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Just One More Mile - Initial Planning

A diary blog, covering details of the initial planning for our Round The World motorcycle trip in 2008...

31 July 2007


My Dirty Weekend...

… married for just a month and I’ve already had a dirty weekend!

Not the kind that springs to mind first, but the kind that involves big motorcycles, a Welsh forest playground, the wettest summer on record and instruction from a Dakar rally expert… yes, I’ve just done the BMW Off-Road Skills level 1 course… the same one that Tracy did 3 weeks ago, only this one wasn’t a “Ladies Only” course (obviously!).

Following Tracy’s unfortunate accident when she did the course, we opted to travel down by car – at least that way if I had a similar misfortune we’d be able to get home! Leaving work just after 4pm on Thursday we drove down to South Wales and rocked up at our hotel – the excellent Castle Coaching Inn at Trecastle – just after 8pm. Whilst the butterflies in my stomach were starting to make themselves known they didn’t prevent us from enjoying a delicious meal in the Inn’s restaurant before retiring relatively early to try and get some sleep. Up early and stuffed with an excellent cooked breakfast we set off for the Unit where we met up with the instructors. Tracy dropped me off and left to entertain herself for the day (read about what she got up to on her blog…) and I went and introduced myself. After completing the formalities of filling in the forms, showing my driving licence and getting changed into my off-road gear (complete with KTM-branded trousers…) I was given the key to my steed for the 2 days – a rather large R1200GS in black… it looked like it had already seen a fair amount of action, but started first time and we were off to the playground…

Once there the 4 instructors – Nick, Rob, Chris and Zippy – split the 19 of us into 3 groups… to do this, they asked who had any off-road experience and were met by awkward fumbling as my fellow “non-virgins” and I reluctantly admitted that we’d at least ridden on dirt before… worrying about what we’d let ourselves in for was unfounded, as our instructor for the 2 days, Zippy, quickly put us at ease. In my group were 4 others – Martin (doing the course for the 2nd time with his wife, Jackie, who was in another group), Gaz (also doing the course for the 2nd time) and Don & Dennis (2 mates who take frequent trips abroad). Martin, Gaz and I were on the R1200s with Don & Dennis on identical F650GS.

The first few exercises were all concerned with getting us confident with the bikes – learning to pick them up (I dropped mine as soon as I’d picked it up!), learning about the balance point (which involved walking round the bike whilst holding it up with just 1 finger!), walking the bike, getting on and off, etc… after a short ride round in a big oval to demonstrate our (lack of) clutch control we moved from the muddy area where we started down to a separate area of the park for some braking exercises and more practice at getting the balance and clutch control right. The braking practice was great fun – first locking the back wheel at ~40mph to get used to how useless it is, and how the bike feels when it locks. Then locking the front. Anyone who has ever ridden a motorcycle will know that this is something you never want to do, as it’s usually followed by the sound of scraping and searing pain… The exercise involved locking the front whilst pushing the bike by keeping the power on – leading to a sort of muddy “rolling burnout”… I loved it, and despite the smell from my clutch, managed to leave a very long rut across the land we were playing on… cool!

After a few more exercises it was time for a trail ride and then lunch. After lunch we progressed on to riding up and down steep banks including stopping part way, learning how to control the bike and get up and down safely. Some more trails later and then we rode through some deep water – where Llewellyn (Simon Pavey’s son) was taking photos – I’ll post them as soon as I get a copy. Finally, we learnt about hill recovery (what to do if the bike stalls on a steep incline) and did some more trails before heading back to meet the other groups and return to the unit.

It had been a superb day, and I’d learnt absolutely loads. My confidence in handling the big bike was pretty high, and I’d only dropped the bike twice – once when picking it up (see above) and once during the “hill recovery” exercise, where I went down with it, uninjured, fortunately!

That evening we had the customary meal in the Abercrave, and Tracy joined us as well, so a lot of the meal-time conversation was about travelling by motorbike. We were even joined by Simon Pavey towards the end of the meal, and Tracy got her own back on him for when he phoned her to find out how she was - and accused her of not knowing who he was!

After calling it a night early (well, we did have an extra half-hour’s journey to our hotel!) we woke to improving weather for the 2nd day's fun. At the end of the previous day, Zippy told us that we’d done “all the stuff we needed to cover” and so the day would be free for “hooning about”, so I knew we had some fun in store!

Once back on the bike and in the playground we wasted no time in heading off on a ‘gentle’ trail ride, down very muddy and rutted lanes (eh, Gaz!), in glorious sunshine. Simply perfect. The day included some very challenging sections as Zippy continued to build our confidence and stretch us – but never by too much. I’ve never felt so good for so long when doing something like this. Normally there’s a point where my confidence drops and I start to question whether or not I’m capable, before things pick up. Zippy must have got the balance exactly right, as my confidence remained high throughout, even when faced with very steep climbs, slippery descents (having stalled the bike at the top!), very narrow paths, and big, deep puddles.

Paul about to tackle another narrow track through the forest

It was a shame when it all came to the end, which was precipitated when Martin’s bike gave up the ghost after a particularly slippery downhill section (so much for the reliability of the 1200…). That only cut our course short by about 15 minutes, and it didn’t detract from the enjoyment. The lucky sod got to ride Zippy’s R1200GS Adventure back to the unit, though – hardly fair when he’s the one that broke his bike!!

Paul arrives back at the unit and demonstrates the Cowboy Dismount

Back at the unit we were all presented with our certificates before saying our goodbyes. The end of 2 days of simply fantastic motorcycling, in superb countryside, with great company and excellent tuition. Well worth the money – give it a go and you won’t be disappointed!

Our final night at the Castle Coaching Inn proved the excellent food from the 1st night was no fluke, and we left on Sunday morning having had a great stay.

Now I’m considering getting some knobbly tyres for one of my GSs and finding some green lanes to play on!

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