BMW off-road training
Has a girl ever been able to pick up one of these things?” She’s almost six-feet tall, fashionably thin and the only female in the group of 20. We’re standing around the elephant in the room – a 260-kilogram BMW R 1200 GS Adventure – and it’s lying on its side like an elephant wounded in the wilderness. It’s a good question punctuated by the deafening silence that follows it.
“You can be the first here to find out, if you’d like,” encourages our instructor. Kate revels in the challenge and threads her narrow frame through the aspiring adventurers to the bike in question. She lifts the beast five times her body weight back on its feet by mimicking what we’d just learned. An round of applause and relief ensures. It’s one of the many challenges we face and conquer over two days at BMW off-road training.
When it comes to dual-sport riding, some say more than 95 per cent of the world’s roads are unpaved, so if you don’t like to – or can’t – ride in the dirt then you’ll find yourself confined to just five per cent of the planet. It’s probably a marketing myth, but it makes a good point.
This is one of the reasons why adventure bike sales are going gangbusters, with most motorcycle makers well represented and vying for your business. BMW dominates the growing segment with no fewer than seven dual-sport models to cater for riders of all ambitions and abilities. It also leads the way in rider training because, let’s face it, manhandling a 260kg big-bore beast in the bush isn’t exactly like flicking around on a 100kg 250cc tiddler, so it takes some specialised skills.
Held in most parts of the country each year, Level One of BMW’s training is all about learning the basic skills to get the most out of these big adventure beasts and coming away with a new level of confidence and enjoyment when the bitumen ends. The school now also offers a Level Two course that ups the ante for more experienced riders who’ve already completed Level One or conquered the challenges of a BMW Safari.
MASTERS AND APPRENTICES
Most of the group are aboard big boxers while the rest of us are on BMW’s learner-approved G 650 GS Sertão hire bikes. A couple have struck a balance with F 800 GSs (see page 32 for more). The smallest, single-cylinder GSs need some revs to stay on the boil but their weight advantage, general narrowness and bigger, 21-inch front wheel prove advantageous compared with the King Kong 1200s.
Off-road riding experience is more varied, however. Our group includes the likes of old-school desert racers and other battle-hardened bikers who’ve had gun barrels shoved up their noses during a motorcycle adventure across Africa, to everyday office types keen to do it all. Then there’s Kate Peck, the beast-lifting, self-confessed motorcycle maniac who I later learn is a TV personality, model, Myer and MotoGP ambassador. What would I know? I’m here to ride bikes.
What I do know is the revered reputation of our instructors. The school is run by pro motocross racers-turned-instructors, Chris Urquhart and Shane Booth, with BMW Motorrad marketing manager Miles Davis and MT’s own Cam Donald lending an expert hand.
It’s interesting to observe the handful of uninitiated riders as they learn of Cam’s Isle of Man achievements – in addition to his formidable off-road prowess – and the barrage of questions, astonishment and respect that follows. Nowhere else will you have access to four gun riders such as these guys in a rich learning environment. This alone is worth the $695 course cost. A YouTube search on any of these guys will fill you with inspiration. And fill a slow afternoon.
There are no slow afternoons in these two days, however, as we’re taught the fundamental techniques of off-road riding. The pace with which we’re learning is inspiring.
MAN VS WILD
A handful have never ridden in the standing position, but it isn’t long before it becomes second nature. Stiff and nervous body language has been replaced with a commanding presence that’s relaxed and ready for anything.
Ultra slow-speed manoeuvring and control is always harder than it seems – especially when you’re talking about a big, heavy bike on varied terrain – but it teaches the roadies in the group the need for good clutch and throttle control and the importance of keeping fingers over the levers. Cornering and braking on the loose stuff is another wide-eyed experience as well as learning the value and importance of body positioning and engine braking.
Our course takes place on the fringes of the State Motorcycle Complex in Broadford, Victoria. The photos you see here are from the first day, but what follows is quite a sight as we learn how to ascend and descend safely and confidently on much trickier terrain. More sections of the 170-hectare complex are unlocked, including trails behind the road race circuit and a small quarry tucked away behind the speedway track.
The exercises continue to challenge all participants and a steep, rutted and rocky hill claims its victims. At first it seems we’re asking too much of our bikes, but they haven’t even broken a sweat.
Some exercises ring bells louder than others. For me, it’s the hill recovery technique when things go pear shaped while ascending, which involves calling it quits, safely turning around and descending to start again. Another light-bulb moment is when Urquhart explains how riders typically panic after they’ve fallen and frantically attempt to pick up the bike. “The bike isn’t going anywhere when it’s lying down, so you might as well take your time, catch your breath and do it right the first time.”
Confidence and camaraderie within the group continues to climb steeply, which is about the time when instructors up the ante and challenge us once again. Damn, these guys make it look so easy.
Emergency braking, the benefits and thresholds of ABS as well as knowing when and how to effectively apply front and rear brakes slowly become second nature. Now we’re confidently sliding the rear of these big bikes to square up and cross small logs at 90-degree angles.
The course is well structured without any hint of a strict schedule. This much is made clear by how well questions are answered – with clarity, patience and openness. Some of this might sound like child’s play, but even the more experienced guys brim with confidence and enthusiasm about some skill they’ve just learned.
Our second day finishes off with a trail ride with greater gusto. I’m following Chris, the lead rider, and as far as I know everybody else is hot on my heels. Chris veers further off the beaten track, effortlessly wafts across some tricky section then looks back to see how the rest of us fare. No probs. It’s one of those little joyous moments of achievement and his fist in the air shows it. There’s no way we could have done that the day before.
I stick with Chris and eat the dust cloud left by his R 1200 GS Adventure on a familiar trail. He’s clearly enjoying himself but it would be naive to think he’s actually trying.
Short of blaming a lack of visibility, I rail through a rut at speed around a corner, lose balance and hit the deck completely off guard. I put the recovery stuff into practice, take my time and pick up the bike. Once. The Sertão is fine but my confidence takes a bit of a battering given it’s the last ride of the day. A lesson learned is a lesson earned and this is off-road riding after all. I’m just glad I haven’t severely damaged the bike. Clearly, there’s still work to be done and I can’t wait to put it all into practice.
Everybody else is buzzing with how far they’ve come and how much closer they are to reaching their off-road riding goals. For some, that’s to prepare for a BMW GS Safari or ‘that big trip’ while for others it’s simply to be filled with confidence and enthusiasm when they explore 95 per cent of the world’s unpaved roads. Sounds like fun.
Visit www.BMWMotorrad.com.au for details and course dates for 2015.
What you’ll need:
- Dual-sport (minimum) or knobby tyres
- Arrange your own accommodation
- Protective motorcycle gear
- A hydration pack is recommended (Lunch and refreshments are supplied including a pod coffee machine)