Your Guide to Exploring East Tennessee's Dirt

If you ride off the pavement as well as on it, and you're interested in all types of off-road motorcycle riding, this will be the column for you. Getting Dirty is geared to those of us who have to wash the mud off when we get home at the end of a ride.

While most street-riders know about the great paved roads we have here in East Tennessee, many people are not aware that within a one-hour drive of Knoxville we have well over 200,000 acres of land that is open to the public for the minimal cost of an annual or daily permit. This area is crossed with trails and Jeep roads that provide incredible off-road riding. Most people don't realize it, but riders from all over the country are coming to East Tennessee to enjoy these areas. There are very few places left in the Eastern United States were you can ride hundreds of miles off-road in one day and never touch the same trail twice.

We'll explore these areas around us and report back to you what the roads and trails are like, and the places of interest we stumble across—plus, most importantly, how you can get there.

We will also keep you abreast of land-use issues, and proposed legislation that can have a positive, or negative effect on off-road riding. When new riding areas become available, we'll tell you about. When existing riding areas are threatened, we'll let you know what you can do to help.

Our plan is to talk about all things related to dual sport, enduro, motocross, trials, and trails. One month we may talk about where the best off-road trail riding is, and the next month we may go on a dual-sport ride across the mountains. If there is a big off-road event in the area, we'll cover it.

If you haven't ridden off-road before, we hope to get you interested. Dual sports and adventure-touring bikes are making the sport more popular with street-riders. Dual sports give you an amount of versatility that pure street bikes and dirt bikes don't. You can ride them to work, explore gravel backroads and trails, and run errands around town. Depending on the conditions and the tires you have, you can go about anywhere on a dual sport that you can on a pure dirt bike, and definitely everywhere you can on a street bike. Call them the SUVs of the motorcycle world; and just like SUVs, some are more off-road capable than others.

What you give up on the smaller, dirt-bike based dual sports is long-range comfort and extended fuel range. This may be okay if you are not venturing too far, but if your adventure necessitates 100 miles of asphalt, you may want something a little bigger and a little more comfy.

The "adventure tourer" label has been given to the relatively new group of larger motorcycles that are designed primarily for street/gravel road use, but can take you off-road as well. You just don't want to get too overly ambitious when the asphalt ends. If dual-sport bikes are the Jeep Wranglers of the dirt-bike world, adventure-touring bikes are the Ford Expeditions. Generally more street oriented, these larger, higher-displacement bikes can run 70+ mph for 200+ miles, carry all of your gear and a passenger, and your backside won't be overly tenderized when the day is over. The trade-off you make with these bigger bikes is weight. These are best suited for gravel roads and hard-packed trails. Sink one of these in a mud hole and you'll be looking for friends to help you lift it out.

Knoxville has a great dirt-bike community, and a local dirt-bike club (The Volunteer Riders) that you can join and meet people who ride somewhere every weekend. We also have some great motorcycle shops in the area that have catered to and supported off-road riders for years. We'll introduce you to some of these interesting people and places, and have a good time doing it. East Tennessee is a great place to explore, and there is no better way to do it than on a bike. See you next month!

Russ Townsend has been riding on and off road motorcycles for over 25 years. He has been active in promoting new legislation for OHV users, is a lifetime AMA member, former racer, and current Secretary of the Volunteer Riders dirt-bike club.