MAJOR Mistakes I Made as a New Adventure Rider (and Things I Did Right)

Utah - 2021-03426

Embarking on a new adventure, whether it’s exploring new terrain or trying out a new hobby, always comes with its own set of challenges and learning curves. After a decade of only riding cruiser-style motorcycles, I was given the opportunity by Harley-Davidson® to ride their all-new, 2021 Pan America 1250 Special. I was officially a new adventure bike rider, ready for the dirt road ahead! Or, so I thought.

While some of the skills I’ve learned through the world of cruiser motorcycle touring directly benefitted me as I set off into the world of adventure riding, there were definitely quite a few new lessons to learn. In this blog, I will share some of the mistakes I made as a new adventure rider, as well as a few things I did right that may help you.

Adventure Motorcycle Rider in Sand

Mistakes I made as a New Adventure Rider:

I Would Have Greatly Benefited From an Off-Road Riding Course.

Just like riding a motorcycle on the street, off-road riding requires a skillset. Specifically, a very different skill set from the riding style I’m used to. While I’m a humbly-confident street rider, my off-road riding skills were non-existent. It took some loose sand, miles from cell signal, and help if I needed it, for me to really begin to realize that I should not have left the pavement without a better understanding of how to handle such a large, heavy adventure bike off-road.

A year after my first adventure bike experience, I had the opportunity to take RawHyde Adventure’s Intro to ADV riding course at their Colorado training facility, thanks to my friends at Harley-Davidson®. I left the class feeling significantly more confident and capable off-road. Since taking this course, I’ve done some pretty technical riding that without this class, I would have been left riding off a cliff or hurting myself in the middle of nowhere. Which leads me to my next major mistake(s).

Can you ride an adventure bike without taking an off-road riding course? Yes, absolutely! Ultimately, your need to take an off-road riding course will depend on how extensive your off-road riding will be. Adventure riding can be as easy or as difficult as you’d like for it to be. But having proper training and understanding the proper techniques for handling your bike on dirt, gravel, and other challenging terrains will play a major factor in how quickly your skills will advance.

I Should Have Been Wearing Proper Riding Gear.

Have you ever heard the phrase “It’s the tools of the trade that make all the difference,”? If so, then it should come as no surprise that Cruiser riding and adventure riding utilize very different types of riding gear, as they cater to very different riding styles and needs.

Adventure riding comes with a new set of challenges as a woman: finding riding gear that fits well. In the beginning, I struggled to find riding pants that fit, and didn’t have the best gloves available. While some gear is better than no gear in most circumstances, having a complete kit of riding gear for off-road, adventure riding is imperative.

Here are 5 essential pieces of riding gear you should consider purchasing if you want to ride an adventure bike, including a few of my personal gear recommendations:

  • Full Face Helmet: If you plan to ride off road, you’ll want a helmet that is focused on Adventure riding, like the Bell MX-9.
  • Riding Jacket: Look for a jacket that is CE-approved and includes shoulder, elbow, and back armor, or at least pockets for adding your own armor later on. Because Adventure riding is so versatile, you may need a jacket that is waterproof and offers superior ventilation, or insulation if you’re riding in colder weather. I purchased the Rev’It! Flare 2 Women’s jacket and Rev It Eclipse have really enjoyed them. 
  • Riding Pants: Look for riding pants that, at minimum, offer protection in the knees, and hips. Just like Adventure Riding Jackets, you may find that you need pants that offer ventilation, waterproofing, and additional abrasion resistance. Riding pants for women that fit well, no matter what style of bike you’re riding, are always difficult to find. I tried on dozens of pairs of riding pants and ended up purchasing the Revi’It Tornado 3 Pants. They offered all the protection I was looking for, in addition to fitting me well enough to be able to maneuver around on my motorcycle, something that you wouldn’t consider in Cruiser riding nearly as much as you do on an Adventure bike.
  • Riding Boots: Ankle protection is always important, no matter what type of motorcycle you choose to ride. With adventure riding comes the increased risk of injury, so having protective boots is a must. I own the Forma Adventure Boots, in addition to a pair of Alpinestars Tech 7 Enduros. I’m glad I started out in the Forma’s because they are a much easier boot to adjust to. However, as my off-road riding has become more technical, the need for a boot with superior ankle protection has become apparent. Which is why I added the Tech 7’s to my gear closet.
  • Gloves: My riding gloves needed an upgrade long before I jumped on an adventure bike. If you’re a new rider and not sure what to purchase, you’ll want to look for gloves that offer knuckle and palm protection.

Keep in mind, this isn’t a complete list of gear, and your preferences in riding gear may differ. This is simply a suggestion to help you get started and to not make the same mistakes I did as a new adventure rider.

I Should Have Had a Satellite Communicator.

Yes, things can go wrong at any time, anywhere on a motorcycle trip. However, leaving the pavement and areas of common travel, without a way to send help in case of an emergency situation, was a poor choice.

I knew that I should have picked up a satellite communicator prior to my first big off-road adventure down Utah’s Burr Trail. Nonetheless, as I encountered sand, and tested my general luck as a newbie, I quickly realized I made a foolish decision to not be carrying a satellite communicator.

Since then, I’ve picked up a Garmin In-Reach Mini 2, and have carried it on all of my motorcycle trips. Even on pavement, there are plenty of areas in the United States where cell signal is nonexistent.

I love that Garmin allows flexible (albeit expensive) service plans. I enjoy being able to communicate with loved ones and allow them to track me when I’m in areas alone, and unattainable by cell signal. Luckily, I’ve never had to press the SOS button. This leads me to my final, major mistake:

I Need to Purchase a First Aid Kit…and Know How to use it.

First Aid and Trauma Kits are handy to have no matter what type of vehicle you’re using. More importantly, knowing how to use what you pack in a kit is essential. 

What is the difference between a first and trauma kit?

A first aid kit typically contains supplies to treat minor injuries such as cuts, bruises, burns, and sprains. It may include items such as bandages, gauze, adhesive tape, antiseptic wipes, and pain relievers.

A trauma kit, on the other hand, is designed to provide medical care for more severe injuries such as major bleeding, and fractures. While both types of kits may contain some similar items, a trauma kit will generally have more advanced medical equipment and supplies to treat more severe injuries.

Because I’m not a medical professional nor have I had the opportunity (yet!) to take any wilderness medicine, first responder, or other emergency care training, my first aid kit is built to be more of a hybrid aid/trauma kit.

Motorcycle Camping in the Chisos Basin of Big Bend National Park

Things I Did RIGHT as a New Adventure Rider

I didn’t overpack.

Overpacking on a motorcycle trip is a common mistake for any new rider, regardless of the type of bike they choose to ride. Bringing too much gear leads to an overloaded bike that can be difficult to handle, especially off-road. Luckily, I’ve had years of experience learning to pack light on a motorcycle prior to jumping into the world of adventure riding.

>>>>> Read Next: The Ultimate Motorcycle Trip Packing List

I kept maps downloaded on my phone and had my routes planned.

Spending time planning a trip, especially when you plan to go offroad as a new ADV rider, can save you from unexpected situations like technical terrain that’s outside of your abilities, planning too many miles in a day, and so on. I use OnX Off Road’s Premium Membership to save offline maps/routes to my phone. These maps came in handy when I was stuck on the Burr Trail and needed to reroute due to unforeseen road conditions. 

While planning out your trip won’t always make for a perfect day, it can definitely spare you from having to overcome unnecessary obstacles and costs (like running out of gas, expensive last-minute lodging options, etc).

I carried water and food supplies.

Dehydration and hunger can quickly set in when you are exerting yourself on any type of long motorcycle ride, especially in hot or dry conditions. Carrying water and food with you on an adventure ride is not just a matter of convenience, it is also a matter of safety.

For water, I used my 4 Liter Sea to Summit Watercell X as water storage on the bike, in addition to having a 3 Liter Camelback water reservoir. Combined, I had nearly two gallons of water when I was topped off. Which is plenty of a day in the dirt, potentially two if I was to get stranded. (Luckily, that didn’t happen).

Sedici Acqua Hydration Backpack

Since my first trip on an ADV, I’ve upgraded to the motorcycle-specific Sedici hydration pack. It’s CE-rated back protection and is significantly more durable than my original setup. It’s been a great upgrade.

I carried tools.

Let’s face it, if you need tools for a motorcycle that never leaves the pavement, you’re definitely going to need tools for a motorcycle that’s going to encounter jagged, unpredictable terrain. Be sure to put together a tool kit that includes a tire repair kit and other tools that you’re comfortable using as a new adventure rider.

I Rode Within My Limits.

Wait…didn’t I start this blog out telling you that I was in way over my head?! Yes, I did! However, I encountered numerous obstacles on my first adventure bike trip that I knew I was no match for. Adventure riding has a way of checking your ego very quickly if you’re not careful.

Maybe I could have crossed that muddy wash alone, but I wasn’t ready to pick the bike up alone or call for help if I hurt myself. Maybe I could have ridden those sandy, washed-out roads in the remote backcountry of Big Bend National Park, but I wasn’t ready for the consequences of injuring myself for the sake of saying I did it alone.

Checking the conditions of a muddy, slick wash along the Burr Trail in southern Utah. I ended up turning around and not crossing because I wasn’t willing to take the risk of injuring myself in such a remote area.

The best thing any new adventure rider can do when they begin exploring off the pavement is to ride within their limits and skill set, especially when you’re alone.

Do you have any memories of your first time taking a trip on an adventure bike? What were mistakes you made or tips you think a visitor to this blog would find helpful as a new adventure rider? Leave them as a comment below!

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Staci Wilt

I’m Staci: a freelance journalist, photographer, and marketing consultant. I primarily focus those skills around my passions of motorcycles, travel, and food…and yes, we will count margaritas and craft beer in that last category. Thanks for checking out my blog!
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  1. Bweizr on April 18, 2023 at 9:17 AM

    I was watching a recent video from Amanda Zito (As the Magpie Flies) where she attends a riding course with Jocelin Snow and I definitely want to take a class there before my wife and I decide whether or not our next bikes should be ADV bikes. I’m curious how it stacks up against the RawHyde courses, but it definitely looks like a blast. My wife’s on a CB500X, which would probably be a fine bike for her with some modifications, but my Versys isn’t ideal for off-road. I took mine about 10 miles down a wash with deep sand on regular street tires, and it was not a great experience. Once I take a class, I might look at the Pan America or the R1250GS.

    As far as medical training, probably the biggest thing to know is how to apply a tourniquet. It doesn’t take long to bleed out while you wait for help to arrive. The American College of Surgeons offers STOP THE BLEED courses all over the country, with a free course available online and supplies on their website.

    Still looking forward to seeing the new bike!

  2. Cameron on June 3, 2023 at 8:34 PM

    I really enjoyed this! I grew up on dirt bikes, so when I got an Adventure bike, my tests were more on riding on the street! That being said, an Adventure bike has significant weight and size differences compared to your average dirt bike and I really had to adjust what and how I approached things. I could not be happier with my choice of starting my adventure bike life.

    Fortunately, I did not face the challenges of finding the right fitting gear, however, I did face the fact that as an adventure bike rider you are in this grey area of street vs dirt and it can be harder to find gear. Tons of street gear…tons of dirt gear….not tons of a combination of those in gear.

    Like you, I actually very much prefer to ride alone and get out in the middle of nowhere by myself. I get to ride where I want to go, leave when I want to, stop when I want to and go as long as I want to. That being said, after the second time I went into the middle of nowhere in Northern Idaho, I went out and got the same emergency locator you got. Like you said, the plans are a little expensive, but I shared my map link with my wife and family so they can find me if I accidentally launch off of a road 30 miles from cell phone service. Another thing I like about it is that I can alter my planned route without worrying about not sticking to the route I told my wife I was going on. It allows a lot more freedom and flexibility when your loved ones can just open up an online map and be confused when your dot is 45 miles from where you THOUGHT you wanted to go when you left on your journey.

    Great article and I hope you continue on your offroad adventures!

    • Staci Wilt on June 6, 2023 at 7:00 AM

      They’re definitely great devices to have! Hopefully I’ll own an ADV by the end of this year!

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