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

So if you’ve read my previous post you will know that we are staying at the Old Tredegar, there is a group of 8 of us, and we are all travelling around in a VW Transporter Shuttle in Silver (did I mention the colour?).

Nicky did a sterling job of looking after us all for breakfast on Sunday morning and then we all headed back to our rooms to kit up for the journey to the industrial estate where ORS are based. Longest bit for me (as expected and in order of duration) was 1. Removing the visor from the Enduro (was going to use goggles) 2. Putting in the contact lenses. 3. Putting on the Tech 3s.

Actually the Alpinestars Tech 3s are quite easy to put on but the long part is getting the adjustment of the closures correct. There is a large Velcro flap which folds over and can get a little crossed up if you do it wrong. The buckles have some rotational movement but it is better to get everything straight so that the buckles go in. The buckles close reasonably easily apart from the inevitable one or two which don’t play ball – experience over the weekend led me to believe that the buckles have to be flat to click in properly. If they are slightly indented then they don’t line up properly and won’t click shut.

Then a double check to make sure I had everything I would need – gloves and helmet kit wise, driving license for signing in. And then stomped off on the nice new and clean carpet to get in the van. The route to the industrial estate is reasonably short but twisty – Ystradgynlais is pretty flat in the middle but go a mile in any direction and it basically follows a series of steep river valleys with inevitable changes in elevation and twist and turns. In fact at the back door of the Old Tredegar is a river, not something you appreciate properly on Google Street View.

As we turned the sweeping corner in the Industrial estate all the bikes where there waiting. In a long row out on to the road, grouped according to type and all nice and clean after the wash they had had the previous day. And nearest to their unit was the row of R1200GS bikes – the brand new model, so new in fact that it had been the previous model that David had had a shot on on the first Level One Motorrad group the previous October. One of those was going to be my ride for the next two days.

First stage was signing on – usual disclaimer forms etc., it was good to see some familiar faces from Knockhill – Simon Pavey was kicking around, as was Kevin Hammond who was helping check forms etc. Linley Pavey was also around – my wife got to know Linley a little at Knockhill as she sat with the ORS team while I was down a muddy hill falling off a few times.

I got handed a key to one of the new R1200GS bikes – this was to be the first time I would ride the new bike ever, and it would be on semi-knobblies and mainly off road. Some introduction! I hunted around for my bike but couldn’t find it. All of the bikes are numbered at ORS with the numbers in big letters on their screens but there were a couple of R1200 bikes missing screens – so David rightly did the sensible thing –try the key in the bike to see if it switches on. Right enough, I was on the screen less bike.

So we were gathered together got a wee speech and a quick explanation that filming was not allowed due to the site owners rules (and concerns) – follow to the petrol station and then form and fill up. And then up to the famous Walters Arena – ok famous to someone who scours magazines, YouTube and watched Long Way Round a few times. So it was goggles on, and ride along on the bike with the low seat. As usual I had no feel for the gear change in my motocross boots, but the space was decent on the big GS and I could hook my foot under the lever – rather than sweeping the side like I have had to do on smaller bikes like the G650 or the KTMs I had ridden a few years previously. As the roads were damp we took it pretty easy – on the way at least.

It was an interesting experience already – there must have been about 10 of each type of bike, so with R1200GS, F800GS, G650GS (or was it F700 ?) and enduro Husqvarna bikes, plus instructors on their R1200GS Adventures there was a lot of bikes at the petrol station. All good stuff. Then it was a fair ride up and out of town to get to the entrance we would use to the Arena. A bit of Google map work after the visit shows how big the area is and how many entrances lead in, thankfully with a big group I didn’t need to wait on the big gate getting opened.

Then it was on to an old road with potholes – and already some of the other participants were up on the pegs. It had been a couple of years since I had ridden off road and on an unfamiliar bike I stuck to sitting down – this would change quite quickly, all of the riding we would end up doing would be standing up.

Off Road Skills Level One–April 14th and 15th 2013–the trip to Wales

I recently had a great time with a group from Motorrad Central at the BMW Off Road Skills School in Wales. We spent two days riding new BMW motorcycles round trails and up and down hills etc.

As you will know from reading my blog over the years I like motorcycle training – so I am “better” at the thing, so I can do anything possible to improve my survivability but also because it tends to be fun. The Off Road Skills school in Wales has a national reputation, no doubt established through their many years of existence, the relatively high profile of their main instructor Simon Pavey and the regular coverage in the bike press that this brings for both him and his school.

But being based in Scotland, even East Central Scotland means a reasonable travel distance to their base in Wales. That allied with a reasonable cost meant it has been an aspiration for many years but no more than that.

I got back in to biking about 8 years ago when I saved up a bit of money, sold some shares and got some money from my gran. I went and bought a 10 year old (at the time) BMW R1100RS. Then I immediately started looking in to training. At the time BMW only offered their off road school in Wales. Having spent only £1,995 on my bike I wasn’t about to fork out a quarter of my bikes value on a course when I had a reasonably mature bike to keep on the road.

Focussing on off road riding I attended MC2 with i2imca which was rather good although it illustrated my total lack of fitness and the complications of wearing armour that was too small – I sat out mid way through the afternoon because I was too tired, the helmet was too small as were the boots. When I later attended MC4 I did this with my own boots (size 14) and helmet (64 / XXXL) which was a lot more comfortable.

A few years later Motorrad Central arranged a big bash at Knockhill, one part of which was Simon Pavey and team coming up to run a mini off road skills school aka “GS Challenge”. Although I had volunteered to help out with marshalling road rides, this was an opportunity not to miss. But having learned a bit from my last off roading experience I made a concerted effort to lose some weight. I did not bad, 5 stone off. A slight bit of overconfidence had me book to the intermediate group but I sorted that and went out with the beginners on Saturday morning. Got really muddy, benefitted greatly from the brief instruction from ORS guy Kevin Hammond (and Jon Pearson – JP) and convinced myself that I would one day do the whole thing in Wales.

Wind forward to this year and in the process of paying money out having bought a new bike I paid out a little more and booked on to the trip that Motorrad Central were planning to one of the off road skills level one courses. It wasn’t a difficult persuade as I had figured that the package of the course, transport and accommodation was the best way to attend.

Since Knockhill I had acquired a BMW Enduro helmet at a great price meaning my “off road kit” consisted of a pair of Alpinestars Tech 3 ATs (size 50), a pair of Fox Bomber Gloves (3xl) and my “old” Bullson (Hein Gericke budget) jacket and trousers. I gathered the textile kit, base layers and a couple of pairs of BMW long socks and chucked these in a duffle bag and took them with the boots and helmet to Motorrad Central. These were dumped behind David Brown’s desk – he being slightly disturbed at the size of my Alpinestars boots.

We travelled down to Wales on the Saturday so I put a change of clothes in three Tesco reusable bags (Textile stuff – great recommendation from Rennie Ritchie) which fit well in to the aluminium panniers of the GS Adventure and went for a haircut. Well I couldn’t miss my four weekly appointment at the barbers. Then I headed to Dalkeith with a slightly itchy system 6.

Having unpacked the GS Adventure I changed out of my road gear and strategically stashed these on and around the accountant’s seat at Motorrad Central. We planned to be back in the early hours of Tuesday so I would hopefully get away with it.

And then I chucked my stuff in to the quickly filling back of the Volkswagen Transporter Shuttle which had been hired for our trip to Wales and would be our ferry between venues. Most of us met at Dalkeith – Callum and David from Motorrad Central, and from a customer perspective we had Me, Ross, Jonathan, Graeme and Brian. We would be picking up Simon later in Lockerbie – on the way to Wales.

The trip to Wales was typical fare, a trundle across country to pick up the Motorway South, a brief detour to pick up Simon and then a run down the various motorways to Wales. Weather was typical varied fare in the UK in April, but as we got farther South the rain got more consistent and the cloud came down. Wales was just wet – though despite this we spotted a couple of Welsh Hell’s Angels out on their bikes.

David did a sterling job of driving duties and got us to Ystradgynlais in good time, in fact we had to go and have a look at the industrial estate where we would be starting the next day. Managing to avoid the charms of Touratech (just) across the road, we piled out of the van to stretch our legs and have a look at the 30 odd bikes getting washed at Off Road Skills. Simon Pavey said hi once he realised the van full of Scottish folks was friendly, and apologised for not being able to join us that evening at his B&B as he and the other instructors were planning to wet the head of JP’s latest arrival.

Then it was to the Old Tredegar, recently refurbished and reopened by Simon Pavey as a B&B – we all got our room allocation and got our stuff out of the van. Next stop was a chinwag in the lounge (and the first raid of the fridge – by the other guys I might add) and photos by Simon’s Rally Bikes (there are two at the side of the lounge) before heading off to the George up the road.

The George has a deserved reputation, although I had checked the menu online beforehand when it came to the day and on David and Simon’s recommendation (they had been before) I went for the Ribs. To say it was a struggle is an understatement – next time I’ll not even order Ribs +, you get enough on their own. Joining the group for the meal was Clive Rumbold – another customer of Motorrad but staying elsewhere as the Old Tredegar was full and he was also doing the Enduro course rather than level one. Over food Clive explained a little about his new business – after a long period of negotiation he had managed to get access to some trails in Scotland and was setting up an off road school in Scotland.

Then as we finished the food and it got late we scampered back down the road to the Old Tredegar for another chinwag in the lounge and a final raid of the fridge.