#291 Now there’s a new meaning to the term, ground school

You yearn for off-highway adventure, but aren’t confident in your skills. Take some training and hit the dirt!

Once upon a time, people did what they were supposed to do: they rode street bikes on the street, dirt bikes in the dirt, and outlaws weren’t your former partner’s family. Times have changed. These days the rebels aren’t outside the law. They’re just breaking old rules. It’s called Adventure Riding.
An amazing number of people have dropped big bucks on dual purpose bikes that can handle the highway, logging roads and trails, that is to say, the bikes can handle whatever comes their way, but only if the rider knows how to ride them.
Street riders fortunate to have started out young, on dirt bikes, will know what to do with a big enduro. But those who’ve never been off pavement screech to a halt every time they see gravel ahead—even when it’s well groomed and hard packed. Fear rules!
Having spent 25 years riding an enduro, I have plenty of experience with people asking me if I take my BMW R80GS off road, and they’re often shocked when I say yes. But even still I have never come close to spending enough time in the dirt. I missed out as a child, so it remains a constant draw for me. Every time I see an interesting dirt road or rocky trail, my eye goes down it and my bike wants to follow. Often I’m alone and afraid of where it might lead. Dirt riding alone, into the unknown, isn’t the safest thing. Yet I’ve gone places where no one would find me if I didn’t return home—because no one knows where I get to when I ride off alone. I have to be careful.
I’ve also asked others, when I meet them riding big enduros, whether they take it off-highway. Nine times out of 10, the specialty breed has never seen dirt. The thing is, so many are afraid, not just of getting their pristine, expensive dirty, but afraid of leaving the security blanket of pavement. So they remain street abiding citizens just waiting for temptation. More often than not, they’d be willing to hit the dirt if only there was someone in their life willing to teach them the basics.
Well, maybe that “someone” is Clinton Smout. He’s the man who’s been teaching all the kiddies to ride little Yamahas at the winter motorcycle shows across Canada. Now he’s at it again, promoting the sport to the no longer young. Smout, who runs the Yamaha sponsored Horseshoe Riding Adventures school in Ontario, has actually been teaching people to ride big enduros for 12 years now.
But four years ago BMW approached him to take a five-day training course that would, in turn qualify him to teach an off-road curriculum and offer graduation certificates. He is now among a handful to have completed BMW’s training: there are two others in BC, four in Alberta, and three in Quebec. The courses now offered by Smout and his fellow graduates of the BMW academy come in two types, and are offered Tuesdays, Thursdays and weekends.
Those with little or no dirt experience, ride a small 250cc Yamaha for half a day, and then their own motorcycle for the other half. They learn skills on an easy to manage, easier to pick up small bikes with no mirrors, turn signals or saddlebag brackets to break. When students try it again on their own bikes, they’re armed with newfound skills and a support crew should they fall.
Those with prior dirt experience take the eight-hour course on their own bikes. It’s recommended they lower tire pressure and adjust the handlebars forward for better standing position. The whole point is to get people comfortable and develop skill riding big enduros off road. There are so many on the road these days that could venture beyond the straight and narrow. Clinton’s school leads a couple hundred astray each year.
Another option for anyone taking dirt bike courses with Clinton is that he has five different BMW enduros with 50/50 tires instead of the 90/10 that most of us ride. That means the tires are designed half for dirt, and are far knobbier than you’d want if you were spending most of your time on the highway. The 50/50 tires are a rough ride on the road but they do grab the dirt. You can try a different BMW at the end of your dirt class. Or, for $50, you can take a half hour of training (test ride) on a BMW enduro, usually one on one, on gravel, dirt and road, just to get a feel of what you might buy. This you cannot do at a dealer. It’s a real bonus for the serious shopper.
Big enduros became popular in the 1980s in Europe. I know because I saw them there, loaded beyond belief, riding the Sahara. The preferred bike was my own, the R80GS. But there were others. The cable channel series, Long Way Round, that followed actors Charley Boorman and Ewan McGregor on their adventures in 2004 popularized enduros and have directly effected sales. Clinton says interest in enduros boomed after the show aired. These days almost every manufacturer is offering adventure bikes: Moto Guzzi Stelvio, Yamaha Super Ténéré, KTM Adventure, Ducati Multistrada, BMW GS, and so on.
This June 21-23, Horseshoe Riding Adventures is hosting the Ontario GS Challenge. It runs Friday to Sunday, costs $199 and the Trophy Cup comes with a free trip to South America to compete in 2014. It consists of pavement and dirt challenges, some easy, some hardcore, with qualifying on Friday. Know that there are options for the less skilled riders, involving some kayaking and treetop hiking. A Canadian motojournalist (not likely me) and three challenge riders will go on an all expenses paid trip. And the ultimate prize is a BMW. To sign up, visit www.BMWHorseshoe.com
For those of you now on the couch waiting for the weather to get better, and maybe planning your summer rides, consider the challenge weekend or a little off-road training for your adventure bike. Learning to deal with loss of traction in the dirt helps when it happens on the road. And we don’t get more confident if we don’t keep sharp. There are many choices for a good time and some summer adventure. I pick as many as I can.

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