Off Road Skills Level One–April 14th and 15th 2013–Day 2 (Monday) Trails and more hills

Most rider training courses I have looked at are one day, so I used to think the cost of the ORS school was a bit steep. What hadn’t really clicked is that the course has always been two days and in that light makes a bit more sense, even if it is the other end of the country. One thing that reinforced the point that I had chosen well was the multinational mix of attendees, I’m not sure but I think that there were attendees from mainland Europe on the course.

On Monday morning Nicky did a fantastic job of sorting us out for breakfast with a full house of folk (full English breakfast for me again) and got our stuff on and headed to the van. Ross was really proud of his new GS boots which he had got at a cracking price at ORS (they sell end of line surplus BMW off road kit at great prices) and Graeme extolled the virtues of the thinner off road gloves that he had got hold of.

Then it was a quicker process at the venue, sign on, get keys, kit up and off on the bikes. We grouped up just beyond the entrance at the Arena and went straight in to trail riding. For whatever reason the confidence I had at the end of Day 1 had gone, and it was obvious to the others – David and Jonathan could see I was gripping too hard, dropping my shoulders (and view) – all the classic survival / panic stuff. To be honest I don’t know whether it was just plain tiredness or mental fatigue but once the nerves set I struggled to force myself to relax. I think I am still too early in the process of learning this stuff to know a quick technique to settle myself. Given enough time though I will get it.

At some stage on day 2 I managed to fall off – I think I will classify it as a proper “brain fart” when I saw a small ditch to cross and decided that some throttle would be a good idea to shift the weight back on the bike giving the front suspension more travel. That was my train of thought. What happened was I shot forward and fell off. What Simon reported seeing was me getting air and rapidly heading towards a bank, falling off and the GS coming back towards me. I think I must have effectively bunny hopped an R1200GS over a bank. Oops. I went down on my left side and at some stage bashed my knee which later was quite sore and stiff, but otherwise it was just my confidence (and ego) that got bashed.

But before that we did the follow-up to yesterday which was hill recovery. The idea behind this (as demonstrated by Kevin) was to learn the technique of what to do if you get stuck on a hill. Most if not all of the slopes we were riding up were too steep to approach from a standstill, so on this exercise we would ride up the hill, stall the bike, then turn the bike to face downhill so that we could go through the hill start process. As before there is a step by step approach to it that means the bike is kept under control (even when you are at times sliding down in the mud). I got on reasonably well with this – my height and reach making it ok to do.

We later did a straightforward ascent of the hill, well I say straightforward but like most of the hills I’m sure it got steeper and rockier farther up. The process was to get the bike up into second and let the traction control do the rest – quite freaky when changing gear standing up is an experience, I only had a short distance and it was another 90 degree turn at the bottom of the hill. I found myself gripping things a bit too tightly, Kevin suggested getting further forward and relaxing which did the business though surprisingly hard to do when the bike is bouncing around. This was one of the exercises where the result was no problem but the experience from memory still equates with more of a roller coaster ride than riding a motorcycle – this was an illustration of how impressive the machine is and all of my work is to not get in the way of it doing its job of steering and putting the power down.

We then did the loop in reverse, coming down that same hill. By this time I was also beginning to target fixate and was looking at a nice ditch at the other side of the trail at the bottom of the hill. My two first runs ended up in me grabbing some brake and the abs kicking in at the bottom of the hill – plenty of room but not quite the turn right that was planned. Kevin (at the top of the descent) noticed this and suggested looking where I wanted to go. This worked, the bike didn’t fall over, explode or fly – we just turned the corner no problem…

Finally we had the momentum, which was described as the opener for Level Two and a test of machine control (Uh-oh). I had a bit of Deja Vu as there had been a mini version at Knockhill with a little hill followed by a tight turn immediately after. As you may have picked up I was having general issues and just thought oh dear! I looked at it from two perspectives, rational brain thought – what an excellent test of slow speed manoeuvring, throttle control and balance. My panic response was – OMG I have to ride up and stop on a hillock that is higher than my head after turning round a boulder in a tight space and then loop back and forth.

Rather than the skilled control of say a trials rider, I just flashed to panic and thoughts of roller coasters. I had a couple of goes but didn’t have the control to do it. I want to though, and immediately filed the ambition to “Crack Momentum”.

There was also a part with riding through water which I baled from – I was giving up then, I wasn’t as bothered about it as I was with momentum but I want to do that bit again too.

We then headed back to gather together with the other groups to try other bikes. I was completely away by then and retreating in to my brain – as far as dropping my view and completely missed Jenny directing me to put the R1200 beside the other 1200 bikes – organising bikes in to groups. I waved an apology and moved the bike. I stood out as I reckoned the F800 was too twitchy, the R1200GS was the best bike and I had ridden the G650 at Knockhill.

Then things wound up, we gathered back near the entrance with the enduro guys and got our photos taken with Kevin and the bikes and even managed to get Simon Pavey in the photo too! Pictures on the Motorrad Central Facebook page.

Then back to the Industrial Estate to get our Certificates and back in the Van to get showered at the Old Tredegar  and pile in to the van for the journey back to Scotland. David did a great job of driving us home, and dropping Simon off when we discovered that Dumfries and Galloway doesn’t do taxis after Midnight on a Monday.

And then it was back to Dalkeith around 2/3 in the morning to get the bike. I did contemplate getting a taxi home from Dalkeith but David had my bike out and ready for me and I rode the Adventure home in the dark for the first time ever!