Wales. It’s, well, Welsh. For us urban dwellers, more used to blindly ambling the metropolitan streets, buried in a bigger than big iPhone 6, preaching sensationalism to the world about just how good their mochafrappacino was that morning…
Wales is not top of their Google Calendar agendas. With the potted scars of industrial decrepidation and worrying social issues, the skinny jeaned urbanites would question the benefits of heading to the valleys for a weekend. But there is one thing that may tempt them away from Instagram. Wales is fucking good for motorcycles. And mud.
I was invited by Bahnstormer to take part in a 2-day BMW Off Road Skills event in the hills above… some town I can’t pronounce (Ystalyfera). As you may remember, off-roading is not my forté, so I accepted in order to brush up on my rider skills and try to actually enjoy my time in the mud, rather than be terrified by it.
The course is run over two days and divided into three rider levels plus an Enduro group for the technically advanced (wankers). Worryingly, I was placed into level 2 by Bahnstormer who organised it saying, “you’ll be alright, it can’t be worse than ‘that’ video”… So, even more concerned, I had zero actual training and now arrogantly skipping over the fundamental lessons of level one, I joined the more experience lot in level 2.
Here’s a little twist I wasn’t expecting. The bikes we were using are BMW R1200 GS’s with zero modifications apart from a slightly more off road tyre – still 100% road legal and, well, commuter like. Really? Oh yes.
I was utterly astonished that such a ‘normal’ bike was capable of what we were putting it through, huge inclines on nothing but rocks and gravel, insane descents over boulders, through rivers, crashing, smashing and splashing – all with heated grips set to medium. I own a GSA in real life, and always considered it a bit of a lump. But seeing what our instructor was doing with this machine was incredible.
JP – our instructor – was everything an instructor needed to be and more. Calm, supportive, confidence inspiring and of course, can ride a bike like a real hero. So I felt totally safe.
I’ve been watching these conservative 1200 Boxer-engined motorcycles on the London commute for years and life never looked so bland. Yet now I’m seeing novice off-road riders blasting up 1:1 gravel inclines and traversing deep muddy ruts with a trundling ease which is both surprising, and astonishing. Also worth noting, I saw one poor chap lose it at the top of a horizontal traverse section, and the bike went over the edge. A couple of firm thuds and it was down to the bottom, laying almost upside down. I was sure this bike was done in, but they literally just got her upright, hit the starter and saw it fire back into perfect working order. Reminds me of when my 2010 Fireblade got knocked over in a carpark at zero miles per hour – yet caused £2,800 of damage….
I’m not going to go too far into all the exercises but I’m so happy I went. Just some of the basic bits about how to pick it up, manoeuvre the 16-ton lump out of a sticky situation and generally, just how capable the bike is made the whole experience hugely rewarding. Going back for level 3? Absolutely.