View Full Version : A Guide to Urban Exploration

12-24-2012, 3:55 AM
Since its winter and a lot of you have some down time, I wanted to write something up to give you guys some ideas when it comes time to ride again. First off, some disclaimers:
No one should ever take my advice, and what I say here is in no way an admission of guilt, nor should what I say supersede common sense or local laws.

Let’s get started, shall we?

Why would you want to explore, urban or otherwise? Isn't it just the same as riding around? Well, the why is simple: why not? Really, there are so few “public domain” places these days that all we have left really is the concrete jungle. We’re already on our bikes doing what we love; why not go for a long and interesting ride right in your own backyard? When you’re just riding around, you've got so much else to focus on in the city environment that you can’t always see the sights.Go on Google Maps and look around your house in satellite view, you'll find all sorts of out of the way places with varying methods of getting there, you just have to find a way. This kind of adventure encourages you to slow down a little, and check out some really cool places.

In installment, I want to cover some basic tips and tricks I've picked up in my travels. By no means am I a “man of the world”, but I found a few things out the hard way. In later chapters, I’ll cover some gear I like to take with me to make life more bearable and some other random crap.
First up, it doesn't matter what you ride, just know your bike and be comfortable in your skill set. The most painful blow to your ego, body and wallet is often preceded by the “I think I can do that…”. As with a lot of things, it helps to practice at home first before going out and getting stuck, lost or hurt. Wanting to do a little dirt road adventuring, but have vintage tires on your bike? Try it out on a local, low use road first before hitting the woods. Think that old house at the top of the gravel covered hill looks neat and you’re just too damn lazy to walk up? Don’t just go at it miles away from home and help, find something similar where you’re comfortable and try navigating it first. And don’t forget, if you’re out there practicing riding in the dirt or just an oddball surface, it doesn't do you a damn bit of good if you do it unloaded. Sure, you don’t have to throw the old lady on the back, but it still helps to have a basic gear load out on you so you know what to expect from backpacks/luggage/shit strapped to the bike. When you can, it’s nice to have a friend with you “in case” something goes awry. If you’re out doing your best Evil impressions on some dirt roads and you bite it, a spare hand to put pressure on an artery or call for backup is REALLY handy if you smash yourself to bits. The most important thing with trips of any kind is safety from all aspects so let people know where you’re going to be and when you should be there.

When getting ready for trips, if you’re a new rider (or at least new to non-paved slabs) you should see how you and your bike does on different terrain, during curb hopping in both directions, and you should really put some thought into how to save your ass if you get stuck. Preparation and foresight is the key to any great trip! Carrying water is a must, especially in the hot weather days of summer. General bike maintenance stuff need be brought, along with anything needed for an overnighter out and about. As a rule, I like to leave the house with enough money for fuel and food, but nothing put aside for shelter. Cash is the best thing to take too, because if you’re on the side of the road out of gas, I’d much rather give a stranger a $20 than my credit card. Leave the credit card for emergencies, that way you only spend what you planned if you want to stick to a budget.

With all that said, there’s different “levels” of exploration, and not all of it urban. How often do you find yourself riding around and see a road you've never been down and have wondered, or even went down it? That’s the whole idea of urban exploration (and non-city based too) and you can have a lot of fun playing. If you’re like me camping is a hobby and this way you can find out of the way places to ditch for a night right in your home town if your old lady is being less than friendly. I can’t count how many times I've camped out in the city just to get away, and it’s something special knowing that there’s very few public land places left yet you can still get out there.

The first level, “The Afternoon Delight”, is the most basic, and is the gateway drug I find. Nothing more than a cell camera or small pocket camera is needed (pics or it didn't happen.), maybe some spare gas… Just get out in the city and get lost! If you see any side streets, take them! An abandon building? Check it out. It’s just that simple. Ride till you have something else to do, and in this manner I've found everything from an oil refinery (complete with armed guard at the gate…wtf) to an old naval destroyer sitting in repo.

Second level, “The Day Trip”, needs a little more gear, and can usually be accomplished by a backpack or saddlebags. I generally discourage backpack use because of safety and movement issues, but since this shouldn't be a hard ride it’s a little more acceptable. This is a trip that, IMO, can end up being an overnighter. Might not, but it’s nice to have that option and not be limited. You can carry a full camping setup, or just a bed roll. This adventure usually ends up a good way from home (let’s say around an hour) and typically, you can just grab some fast food and a nap and head back home. I almost always carry a compact camping hammock with me when I’m out mucking around, even if just for a quick cat nap on a short ride (more on those in the next chapter). A GPS can be a life saver if you intend on getting lost and having a good time, but isn't always a must have. I do recommend that if you’re planning on doing this as an ongoing hobby, install a weather proof cigarette lighter on the bike someplace so you could plug in your cell to charge it. With current cell phones capable of GPS , camera and more, it can be a lifesaver and a great way to save space on gear.

And for the last level, “The Long Haul”, you need the most foresight. Even if it is an impromptu trip, a little planning can save your ass. Carry spare everything, from fuel to parts. Have changes of clothes as needed, snack food, a way to prep food at camp, a full camp setup/shelter (as much or as little as you’re comfortable with, or without, taking), and whatever else you can think of along the way. A trick I learned on a trip I took a while back, take a long a pack of “dot” stickers (like the ones you see on garage sale items for the price). Put them on things you use, while you’re out camping. When you get home, anything that doesn't have a sticker gets left behind the next trip. I like to practice packing too. Even if it sounds stupid, it will save you time and you’ll know if something is missing faster. A well prepared setup will take you to amazing places time and time again.
(yes, thats a 49cc moped. I rode it from Charleston SC to Sarasota FLA, then to Daytona and back to Charleston. Been further on it, but no pics.)

What’s the point to all this? Aside from great adventures, outrageous stories, awesome pictures of you bikes in situations it probably has no business in, and just more excuses to ride/for gear? Nothing. I know I ramble a bit, but if you don’t think this sounds like fun by now then you’re on your own.

So that’s it for now. I want to see your exploration pics and hear your tales of adventure and woe!

12-24-2012, 4:45 AM
When I go exploring, I follow some strict rules: DO NOT carry anything illegal or that could be construed as such, and always have an exit strategy. This means that when I’m out, I don’t carry anything that could be considered theft or breaking and entry tools (no hammers, bolt cutters etc) and my personal knives are of legal type, and I know how to beat a quick retreat should I find myself in an unwelcome area. Have all your paperwork in order too, because fumbling around if you need to produce it just aggravates an already sticky situation. NEVER go into a place that you have to move something, or otherwise gain access to, or if you clearly see no trespassing signs. If there is a way to ride right in and out, nothing clearly labeled as off limits, then I say fair game. Just use common sense; just because there’s a gap in a fence it doesn't mean come on in (usually…..)

I've found that in most questionable situations, pleading innocence is your best case. Most of the time it truly is better to ask forgiveness than permission, but on occasion you can get really far by just asking. I've had businesses give me access to places most people can’t usually get to because I asked and explained what I was doing. Just go in with your best attitude and smile and you’ll get places. It also helps to not dress like a murder when going places that I call “gray areas”. Don't look like a criminal, and your intentions are easier to explain. At times, I carry a broken pocket camera with me so even if all I want to do is look in a place, if asked I can say I’m looking for a place to take pics for “X” reason and can produce the camera as evidence to the point. Sure, I may be taking cell pics at best, but that’s not the point. Oh, and one caution: if you see an armed guard, I highly suggest NOT taking pics wherever you are, especially of said armed guard. Don’t ask me why.

Always try to obey posted signs, and if you’re caught dead to rights then be honest and polite to minimize issues. Most of the time people I have encountered, once they know you’re not up to no good, will let you get on your way. I like to offer a solution if the situation needs (ie: “I’ll just take off the fastest way out and be out of your hair”) and always apologize for being so “clueless”. Remember, if you had to go thru a gate or other barricade at some point, you’ll have to explain that and probably go back thru that area. Don’t burn bridges with exits! There's nothing more awkward than to find out you're on private property and to get out, but then be asked why there's tire ruts all over the place.

In the past, I’ve found myself in a position where I felt that I was in an off limit area and before the people could get to me to tell me as such, I beat a hasty retreat on the thought that they didn’t see me well enough to remember me, and I didn’t want to stick around to give them the chance. If you encounter a similar situation, you may want to either go to another area altogether to explore, or postpone the days adventures till all parties involved forget your description.

Be safe out there, and use common sense and you’ll find it much easier to get to where you’re going by the end of the day.

12-24-2012, 4:47 AM
I live in a rural area....so no "urban" exploration....but Ive got and ride everything from touring bikes, hardtails, crotch rockets to dual sports.

I could bore you with tons of pictures of water crossing, wash outs, hills, fields, logging trails etc....but that aint quite the spirit of the thread....so this is as as close as I got.

This is an old house that Tom and Roasanne Arnold (Roseanna TV sitcom fame) were building here in Iowa. It was a mult-million dollar home but they didnt finish it before the divorce so it just set.....they eventually gave it and the land to the local college. They use the lake and area round it and keep it nice.....but the house just set and its ruined.

Anywho......there is an old railroad bed that gets you there.....its REALLY grown over.....took ALOT of effort to get there. I think it was only 4 miles or so but took everybit of 2 hours....give or take.



Me and my GF both ride.....technically both these bikes are mine but the BMW GS is "her ride" and the KLR is my donkey. You can just make out whats kinda left off a clearing in front of the BMW......it was slow going.





12-24-2012, 5:03 AM
Here we are exploring whats left of Buxton......the largest coal mining town west of the Mississippi and noteable for being racially integrated in the early 1900s. Also was the large unincorporated city in the US.