The 390 Adventure Project - Austin Moto Adventures

Cait Maher
by Cait Maher

Immersive Adventure Bike Training

Photos by ATX Moto

I’ve heard plenty about the weekend ADV-immersion trainings that have an incredible way to kickstart the adventure bike journey that so many are seeking. There is absolutely something special about the type of people that give in to that urge to spend the whole day charging up and down the trails on heavy adventure bikes, and something even more particular about the folks that turn around and make it their mission to share that same passion and joy on the trail with others. Austin Moto Adventures is one such place.

Founded in June of 2023 by Rosson Richardson, the team at Austin Moto Adventures wasted no time in diving head first into building the ultimate ADV campus, and this facility has absolutely everything a budding adventure rider could hope for in terms of challenges, as well as an elevated glamping experience while back at camp, including a mouthwatering weekend menu filled with comfort food lovingly prepared by Chef Paula. While you can construct the most thoughtfully curated cabins or truck in the most perfectly round baby-head rocks for the training area, the real magic of this place is found in the land surrounding the base camp. Austin Moto Adventures sits at the edge of 1,400 acres of almost untouched Texas Hill Country, and contains over 70 miles of existing trails winding through some of the most diverse terrain I’ve seen strung together anywhere in the US. To say Rosson found the perfect place is a vast understatement. You could spend weeks riding through everything the hills have to offer and still not get bored.

The cozy one room cabin with attached bathroom was a welcome respite after a day of training. Photo by Cait

I flew in a day early to get settled at the compound, and that gave me an opportunity to really see the work that goes into an operation like this. The fifteen small cabins that sit gathered around a central firepit are the hub of the basecamp, each cabin adorned with a sponsor sign above the porch, indicating a brand who is invested in the mission of Austin Moto Adventures.

I was assigned to the Sentinel Supply Co cabin, and while getting settled in, I was pleasantly surprised by the intentional touches that made it easy to unpack my moto gear. Helmet hangers and heavy duty gear hooks by the door kept everything out of the way but in reach, ample outlets with USB charging ports to charge everything at once, and plenty of floor space to stash my bag and spare clothes out of the way. When the cabins aren’t being rented out by ADV training students, they are open for rental by small groups looking for a retreat space or those looking to use the facilities to train for all sorts of activities. If you’re ever headed through the Austin area, there are campsites onsite as well.

Here, you can see the cabins staggered around a central campfire pit with the main meeting building to the left.

After unpacking I was treated to a spirited tour of the grounds via side-by-side. While winding up a trail through the rocky hills, Rosson told me the story of how he got into adventure riding following a career-induced heart attack, and how his friend’s suggestion of a complete change threw him into reevaluating how he looks at challenges in life. Through this shift in philosophy, he realized the most important thing you can do when introducing new adventure riders to the sport isn’t just having the best teachers or coolest facility, but fostering the type of environment that builds up a community and brings people into it in a way that makes them want to go out and share what they’ve learned with other riders.

For anyone who’s been to an Adventure Rally, you know what this feeling is, and you know that while it's sparked on the trails, it really starts to catch when you’re sitting around the campfire after the bike is parked, the broken parts are zip tied back on, and the stories recounting the day’s adventures start to spill out of everyone around you. There’s something really special about friendships that can survive a few days of adventure riding, and I think we all know why you hold onto those a little closer than usual.

The best of Texas Hill Country, rocks and ridges as far as you can see.

As the adventure-cart careened its way back down to camp, Rosson chatted about his plans for adding new trails to the property, and pointed out some intimidating rocky outcroppings that they had earmarked for the advanced level 4 and 5 excursions, noting that the training was all designed to build off itself, with the higher levels emulating a true ‘backcountry’ self-sustained experience, where everyone on the trip has to work together to problem solve some of the hardest obstacles you could find out in the real world. While I was feeling very secure about the Level 1 training I had completed previously in other programs, I couldn’t help but wonder how much more time and training I would need to be able to do similar feats on the KTM 390 Adventure. Nevertheless, I knew this weekend would be a bit of a breakthrough in my ADV riding experience.

Day One

The next morning is a flurry of activity, as the cabins get a change of bedding and a thorough cleaning after the previous group vacates. As the class trickled in from the highway, I got to setting up the KTM 390 Adventure that we had borrowed from Lipscomb Powersports in Wichita Falls, Texas. At the time of setting up the dates, the bike had been a demo unit at the dealership, and in the few short weeks since, it had been sold to Nat who was an absolute sport about letting me break in his new KTM on the training grounds at ATX Moto Adventures.

Prior to getting my paws on the 390, the team at Lipscomb’s had installed engine guards and a very beefy skid plate from Outback Motortek which would surely be put to use in the first few exercises. I also dialed in the suspension settings that I had set up on the 390 back at home in SoCal, and spent some time adjusting the clutch lever to actuate a little closer to the bars. While I didn’t bring my handy suspension-tool-turned-kickstand-extender, I had made a mental note to do my best to get more comfortable with hopping on the bike after the kickstand was up, and after all, if there's a good place to build new habits, this training was it.

My bike was outfitted with color matched engine guards and a blacked out skid plate from Outback Motortek. Photo by Cait

Once our group had rolled in and unloaded all their gear and bikes, we suited up to begin the first part of the training exercises. A quick overview of riding gear from Josh Jones, Director of Operations and one of the lead instructors, ran us through a wide range of options from a handful of different brands available for adventure riders. One thing that was really emphasized was the safety aspect of things like riding boots. Just because something says adventure in the name doesn’t mean it will fully protect you in a crash, so Josh showed us what to look for in terms of support and protection. I typically wear a combination of adventure gear and dirtbike gear when riding off-road, usually dependent on the weather and how technical the terrain I’m going to encounter is. I’ll detail my kit and when/where I changed it up at the end of the article.

Lining up to hear Coach Rob tell us what the afternoon will entail.

We hopped on the bikes and took a short hop over to the first training field, just a stone's throw from the cabins and main meeting building. Coach Rob Glass led us in slow circles around the field before directing us to line the bikes up along one side of the field. From here we went over the basics like how to find the bike’s balance point and how to lift a bike safely, by yourself and with a friend to help. Not one to be left out, I insisted on attempting to lift the demo BMW 1250 GS on my own, and was pleasantly surprised to feel the bike lift free of the ground on the second try. Knowing that my little KTM 390 was just above half the weight of the massive BMW, I was reassured that I’d at least be able to get it upright a few times if it took a dirtnap on me during the training weekend.

The rest of our afternoon training session was spent doing slow and controlled laps of the grassy field, working on finding the balance point between clutch and throttle, changing our body position on the bike, and maintaining momentum while shifting our weight from one side of the bike to the other. This was quite the challenge for me at first, as I’ve yet to get used to the sheer size of the bike compared to my previous experiences on my Yamaha TW200. It was tough to get used to lifting my bulky MX boots and adventure pants up and around the back of the seat, and more than once I caught them on the raised pillion seat, but a few dozen laps later, I finally started to get the hang of it.

Maintaining a slow speed while moving your weight from one side of the bike to the other is surprisingly tricky.

We ended the day with some light left in the sky, and gathered around the campfire to chat about what had brought us all to the class that weekend. Some of the attendees had driven nearly a whole day to bring their personal bikes with them, and came from as far as Minnesota, Missouri and Florida. We discussed what we were looking forward to for the weekend, and went around the campfire noting what we thought we needed to work on the most. I knew that sand was my biggest adversary, and said as much, though I think everyone in the history of motorcycles would agree with me there. We ended the night on a high note, all of us eager to get on the bikes first thing in the morning.

Day Two

The morning brought a chill with it, and we wasted no time diving into the training. I really appreciate the teaching techniques that the coaches utilize here, and I could tell that they were actively watching each student run through the drills, calling them one at a time to ride slowly and controlled up the hill, and pausing at the top to give pointers on body position or throttle application.

We shifted to a larger practice field further into the property to go over the fundamentals of braking and I could tell that even a short amount of time jamming on the front and rear brakes in this controlled environment was a huge boost to my own confidence, as well as the others in the class. There really is something about slowly inching towards full skids on both grass, dirt, and rocky trails that gives you the confidence needed to go faster on trails, and shows that confidence and momentum on the bike is key to successful trail riding. Anyone can go fast up a trail and take the risk of crashing hard, it's much harder to be slow and controlled on the same rocky uphill or downhill and stay upright.

The class watching a demonstration of Coach Rob riding slowly up a hill. Photo by Cait.

After lunch, we moved to what would be the absolute bane of my existence: the 180-degree drills. This drill is the bread and butter of adventure training. We started by slowly weaving through a straight line of cones that were progressively moved further apart until we were doing 180-degree turns. The key here was focusing on shifting our body weight in tandem with turning the handlebars, while always being aware of your momentum and using the clutch to augment speed when necessary. I know that this is such a key part to maintain control on trails, and that it is absolutely an essential skill to have if I think I’m going to be tackling things like BDR’s and other long distance off-road trails, however, I quickly identified it as my biggest weakness in riding.

I was struggling to maintain speed while turning the bars far enough to make the full turns, and while I thought my body position and head were turned far enough, I was still failing to physically turn the handlebars to match. During this drill, the coaches move the small cones further and further apart every few laps, and while my classmates were able to keep up, I found myself falling even further behind. I pulled off to the side to try and practice some loops on my own, and bam! – I had my first drop. While I was expecting this at some point in the day, I surely didn’t think it would be on something as simple as 180-degree turns.

I muscled the bike back upright and got back in line, determined to get the drill finished, and a few drops later, separated the left handguard from the handlebars. The stock guards, made of heavy duty plastic, had made it three drops before completely cracking off at the bracket on both ends. Noting that all the drops had been on my left side, I waived over coach Rob to ask for some pointers on what I could improve. He mentioned that most riders have a ‘side’ that is easier for them to complete a turn on, and that now we know the left is my weak side, we can be extra aware of body positioning and speed during the left turns. Half a dozen laps later, and I finally felt like I was slowly seeing some improvement! While I could have likely kept going on that particular drill for a while more, we took a break for some demonstrations and lined up for a short trail ride of the property on the way back to basecamp.

Riders practicing their 180-degree turns through a cone course.

Imagine my surprise when the same 180-degree turns on a trail were far easier to complete than with the cones. We tiptoed through the field, winding on a narrow path through trees, around rocks and over small hills, all while maintaining the slow speed and executing these turns flawlessly. What made the difference? Personally, I think I was in my head a little too much while winding through the cones. I was nervous about the riders ahead and behind me, afraid that if I went too wide, I would get in someone's way. On the trail though? Well, I had been on trails plenty before! It felt familiar to me, even though I hadn’t taken this particular bike on many trails yet. It was almost easier for me to anticipate the turns and read the trail in real time. Subconsciously, I no longer had to overwork myself to get the desired result. What a relief that was! We tripped down the road towards basecamp and with the second full day of training behind us, I was looking forward to climbing out of my gear and the promise of a heaping plate of Paula’s cooking ahead of me.

Day Three

With technical turns over uneven ground and rocky obstacles, this track was the hardest of the day.

The next morning I could absolutely feel the work that we had done the day before. My arms and hands were sore and I had spent the morning fine tuning the clutch lever on the 390, moving it so that the friction zone was much closer to the bar. I thought that if I didn’t have to stretch my hand out as far when releasing the clutch, it would be easier to get the bar turned for the 180-degree turns. We dove right into the drills when we reached the practice field, and I was relieved to find out that my theory was correct. However, I only had a lap to get used to it before the situation escalated. We lined up in front of a jumbled assortment of rocks with a thin thread of trail winding evenly around and through them and then watched Coach Rob demonstrate the same 180-degree style turns that tracked through the rocky section and looped back to the beginning. I think I blew the first, second, and third turn all in a row. I thought that it would feel similar to the trail riding from the previous afternoon, but it seems when I focused a little too much on the body positioning and turning, I neglected the throttle enough to lose all momentum.

Knowing that this exercise was an extreme version of mind over matter, forcing yourself to extend your arms out, your head turned and body swung wide over the seat is hard when all you want to do is cling to the bike, blipping the throttle up and over the obstacles in search of smooth ground. Another lap though, semi successfully, and we again circled up to hear how the coaches were about to make our lives harder.

Coming around the corner at the top end of the off-camber 180 track.

The afternoon saw two more versions of this drill, one carved alongside a long sloping hill with the focus on off-camber loose turns and increasing speed. The second was a thin trail leading around a large outcropping of rocks, winding again up and down a hill, but this time it was steep, with obstacles and larger rocks thrown in the mix. Again, I found myself having an easier time when the focus was less on my body position and more on reading the hillside in front of me. I knew what to do to get up a hill climb, and how the front might bounce over loose sandstone rocks that stood in my way, and finally nearing the end of the session I was moving more confidently through the course.

Focusing on looking through the turn on the last 180-course of the day.

My hopes of ending the training on a high note were dashed to pieces, as we lined up to learn about the last obstacle: deep sand. This was my least anticipated portion of training, but one that I realize I will need to work on the most, so I gave it the best shot I could manage. The drill consists of riding directly, and at full speed, into a foot-and-a-half deep 100-yard track of Texas’ finest construction sand. I did my best to dissuade my lunch from coming back up inside of my helmet, shook the numbness from my hands, let the clutch out and clicked up into second gear as I took off across the grassy yard towards certain death. OK, that’s a little dramatic. I did however, take great pains to be smooth on the throttle, maintaining speed as I approached the pit of despair, avoiding the clutch and brake as if they might bite me. As the front wheel dropped into the sand, I kept my head up and slightly to the right, aiming to hop out the side if I felt I was losing control, which was pretty much immediately. I think I made it about 20 feet before spitting out the side and back into the grass. I circled back around to take another shot, determined to get just a little bit further each time.

Almost every time I mention sand, I am regarded immediately with the advice to just ‘go really fast’ which, while technically true, is absolutely useless to someone who has not yet felt what deep sand is like on an adventure bike. Rather, I implore all of you experienced folks with sage advice that next time a budding off-road rider mentions apprehension around sand, take that rider out to the nearest patch of it to practice. Because, frankly, the words ‘just go fast’ are useless to someone who doesn’t know that it actually means to maintain a steady speed and ‘stay loose on the ‘bars,’ or things like using the engine braking to slow down instead of the brakes and staying a gear higher than what you think you need.

Here, we’re working on taking off from a stop in deep sand. Note the pond to the left, as if we needed more encouragement to stay the course.

I was lucky enough to stay upright-ish on most of the sand passes, but finding myself stalled in the middle of a very admirable attempt, I got a chance to practice a take-off from mid-pit. Confirming I was in second, I spun the engine up before quickly letting off the clutch and using what I could reach with my feet to encourage the momentum. While the first attempt ended in a stall, repeating the process brought success and I rocketed out the back end of the sand patch with my arm in the air, triumphant that at least I was picking up some solid skills in the damned stuff.

The end of the session drew near, and we were rewarded with another property trail ride, taking the long way back through the hills to basecamp along truck trails, single track, and rocky two track. We struck out in a line, eager to combine all of the skills we had learned throughout the weekend, with the added bonus of new obstacles we hadn’t yet encountered. Weaving through trees one moment, and splashing through a small creek the next, the route seemingly covered everything. From a sandy wash at the base of a slight hillclimb, to rutted tracks that demanded a carefully chosen line, switching from one hard packed side to the other. We even encountered a pack of mountain bikers, all of us practicing our quick stops mid-trail and thankfully only producing one off-balanced tip-over. We finally rolled over a bridge and along the pond that framed the edge of the pavillion that signified our return to the cabins.

A quick change into comfy clothes, and we rounded up one last time to conclude the weekend, each of us sharing our highs and lows for the day, most of us highlighting the skills we mastered, or lamenting that we only had just the weekend to dedicate to the cause. I really enjoyed hearing what my fellow adventure classmates had thought of the course, each of them with different backgrounds and bikes, it seemed the takeaways were similar: We all felt more confident in the ability to tackle a BDR or safely navigate our local trails. In addition, we all had some pretty specific homework to focus on when it came to the drills we had tested out over the previous three days. I was already plotting where I could find some local sand in SoCal, and hoped that my future attempts would be a bit less anxiety inducing.

Circled up around the campfire after a long weekend of training.

My advice after a month into this adventure bike journey? Take all of the classes and training that you can get to. Train in different disciplines and on different bikes, so that you can strengthen your confidence off-road in any situation. Try classes in different areas of the country to get a handle on alternate terrain that you may encounter on the trails. On a personal note, yes, it's about the technical skills and physically getting the bike and yourself through them, but it's also about surrounding yourself with others who have the same goals as you, and are just as committed to the journey, for better or worse, as you are. For me, it’s really about finding your tribe and learning who’s got your back when the trail gets hard, and then not giving up when it looks like you can’t go forward anymore. This was the thing that drew me into adventure riding in the first place, and it’s the motivation that keeps pushing me forward now.

What’s next in this 390 Adventure project? Well I aim to scrape up every bit of skill I’ve picked up in the past month or so of riding, and put it to the test. Trial by sand and fire if you will: I’ll be racing the The Biltwell 100 in Ridgecrest, CA this weekend in the Women’s ADV Lite class. Wish me luck!

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Cait Maher
Cait Maher

Cait is a motorcycle enthusiast first and foremost, often spending weeks at a time crisscrossing the country on her Moto Guzzi V7. She got her start in the industry running a women’s moto gear market that travelled the country, and has been able to see the women’s moto community grow from the inside out over the last 10 years. She is typically found on pavement but has been eagerly diving outside her riding comfort zone for the sake of a good story, previously riding her TW200 through two Biltwell 100 races and one very well intentioned LAB2V. While not glued to her motorcycle, Cait lives a secret life as a hairdresser and quilter.

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