Saturday 29th May
What a great day. I spent the day on an adventure motorbike maintenance course with the BMW school in Wales. For someone who knew/knows nothing about how a motorbike actually works this was a very worthwhile day. We worked on a BMW F800 and 1200GS. In the morning we looked at general maintenance stuff; wheels, brakes, fluid levels, electrics. In the afternoon we spent our time on the wheels. Changing front and back brake pads, and punctures.
There were eight of use on the course. Two guys had come over from Ireland and one was from Switzerland. He's off on his RTW trip next month and had come over especially for the course. It makes you wonder why there aren't more of these courses. For me, it was absolutely brilliant. I feel much more confident now that I can at least keep my bike maintained, know a little about how it works (and get less ripped off at garages) and at least have a go at fixing a flat. At the very least I now know how to take the wheels off and can leave the bike at the side of the road and hitch with the wheel to a town where I can get the puncture sorted.
Tomorrow is the start of a two day off-road adventure course. Am really looking forward to that, but a little apprehensive.
Awesome. Absolutely fantastic. I jumped on my battered BMW 1200GS and, along with 20 others we headed off to the gravel pits of the Breacon Beacon training site. We were spit into two groups of 10 and each group had two instructors. Both of my instructors were absolutely excellent. We started with some basic stuff like, picking the bike up, how to stand properly on a bike, how to stop (NOT with the feet down in case you slip and slide) and how to mount and dismount. We then did some slaloms and circles, trying to ride as slowly as possible. From there we moved onto braking. First with just the back brake, skidding as much as we could, then the front only, then properly.
After lunch we headed onto the tracks and rode up and down and around. Stopping on a hill we came to the scariest part of the day which was the down hill run. Although, really it wasn't that steep a hill, it was when you're standing on top of a 200KG 1200 GS. First we went down it, just using the engine break to slow down with. This was quite scary as you had to take your hand off the front brake completely and just trust that the engine, in first gear, would slow you down. Most of us managed it but the two who couldn't bring themselves to do it were taken off by one of the instructors to a lesser slope to get their confidence up. That was good to see.
Then we went down using a tiny amount of breaking, then the third exercise was to go down, stop half way where the instructor was, and start again. Then we rode around some more. By the end of the day I was exhausted. Every one was tired out and a few people fell off, or had a little crash due to tiredness. I didn't come off at all on the first day, but am sure that it will happen tomorrow. And anyway, it might be a good idea to fall off when its someone elses motorbike; good practice for when I fall off my own!
Even better than day one! Most of today was spent putting yesterdays theory into practice. We rode round and round on increasingly tighter and steeper sections of the course. Coming to one particularly hard corner, quite steep and sharp and very deep gravel, I pulled off to block off another exit to make sure everyone went the right way. As I pulled around I say a 650 going far too fast and in a straight line. Right up the bank and into some trees. The rider was bruised and hurt, and later it transpired she'd sprained her ankle and gone to hospital.
Yesterday we went down hill, today – up hill. This might sound easy but the exercise was to stall half way up the hill, turn the bike around and ride downhill. The hard part of this was to have the confidence to stallt he bike and NOT grab at the clutch. This would only result in the bike free wheeling backwards, but it's second nature to grab at the clutch. I managed to do it properly first time and was quite proud with how I coped with the whole thing. The pictures show, Craig, our instructor showing us how to do it properly. Needless to say the hill was steeper than it looks!
What I was beginning to realise was that I am more capable than I think, and (conversely perhaps) I've done some really stupid things in the past. How on earth did I ever managed to ride a Transalp up Route 40 in Argentina (hundreds of miles of gravel road and 100 mile and hour cross winds)? I had absolutely NO IDEA what I was doing, and now I know that I had no idea. I suppose the only saving grace was that I didn't know what I didn't know. Ignorance is bliss sometimes. Even last year when I took my Triumph Tiger to Scotland I did a little off-roading (just to get to some stone cirlces) and looking back on that I was really lucky not to end up on my arse. I'm sure I won't be tackling routes on my trip which are as difficult as I've done today (or if I do there better be something worthwhile at the other end) but at least I've now got the confidence to do it.
In the afternoon we swapped bikes for half an hour, just to see what the other machines were like. I had a go on F800GS. Although I quite liked this bike when I test rode one in Birmingham earlier in the year I wasn't that impressed with it off road. It had a very snatchy clutch and also felt a little small (bearing in mind all the luggage I'll have – and Tracy sometimes.) This just made me happy that I'd settled on a 1200GS and have one waiting in Anchorage!
The final session saw us tackling some really tricky and muddy sections and on the final run I fell off (for the third time today) into a HUGE muddy puddle. It's never fun falling off a motorbike, but I have to report that it's so much more fun falling off someone elses motorbike. That horrible feeling you get when you know your going over, and without a care in the world for your own safety, all you can think about is how much damage you're going to do to your lovely bike.
I have had an absolutely fantastic three days and learnt SO much. The adventure maintenance course was great and the two day off'-roading was fun AND I've learnt a lot. I'm much more confident that I can at least keep an eye on my bike, change a few things and know where a few things should go. And although I'll be mainly riding on tarmac (or bitumen as they say) on my trip, I've got the confidence to go off-road, and more importantly perhaps, know a little bit more about my( and my bikes) abilities and limitations.