Dirt Bikes Riding on Water: Is it possible, or just a legend?

The concept of dirt biking is pretty straightforward: you take a dirt bike onto rough terrain and ride. But what about riding your dirt bike on a smooth, even liquid, surface? Don’t think it’s possible? Think again!

While it requires special equipment, many people have successfully ridden their dirt bikes on water. Dirt bikes must start and stop on the land, but with the aid of special tires and the dirt bike version of water skis, riding on the water is difficult but completely possible.

Keep reading to find out everything you need to know about dirt bikes on the water!

How it’s Done: The Basics

Before I get into anything about special equipment or physics, I had better say how riding a dirt bike across water can be possible at all.

Basically, it takes a lot of practice and trial runs before someone can do this successfully. But I’m sure that you already knew that.

The most basic, most important part of riding a dirt bike across the water is that the person starts on land. Which sounds silly. But it’s totally not.

I’ll talk about this in greater depth later, but dirt bikes just can’t float on their own. It’s literally impossible. So there is no way for the person to get dropped off from a boat in the middle of a body of water without sinking their dirt bike. And that would be a bad day.

Starting on land

So, they have to start on land. And not just on the shore, either. In order to be successful at riding a dirt bike across the water, people have to start a long, long distance from the shore. They have to build up enough speed and momentum on dry land to carry a dirt bike across the water for a substantial amount of time.

It’s also important that the speed the dirt biker builds up while on land is really, really fast. Based on the successful attempts people have had at riding their dirt bikes across the water, it has been inferred that people need to get up to about 60 miles per hour on land before the transition to water happens. Even still, some dirt bikers suggest trying to get faster than that before getting to the water.

Maintaining Speed

The next, most basic part of riding a dirt bike across the water is keeping up the speed once the person gets off of dry land. This is pretty difficult to do in water because it just naturally slows things down. Some dirt bikers who have succeeded at riding across the water have reported that their top speeds on the water were between 30 and 35 miles per hour. So if you’re going to attempt this, be aware that you’ll probably slow down to half of your land speed once you get to the water. See the importance of speed on land now?

Another super important aspect of riding a dirt bike on the water is that the transition from land to water is impeccably smooth. I’m talking butter-smooth, baby’s bottom-smooth, silky-smooth. There cannot be any drop off in the body of water, or the attempt will end miserably. Basically, the shore needs to be as gradual as possible and transition into deep water without any bumps or humps at all.

Is this for Champs or Chumps?

It’s important to remember that the crazy videos you may have seen people riding their dirt bikes or motorcycles across a body of water for a substantial amount of time are typically professionals. Many of them also had highly personalized, customized, specifically-designed dirt bikes created by engineers and mechanics in order to make what they did possible.

I know that was a lot of information, but it was important! Make sure you keep all of the things I’ve already explained in mind as I discuss what special equipment and physics are required to complete the task of riding a dirt bike across water successfully.

Special Equipment Needed

As I said before, there is simply no way for a dirt bike to actually stay afloat and move in the water on its own. A regular dirt bike’s wheels would just be unable to move as quickly as they would need to in order to keep the dirt bike floating. That being said, special equipment is definitely needed to accomplish this difficult task of riding a dirt bike across the water.

Water Skis

It probably is not very surprising to learn that water skis are on the list of the extra, necessary pieces of equipment to ride a dirt bike on water. People who have been able to successfully ride a dirt bike across the water would not have done so if they hadn’t attached these crucial pieces of equipment to their dirt bike.

What is surprising, though, (at least to me) is that a lot of people who have ridden their dirt bikes across the water have attached the water skis to their dirt bike’s tires. It seems like the people who have the most success riding their dirt bikes across the water have attached the skis to the hubs of their tires so that they are balanced and allow for equal distribution of weight.

It’s also interesting that the material of the skis that are attached to the dirt bike matter a whole lot. Because people who have ridden dirt bikes successfully across the water started on land, the skis have to be sturdy enough to endure rocks and other debris hitting them at incredibly high speeds. A lot of skis are made with aluminum, but that won’t hold up on the land-portion of the ride. Apparently, plastic is the better option for ski material when riding a dirt bike across the water.

I’ll talk a little bit more about the importance of attaching water skis to a dirt bike for water riding purposes in the next section about physics.

Modified Tires

Boats need propellers to move, and so do dirt bikes. But you can’t attach propellers to your bike because that would make it impossible to ride on the necessary stretch of land that cames before the water.

What some people who have been successful in riding their dirt bikes across the water have done is modify their tires to have rubber blades that are kind of like fins. The little rubber blades help propel the dirt bike across the water much like propellers would on a boat.

Two Stroke Engines

OK, I know that this isn’t really “special equipment”, but it’s important to know that two strokes are better for riding on the water than four strokes are. According to people who have attempted to ride their dirt bikes across the water and failed, four strokes are more difficult to save and dry if the dirt bike submerges into the water.

The Physics Behind It

I told you that it’s difficult to ride a dirt bike on water, and one of the reasons why is because it involves physics.

It’s actually a basic principle of physics that makes riding a dirt bike on the water possible: the principle of force. There just needs to be a force in every direction: backward, forward, up, and down.

Each part of the dirt bike, including the special additions of the custom tires and water skis, contribute to a different direction of the force. Equally important is that gravity and the water contribute to the force as well.

The normal force of the water goes up; the force of gravity goes down; the force of the water skis goes backward; the force of the water’s friction also goes backward; the bike’s normal driving force goes forward.

A physics professor at Northwestern University explained the way the force works when a dirt bike is being ridden on the water in this simple way:

“The critical thing is to be able to develop enough force with the wheel treading water to oppose the frictional drag of the ski through water to maintain a speed sufficient to lift the ski and bike against gravity.”

Arthur Schmidt, Business Insider

Basically, the additional parts on the bike– the tires and the skis– and the water and gravity are all crucial to the bike staying afloat and moving. They all contribute in a really important way, and without even one of them, the bike would sink.

Is it Safe?

OK, so you’ve learned the basics of riding a dirt bike on the water, what special equipment is necessary, and how physics plays in. You’re probably super pumped with all of this new, awesome information and ready to get out on some body of water with your dirt bike.

But before you do so, remember this:

Most of the people who have successfully ridden their dirt bikes across the water in the past, at least to the degree that you’ve seen on the internet, were professionals or had paid hundreds and thousands of dollars to get their dirt bikes custom-designed and altered specifically for that task.

And I’m pretty sure if you’re reading this post, you probably are not in that category of people. (Sorry, friends. It’s just the truth.)

However, some people claim to be able to ride their dirt bikes on the water if it’s a small lake or even a pond. I want to believe them, I really do…

But I’ve been dirt biking since I was a child, and I have never seen a regular joe-shmoe ride their dirt bike across any body of water successfully… Unless the body of water was just a really large puddle.

But on an actual, very serious note, I have seen someone try to ride their dirt bike on the water at a local pond, get scared at the shoreline, then get really hurt.

I also know a friend of a friend who nearly drowned when he attempted to ride his dirt bike on the water, but the drop off was really abrupt and very deep, so his dirt bike immediately sunk. Not a good situation.

So my personal opinion and judgement call about the safety of riding a dirt bike on the water is that unless you are a professional, you have water skis and special tires on your dirt bike, and you are highly practiced in the task ahead of you, do not try to ride your dirt bike on the water.

It’s just not worth potentially drowning or getting hurt. Also, you probably spent a lot of good money on your dirt bike. Even if you don’t care if you get hurt, I’m begging you to please not destroy a perfectly good dirt bike by trying to do something you know you can’t do.

Who’s Done It?

There are a few people that I know of who have become internet sensations for successfully riding their dirt bikes across a large body of water.

The first person I know of (and probably the most popular person) to successfully ride his dirt bike across a large body of water is Robbie Maddison. He’s a famous motorbike stunt rider from Australia. Not only has he ridden his dirt bike across the water successfully, but he also managed to go “through the tube” of a wave. He’s also famous for some other really wild stunts, but I’ll let you go find those things on the internet yourself.

In the video below, watch Maddison’s ride through the forests and oceans of Tahiti:

Remember, folks, please don’t try this at home. I know that video was pretty stinkin’ cool, and you might have gotten super pumped again after I bummed you out with my safety soapbox, but don’t forget that he was super, super trained and spent a super, super large amount of money to make his dirt bike suitable for the ocean.

Another person who has made a successful ride on the water is Luca Colombo. He’s an Italian dirt biker, and he rode for 3 miles across Italy’s third-largest lake. Check out the video:

Colombo’s ride at Lake Como took place about three years after Maddison’s at Tahiti, but it’s still pretty impressive.

Both of these professional dirt bikers had skis and special tires on their dirt bikes to accomplish the awesome task of riding their dirt bikes across the water.

There are also tons of people who have successfully ridden their dirt bikes across the water in a way that’s called “water skipping” and I’m sure you’ve heard of it. Here is a video example of somebody doing this at an extreme level.

This, I’ll admit to having done. And it’s pretty fun. But it’s nothing like what you see people doing in those videos up above. Water skipping is usually done in pretty shallow, short stretches of water. Which is totally nothing compared to Tahiti or Lake Como. But still, it’s fun.

So, if you’re gonna ride a dirt bike on water, try water skipping before hitting the waves.