RidersWest caught up with Chris Birch while he was on tour in Western Canada last summer. During our interview, we asked the eight-time extreme enduro champion of New Zealand what it takes to become a better off-road rider. Here’s what he said:
1. Go to an off-road riding clinic
“It doesn’t have to be mine, but it’s like any sport—if you want to get good at it quickly, you get advice and help. Enduros and trail riding don’t seem to be like that as much. It’s just get on the bike, start riding and just try and work it out. It’s not until (riders) get maybe two or three years into it that they think, ‘I might actually need a bit of help here.’ At which point, they have ingrained a whole bunch of bad habits that they have to try and unlearn and correct. If you think you are going to start playing golf or learn to ski, most people take a lesson first and that sets them off in the right path. I always recommend people try to get some good help to start off with. The reality is if you pay for that, it’s normally better because a lot of guys will say, ‘yeah, I’ll help you out mate,’ and pass on bad habits.”
2. Take the time to practise
“I would say for the most part, enduro and off-road riding is a massively participated sport, but seldom practised. So the analogy I used for guys is if you are going to get better at golf, you’re going to practise your chipping, putting and driving—all those individual skills. Whereas, we are doing the equivalent of going out and playing 18 holes of golf all the time and hoping we eventually get better. We don’t really take the time to go out for a day and spend the time getting better at, say, cornering. Once you’ve got that, cool, now I’m going to go practise clutch wheelies and I’ll practise that until I’ve got it right. Whereas, we just go ride with our buddies. “
3. Get the right bike for the kind of riding you’ll be doing. What’s the ultimate for off-road and enduro?
“For me, it’s the KTM 350 EXC or the 300 XCW. They both have their strengths and weaknesses. The way I describe it to people is if you rank the difficulty of the trail at a 10, anything up to a seven out of 10, I’d rather have my four-stroke, and anything above that, I’d rather have my two-stroke.
For the really tough stuff, like what we are doing at Romaniacs, the two-strokes have a few advantages: they are a bit lighter and they don’t stall as easily. So, like when you’re just trying to trickle along the side of a hill and try to make good traction, you can run the RPM a lot lower and they’ll actually have a lot more low-end torque once you get dialled into it. And they are absolutely bulletproof. You can boil their brains out, cartwheel them down hills and drown them and they just keep going.”
Check out Chris Birch's website for more information about him and his off-road riding school.