced rider on gravel rides, you can skip this tip.

As you ride more on these gravel roads, riding straight becomes less and less important.

Now back to the point.

Why ride straight on gravel roads?

Since the road surface is smooth, if you make sudden moves and accelerate – there is a high chance the rear wheel can slide.

To avoid such sliding and even skidding, drive the motorcycle in a straight line as much as possible.

This is especially significant while accelerating.

Make sure that you are riding straight while accelerating your motorcycle.

If you are moving or turning sideways, do not accelerate too much.

#5. Counter-lean while cornering

A bike rider cornering on a gravel road

Cornering on gravel roads is not the same as cornering on pavement roads.

On regular roads, we lean in with the motorcycle.

As the motorcycle leans in, we lean in as well.

But on off-pavement roads, that is on gravel and dirt roads, cornering is not the same.

While cornering, the motorcycle still leans in. But we should lean outside (counter-lean) the corner.

How to do that?

While the motorcycle leans into the turn, position your body outside and look ahead of the corner.

The higher the speed the motorcycle is in, the more you need to move your torso outside.

Many motorcycle riders, especially dirt bike riders, stand on the motorcycle to lean out while cornering.

A bike rider cornering on a gravel road standing up on motorcycle

If you are not confident about standing on the bike and lean outside, slow the motorcycle before cornering and lean out while sitting on the motorcycle.

One additional tip.

While leaning out, start by moving slightly forward and then lean out.

This helps in balancing and controlling the motorcycle easier.

#6. Keep your eyes up and forward

Motorcycle riding on a gravel road

Keep your eyes up while driving on gravel or dirt roads.

This is important.

Oftentimes, you will be too focused on what lies directly in front of your motorcycle tire.

It’s instinctive if you haven’t ridden on gravel roads much.

But, curb that instinct and relax.

If you are looking down at every rock, pebble, stick, puddle, each little patch of mud – you will be always tensed and stiff.

So stop obsessing over each rock and look ahead.

Don’t miss the forest for the trees.

Keep your eyes up. Look at the vehicles coming opposite to you. Look at the turns and the corners. Look at the road ahead.

#7. Don’t go overboard with speed

Motorcycle odometer and fuel gauge - digital

Slow down.

This is not your regular spotless pavement road in the cities and suburbs.

You can’t and shouldn’t drive your motorcycle at the same speed on gravel roads.

Riding at high speeds on gravel and dirt roads can make your motorcycle slide a lot.

And unless you are an experienced rider in these conditions, you are going to have a hard time controlling the bike.

Look, I am not saying to slow down and go at 10mph. That much slowness is not required.

All I am saying is don’t go overboard with your speed.

Oftentimes, riders do start slow on gravel roads. But once they feel confident after traveling some distance, they rev up too much.

And that’s where the problem lies.

Do NOT speed up too much that you lose control of your bike. The gravel road will for sure make your motorcycle slide, squirm, and wiggle a lot.

The thumb rule for speed is – you need to be able to stop your motorcycle as soon as you a see vehicle coming opposite to you.

Make no mistake. Braking on gravel roads is much trickier than on regular roads.

So hold off on that throttle, will ya?