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Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Off-Road Course, Eating Sand and Other Adventures.

14 May, Off-Road Bike Course
Dad and I, all kitted out next to his bike with the beautiful mountains in the background.
This past weekend we were taken by (dust) storm at our off-road course just outside Wellington. The day was hosted at Bontebok Ridge Reserve, which was a magical spot fenced in by breathtaking mountain range. The day was filled with adventure, laughs and hysteria, fear and the conquering of it and a fair dose of intermittent frustration paired with the occasional mumbled swearing under the breathe of a frustrated rider. But all and all it was a wonderful afternoon with brilliant teachers who taught us a lot, making us realise that we really (in my father’s words,) “didn’t know what we didn’t know” about off-road biking. Our course was convened by experienced motorbike guru, Rony Desodt who did an exceptional job of taking us from tar to sand. His fearless partner in saddle-Jurg- did a brilliant job demonstrating exercises, although obviously with far more finesse (and fearlessness) than any of us could possibly manage. Our group was a wonderful crew which made the day even more enjoyable as we managed to strike the fine balance between support and ridicule ;)  

Dad finds a Kawasaki fan in Jurg!

Rony making some adjustments to my bike... getting ready for off-road riding!

Boys and their toys! The guys marveling at Cecil's 1200GS.

Me and my toy!

We started the day off with an exercise which would set the tone for the rest of the day: how to pick your motorbike up from the dust! Quite a challenging feat, since these bikes weigh between 190- 250kgs. As Rony so adeptly put it, the most important thing is to look up and smile for the camera while picking up your bike, because your friends will no doubt be huddled around laughing and taking pictures. This is something I expect to have to do a lot during the trip... I’m just being realistic! So it was oddly enough one of the most valuable skills we learnt, since we were definitely doing it completely wrong beforehand and with very little grace (grace is important for a ‘rough and ready’ biker... do it with grace please!)

Cecil showing us how it's done! Yes, you need to sit on the bike to pick it up!

Eager to get started! Gearing up...

It is quite amazing how riding a motorbike off-road is utterly opposite to riding on-road. Almost as if, when you get off-road you need to induce amnesia and forget absolutely everything about riding a bike on-road in order to ensure you survive the dust. For example when turning a bike off-road, forget about counter-steering and leaning into a corner, unless of course it is your intension to bring your front wheel out from under you with your face lying not so comfortably in the sand. No.... leaning into corners off-road = forbidden territory! Instead, it is mandatory to do the completely opposite gesture. To survive an off-road sharp turn you are required to be standing up on your bike, actually turn the bike in the direction you want to go (opposed to counter-steering) and put all your weight on your outside leg (opposed to leaning your weight in towards the corner.) As Rony said, if you are a good dancer, you’ll be a good off-road rider because you are obliged to thrust those hips out over your outside leg. Quite a funny site when weaving between cones and seeing these men thrusting their hips from side to side, some as awkwardly as they would on the dance floor before a few drinks loosen it all up. It is all quite confusing in the beginning and I think we all squashed a few of Rony’s cones as it is far easier to ride over them then weave precariously in between them with your hips waving to and throw all over the place. 
Dad getting the hang of weaving with the hips to and throw!
Me trying my hips @ the weave.
The next exercise was learning to ride your bike in a sharp circle and then progressing on to a figure of eight. Not so easy in the sand! And here Rony’s small white cones really got annihilated by some overzealous drivers. Hmmm... largely myself! Here the trick is really putting all your weight on your outside leg, hips out and over the leg, square those arms, delicate balance between clutch and throttle and LOOK OVER YOUR SHOULDER, cause if you look at the ground you end on the ground! Quite a lot to think about! Needless to say, a few bikes ended on the ground. My Dakar bit the dust a few times during the day. Mostly I find coming to a stop on unlevel ground the most challenging... let me keep on riding, no problem, but as soon as I have to stop on my ridiculously vertically challenged limbs... there is trouble! Where many people can prevent a fall by just putting down their legs quickly and balancing the bike before zooting along again, I am unable to get by legs down without prior warning. Hell, even when I have time to plan coming to a stop I have to make sure I stop in a place where the ground is level or else pre-empt myself by evaluating which leg goes down according to which side of the road is higher- hehe! So putting my legs down without warning... very challenging indeed! On-road there is far less unlevel ground but off-road there is a lot. So the outcome of this experience has been that we have decided that the Dakar has to stoop to my level per say... Sorry Dakar but you need to become a shorty like your mum! Suspension is coming down asap!

The next exercise was designed to assimilate a situation where you don’t make a hill and therefore need to turn your bike around, come down the hill and try it again with more force. So basically you needed to purposefully stall your bike by pressing the back break half way up the hill. If your bike is in gear it ‘should’ remain still on the hill so that you can turn it around by moving the front-wheel from side to side, as you would with a 4X4. However there are several things that could go wrong in this situation, and which did! Namely, you could get your bike into neutral by mistake in which case it will go rolling backwards down the hill with poor rider in tow and probably eventually under the bike, in the sand. Also not good is if you use the clutch because letting go of it will cause your bike to rear forward with rider coming off the back of it... hopefully not under the 200-250kgs bike. You could also manage to stall the bike but not be able to put your legs down properly and so go for a bit of a tumble. Or situation number  four, what I did, you can stall the bike and then put in the clutch... in which case it is the same situation as being in neutral with bike and rider heading down the hill backwards and four men screaming “let go of the clutch!” and trying desperately to improve the nature of the eminent fall. In my defence ... come on, it is natural to put in the clutch when a vehicle comes to a stop... no? Hmm... Well, we all managed to do one of the above and come crashing down in the sand. Except for my dad, who was the only lucky (talented) man to survive the exercise without eating some sand! But for the rest of us, we were brave enough (or perhaps stupid) to try it again, with success all around on ‘attempt number two.’

First failed attempt... not looking promising for the rest of us.

Far easier to pick the bike up with four helping hands.

After 100% failure... dad gears up to try his hand at the hill-stop.

Yes! Success... he will not eat sand today!


Here I have already rolled half way down- backwards! Lesson: ignore your clutch completely up a hill!

Second try: Success!They all look just as relieved as I was to not be rolling down the hill and biting the dust, so they didn't have to break my fall AGAIN.

Now to turn around...

After eating a fair amount of sand... well some of us anyways, it was time for some lunch and a moment to catch our breath. After a lovely lunch, a few laughs and some words of encouragement for those feeling a bit overwhelmed, it was back to the grind. Riding up and down a hill: my personal nemesis for the day! A bit harder then what you would expect. If you don’t go fast enough, you end up stalling; in which case all of the above mentioned (on the previous exercise) can happen. Except of course that you aren’t expecting to stall and so it takes you by surprise, which for beginners usually means straight into the sand, unless of course you are Cecil! Cecil was one of the wonderful people on the course and is planning on doing a 16 month cross-Africa adventure in 2015. But he has good foresight and so decided to train up on his big 1200GS in good time, before embarking on his trip. In hindsight it would have been rather helpful to have Cecil’s foresight in preparing in advance, instead of 3 months before-hand! But we are the spontaneous types and our hard determination and out-right stubbornness will have to see us through. Anyways... back to Cecil’s epic dismount. Cecil perhaps provided us with the most entertaining episode of the day when his attempt of riding up the hill failed and instead of coming crashing down with his huge 1200GS he opted to leap up from under it, (somehow????) and end up about 100m’s from where his bike was lying helplessly in the sand. It happened so quickly, none of us had any time to digest how he had managed this amazing feat! We all canned ourselves, even while poor Cecil was trying to pick up his 250kg 1200GS on the side of a slope (with a big smile on his face for the camera of course.) 
Rony showing us how it's done.

Ok... We'll give it a shot I guess.

Hmm... Maybe not! The Dakar bites the dust. (She did get up and over eventually after a fair dose of encouragement!)

I could go on and on about the funny and devastating moments that the day enraptured us in. But that would entail a very long post and I think I have said enough. Besides, I would like to keep some dignity without having to publicly relive ALL of my nose-dives into the sand. 
Dad's emergency stop... with the sand in his wake...

We finished the day off well in plumes of dust shaken up from the ground by our skidding and sliding during enacted emergency stops. More successful enactments for some then others! As we all said our thanks to our brilliant teachers and the wonderful group that made the day so enjoyable, the cloud was lifting from the valley and exposed the beautiful mountains and an early-rising moon... such a very quintessentially African scene! Sorry about being overly poetic... but I really do love this area of the world. It is such a treat to ride through the beautiful wine lands, vast expanses of land, distant smoky-violet mountain peaks and up and out to beautiful Cape Town. What an extraordinarily beautiful part of the world we live in. Ok, enough of the decadent language. Where do we go from here? 
The whole group together.
Great shot of dad with the beautiful peaks behind him.

And we are off! Back to Cape Town it is. What a great day!

We are busy tying up the ends required to organise this epic journey. I had a meeting with BMW on Monday and am hoping to secure a bit of sponsorship from them, to help us out with what has exposed itself as an exorbitantly expensive trip... all the odds and ends, sprockets and shocks etc etc etc etc... It really does add up! We should hear about this soon. We will definitely be doing a crash course in ‘motorbike maintenance’ with the trusty BMW mechanics! I will soon be approaching more people in the business community to support our mission and make donations to the Earthchild Project. And, and, and... there is a lot going on to ensure the trip is a success and we reach our goals of raising R500,000 for the Earthchild Project and of course complete our exciting African adventure. We shall keep you posted! Until then please help us by sharing our project with everyone you know and in doing so, let’s make a better day for all those beautiful Earthchildren out there... because we sure can’t trust them politicians (happy voting day tomorrow... that is, if you have someone to vote for!) Let’s change our South Africa... the grass-roots way :)  

1 comment:

  1. So glad you enjoyed it even with some spills - off road is so much more fun than riding onroad and you and Rivak seem to be getting the hang of it nicely. I am so glad you are doing these courses and getting some experience under your belts as that will help with that stubborness and enthusiasm. So proud of you and Rivak for taking on this challenge. Love to you both