Off Road Training – Day 2

October 25-26, 2014

Hechlingen (Germany) Enduro Park
Link to Part 1

I knew ahead of time that taking pictures wouldn’t be easy in a training like this, but once I was actually on a bike, with full gear and in constant motion, it became painfully obvious that I would be lucky to get any action shots. I eventually figured out a way of attaching the camera to my jacket, but it still required steady riding conditions – not something I experienced very often.

View from our hotel room in the misty morning

There had been a change overnight: one of the instructors had become a father. He got “the call” and left to be with his wife and new child. This left us with one less instructor for the same amount of students. There was a quick reorganization of riders and I was moved to Dan’s group. The instructors did a good job of splitting the two intermediate groups into the lesser and more skilled riders and I think that most of the students were happy with the decisions made.

Dan with “his” GS

Much to my surprise, the first thing we did on Day 2 were some off-the-bike physical exercises and stretches. It was a fun little set of aerobics and everyone took it to heart to get their blood flowing and their limbs limbered. I confess that jumping jacks in enduro motorcycle boots are painful.

I was now in Sille’s group and as our motorcycle warm up she took us immediately on a trail ride, having fun on the woods trails again. These weren’t quite as challenging as yesterday’s woods ride, but considering the muscles screaming in my upper legs, I was ok with that. It also helped that I was also still on the little 200 and having a blast. There were constant reminders that we were in an old quarry and we often came upon abandoned equipment rusting in the woods. It would have liked to have learned more about the history of the park.

Woods trail

We came back down to the training area near the bike shed, this time to work on braking. Starting cones marked the stretch where we were to build up speed and another set of cones where we were to begin braking. The first exercise was with the rear brake, the second exercise was with the front wheel and the third exercise was (surprisingly enough) with both wheels. Sille took a lot of time to explain the various bikes’ use of ABS and ACS and when to use each mode and setting. My 200 had none of this special equipment, but my F800 does, so I listened carefully. And it was always fun to watch Sille take off on her bike. She rode a new 1200GS but she was easily just over 5′ tall. Instead of trying to swing her leg over the saddle while the bike was on the side stand, every start was proceeded by her putting her left leg on the peg and then rolling on the throttle. Only once the bike was actually moving did she swing her leg over the seat. Some day I might give this a try. Some day…

Braking practice

It was great to explore the braking tolerances in such a controlled environment and I look forward to trying it at some point on my own motorcycle. In the meantime, I was going to have fun with this one. I admit that the braking practice went on a little longer than I would have liked, but since it was a group lesson we kept at it until Sille was comfortable with each of our performances. And of course, one can never have too much practice. Sille wrapped up the morning session with another trail ride around the park. The sun had come out and it was getting warmer. Fortunately the temperatures never rose very far and I was only slightly too warm in my gear.

A little off the main trail

Now that I had my camera with me, I could take some pictures of the ride to the hotel for lunch. The weather was perfect and the colors in the trees added some beauty to the landscape.

Riding through Hechlingen

Dirty bikes at lunch

Guess which one I’m riding?

Hotel Forellenhof

After lunch we got directly back on the bikes and went directly to the local gas station. Two Park employees stood on both sides of the pump and filled bike after bike as each pulled up. After our group was gassed up we rode back to our little corner of the training grounds. It was time for me to face my fears.

All the previous evening all I could think about were the bikes that zoomed up and down the hills that lined the main training ground (pictured early on Day 1). I didn’t want to do this hill. I was even mentally forming my refusal to the instructor. Of course, any of us could refuse to perform any exercise presented to us – this was all voluntary. But this hill? Did I really want to ride up it? No. I didn’t have a good reason, but it ate at me.

However, Sille took us to a different hill and while it must have been easier (Shallower? Lower?) it looked more difficult due to the rough, rocky surface. She didn’t give us much instruction other than to ensure that we kept on the throttle until we reached the top. And then we were off.

One by one, we throttled up. There were three possible paths and Sille indicated how they lined up by level of difficulty. I chose the easiest – and it was great! My second ascent was the same path, but with more finesse. Then I moved on to the harder path; it wasn’t much worse. So then I went all out and chose the most difficult path. It had a slight bend midway up, so I couldn’t just roll on the throttle and go. But it felt good and I kept at it for the rest of the runs. I was happy with my level of skill, and Sille voiced her confirmation. I had conquered my fears.

Dan takes on the hardest path

A happy rider

What goes up, must come down. There was an easy loop to get back down to the training ground after climbing the hill, enabling us to attack it over and over with ease. Then Sille had us reverse directions and come down the steep hill. But we weren’t to just ride down the slope, but descend as slowly as possible. This took a very gentle touch on front brake, knowing just how much pressure to keep on the lever to stay in control. It was fun on the little bike and I would have liked to have tried it on the 800.

Our second day of training was almost over. Sille asked us if there was anything in particular we wanted to work on and the consensus was “sand”. We rode over to the sand pit and after a little instruction, we were plowing our way across the soft surface. One by one, we attacked the deep sand, with Sille ready to give us tips or, more often, to help pick up dropped bikes.

Boring video of Dan riding across the sand (video)

One end of the sand pit

The woman with the broken foot hobbled her way up to the sand pit to watch us practice but sadly, by the time she got there, we were ready to move on to the next exercise. I felt bad as we left her sitting on a rock at the side of the sand pit, leaving her to hobble back down to the main grounds on her own.

Hobbling through the sand

Sille offered to take us on a tour of the Hechlingen region. She promised an hour or so of dirt roads, trails and some water crossing. It sounded like fun and I was interested to see more of the area. Unfortunately, I should have switched bikes to something more powerful than the 200, as it had a bit of trouble in keeping up with the bigger bikes, especially when we hit the open paved roads.

While it was an interesting ride and it was fun to ride around the base of some of the large wind turbines, I admit that it didn’t hold the challenge that I had been anticipating. I was actually glad to get back to the park and would have preferred to take a few more loops there.

When we rolled back into the park we immediately went to an area I hadn’t seen before: it was a large water trough behind the main building. We had one more exercise: deep water riding. Sille told me that my bike was too small to safely take through the water (the air intake was lower than the other bikes) but I wasn’t too concerned about missing out on this exercise. I had crossed larger rivers in Mexico and felt that I had a good feel for what was needed. In the end, one of the other riders offered me his 800 to take through the water and I took him up on it. The drop into the water was surprisingly abrupt and I wasn’t on the throttle properly, but I made it across without incident.

The water crossing

Me riding across the water pit (video)

The class was over. We returned our bikes to the bike shed and went back to the main building for some final words. I was surprised when each of us received a Certificate of Completion and a T-shirt. The group was enthusiastic in their applause for each other and the instructors. I changed out of my gear and started to say good-bye to the other riders. Some of us had exchanged contact information and I knew that I’d hear from them again soon. I had to do with simple farewells to others, wishing them well on their future rides.

Then Dan and I had to make a decision: leave now for Basel or wait until the morning. Our original thoughts were to stay for the night because we figured that we’d be so tired. I also expected the class to end later than it did. But the advantage of leaving tonight were two-fold: I wouldn’t have to get up at 6 am on Monday morning and there wouldn’t be any morning commuter traffic. We decided to just head out and get home. The hotel was very generous with our last-minute decision and we packed up the car quickly.

The sunset was beautiful but I was disappointed to still be on the country roads when it finally set and the darkness fell across the landscape. I had a harsh surprise when my headlights barely illuminated a three-wheeled motorcycle half-pulled off the road. He was pouring fuel into his tank but there were no lights, no safety triangles and no safety vest in sight. We were all fortunate that I noticed him in the darkness and managed to swerve around him.

Once we hit the motorway it was an easy drive home. The Fiat wasn’t fast, but it was smooth and we could easily keep up with traffic. Speaking of traffic, while there were plenty of cars on the road with us, it usually didn’t slow us down. We made it home in the previously-estimated time of four and a half hours. It was good to be home, and we’re already planning on our next training course.

Back to Day 1

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