"It’ll be fun," they said. "You’ll become a better road rider because of it." But after day one of my two-day BMW Off Road Skills course in the Welsh hills, all I wanted was to go home. I was emotionally and physically drained – and I wasn’t having much fun, either.
Let’s rewind. I’d gained my full A licence only five months prior, yet here I was standing in front of an imposing, 25ft-tall F700GS, unsure whether my feet would even touch the ground. Forget riding it on grip-free mud – I had serious doubts about riding it ten miles on tarmac to the course start-point.
I’d assumed it would be just a small group of women at the centre today, but my gloom deepened when I saw 30 bikes lined up outside the main office, ready to be ridden by Off Road Skills regulars here on other courses. “Please God, don’t let me be the first to drop their bike,” was the only thought in my head.
Thankfully, my nerves were calmed by the easy-going friendliness of those around me – especially the instructors, Simon and Linley Pavey, who run the course. Their passion for what they do is infectious. Simon lifted my machine off its sidestand and told me to jump on. With half my bum off the seat, much to my surprise I managed to hold it up, and I rode away with no problem.
Up the road at the off-road site, we learned how to pick up these heavy machines and completed various balance exercises. After refreshments we moved on to learning how to stand up on the bike, first raising one hand, then the other. A few more exercises later we experienced our first taste of proper off-roading – a short, low-stress trail to the lunch spot for a delicious homemade curry (the catering throughout rocked, and we weren’t once left without water or a snack).
Back on the bike, and sleepy from stuffing my face, I faced more challenges designed to help build my skills base and prepare me for the second day in the Welsh hills. I tried to maintain a clear mind and take each task as it came, but I struggled. After dropping the bike at least three times and breaking both levers, my mood was low. Like I said, I was ready for home.
But following a great team evening meal and deep sleep, I was a totally different person on day two. The women’s group spent the entire day out in the field, running through more tasks and further adding to those building blocks of skill. Everything clicked; my ambition to become a better rider returned, with my riding suddenly fluid and fun again.
We learned to safely lock the back wheel – to know what it feels like and not to be scared of the bike’s natural behaviour. We rode down a hill in fifth gear, standing on the pegs with both arms off the bars. I felt like a queen; if I could do day two over and over, I would.
It’s a cliché to say that off-road work teaches you to be a better road rider, but it’s true. I’m not scared of rain, gravel or even a bit of mud now.
What’s it about?
A two-day course in Wales, especially for women to gain confidence and/or simply re-engage with bike training. You spend 48 hours in serious off-road territory, with trained instructors taking you through several lessons to improve skills like bike handling, slow manoeuvring and safe braking.
Who’s it for?
It’s a women-only (over- 21s) course. You could be re-entering the world of motorcycling or have just advanced to a full A licence – this is an introductory opportunity to train in a small group and relaxed environment. Next, you advance to Level 1, mixed training.
What are the bikes?
Choose from the G650GS, F750GS, F850GS, R1200GS or the low-chassis R1200GS. You can also hire riding kit.
● Where: Ystradgynlais, Swansea, Wales
● When: Pre-bookable dates (two-three times a year only)
● What’s included: Two days of instruction, bike hire, third-party insurance, fuel, two lunches, one evening meal, refreshments and a certificate upon completion
● Prices: £519
● Contact: www.offroadskills.com; 0800 0131282 – Read the instructions carefully before attending. And for accommodation try Graig Noddfa, www.noddfaholidayhomes.co.uk, a nine-minute drive away.