BMW Performance Center Off-Road School - BMW R1200GS Forum : R1200 GS Forums
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post #1 of 5 (permalink) Old 24-Jul-2016, 08:24 AM (559) Thread Starter
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BMW Performance Center Off-Road School

BMW Off-Road School
Greer South Carolina

I grew up on dirt bikes – about 40 years ago – before I became a street hooligan. So when my annual ride group all decided it was time to dip our toe in the ADV riding experience, I was eager to engage. After the four of us rode loaded KLRs on the full Trans America Trail last year the hook was set for greater, more epic adventure travel. So, I traded my K1600GT on a 1200GS. I put some street miles on it and loved it. I switched it over to some TKC80 knobbies and went off into a challenging enduro ride on some single tracks in PA - and busted my ass. After healing up for a couple of months, I felt like maybe there was something about wrestling this big bike around off-road that eluded me so I signed up for the BMW Performance Center Off-Road School in Greer, SC.

I’m going to apologize up front that I took very few photos or video while there. It was always moving and my mind was processing what was coming at me like drinking from the firehose and I just didn’t think of it often enough.

They teach this school with one or two day options. In the single day, and the first day of the two-day school, they focus all day on some fundamentals of balance and bike control in easy terrain and obstacles. Let me just say up front that many of these skills sound pretty simple but most required focus. There were several times when they would describe something we were about to do, and then demonstrate it, I’d remark out loud to no one in particular, “Yep, and that’s where I’ll be on the ground.”

I did the two-day school so here’s about how it went. We had a brief classroom session where the two instructors, Richie and Melinda, explained what was in store for us. We’d do an orientation on the bikes and then go out and perform a series of balancing skills. They’d explain it, demo it, and then we’d do it ourselves. They also explained that everything they teach is “challenge by choice. “ You could tap out of any drill and just watch it done or dive in and crash all you wanted. After the classroom talk, we all went out and learned how to put the bike on and off it’s center stand and slightly more challenging, with the bike off the stands and resting on it’s tires, walk completely around the bike holding it with two fingers without dropping it. In hindsight, what they were introducing is the concept of keeping your eyes up and not focused on the bike or the ground. They also explained proper foot position on the pegs (arch/middle foot on the peg and not on the ball as you would on a street bike) and warned us that we would be standing on the pegs all day long – never sitting on the seat for any of the skills or rides.

There were no parking lot drops so off we went on a short enduro ride through some fields and trees to a place that looked like a big gravel parking lot with cones set up all around it.

Warm up drills:
We rode in circles sitting side saddle on the bikes; switched sides and did it again; and rode around hanging off the bike with our right foot on the left peg and our body off the bike waving our free leg in the air as we rode around in a gravel lot. After this bit of simple stunting, we rode up and down the gravel lot as a “mall walker’s pace.” Clearly they’d never seen my wife power shopping at the mall or this would have been a second gear drill and not the friction zone exercise it was. But we all got really good at creeping along until we could do a trial stop and continue at my granny’s mall pace.

Slalom cones aka “breaking the centerline”

Next up was riding very slowly through a tight slalom course that required leaning the bike pretty aggressively at a crawl to make it through successfully. This is where we learned to exaggerate weighting the outside peg and push the bike down to make tight turns while keeping ourselves standing up right on the bike. This felt pretty awkward at first but got easier with every lap until it started to seem pretty natural.

After each couple of skills we’d learn, we’d take a break to hydrate (it was close to 100 degrees there) and rest a few minutes and then go off on a 15 – 20 minute enduro ride through the areas that tested what we’d learned thus far. There were trails through some pretty tight trees and rocks that absolutely required the steering technique we did in the slalom and these rides were always fun and helped to reinforce the skills we’d been drilling.

At noon, we’d do another enduro ride that ended up back at the Center for an excellent spread of lunch and a full hour to rest and cool down, make our calls, etc. The funny and interesting thing about this is that we’d wonder in all sweaty, smelly, and knocking clouds of dust off of us into a dining area inhabited with all the beautiful people that had been sliding M cars around the road course all day with the air conditioning on. Lots of nice clothes, jewelry, and perfectly coiffed hair styles in that group – and there was us: loud, nasty, sweaty, dirty, and laughing our asses off over recounting each other’s antics. Meh, we were having way more fun even if a few of my classmates were bruised a bit by now.

After lunch we spent some time riding some small whoops and easy wash boards and practiced peg weighting the bike’s steering through some tight ruts. That rut exercise dropped a few more of my mates to the tuck ‘n roll recovery position. Commitment and “eyes up” were key to staying on the pegs here.

After that bit, we were on to emergency braking in the big gravel lot. Accelerate to 20 – 30 mph and then stomp the rear brake. First with the ABS on and watch how we just keep going right off the end of the lot. Then, with the ABS off; rear brake stomp and slide, and stop in about 2/3rds the distance. The next braking drill required a pre-exercise of going slowly through the lot, holding constant throttle, and locking up and pushing the front wheel for a few feet and releasing it. “Yep, that’s where I’m going down…” How I managed to do that and not drop it, I still don’t know but after several laps of pushing the front, we went on to full emergency stops with the ABS off. We’d accelerate to about 20 – 30 mph again and the stomp the rear to lock it while pushing and releasing the front. Low and behold, my stopping distances came down to less than a third of my ABS stops.

Another longish enduro ride again after a break and then it was off to practice trials stops on the downhill side of some larger whoops. A final 45 minute long enduro ride and the first day was done with my drop count at zero. I put a foot down from time to time; got completely out of control once or twice; but I was clean on dirt naps.

We wrapped it up with them telling us that was the easy part and tomorrow it gets fun; gets us out of our comfort zone; and shows us a bit more about how easy it is to ride these big bikes in challenging terrain.

Day two started with an enduro ride roaming around the property to some places we hadn’t seen yet and then out into a big dirt area where we were to learn and practice doing very tight circles and our balancing drills as a warm up. Then it was on to a drill that might be the most awkward thing I’ve ever done on a motorcycle – getting it moving while standing beside it and hopping on as you ride away.

I think the point of the drill was to reinforce keeping my eyes up and feeling the balance of the bike. I did it, several times in fact without a drop. But I was glad when this was over. One guy in the class practiced this the rest of the day while we were on and off the bikes. I felt way too awkward doing it. Again, in hindsight, I probably should have kept practicing it on their bikes since I probably now won’t do it on my own.

From there we started working on drills in soft stuff. We started in this big gravel pit where it was very deep and soft. There were many drops here amongst my classmates as everyone got use to again, keeping your eyes up, letting bike do it’s dance through the soft stuff while holding constant throttle churning the rear through it. The key here was that once the clutch was out to leave it out and use maintenance throttle inputs with my weight back and light on the bars. Most the steering was done with peg weighting. I didn’t get any photos of the deep gravel pit but once we’d all mastered that, we were off to the sand pit.

This was a lot of fun once I got the hang of it. Weight back, light on the bars, leave the clutch out, and just keep the momentum going with slight changes in throttle and peg weight steering. I got all crossed up near the far side of the pit once and nearly mowed down one of the instructors but they were too quick on the feet and no BMW employees were harmed in the making of this video.

We went from there back over to some larger whoops and then to some drills on a slightly bigger steeper hill where they taught us how to almost climb the hill. I started to ask why we weren’t learning to actually climb the hill but I’d used up my smart-ass remarks for the day in the sand pit. So here, we’d ride most of the way up the hill and then leaving the clutch out and front brake level free, stomp on the rear brake to stop the bike and kill the engine. “Yep, that’s were I’ll be tumbling back down…” As it turns out, this is a pretty easy drill when I’m doing it on purpose. The rear tire in gear holds the bike with one foot down with no drama. Then, since we haven’t dropped it yet, the trick is to ease the bike backward down the hill using only the clutch friction zone. Easy peasy.

Next up up climbing almost up the hill and dumping it. This one they offered to demo but discouraged us from doing it unless we just really wanted to. Here’s the drills:

I’m sure I’ll get some practice on this one out in the wild so I took their advice and watched our instructor Melinda drag her bike around on the hill side. So now with our knowledge and fearlessness of hills, we went off in search of some more hills to practice our trials stops. We would climb to just beyond the crest of the hill and then do a trial stop without stepping down off the pegs, then continue. After we all had the hang of that, then we practiced trials stops on the way down the hill. We’d start off down the hill until the coach gave us the stop signal where we’d bring the bike to a trial stop. From there, we’d make a sharp turn on the hill side to exit the hill 90 degrees from the down hill direction. Again, fun stuff once I got the hang of it. For this one, it’s all about where I’m looking. Keeping my eyes up and the turning around to look where I want to go make this easy. Seems simple to say like that but when I’m balancing a 525+ lb scooter on the side of steep slope the urge to look at the ground was strong.

Once we all finished up with these hill side trial stops it was on to our graduation enduro ride. They gave us a choice to be in the intense or mellow ride group. No one said anything during the break so they asked us again who wanted to go in which group. That little voice in the back of my head started talking to me about “the last run of the day” on the snowboard so I broke the ice by saying I’d take the mellow ride. Once I said that, 3 other riders joined me and there were two that opted for the more intense ride (one of those guys was probably the best rider in the class). Let me just say there was nothing mellow about our ride. Our coach took us through all the parts of their courses that we hadn’t yet ridden; over the rocky hills they use for X5 demos; through tight wooded areas; deep ruts, and soft sand and gravel; up and down some big-ass whoops changing directions on the hill, and up one long hill climb where when you got to the crest you were looking at a very steep descent (more like a fall) if you didn’t cut hard left to follow the ridgeline back down to level ground. Somewhere during the middle of this ride we stopped to let one of the “instense group” riders join us. He bailed on his buddy pretty quick on that ride. We must have ridden around for 45 minutes over the entire property before we headed back to the classroom and some A/C.

Current scooters:
'14 NE KLR 650
'16 R1200GS Triple Black
'16 KTM Super Duke 1290R
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post #2 of 5 (permalink) Old 24-Jul-2016, 08:25 AM (559) Thread Starter
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We’d been hanging out in in the classroom for a while when the lone intense ride guy comes limping in. Apparently he’d felt something pop pretty hard in his knee during the ride and they’d spent the rest of the time getting him back to the center. He declined medical transport but he had to be wheeled in a chair out to his waiting ride when we were done and I’m sure he’ll be visiting his ortho guy when he gets home.

I felt my ego really pulling me to do that ride. I was feeling very confident about my control of the 1200GS but I’d made a firm commitment to check my ego at home before coming. I was still healing from a shattered rib cage and collapsed lung just 6 weeks prior. I wanted to push my limits, which I did in every exercise, but my goal was no hard get-offs for the school and I accomplished that.

Just before lunch on the second day, we got to get out on the road course on the bikes. That was fun and quite a wheelie and peg scraping orgy for some of us. I was kinda curious how far the TKC80s could be pushed on the pavement so I just followed right behind the rider coach as he took off and went faster and faster. We had the bikes in enduro mode which allowed some rear wheel spin but I thought the bike and the tires were very predictable and it was a fun time lapping the circuit before our lunch brake.

I wasn’t the youngest or the oldest guy in the class (57 years old) and I wasn’t in the best or worst shape of my class mates either. I’d heard some tails about how the class kicks your ass if you’re not in great shape and I’d say that’s a bit of an exaggeration. I was definitely whupped at the end of the day but it was as much from the heat as the physical activity. I’m pretty out of shape due to spending my last 3 months healing but had no trouble focusing and getting through the more difficult parts of the day.

One guy in the class insisted on riding his own older GSA. He was from western Canada and had ridden the bike to the school and was headed up to the rally before returning across the country back home. They tried to discourage him by telling him that they don’t have any way to fix his bike or supply replacement parts at the school. If you break your bike, you’ll be calling for a tow to the nearest dealer. They really want you to ride their bikes because a problem with one student or their bike kinks up the class for everyone. It turned out to not be a problem. The guy was large fellow and out of shape (he is a cancer survivor so kudos for being out there!) and dropped his bike a lot but it just proved again how robust these bikes are to some pretty hard dirt naps. I’d definitely suggest using their bike for the class if for no other reason than I never gave the bike a moments thought as I was pushing my own limits.

Again, apologies for not having more visual aids for the report and maybe if I go back in a year or two with some friends, I’ll get more photos. I thought the school was perfect for my skill level in that it challenged me to learn what I needed to know to transfer my off-road skills to this particular big, heavy bike. The bike is capable of some incredible off-road feats in skilled hands as is shown in the GS challenge events. The punch line for me is that I’m now committed to taking the GS off on our more challenging adventure rides – this year we’re riding from north Georgia up the Appalachians as far as we can get in a week before we turn around and ride back south. Our plan is to ride some of the trail systems in Virginia, West Virginia, and PA on the way up and back. That ride leaves Labor Day weekend.

Lessons learned/reinforced:

- eyes up always
- cover the controls, two fingers on clutch and brake – always
- standing, peg weighting to guide the bike through tight or soft stuff really works
- some terrain requires more speed but go only as fast as you’re willing the crash
- the bike is incredible crash worthy and easier to pick up than a smaller GS that isn’t resting on those great crash bars.
- a hydraulic clutch with an easy pull makes riding a big GS much like a trials bike easier than a cable driven clutch on a smaller GS
- When at the end of the day, they ask you “do you want an advanced/hard enduro ride or the more mellow cool down ride?” Take the mellow ride. I learned that lesson the hard way when snowboarding about the “last run of the day.”

Current scooters:
'14 NE KLR 650
'16 R1200GS Triple Black
'16 KTM Super Duke 1290R
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post #3 of 5 (permalink) Old 24-Jul-2016, 08:26 AM (560) Thread Starter
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I guess to make up for the lack of photos in the school report, here's a few from my ride down and back. That was a very fun ride as I did a couple hundred miles of the Blue Ridge Parkway going down and back and met a few interesting characters along my way.

My Arai Hornet X2 helmet was really bothering me on the ride down and I looked up at one point and saw this:

I dropped in and tried on the new Schuberth E1 hat but at $828 I decided to try some amateur surgery on my Arai first. The cheek pads were causing me some pain due to the fat cheeks I'd been growing over this past winter and spring. I just pulled a cheek pad out and rode on for now. Once in SC, I borrowed sewing kit from the hotel and used my knife skills to cut and trim some soft foam from the pads until I had a perfect fit. Since I'd just saved a butt-load of money, I treated myself to a nice dinner for my first night in Greenville.

I met this lovely couple on my ride home up on the parkway:

I followed them for a while and when they pulled off, I pulled in behind them. They told me they were pulling off to let me by and I replied that I was following them hoping they would stop to talk about side car hacks. That's all it took to push play on that narrative and 45 minutes later I was on my way again full of arcane knowledge of who, where, and what I should know about hacks.

The Blue Ridge is an awesome road if ridden in the middle of the week outside of leaf peeper season. There was just no one on it and I rode a pretty blistering pace for hundreds of miles. I did see a ranger or two but I think riding a GS must put an invisibility shield around me because they never seemed interested in my antics at considerably more than the posted limit. I stopped at this lovely place for a great burger. I really wanted the black berry ice cream but decided to save that for a later afternoon stop.

I rode the parkway almost to Skyline and dropped off through Rockfish Gap to start my vector toward Annapolis. Somewhere along the way there was the highly anticipated Tastee Freeze who served up this obnoxious treat:

I asked the very large server "Are you kidding me?" when she handed it to me. She just shrugged and I wandered over to dig in to it only able to finish about half of it.

It was a 14 hour day to get home from Greer SC even with my snappy pace on the parkway. But when I finally arrived home I also knew now that this R1200GS was going to work for me for my epic long road trips as well as my adventure rides. It'll be interesting if we hit the road again because my buds have Goldwings and an Ultra Classic but I think I'll be just fine on the GS.

Current scooters:
'14 NE KLR 650
'16 R1200GS Triple Black
'16 KTM Super Duke 1290R
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post #4 of 5 (permalink) Old 24-Jul-2016, 12:13 PM (718)
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Thank you for that great report.
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post #5 of 5 (permalink) Old 24-Jul-2016, 07:40 PM (027)
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+1 on Marc's comments. Thanks for the story and pics!


15 K1600 GTL
16 R1200 GS/Adv
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