The Two-Day Off-Road Training Course at BMW

The Two-Day Off-Road Training Course at BMW

Last October, I attended the BMW Premier Training Course at the BMW Performance Center in Greer, SC. That was a one-day course, with four hours of off-road training and four hours of on-road training, and my first visit to the Performance Center.

BMW Performance Center in Greer, SC

A little background on my riding:  I’ve been a motorcyclist for the better part of 49 years now, and almost all my riding has been on the pavement.  I never rode dirt bikes as a kid, nor spent any time on any smaller off-road machine.  I owned many sport bikes and touring bikes over the years, and all were ridden on the road.  I purchased my first adventure bike in 2018, a brand new R1200GS, thinking I might learn to get off the pavement and be able to explore adventure riding.  It’s been a fantastic bike that I have now ridden over 31,000 miles on, but, like all my previous riding, it’s been all on pavement.  It’s been my touring bike.

In early 2021, I purchased a used 2016 G650GS, in the hopes of learning to ride off-road (assuming the 650GS would be lighter and easier to handle than the big 1200GS for a beginner).  I registered the bike as an ATV, spent a little time riding on the DownEast Sunrise Trail, and honestly didn’t find it all that much fun.  Then I attended the Soggy Bottom Motofest in Port Matilda, PA, did a fair amount of riding on gravel and some dirt roads (nothing very technical), and still just wasn’t really finding it to be anything special.

After much reflection on these first attempts at riding off-road, I decided that I’m just not an off-road rider, so I sold the little GS and decided I’m just going to trade in my big GS and buy an RT for a little more comfort and protection on the road.  After completing the deal on paper and awaiting delivery of my shiny new RT last fall . . . the BMW Stop Sale came along, and everything changed.  It was during that time that I ended up in Greer for the Premier Training Course.

I had an amazing day training at the Performance Center for my Premier Training course, and what I learned was:  First, I’m not nearly as competent an on-road rider as I thought I was, and second, riding off-road was just plain fun, and I had the best time over my four hours in the dirt and gravel!  A little instruction, as well as the opportunity to learn on someone else’s motorcycle, and I was off and running (or riding, as the case may be)!  And it was then that I decided that I needed to make a more serious effort and get some additional off-road training before giving up on the idea completely.

So . . . I cancelled the deal for the new RT, picked up my R1200GS (which I had left at the dealer as part of the trade), and brought it back home.  Then, I signed up for the full two-day off-road course back at the BMW Performance Center for the spring (my plan for starting the riding season) and spent much of the winter just waiting to ride off-road again.

Spring is now here, so this past week I traveled south to Charlotte to visit my friend, Steve, for about a week, taking two days during that visit to wander down to Greer, SC for the two-day course.  I arrived at the Performance Center early on Thursday morning, met the four instructors and the other eleven members of my class, and off to the classroom we went.  After the initial introductions and overview of our course, we headed out to our bikes to start riding.

Our Instructors

We started the first day out on the course with the same “warm-up” exercises on the bike that we did when I was down for the Premier Training course back in October, but things quickly got more complicated and intense, and by the afternoon session I was riding in “new territory”.   All of the courses at the BMW Performance Center are “Challenge by Choice”, meaning that you’re not required to do anything you’re not comfortable doing, but considering I was there to learn AND I was riding the Performance Center’s bike (which comes with the course and has zero . . . yes, zero liability), it was the perfect time to ride a little out of my comfort zone and try some new things.  It was a little scary at times, always challenging, and ultimately an awful lot of fun.  By the end of the day, I felt both physically and mentally exhausted, but pleased with the new riding skills I had learned and very satisfied with what I had accomplished over the course of the day!

Deep Gravel

Day two of the course started back in the classroom before heading out to the bikes and out onto the off-road riding area.  Our initial riding emphasized the skills we had learned the previous day, but also expanded into new skills and techniques as the day progressed.  Over the course of the day, we rode on a variety of surfaces (sand, gravel, clay, leaves/pine needles, and grass), a variety of environments (single and double track trails through fields and through the woods), and over or thru a variety of obstacles (ruts, washboards, humps/bumps, puddles/ponding, logs/railroad ties, and rocks).  And as the second day came to an end, I was even more exhausted than the day before, but still felt good about all we had done.  Looking back over the two days of training and knowing that we had just scratched the surface of riding off-road, it still felt good to realize I now had enough comfort and confidence to get out and start doing some off-road riding in the real world, and further improvement will come with practice and experience.

I’m certainly not going to claim that I “mastered” much of anything, however I do feel confident with a handful of new skills and am anxious to get back out on my own bike to continue to improve my skills and techniques.  I’m also going to need to update my bike with some new tires (those Michelin Road 6 tires are great on the road, but likely not much good off the pavement), and maybe some new off-road foot pegs.  And finally, I think I need to just hurry up and drop my own bike!  Once I get past that first drop or two and add some scuffs and scrapes to the crash bars, I know I’ll feel much better about continuing!

Learning to Ride in Deep Sand