Why would you need intermediate adventure motorcycle training? No, seriously?
If you’d already done a beginner’s course and have since ridden over 20,000 miles on all terrain in all weather, what miracles would intermediate training work on your technique?
These were the questions buzzing in my head when I saw West 38 Moto’s blurb on an upcoming training event in Ouray, Colorado. This spring, I had done their novice training in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and it had absolutely transformed my riding. It replaced my old internal “oh shit – I don’t think I can do this” program with a “oh, looks like this is going to be a challenge – how do I best approach it?”, when facing obstacles or terrain I haven’t experienced before. It gave me tools to push myself further, challenge myself more, and take more controlled risks, all of which resulted in better riding and more fun off-road.
Dusty Wessels, the face, heart and soul of West 38 Moto, was undoubtedly a brilliant off-road coach, a sunshine, and a source of inspiration. But did I really need more training? After exploring the States and Canada on two wheels all summer, testing myself and my bike to the extreme, I already felt like I could take on the whole world: although both Paul and I prefer riding off-road and camping wild, just how hardcore or extreme can you really get when traveling? After all, we weren’t after winning the Dakar. We’re just riding our bikes around, albeit a little further.
Quite honestly, I signed up for the training because I was sold on the promise of learning to do power slides – and because I was curious: could Dusty add even more awesomeness to my newly acquired confidence, and what new magic tricks were there?
The Cool Factor
Day one dawned chilly and grey: the fall had already arrived in the Rocky Mountains, and camping season in Ouray was just about to end. Cursing myself for not bringing more coffee and bracing against icy wind, I surveyed the training grounds: an innocent looking meadow, a rock garden, and a little bit of gravel didn’t look menacing at all. My ten colleagues on their BMW 1200 GS, BMW F800GS, an Africa Twin and an eccentric KTM 500 didn’t seem phased, either: although Dusty promised we’d be “climbing walls” and doing all sorts of cool stunts, no one looked particularly terrified.
To my surprise, neither was I. Partly because I now trusted Dusty as a coach completely, and partly because I wasn’t a self-doubting heap of fears and worries any longer. Thanks to the previous training and this summer’s experience, I was now looking forward to challenges rather than dreading to drop my bike and look like an incompetent Teletubby, thus forever tarnishing the reputation of Women ADV Riders.
This weird new “I’ve got this” feeling persisted all day long: as the exercises and drills got increasingly more complex, I didn’t hesitate once. I did better at some of the exercises and worse at others, but all day long, the feeling of being calm, collected, and relaxed continued to surprise me. Previously, I would have worried about so many things. I would have worried whether I’d dump my bike, or that I wouldn’t be able to do something, or make a complete idiot of myself. I’d worry about misunderstanding something, worry about being cold, worry about not completing a particular exercise, worry about not being good enough… Invisible but ever-persistent Critical Gnome in my head would relentlessly mock my ability, doubt my skill, and point out my tiniest mistakes.
Shove it, Gnome. This time around, my head was blissfully empty save for the task at hand. I focused on the riding and riding alone. As the day went by, the focus became even clearer, and the ease of handling my bike in various situations came effortlessly.
Wow. This was my biggest discovery that day: clearing your head of all intruding thoughts and finding your zen truly works miracles. And it’s not quite about the fake it till you make it philosophy: an excellent trainer, a bit of experience and familiarity with your motorcycle can be a beautiful thing.
Ride Like A Girl?
Day two brought even more surprises: at night, a black bear tried to rip my pannier open – apparently, I had completely forgotten a cucumber in the bottom of the bag, and the hungry bear figured it would make an excellent snack.
The weather, too, had turned for the worse, and the sky was grey with dark clouds. Today, we’d put our new skills to the test: Corkscrew, Hurricane, and California mountain passes loomed ahead, and after a hearty breakfast, we set out to challenge ourselves in some real-world conditions.
Corkscrew, with its winding steep inclines, boulders, and rocks, was first. My sturdy Suzuki DR650 refused to behave in second gear, but in first, it flew up the mountainside with ease: perhaps not as elegantly as the Africa Twin, and less powerfully than the 1200 GS, but surely and steadily enough for me to be able to enjoy the scenery as we went along. Corkscrew was a perfect playground to test throttle control and learn a thing or two about picking lines: high up in the mountains, especially when riding near a sheer drop, a mistake can quickly become costly.
Being a single female among eleven male riders, I didn’t feel particularly out of place: as with the beginners’ training, Dusty managed to set the right tone. Sure, there were several women riders and two women instructors back in Santa Fe, but Dusty’s friendly yet professional approach made it easy for everyone even when the ratio was 1:11.
On the other hand, another rider’s quip that day made me wonder why it was that there were several women at the beginners’ training, but none at intermediate. As I was talking to John, owner of the flashy KTM waiting for other riders to catch up – Corkscrew was our first pass – a rosy-cheeked GS rider approached us breathless and said, “dang, I totally rode this one like a girl”. Raising one eyebrow questioningly, John said, “yeah… you might want to rephrase that, bud”, – pointing at me.
I won’t lie: it was a sweet moment. And I couldn’t help but wonder: how wonderful would it be if one day, “ride like a girl” was said as a compliment?
Storm over Hurricane
Hurricane and California passes were up next: even steeper inclines, even sharper rocks, even more careful line choices. With storm clouds gathering over our heads, we scurried up and down the mountain face, racing against the whirling snowflakes. One last steep, rocky incline and one fallen GS later, we were finally out of the woods: after a short break at a gold mining ghost town, we knew the hardest part was over.
Trying to stay right on Dusty’s tail, I twisted the throttle wide open on the winding gravel road wrapping around the foot of the mountain. We were headed for Silverton, the Rocky Mountain passes and the whirlwind of the snowstorm now behind us, and I felt as sure-footed as ever. I didn’t drop my bike once, kept up with the fastest riders, and didn’t have one single “oh shit – I can’t do this moment”. The training wasn’t a walk in the park, but it wasn’t something that I only barely made it through, either.
The Bottom Line
I didn’t learn how to power-slide: my bike is simply too light; I didn’t learn how to wheelie, either, which completely shattered my dreams of becoming the female version of Charley Boorman. I also did not climb a single wall.
But here’s what I did learn:
– Silencing your inner critic and focusing solely on the task at hand is the best favor you can do to yourself when riding technical trails. Clear all doubts, worries, and anxieties out of your head, breathe, and rip it. You’ve been training. You’ve been riding. You’ve got this!
– Pick your own lines. Even if the rider in front of you is more experienced, don’t follow him or her blindly: evaluate the terrain, your bike, and your ability, and pick your line accordingly. You may prefer softer gravel to rock steps, your bike might be better suited to negotiate gravel than boulders, your tires might grip better or worse, and you may have different experiences than the rider in front. Listen to their advice, notice what they’re doing, and follow their lead when it helps you – but don’t forget to make your own decisions.
– Speaking of lines: it’s important to pick the best line you can, but if you didn’t, don’t try to correct it – ride it out. That way, you have only one thing to worry about, whereas if you realize you made a mistake and try to correct your line in the middle of it, now you’ve got two things working against you.
– Have options. When going downhill, remember you have three ways to stop: your body weight, your engine, and finally, your brakes. If you slam on your brakes first, you’ve just used the only tool you had, whereas if you use your body and gear braking first, you still have one more tool left if you need it.
– When in doubt, throttle out. Truer words have never been uttered! Throttle is your friend over all kinds of terrain; trying to brake or slow down will most likely result in falling over, whereas more momentum will carry you over most things much more easily.
– Good brake policy downhill. Brake a little before you have to brake. That way, you’ll still be able to control unexpected factors like suddenly changing terrain, slippery stones, or abruptly changing direction. Plan ahead and use the rule of three brakes.
So why would you need an intermediate training course, if you already feel competent and confident enough to ride off-road as much as you like, wherever you like? There are no magic tricks, and not all bikes were made to power-slide. The true magic and power comes with finesse, with honing your skills so they become second nature, and with a confidence boost that sends you into that perfect zone of motorcycling zen.
And if anyone can help you get there, it’s Dusty and his West 38 Moto crew.
Intrigued? Book your training session HERE!