I find off-road riding deeply frustrating. I can ride a road bike fairly competently, but stick me near a muddy lane or a rutted path and it all goes to worms. See me off-road and you will be forgiving for thinking I’ve never sat on a bike before, which really pisses me off. Why the hell can’t I do it?
So, when the chance arose to spend a day with the guys at the BMW off-road skills course, I dug out my off-road kit and headed to Wales.
The first thing that strikes you about the school is the level of quality the whole event has. Outside the small industrial unit in Ystradgynlais, Brecon, about 30 BMWs including the Xtrail, F650GS, F800GS and R1200GS stood waiting for us. Each one looks immaculate, virtually brand new, and not slightly tired and battered as you would expect from an off-road school. BMW don’t do shabby, this is all about company image after all.
After a coffee and introduction we are given a bike and lead a few miles on the road to the quite simply staggering off-road area. The school hires the use of a 4,000 acre former mine with more trails, paths and muddy inclines that you could ever need.
Being in the beginner’s group the first morning is taken up basically brushing up on simple skills. First of all you learn how to pick a bike up, then a bit of clutch control with low-speed circles and finally dealing with a locked front or rear wheel. Not massively hard skills but you’d be surprised how bad a lot of rider’s clutch and low-speed control is. The tuition is generally about four riders per instructor, so if you have any problems there is always someone on hand to point you in the right direction. Once a moderate level of competence is hit it’s off to the trails. Which is where I get scared.
After a few gentle trails our group pulled up at the top of a down-hill path, which we were told to go down without using the brakes, slowing ourselves using the engine braking. At this point I became tenser than an agoraphobic in a park and had images of a bent bike and myself wrapped around a tree. But after a bit of coaching I wobbled down and didn’t die. Which was a relief to all concerned. After repeating the exercise a few times we progressed on to going up hills and what to do when it all goes wrong. All of which was taught in an easy to learn and non-pressured way. Then it was off for a few slightly tougher trails before heading back to base.
The BMW off-road school is a phenomenal set-up and great fun irrespective of your off-road ability, good or bad. It’s a fantastic place to simply learn bike control and have a great couple of days out. The minimal course you can book is a two day one, which I would thoroughly recommend.
A two day course costs £449 including bike hire. Over night accomodation is extra. www.offroadskills.com