Offroad Training for Big Bikes

A lesson in the basics by the pros.

tommy lee big bike offroad lesson

Ride far enough and eventually civilised tarmac will give way to some barbaric combination of twisties, fire trails, and terrain more interesting than your usual route to Starbucks.

Laos Adventure Motorcycling
Somewhere south of Vang Vieng, Laos. Perhaps not the best idea!

These could take you by surprise. Imagine an off-camber, blind, reducing-radius corner which transits abruptly into hard-packed mud. We’ve gotten up close and personal with a few “roads” like these in Thailand and Laos, which is why we believe that moto-travellers should diversify their skill repertoire so as to better handle whatever the journey may throw under their wheels. Even if you count yourself just an urban warrior, getting acquainted with basic offroad riding skills would be a boost to your daily defensive riding abilities on the street.

Now, as you can imagine, wrestling a 200kg adventure bike – or big trailie – over rough terrain is quite a different business from hopping around on skinny dirtbike half that weight. Touring motorcycles are usually 600cc and above, and a full load of luggage adds to the bulk. Intimidating for sure – but there’s only one way to get over the fear: Guided practice with the experts.

Adventure riding class

If you think Singapore has nothing close to the sort of adventure riding schools that the Western world enjoys, think again. Tommy Lee, of Route 55 Enduro Park, is a BMW-certified offroad instructor with 4 decades of competitive motosports experience under his belt. He offers classes in various levels of offroading at Ulu Choh Dirt Park, a sprawling, multi-terrain dirt paradise just 20 minutes away from Singapore at Johor, Malaysia. I signed up for a one-day session – “Level 1 Off-Road Training for Trailies”.

tommy lee big bike offroad lesson
Instructor Tommy Lee (left) gets the class off to a good start with breakfast snacks. Those carbs will burn off in no time.

It’s all in your mind

My friends think I’m mad to do this on my Ducati Scrambler Desert Sled; they are mostly curious, but daunted by the prospect of falling off a heavy bike or busting their expensive fairings. Well, here’s the good news – in the Level 1 class, you get to make most of your noob mistakes on someone else’s bike. In fact, we didn’t get to crack open our own throttles for most of the morning, focusing instead on basics like handling, manoeuvring, balancing and lifting, using the instructor’s BMW GS.

tommy lee big bike offroad lesson
Tommy demonstrates the proper way to pick up a napping cow – with your legs and not your back.

Nailing the basics

I’ve been riding for a decade and offroading isn’t new to me, but what I discovered this afternoon is how much of the fundamentals I haven’t got right. Many offroad techniques are counter-intuitive to road riding, and it is so much more effective to be guided through them by an expert, rather than blundering through by trial-and-error.

The class was purposefully small – five in total – and with everyone at matched skill levels, we could try things out at our own pace with little pressure.

I found the progressive lesson plan especially helpful, because it allowed us to practice each technique in isolation, before getting the nod of approval to move on to the next step.

tommy lee big bike offroad lesson
Understanding the principles of balance makes the motorcycle’s bulk less intimidating.
tommy lee big bike offroad lesson
Tommy explaining the fundamentals of body positioning.
tommy lee big bike offroad lesson
And that’s a full-lock U-turn!
tommy lee big bike offroad lesson
Measuring braking distance under various bike set-ups and conditions.

In the second half of the day, we put these techniques to the test on obstacles like slopes and parallel-log crossings. You’d be surprised, but we beginners actually managed pretty well with our newly acquired skills!

tommy lee big bike offroad lesson
“Look far, guys!” Tommy emphasises that vision is key.
tommy lee big bike offroad lesson
Going up and coming down – it’s a breeze with the right techniques.
tommy lee big bike offroad lesson
A useful technique if you ever need to pluck mangoes halfway up a hill.
tommy lee big bike offroad lesson
Who needs a sidestand anyway?

What’s next?

Practice, practice, practice! No matter how long you’ve been motorcycling, the learning never ends. Really, nothing compares to having a seasoned pro guide, advise and evaluate you along the bumpy way. The techniques we scored this weekend have also helped with my confidence on tarmac – once I know how to handle skittish wheels, then gravel on the road or random rough patches are no longer unsettling.

Another great take-home from joining a riding class? New friends and potential adventure buddies for your next long ride.

tommy lee big bike offroad lesson
Offroad Level 1 certified!

For those looking to progress from Noob to Capable, there are more advanced Level 2 and GS Trophy training packages available for graduates of Level 1.

Ready to ride better? Sign up here for “Level 1 Offroad Training for Trailies”. Enjoy a 30 SGD discount on Level 1 classes by using promo code rude. Class slots are limited; don’t dally!

More Stories
jacket
Motorcycle Jacket for a Noob