Off Road Skills Level One–April 14th and 15th 2013–Day 1 (Sunday) Stuff on trails

So having pottered about on the flat area we headed off in to the forest for some riding on trails and getting used to standing up. The position to adopt was described as “standing at a bar” which we all seemed to understand. The trails involved a number of different surfaces, though with the rain mud was a common feature. We went from graded roads of a mixture of gravel and mud, to quite muddy trails up to gravel roads. Understanding peg weighting made a big difference and to this day I’ve still to reconcile that with the California Superbike “no body steering” thing.

But another point came up – being 6’5” tall and standing on the pegs means I have to (as Kevin directed) pivot at the waist. This is fine to reach but makes it very hard not to lean heavily on the bars and thus cause an issue with off road riding. This happens on-road to an extent, but off road the steering on a bike is continually correcting itself for the terrain and odd slips that happen. For this reason I understand the idea is to anchor yourself to the bike with your feet and lower legs – as explained to me that is why the insides of motocross boots (and sometimes trousers) have grippy material. The only thing is that with my inside leg of 38” the top of seat of the new R1200GS in low position came to about the top of my boot, and it felt like I had little purchase on the bike. Certainly it didn’t feel like I could pivot at the waist without leaning on the bars. I use the word feel deliberately – later in the day it wasn’t a problem and I just got on with enjoying the riding and even spinning up the rear a little. The next day was a different story – I went backwards a bit in confidence.

One of the exercises I think we did on this day was descents. I had a rough idea of what we might hear but when you are there on a muddy and flinty hill at the gradient we practiced on it is something else! The idea (and I believe four wheel drive cars are similar) is to let the machine do the work, and not to use the brakes or accelerator. The hill we were on was just at the limit of what you could walk up and down, and yet as expected the machines had no problems.

Then on the same hill a few twists were added. These included starting the machine on a slope – back in the day when I did my road test we had a hill start which was a a little real world test of all the things we had learned in coordination of hands and feet with the machine, with a nice dose of gravity thrown in. We would move on to momentum work later (more on that in a latter blog) and part of this is that you don’t (can’t) start upwards on the slopes that these machines will cope with. So it was a downhill start for this, but it still had a sequence to it – which of course I’ve forgotten already but it was logical. That said as with the previous descents it seemed to involve plummeting down a hill without any brakes on and a 90 degree turn at the bottom. Again it was just a feeling but I felt like I was hanging over the back wheel to stay upright. The turn at the bottom was a great illustration of looking where you want to go – I forgot this temporarily the next day.

Then to twist it up Kevin suggested trying second gear and some braking effort – brakes sounded fine to me (gently) but I’m not sure about second gear.

I think the other stuff we did was the next day. We rode around a few more trails – up high to where the wind turbines lived (they sound quite strange close up) and down. Some of the wider trails were third gear – all good stuff and I was happy with how I was getting on on the GS.

So we headed back to regroup near the entrance, which was a nice descent through the forest and gave an idea of how hilly the area was – we seemed to be descending all the way down for a few miles. Then a road section back to the industrial estate and we piled in to the van to get a shower back at the B&B. I’d had a good time, learned stuff, and not fallen off! Back at the B&B we got our wet and muddy stuff off in the drying room – the Old Tredegar conversion to a B&B showing a bit of thought.

Part of the course is an evening meal at the Abercrave Inn, when Simon Pavey and the other instructors join the participants. All well documented in various articles I’ve read over the years in magazines and we had a good time talking to one of the other instructors called Glynn Barraclough. He had looked after David & the rest of the Motorrad Central group the previous October and tried to get us to sign up to the ORS Portugal trip.

Then it was back to the Old Tredegar for more chat into the wee small hours – that said I baled out early on them to try and get some rest for the next day.