Warning: If you want to continue to find your life fulfilling and enjoyable, do not, I repeat, do not take part in one of 9 times Dakar Rally entrant Simon Pavey's Off Road Skills courses. My previously enjoyable office job now seems appallingly dull as I stare wistfully out of the window, longing to be back on the gravel fire roads and rocky trails of Walter's Arena in South Wales.
If you've read my previous blog post on my day with the Yamaha Off Road Experience, you may recall it didn't go all that smoothly. With that being my only off road riding experience just two short weeks ago, I was quite nervous about the weekend in Wales. This trepidation wasn't much eased by apocalyptic weather forecasts and appalling conditions for my 3 hour ride West to the small town of Ystradgynlais on the edge of the Brecon Beacons. Thankfully, Saturday dawned bitterly cold, but dry and by some miracle, this was how the weather would remain across the weekend.
The first thing that struck me when arriving at the Off Road Skills base was the sheer number of bikes lined up outside. I'm not sure exactly what I was expecting, but it certainly wasn't the 30 or so assorted BMWs ranging from the G650GS right up to the brand spanking new 2013 R1200GS. Everyone, staff and customers alike, was friendly and approachable and after signing my life away in return for the keys to "my" G650GS Sertao I chatted to fellow students to find that there was a fair mix of those with no previous experience like me and others who seemed to be dab hands.
Before long, we were underway in convoy for the short road ride up to the off road park that ORS, along with various World and British Rally Championship teams, use for their training. As we would discover over the weekend, Walter's Arena consists of thousands of acres of pine forests criss-crossed with roads and trails of wildly varying difficulty providing challenges for all skill levels.
The course started on a large expanse of gravel where the attendees were split into two roughly equal groups - those with experience and those without. For those of us with no previous experience, we were first shown what would prove a vital skill - the easiest way to pick up a motorbike when it has inadvertently ended up on its side. Practicing this and other handling exercises got the blood flowing and starting getting us all a little warmer. As did practicing standing on the foot pegs as this put me in the ideal situation to spot the heated grips switch!
The rest of the morning was spent riding around this gravel area practicing various different techniques that would be called upon later out on the trails, including after lunch practicing locking the wheels under braking; allowing us to experience the feeling and surprisingly that a locked front wheel wasn't an immediate off, but that reasonable reactions could keep things right side up.
Breaking the groups down further into 5 or 6 students for each 1 or 2 instructors, we headed off out onto the forest tracks to put the theory into practice. The rest of the Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning had us in a follow my leader train behind Simon around the trails, stopping every now and then for further tuition and different exercises. Powering up 45° inclines, rolling back down again under complete control, adjusting weight on the foot pegs to turn the bike, fine tuning clutch and throttle control to tackle the trickier obstacles all starting to gel as the impeccable tuition and training built skill and confidence levels. By Sunday afternoon, trails that would have petrified me a mere 36 hours earlier now offered a thrilling challenge to tackle and conquer.
Sadly my inadequate grasp of the English language cannot begin to convey how much fun I had this weekend. I implore every one of you reading this to try it for yourself; especially if, like me not so long ago, you think that the world of motorcycling consists of head down, bum up sportsbikes and race tracks. If I have anything to say about it, I'll see you there.