Preparation Pt. 4 – Offroad/Onroad skills development

Last updated: February 9, 2014 at 12:51 pm

Planning for skills development

As you prepare for an adventure with your motorcycle, you need to be very aware of the risks that come when you don’t have the necessary level of skill, across a wide range of scenarios.  In this post, I’ll talk about some different schools that you can attend, some videos that I’ve watched, and some drills which you can use to establish, increase, or fine-tune your skills.

I don’t claim to know of all of the schools that are the best for learning off-road skills.  I do however claim that I’ve done some research, and have developed a plan that seems very suitable to me, for me, as I prepare for the Patagonia trip.  With that said, when you’re thinking about honing or developing your off-road skills, there are 4 places that come to mind immediately.  And they are…

Rawyhde Off-Road training: Located in Southern California, they are the West Coast approved/official training facility for BMW Motorad (off-road skills).

Doc Wong’s Skills clinics: Doc Wong is a bit of a legend here in the SF Bay Area.  He has been riding for many, many years, and while he is a Chiropractor during the day, he’s a motorcycle rider all of the rest of the time.

Shane Watts Dirtwise Acadamy: I have not attended one of these courses, but Shane’s credentials are legendary, and as soon as I can find a weekend where he’s hosting a class, and I’m available, I’m going to attend.

Helpful skills-development drills

As noted above, I’ve put together a set of “Flash Cards” that describe all of the drills that I’m going through, and which are noted by the three clinics or providers above, as well as being noted in numerous books, etc.  For these drills, I’ve tried to focus on 3 aspects of the drill.

  • What riding position should you be in
  • What is the objective of the training
  • How do you execute the drill

You can find the drills in a set of Flash Cards.  Please feel free to download and use at your leisure, and as you see fit.

Where should you do the drills?

It’s probably best to do these drills in a large open field, which is mostly dirt, and might have some tall grass, hills, and other obstacles.  Remember, these drills are oriented towards developing the fundamental skills, so the ideal location is not an off-road motorcycle park, or some place with lots of challenges and technical bits, but instead, the ideal location is someplace where you can ride, without being disturbed, and where you can ride in circles, ride slowly, ride over small obstacles, etc.

Where did I do the drills?

In my case, because I was recovering from a severely broken leg, I needed to start slowly.  So, I found a building that was not currently leased, and was looking for a new tenant.  This building had a number of concrete curbs in the parking lot, as well as having some longer stretches where I could get the bike to 30-35mph, and also a small dirt section, where I could execute some of the drills that require dirt, in order to be effective.

It is important to note that you really want to find someplace that is nearby, and encourages you to develop skills.  If the location where you’ll run the drills is too far away, then you’ll have “motivational problems” just getting there.

What type of bike should I use for the drills

Ah yes, this is an excellent question.  The idea of trying to develop skills on a big 1200 GSA seems to me to be a bad idea.  While it’s possible to use your GS to develop the skills, I think that I have a better approach.  My approach is to develop these skills on a bike that you are comfortable “setting down” from time to time, and is also much lighter than the R 1200 is.  The advantages to this strategy seem straightforward, but let’s go over them anyway.

If you use a smaller & lighter bike for developing the skills, you will use less energy during the drills, and you’ll be unafraid of making mistakes. You’ll also have a bike that is more nimble, easier to handle, and is less likely to cause an injury to it’s rider (yep, that’s you).  Once you’ve developed these skills to the point where you can execute them consistently, you’re in a great position to begin testing yourself on the larger dual-sport bikes, such as the BMW R 1200 GSA that I own.

I was fortunate enough to have a friend who owns about 20 motorcycles, one of which is a KTM 530 Enduro.  He let me borrow the bike, and use it as long as I want, so that I can work through the drills.  In fact, Jim even came out with me and coached me while I had my first weekend of “doing the drills”.

Is there anything else I should know?

Well, in addition to riding a motorcycle, and planning this trip to Patagonia, I’m also a coach for the Audi Club, teaching high-precision and high-performance driving.  In my opinion, you can never know too much, and I always encourage my students to do all that they can to continue to develop and fine tune their skills.  I am treating the need to develop off-road motorcycle skills the same way.  I’m taking all of the classes that I can, so that I’ll be as prepared as possible for the trip.  Wouldn’t you want to be the guy that never gets tired, can ride all day, hardly puts a wheel wrong, and is always there to help his friends when they have an issue.  That’s the guy that I want to be, and if it means that I’ve got to commit time and energy to learning these skills, then so be it!

About the Author

Cliff Musante

Cliff Musante is a technologist, business leader, motorcycle enthusiast, father, grandfather, and more. In June, 2013 his passion for motorcycles was revitalized, and he set out to ride across Patagonia. Since then, he's logged thousands of miles, ridden across the US, and on July 10, 2019, he began a 120 day trip through Europe, and then on to Russia, China, and parts East. This 'Blog is the story of all of his adventures.