You will fall! Pick up your bike and get back at it. You won’t learn unless you fall!” was the pep talk from our instructor Shahnawaz Karim, reminding me of the Dark Knight’s butler’s advice. This was my first proper off-road experience and his words somewhat lessened my irrational fears.
And that’s what the BMW GS Experience is all about. Putting an end to all these irrational fears. I have had my fair share of saddle time on tarmac and even in the dirt, astride single-cylinder, sub-200kg motorcycles. This was different. I felt like a little school kid walking around the big bullies (R 1250 GS and the F 850 GS). My measly 68kg frame nowhere capable to handle these bikes, or so I thought. My plan was clear. Start off with the puniest of the lot, the G 310 GS and then maybe, just maybe, try taming the bigger ones.
We started off with a classroom session explaining the day’s agenda. As Shahnawaz briefed us about the whole training, I felt a bit relaxed. With the levers adjusted, mirrors off and the bikes in ‘Enduro Pro’ mode, we prepared for our first lesson, getting the body posture right.
Shahnawaz started off with a simple question, “Why do we stand and ride when off-roading?” While I knew the Googled answers, I didn’t know what difference it makes while riding. On his burly R 1250 GS, he explained the correct position with the first statement “Unlearn what you did so far on the track”. Standing with the arches of the feet on the footpegs and gripping the tank was the basic part. Then he moved on to explain how to move your weight around on the bike. To etch this part in our brains, we did this drill while singing a Bollywood tune!
Next up was vision. Standing on the pegs gives you the ultimate advantage of seeing further than you normally would, sitting comfortably on the saddle. Keeping your vision straight will help you prepare for what lies ahead, way in advance.
Before we headed out to eat some dirt, we were taught the correct way to lift the motorcycles after a fall, for this was going to be practiced a lot through the day. It all seemed like a piece of cake for the instructor, lifting the behemoth 1250 while calmly talking us through it. With the posture and recovering the bike sorted (theoretically), we headed out to pick our steeds and go for a couple of warm-up laps around to get familiarised with the bikes and the terrain.
Walking up to the bikes, Shahnawaz’s pep talk echoed in my mind and instead of the 310, I walked towards the “intimidating” F 850 GS. Why intimidating? I rode the bike a couple of months back and the acceleration was scary enough for me to return it within the next five minutes.
Gearing up, my heart was racing. “Will I be able to complete even a lap on the loose soil?” There was no turning back now. All the G 310 GS’ were taken. With our trainer leading, we rolled off, making our way through the ploughed soil.
The key was to rely on the clutch and the throttle and not brake to avoid the front sinking in. Barely 200 metres in, we had our first comrade gracefully eat the dirt. Wasting no time, he stood up, picked up his bike and joined in. Soon many of us had their dirt-kissing ceremony. And me? I safely completed my first two laps and just to push my lady luck, went in for the third round, this time riding the 850 a wee harder. A few minutes later, I too was baptised. Getting the motorcycle on her feet, I was back at it, more confident this time. However, the motorcycle was still dominating me.
Our instructor now asked us to rest one leg on the pillion seat and ride around the trail. The tumbles had made us tougher and wiser. While I was prepared for another fall, surprisingly, I made it through without touching the ground. In fact, I had better control than the warm up laps. Next up was both the legs folded back onto the pillion seat. Not one soul could manage like that. Why? No contact with the tank. Lesson one: Always keep your legs in contact with the bike.
After a short rehydration break, we were all set to learn the graceful enduro steering. After a quick demo from Shahnawaz, we began the riding the bikes around the cones. The idea was to use our feet to juggle our weight from one side to the other. Without using the brakes, we were to manoeuvre the bike only using the clutch and a bit of throttle. A couple of attempts later, I could easily manoeuvre the bike around the cones. Basking in the glory of my crashless drill, I went on to practice it again. How can one learn without falling though, right? Time for another tumble! This time I could pick the bike with more ease.
Now it was time for what seemed to be a ‘pro’ task. Riding the motorcycle in a circle with the handlebar turned to the max. The instructor did without breaking a sweat on his 1250. After a couple of attempts, I too could manage that, not with the same finesse as the trainer though. The aim of this drill? Turning the bike in tight spaces (with swag).
After a scrumptious lunch and lazying around for a bit in the tent, we were back on our bikes in the scorching heat. The next drill was to ride in a rut. Shahnawaz’s only instruction? “Let the bike do its thing”. Following the instructions, most of us it made through the rut without going down.
With our vision, position and control sorted, we were now taught how to ascend small climbs, recover our bikes on slopes and descend on small slopes. After training for a day on the F 850 GS, I was much more confident now and managed to pull all these drills without breaking a sweat.
The training was over, and with just two tumbles on my ledger, I felt ballsy enough to get on the big daddy. This was the 1250’s turf and I was still a bit apprehensive riding the bike. However, within five minutes of riding, I regretted my decision. Not because the 1250 was tough, but because the 1250 felt too easy, in fact, easier than the 850! All the drills on the 1250 came naturally, effortlessly.
All it took was a day’s training at the GS Experience for this noob to learn the basics of off-roading. But a lot of credit goes to the GS genes for the bikes are simply outstanding off-road! Especially the R 1250 GS, with its low centre of gravity and that butter-smooth motor, that has just the correct amount of torque at low revs. Why didn’t I ride it earlier! When are the Level 2 classes happening BMW?