BMW Off-Road Skills Course
"Thousands of customers enjoy our hugely popular BMW Off Road Skills courses each year. The spectacular 4,000 acre Walters Arena Enduro Park near Glynneath in South Wales offers almost endless trails and terrains to suit all abilities. You will be taught or guided by an experienced team of BMW Off Road Instructors headed by six-times Dakar Rally competitor Simon Pavey. This year's range of experiences has been extended to ensure there is an off-road experience to suit every type of rider, whether you are a complete off-road novice or someone with previous experience."
3 nights in Abercrave near Swansea attending a 2 day BMW Off Road Skills Course
By Alastair Barr
A damp ride over to Wales in July led to the village of Abercrave tucked away in a valley north of Swansea. I was staying at the Abercrave Inn for the next 3 nights whilst I attended the 2 day BMW Off-Road Skills course. For those of you who watched “Long Way Round”, that’s the place Ewan and Charley stayed and you might even get to sleep in the same bed!!
My friend Clive, from Cumbria, had arrived shortly before and soon we were exploring the delights of the real ale in the bar. Over a meal we met another couple of guys staying there who were also on the course. Three of us were booked on the level one basic course and the other was doing the level one advanced course which covers pretty much the same manoeuvres as the basic course but spends less time practising those and more time out on the trails. Having previously done no (intentional) off road riding the basic course was the one for me!
At 9.00 the next day we were at the BMW warehouse being kitted out with our motocross boots and checking over our bikes. When I booked there had been a choice from the G650 XCountry, G650 XChallenge, F800GS or R1200GS. I had reasoned that the 1200 would have been too much of a handful for my first off road experience and maybe the 650 was a bit small, so the 800 seemed like the ideal compromise. For the next 2 days we split into groups of 6, each with an instructor – we had 2 instructors but I think that was more accident than design!
The site is about 8 miles from the warehouse and it was a very strange experience riding there on an unfamiliar bike with no indicators or mirrors. It does make shoulder checks and lifesavers that much more relevant.
There are some 4000 acres of forest criss-crossed with trails, everything from wide, smoothly graded forestry roads to narrow, rutted tracks with deep puddles and overhanging trees and just a few gradients which you’d have difficulty walking up or down!
When it rains, as it did frequently on day 1, it’s a very bleak place.
The very first exercise was to drop the bike and learn to pick it up correctly – a skill that saw a lot of use over the next couple of days, and a very good reason for the intentional removal of easily broken parts. The rest of the morning consisted of mastering the basics with all the manoeuvres carried out standing up. Exercises included lots of slow speed riding and turning, and braking from speed just to understand what it felt like when this happened and to respond appropriately.
One guy came off when trying to beat the record rear braking skid length. I think the result was a broken collarbone. When doing the similar front brake exercise, I found that it always helps to turn off the ABS. A short trail ride to lunch was the opportunity to put these new found skills into practice.
The rest of the day was spent with more exercises interspersed with trail rides gradually increasing in difficulty and variety. By the end of the day I had decided that the F800 was not the bike for me, as had Clive – we couldn’t get to grips with its very snatchy injection which is not ideal when clutch and throttle control are critical. I remember Rob Allen warning me about this as he’d found the same when he attended the course shortly after the bike’s launch. We felt sure that BMW would have fixed it by now. Wrong. 3000 revs at 5 mph isn’t a great combination. I’d be interested to know whether this “feature” applies also to the road bikes or if it is masked in normal conditions.
I later had a brief ride on the G650 XChallenge but decided that it was a bit too tall. I felt comfortable on a G650 XCountry and chose to use that the following day – obviously a less powerful bike but with bags of torque, much easier to control and lighter to pick up.
That evening was a course dinner at the Abercrave Inn with plenty of opportunity to chat through the thrills and spills of the day, compare aches and pains, and with the help of a couple of pints, forget how many times that day you’d wanted to be somewhere else! And of course, for the instructors to start sowing the seeds of adventure in your mind – how about the Dakar? Maybe they’re on commission........
The second day started with some ‘gentle’ warm up exercises to get us back in the groove. There were then some further technical lessons such as getting out of trouble when you stall or fall going up a 1 in 3. This was combined with more challenging trail riding (deep water filled ruts, a river, and a bit of unintentional flying but with a safe landing). One good lesson in wet ruts is never to get too close to the guy in front. If he has a problem and you have to stop abruptly, the water comes over the tops of your boots. Again, there was a bit of drama when someone in another group had a tumble and they had to call out the rescue helicopter. Mild concussion I believe, but better safe than sorry and a reminder how vulnerable we are. After lunch there was the opportunity to try the different bikes on a technical circuit that they had marked out. Even the instructors would let you try their bikes.
||All too soon the day was over and it was back to base to hand back the bike and the boots and to collect my certificate. It had been the correct decision to stay on for the night after the course – I am not sure that I could have coped with the ride home after such an exhausting couple of days.
So what did I think of the course? The structure was excellent and a lot of thought had obviously gone into it. Master a basic technique then get taken somewhere to put it into practice – in some challenging situations - and then repeat it. The first time I felt well outside my comfort zone but 2 or 3 times later I am really having fun – time to move on to the next challenge and move outside the comfort zone again for a while! This same basic theme recurred throughout the course. And it’s amazing how some terrain is more easily crossed on a bike than on foot.
The other question is whether the skills I learned are relevant to road riding. Certainly on the basic course I felt that most, if not all of the skills are transferable – balance, throttle control, slow speed manoeuvres, anticipation. Certainly gravel car parks will never worry me again. Of course the great thing is that if you do drop the bike whilst practicing you don’t have to worry – it’s somebody else’s, your no-claims remains intact and they’ll quickly magic up a replacement if it breaks! And they wash it down for you afterwards.
Will I be back for the advanced course? It depends on how quickly the pain is forgotten and how well I ride out the economic downturn.
Full size photos (plus a few more not shown here) can be found in the CVAM Photo Gallery:
Visit the BMW Off Road Skills Courses official website:
...where you can find full details of the various off road skills courses they run
BMW Off Road Skills Level One
Learning to ride a motorcycle off-road opens up many new horizons and also teaches important skills about handling and manoeuvring motorcycles. All riders are divided into groups depending on their skill level to ensure everyone gains maximum enjoyment.
BMW Off Road Skills Level Two
The Level Two BMW Off Road Skills course is designed specifically for riders with previous experience of BMW Off Road Skills Courses. This course enables them to take their existing skills to the next level and explore every corner of the fantastic 4,000 acre Enduro Park.
Day in the Dirt (New for 2008)
BMW Off Road Skills has developed this new series of special one day events for 2008, aimed to allow participants to just enjoy riding off-road. These days are suitable to all levels of off-road riders - from those who have completed a Level One Basic course right through to experienced off-road riders.
All New Brecon Beacons Discovery
BMW Off Road Skills has created a NEW two day experience - the Brecon Beacons Discovery, based at the beautiful Radnor Forest, mid-Wales. The experience will include riding on some of the great tracks and roads perfectly suited to the BMW Enduro range and offers miles of new trails for previous BMW Off Road Skills participants.
Pyrenees Rider's Paradise
Following the popularity and success of the past two tours to the Pyrenees, Simon Pavey and his Off Road Skills team have developed another unbelievable trip to the stunning mountain range in 2008. This is an entry-level off-road tour for customers who have already completed the BMW Off Road Skills Level One Basic course, suitable for riders of a BMW Enduro of similar large trail motorcycle.
Take a look at Forums such as ukGSer.com, GSclubUk.org and ADVRider.com for other peoples experiences relating to off road courses. One particular discussion I [AndyW] noticed that may be very useful for anyone considering attending one of these courses for the first time:
BMW Off Road Course - TIPS! - www.ukgser.com/forums/showthread.php?t=102427
And here's a couple of videos I found on YouTube that will give you a taste of this off road riding course...