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BMW Off Road Skills Course, Wales

By: Mark. Meeting Point

Introduction

It all started with Shirley's plan for a secret birthday present for Steve's 50th birthday: A visit to the 2-day BMW Off Road Skills Course in South Wales. Of course, leaving the brochure around the house meant that it didn't stay a secret very long, and hey, wouldn't it be fun if more of the Abbot Club come along as well. So it came about that six members of the Abbot, Steve & Shirley, Andy & Dawn, Jon and Mark, found themselves at the Abercravy Inn in the Brecon Beacons one wet late September evening not really knowing what they had let themselves in for. After dinner, and over a few drinks, attention drifted to the other occupants of the pub, many of which seemed to be bikers, and from all parts: There was a group from Dublin, and another from Wicklow, as well as many from other parts of England and a few not-so-England accents. It was becoming clear that this was not a small scale event and we were going to have loads of company in whatever we were going to do over the next couple of days.

The First Morning

The next morning dawned overcast and threatening to rain, and we knew we were in for a wet time. We assembled at the Off Road storage facility on an industrial estate to sign in and be introduced to our mounts. The sign in consisted mostly of disclaimers stating that we knew we were undertaking a dangerous activity and the organisers were not responsible if we damaged ourselves. We had all chosen to ride F650GS machines as we felt the R1200GS was just too big and heavy for a first off-road experience. Most of the 650s were standard GS models, but there were some lowered GSs for the smaller of stature, and PDs for the more adventurous. We were informed that the course fee included all damage to the bikes, and that the only damage we would be charged for were mirrors and indicators, which fortunately had been removed before the bikes had seen their first bit of mud. We had a quick introduction to the bike, then it was on the road up into the hills to the off-road course. TeaShop

Basic Training

Base camp is on a plateau high up in the hills and consists of little more than a caravan and awning. We were divided up into 3 groups: Those with previous off-road experience (none of us), regular road riders with no off-road experience, the group that Jon, Andy, Steve and I decided to join, and none-of-the-above, which included Shirley and Dawn. Each group went through the same basic training, but at a pace and tuition suited to the experience and skill of the group.

Our instructor was Nick Palmer, a former championship motocross racer, so we were learning from one of the top off-road rider.

  • Lay your bike on the ground, then pick it up safely! Everyone was expected to fall off at some point, so this was an essential skill to master.
  • Balance the bike on the wheels and walk all around it - this ensures that you can get from one side to the other to mount from the high side.
  • Drive the bike around whilst walking next to it so that when you get totally stuck you know you can walk the bike out.
  • Now we started to unlearn all the skills of riding a bike on the road: Ride standing on the footpegs, two fingers on the levers and two gripping the bars, and don't bother with neutral, just kill the engine in gear just abandon the bike wherever. We ride round in large circles, sometimes with only one hand, small circles, very small circles (which resulted in the first off and Jon hit the dirt). Figures of eight, slalom, and various other shapes and manoeuvres. We were just starting to get the hang of it and having fun, then it was time for tea break.
  • After the break it was braking. Go as fast as you can, then stand on the brake pedal and don't release until the bike has stopped. This is quite tricky for the experienced road rider as your brain was screaming to release the brake as soon as the rear wheel locked - it took some will-power to keep the brake applied. After a few goes, and a bit more confidence, we were all performing spectacular stops in a dead straight line with the rear wheel locked up on the loose gravel and tinder surface. A few of us joked that the next exercise would be locking the front wheel...
  • The next exercise was locking the front wheel: Power the bike forward and apply the front brake until the wheel locks, and just before you fall off, release it. Then repeat. I fell off. This was a valuable lesson that would be repeated throughout the two days - going too slowly makes you fall off. This is not a game for the timid. With a little more speed I managed to lock the front wheel and unlock it before I fell off.
We were all glad when Nick our instructor called a break for tea. Although it was fun, it was also very hard work and pushing us all well into our stretch zone.

Into the wilderness

Base Camp

After some refreshments we were back on the bikes, but the basics were over and we headed out into the woods. The site is criss-crossed with fire roads with a loose gravel surface and this allowed us to get the feel of the bikes at various speeds, none of which were slow! Nick lead on a R1200GS and we followed using the drop-off method: At a branch the leader stopped and pointed the way, while the others went past. Once everyone was counted past, the pointer joined the back. This allowed everyone to ride behind Nick to watch the path he took and ensured that nobody fell too far behind.

Soon Nick turned off the fireroads onto paths that were either mud or rock, or both. We hadn't a clue where we were, how far we had come, or even what direction we were facing. The heavily overcast sky meant even the sun wouldn't give us a clue. Nick stopped on a ridge and pointed out something at the limits of our vision - the base camp, our starting point. We were all surprised how far we had come. Everyone was getting the hang of it and we were all enjoying ourselves. In the woods

Rocky Slope Training

We stopped at the top of a rocky slope for a briefing from Nick. We all looked at the steep rocking slope down that looked like you couldn't even walk down, let along ride a bike down.

To be continued...


Last Updated: Site 2009-01-31 Page 2007-01-13

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