Although I am on my third motorcycle during my life, I never racked up the miles on and loved a bike like I do my R1200GS. And because I knew my trip would entail taking me out of my comfort zone and onto dirt, gravel, and through mud, I decided to go back to the basics. First, I enrolled in the Motorcycle Safety Foundation Basic Rider Course. I took the same course about 17 years ago, but wanted a refresher. My local community college had the course, so I signed up. It was over a cold February weekend, but I enjoyed every minute of the classroom and course instruction. I was the only one of 12 students who already had a motorcycle endorsement, but that only led to ribbing from the instructors every time I made a mistake. It was really good fun and I did, in fact, learn a few things about slow speed maneuvering, covering the controls, and braking in corners, among others, that really did help my confidence. Although we were on assigned, smaller 250cc cruiser type bikes, the skills transferred well back to my bike.
Next, I signed up for the 2-day off road course that BMW offers at their Performance Center in Greer, South Carolina. I did do a more extensive writeup here, but for this page, I can tell you that was some of the best training I have ever had. It was pure BMW quality from soup to nuts – the facility, the instruction, the bikes, and mostly, the instructors. It was a pricey weekend, but did more for my confidence off road, in the mud, than I would have gotten in many months of practicing on my own. I learned and got to practice dozens of techniques for getting into and more importantly out of sticky situations. I think the biggest lessen I learned was that despite the size and bulk of the R1200GS, it is a very balanced bike. So, learning how to balance on a balanced bike makes for a very maneuverable bike. Weight shifting properly, particularly while standing on the pegs, and the bike seems to drive itself. And with loads of power, the throttle becomes your friend. It really was a great course.
The skills I learned in the two courses, the Basic Rider Course and the Off Road Course, would do me no good unless I practiced. So, I had my local dealership put some knobby tires on my bike, like the ones I had at the BMW facility in Greer, and I took every opportunity to go out and find trails, mud, and such. I know much of my trip will be on well-groomed asphalt, but I also have learned through my other camping trips that much of the world is to be found off the beaten track, so I wanted to be prepared. On one long weekend, my brother and I took off to Carolina Adventure World in Winnsboro, South Carolina, which is a huge OHV park, with miles and miles of trails from hard packed gravel service roads to double diamond motocross only trails. While I stayed away from the gnarlier stuff there, I did find the limits of my comfort and learned to avoid getting into “too sticky” of situations. Fortunately, and proudly, I never dropped the bike that weekend. I also attended a Horizons Unlimited Meeting near Appomattox, Virginia where I learned all sorts of good information about overlanding by motorcycle.
I did a slightly more extensive write up on that trip here.
The next step in my journey in becoming a better off-road rider was getting a dirt bike. As I mentioned I never spent any time off road on motorcycles growing up and even after. And as much as I love the big BMW, I never felt like I could really have fun on the bike in the mud. With the big bike, it seemed likeI was just getting through the muck without ditching and falling over. What I felt I needed was gain some insight and touch on a smaller bike.
Enter KTM. I bought a new KTM 350 EXC-F to add the stable. This bike is incredibly light and powerful and loads of fun (It’s the bright orange on the right).
It weighs about a third of the BMW when loaded up. The seat height is 38″ (and I have a 29″ inseam), so the bike is high to get on. But, once you’re on it, you’re in for a hell of ride. I immediately had the opportunity to take it out to Carolina Adventure World, just southeast of Charlotte, and had a freakin’ blast.
Honestly, I never knew what I had been missing all my life. It was perhaps the most fun I have ever had, slipping and sliding around in the mud. And I gained a truckload of confidence handling the rutty stuff. I took shots of everything and made a short video. You may hear a squeal or two, but it was all in fun.
I went out a few months later to Carolina Adventure World and rode the whole weekend. There was a remarkable change I noticed in my riding as the weekend went on – I got faster and more confident. There is just something about learning to let a bike slide around underneath you and just keeping it pointed in the right direction. I learned to stop thinking about leaning the bike this way and that and to just relax.
Was all this necessary? To each his own, I suppose. I have been riding for about 17 years, but always on the relative “safety” of the road, and never standing on the pegs for long periods dodging branches and motoring through muddy ruts. And with panniers packed to the gills with all my gear and me in the middle of nowhere, I wanted to be prepared for any riding conditions. I think all this training and practice prepared me well.