While in Germany for the unveiling of the BMW nineT, BMW arranged for the five attending journalists to spend a day at the Hechlingen Enduro Park and experience how BMW has partnered with the school to deliver a first-class riding experience. Although most of the riders who visit the facility are from Germany, many do come from the rest of Europe with a smattering coming from as far away as the United States.
While two of the journalists in our group were experienced off-road riders, the rest of us were relative novices in the dirt. So, the newbies were treated to a program designed for riders who had never ridden in the dirt. Although we were given the choice of mounts, most of us opted to learn on the nimbler F800GS.
Since the number of times I’d ridden in the dirt could be counted on one hand with fingers left over (excluding the times I unceremoniously exited the track at speed – on slicks – only wanting to keep from wadding up my race bike), I was in the novice group. As a former motorcycle safety instructor and a product of MSF training when I first started riding, I’m a firm believer in rider training, no matter what the venue.
The instructor began with the basics of proper body position on the motorcycle and quickly moved on to controlling the bike with body position and weight. Each lesson began with a demonstration by the instructor and was followed by extended riding sessions to apply the technique being learned. The instructor, giving out tips and critiques, soon had us embracing more challenging obstacles.
I was surprised that, after years of teaching counter steering as the primary means of controlling a motorcycle, the emphasis riding off-road was on using your feet and body positioning to control the bike. In fact, every time I ran into trouble during the day, it was a result of trying to use my hands instead of my feet. On one occasion, this mistake tossed me off the bike while I tried to navigate the path between two parallel boards.
With the terrain provided by the 64-acre facility varying from flat compressed gravel to motocross-style jumps to single track trails winding through the woods, the Hechlingen Enduro Park has what it takes to produce a challenging and enjoyable off-road riding experience. The advanced riders even got to ride through drain pipes for a change of pace. Within a couple hours of first riding in the dirt, the novice class was winding its way along a single-track trail and through creek beds.
By lunch time, we were – despite the chilly weather – sweaty and hungry. A restaurant a short ride away in the nearby town of Heidenheim treated us to hearty Bavarian food that would power the second half of the day. Comfortable with our improved skills, the afternoon included much more riding throughout the spacious park. By the time the day was over, we were all tired, happy, and wishing we were taking a two-day program.
The primary lessons I learned from my day in the Bavarian dirt were pretty straight forward but important nonetheless. First, good clutch control is a vital skill. Knowing when – and when not – to allow the engine to accelerate or slow down is an important part of navigating slippery situations.
Keeping your head and eyes up is just as necessary at low speed in the dirt as it is on grippy asphalt. Since motorcycles tend to go where you look, what do you think is likely to happen in you look down at the ground? Yeah, and I got the bruises to prove it.
Since traction is limited in the dirt and motorcycles turn by leaning, you need to let the motorcycle move around underneath you and control it with your body position and feet. This keeps the center of gravity over the contact patches rather than off to the side where you’re depending on traction to keep the bike upright.
Finally, there is a correct way to pick up a dropped motorcycle. Learn it because you’re gonna do it a lot as you ramp up the dirt riding learning curve.
Hechlingen Enduro Park offers rider training in one or two-day courses from March through November. Come dressed for the weather because the class won’t be canceled. Fees range from €240-€340 ($330-$467). The price variation comes from using your own bike at the bottom end, using a F800GS at €320, and using the R1200GS at the top.
If multi-day tours are more your speed, the company organizes tours of four to six days led by instructors in locations such as the Alps, Sardinia, or Morocco. Find out more at www.enduropark-hechlingen.de.