Ready to take your motorbike off the beaten track, but not sure what to expect? CARtoday.com correspondent Neil Harrison shares his experiences at BMW’s Off-road Riding Academy.

I have a theory that dual-purpose motorcycles are purchased by the inner child. This is the fearless nine-year-old who’s holed up in an untidy room in the recesses of your mind.

So when I was given the chance to attend BMW’s off-road riding school, Country Trax, my inner nine-year-old was over the moon. Then the 30-something-me sobered up to the fact I’d be learning on a borrowed R1150GS Adventure, a much larger machine than I’m used to. A delicious mix of anticipation and dread set in.

Country Trax is on a farm near Amersfoort, halfway between Ermelo and Volksrust. I arrived late Friday afternoon and was warmly welcomed by off-road maestro Jan du Toit and his wife Elsie. The farmhouse and school are nestled in a shady compound dotted with log cabins and agricultural paraphernalia.

The evening was spent getting to know my nine fellow students. A quick survey revealed our off-road experience ranged from almost zero to a ‘fair amount’.

We started off the next morning removing vulnerable bits, mirrors, indicators and windscreens, from our bikes. We learnt how to use the BMW toolkit and were shown how to properly adjust the suspension and brakes. My Adventure had picked up a puncture, which was repaired on the spot with remarkable ease.

The morning’s lessons dealt largely with control and balance. Jan makes the point that if your motorcycle is correctly balanced it shouldn’t require much effort to keep upright. To illustrate this, he had us walking around our motorcycles while keeping them balanced with two nervous fingers. I couldn’t shake the feeling that my 250 kg bruiser was just waiting to see who’d blink first.

As the morning progressed, the exercises grew evermore intricate. One of the most rewarding techniques taught is ‘look there - go there’. This is the practice of looking only at the path you want to follow. And conversely, not looking at the obstacle. It takes a bit of getting used to but mastering this technique smoothes out your riding. It’s like Zen, my bru. Don’t dwell on the negative, just visualise the positive and pursue it.

The second technique that’ll turn you into a Dirt Meister is standing up on the pegs, keeping your head up to the horizon. The benefits are manifold; you’re able to see further; you’re shaken around less because your arms and legs act as mini-shock absorbers; and, it lowers your centre of gravity.

Standing to lower your centre of gravity may sound like complete nonsense. But think about it. Sitting down, your weight is on the saddle. So, standing up…

The sand pits were a great leveller of experience. Get it right and the bike planes across the surface. Get it wrong and an abrupt halt is followed by a brief flight over the bars. If you’re able to anticipate this dismount, you can ‘step’ over the bike and land on your feet in an elegant fashion.

My score? Elegant Dismount 1 - Ostrich Impression 3

The approaching dusk saw us mastering ascents and descents on what I called the Hill of Death. This was a three-storey high mound that heard much petitioning of celestial authorities as we challenged its acute slopes. Then, after a lap or two of Jan’s MX track, we headed home for supper and campfire conversations.

A crisp, clear Sunday morning saw the 12 helmeted horsemen of Country Trax sally forth on a final outride. Standing proud in the saddle, chins up, steely eyes sweeping the route ahead, we scythed through hill and dale. It was sublime.

All too soon we arrived back at the farm. After lunch and final goodbyes, we peeled off in one’s and two’s, and headed home. On the way back I took a short cut. A dirt road, of course.

Criticisms? The course can be a bit daunting for the newly mobile; perhaps an introduction course would bridge the gap. Otherwise, there isn’t anything to whine about; the food is plentiful and delicious, the beds are soft and the water is hot.

It costs R1 275, this includes tuition, certification, accommodation in comfortable log cabins and all meals. Accommodation and meals for non-riders costs R625. BMW motorcycles can be hired.

For more info, go to www.countrytrax.co.za, email [email protected] or phone (017) 753 1720. Country Trax also offers courses in the Western Cape.

By Neil Harrison [email protected]

Original article from Car