I’ve just returned from two days in Wales with Paris Dakar legend Simon Pavey, at his off-road school, or the ‘Odd Road Skills, powered by World of BMW and Husqvarna’, to give it its full name. It was the best riding school I’ve ever been to.
I’ll readily admit I’m an off-road numpty. I love the idea of riding in the dirt and always grab the chance to have a go, but I’ve never clicked with it and it’s always been a source of frustration. But, to use trackdays as an analogy, I’ve now gone from the bottom of the novice group, to the comfortably in the inters. I’m still no Dave Thorpe (how’s that for showing my age?), but I’m a thousand times better than I was, thanks to Off Road Skills.
The school is best known for using BMW R1200GS and F800GS/F650GS machines, which are unbelievably capable and is the place where Charlie Boorman and Ewan McGregor trained for their round-the-world adventures. But now, since BMW bought out Italian off-road firm Husqvarna, they also use pukka ‘Husky’ enduro bikes for their new course: Level Enduro.
For the two-day course we got to play on the Husqvarna four-stroke TE250, TE449 and TE511 at the 4000-acre Walters Arena site in South Wales. The agile and friendly TE250 was perfect for my ability and is what I stayed on (and fell off) most of the time.
First and foremost I learned how to stand up on the bike and how to corner. Once I’d learned these basics, everything dropped into place and the world of off-roading started to make sense. Basically everything seems to be the opposite to the way you ride on tarmac. We also learned how to climb steep hills with no run-up, tackle ruts and man-handle the bike half way up a hill when you know you’re not going to make it.
Best of all is the quality of the instruction. All the instructors on the school are fantastic, but we were lucky to spend two days with Simon Pavey himself and Gary Taylor, who’s now disappeared off to Africa with Riders for Health to teach there. Cheerful, laid back and of course, ultra-talented, Simon has a really good way of explaining what you should do. He keeps his eye on you while you’re practising and is quick to praise and encourage.
I went along with a group of mates, which makes the experience all the more enjoyable. Cheering each other along and laughing at each other’s little mishaps is what it’s all about.
We rode on a mixture of fire roads, heavy ruts, trials-type sections, through tightly-knit trees and everything in between. We stopped for a nice buffet lunch each day and always finished on time. I’ll have to admit that for my ability, each day was probably an hour too long. Once you get tired it’s easy to fall off. In fact, on the last five minutes of the course I had a big one around a fast uphill sweeper, while thinking it was good that I hadn’t fallen off. I whacked my leg hard and haven’t been able to lie on it in bed ever since. That’s on top of my general aches and pains from using muscles I never normally use.
I loved every second, though and now I want to ride off-road again soon, so I don’t forget what I’ve learnt. It’s one of the best things I’ve done on a bike.
The Level Enduro course costs £479. It includes two-day’s of group instruction, bike hire, third party insurance, fuel, two lunches, refreshments and one evening meal.