So, I am following Instructor Andy down a steep rocky track in mountainous terrain, the bike held in 1st gear to control the descent speed and notice a sharp turn right at the bottom on to a grassy trail so just dab the front brake to knock a bit more speed off —-EH, ERE, WHAT ! let’s rewind a few days.
Chairman Ken and myself are on our way to Inveraray to meet the team at Moto Scotland to sample their offroad training school. Since I am an offroad newby, but as a ex road bike trainer, have the appropriate lack of skill to ride off road, but can also judge if this skill is transferable to road bikes. Maybe you Tiger riders out there have also wondered about this.
Moto Scotland are based in the private estate of the Duke of Argyle and the initial approach is down a gravel and rocky track and I am riding a 300 kg tour bike, my Trophy 1215. Carefully we go then. I meet Clive and Donna who own and run the school and with their relaxed and friendly manner easily convince you that this is going to be a good day. There are five of us today, roughly of equal ability, one a returning student who convinced his two brothers to come along as well. The banter starts up as you might expect.
A bit of paperwork and we sort the pre-arranged kit and make sure everything fits as it should. I have been around some training schools who skimp on decent kit but this is good stuff: Wolfsport armour and proper scram boots and once on it is comfortable. Next, trainer Andy introduces the bikes and riding positions and explains how to steer with the feet. Slightly sceptical I am, but we are here to try.
Here you can see a bike held in a wheel clamp to try the riding position
Next we are off up an easy trail to the training area, to learn a few basics
This is Clive demonstrating some techniques on how not to hurt yourself if this should happen
It’s all about slow control so lets try some and gradually improve
Shifting body weight and yes, steering with the feet, so it does work
Instructor Andy now sets up a riding course a bit like an offroad CBT and we have fun having a play and gradually gain confidence and become more and more stable. Now Andy moves on to braking. I was really impressed to see this as part of the training. First, we gain speed and deliberately lock the back wheel up just to find out what it feels like. Did you do this on your pedal cycle before you were old enough to ride, and see who could gain the longest skid? it was just like that. I knew this would be fun. A bit more difficult is the front brake, but needs to be done as the back one is not always effective. So, we practise and practise and learn to lock the front wheel and immediately release. Just think about that and the steep descent I started with where the back brake would simply lock and slide.
Now we are all a bit more capable and Andy takes us off to some trails to start to put our training into practise. After a lunch break we head off again up the hills to the trails. Starting with a fairly firm surface Andy demonstrates weaving and steering with the feet and we get a feel for that which is then put into use actually most of the time. We try rock and gravel trails, some woodland and grass trails then Andy stops to explain the next trail. We look down the side of the hill to see a two foot wide track that runs down off the edge. During our time so far, Andy has been carefully assessing our ability so that he can keep everything the right side of our capability. “You can do this” he says, “just keep the bike at 90 degrees before you go off the side”. I should also mention that Andy is a world class trials competitor, his next one the famous Scottish International 6 day event. Ok then, we have faith in the lad and over we go. Once the front wheel is over, you are committed and look where you want to go. Heart goes back to where it should be and hey, it works. You will never be forced into anything that you are not willing to do, Andy always asked first if we wished to attempt his “technical ” bits. Back at base at the end of the first day we talked and considered and laughed and laughed and laughed. Great day.
Second day, I am introduced to my riding buddy for the day, again similar level and again with Andy. We start in a similar fashion just building up the capability now and soon head off up the Glen. A variety of trails slightly more technical and we also try a different way to get on and off a very tall trail bike, a bit like the great Dakar riders, that is left foot on the peg, balance and pull away and then cock the other leg over when under way. After practice it is easier to get off that way. Another useful technique was how to turn around on a narrow trail, or road for that matter. The hill recovery was also enlightening and I learned something there that I had never even considered. Now we are off to a lake fed by a brook and guess what, we ride down into the brook, along the pretty brook and out the other side. As before, we stop and look at the section and walk it first. we both agree to have a go. We also have a go at some ascents and descents and I almost lose it coming over the top with too much gas. Andy takes us back to base now.
We are presented with certificates for completing the two day course and also details of insurance companies that recognise the level of training and offer discounts, because improved control has a positive impact on road safety. This two day course is designed around road riders to enable them to experience how a bike can move around on loose surfaces but still easily remain upright with the small amount of rider input and not the overreaction that some might be tempted to do. On the way out back on the mighty Trophy on to the gravel road, ok ,stand up on the pegs and the trophy bars are well placed – and no drama – a testament to the training I think. Says it all really. Yes the skills really are transferable, which is what it is all about. Thank you Andy, Clive and Donna.
When I trained riders for tests, upon completion my final comments were something like – please continue with your training, don’t spend silly money on your bike, spend some on yourself in training, you get far more pleasure from your machine, whatever it is. The IAM and RoSPA recognise that off road riding can take your ability up a notch, but are limited on road. Here is an organisation that can do that for you and at the same time you can ride in such places as this with an ACU qualified coach.
I will be going back, maybe on a Tiger, we shall see.
All details at www.motoscotland.com
Just do it.