Today was Day 1 of the Top Rider Adventure Riding Course and it was a blast. First some background. I’ve been wanting to get the Super Tenere off road for some time now. In September 2014 I did a 2 day Course which kicked things off but Iron Butt Riding kept off-road adventures at bay until my LD bucket list was done. Now I’m back on dirt more often and recent forays have made apparent some skills I needed to develop further. So I went searching on the interwebs for a course for early 2016, nada, zip, nuttin’.. During the process I touched base with Fiona at Top Rider who took my details and actually followed up some other expressions of interest and our course was eventually scheduled. A big tick to Top Rider just for that level of customer service.
Reading through the details there were similarities in structure to the previous course I’d done. The Top Rider course was instructed by legendary 250 GP, Superbike Lites and Isle of Man Rider Bernie Hatton assisted by David Tranter on his wicked Australasian Safari finishing DRZ-400. The course price of $895 included shared accommodation in Bernie’s Man Cave (linen and towels supplied) and all meals during the course even dinner! Pretty good value I reckon.
The day started, after a slight glitch, at Top Rider’s Nerang office. After the introduction we wheeled our bikes into the workshop and the bike setup and control positioning etc were examined. Adjustments were made as required using the tools and advice available. My new brake lever position was gold making me wonder how I put up with it for the last 78,000+ kms. It’s worth noting Bernie told us that he runs this course with a maximum of 5 participants, today’s had three not including a late withdrawal. The previous course I did advertised a maximum of 8 and there were more than double that. So today, quite rightly, there wasn’t going to be anywhere to hide and there would be plenty of individual instruction and opportunity to tailor the program to our needs.
After the intro and adjustments we rode to Bernie’s private asphalt pad for some balance, steering, clutch and brake control (slow riding) in a mix of seated and standing to nail down some of the theory on a stable surface. It was a beginners adventure course but we didn’t kill too many witches hats. It’s also good to “have” to do things we should all practice from time to time. After the basics it was time for lunch and then off to the Xtreme Karting facility in Pimpama QLD. Well actually it was in the sugar cane farm surrounding the Kart track which provided plenty of gravel-dirt tracks between the crops and some surprises for later.
It was a bit of a showery day which was a good thing really, the week before had seen temps hit the high 30’s so while it was still quite warm today the rain cooled things down and also provided some added traction and reduced dust to the gravel sections. A bonus for noobs really. The tracks were long and relatively straight so we got to practice the skills over and over while riding along rather than doing it once and going round and round and round a paddock and waiting for a turn. Except for the sharp cornering skills naturally, which was round and round a dirt area with some traction one end and mud the other to make it interesting. Here’s a pic. It’s pretty hard to get a leg out and around a Super Tenere’s bulk BTW but with the traction and ABS off it was sure fun. (Photo David Tranter) – I did get better.
We also did rear wheel braking (lockups and not), then front wheel braking. I like this exercise, lock the front wheel up and keep riding forward with it locked. Let go when you think you are going to fall. The K60’s on the front of the Super Tenere really had some bite in the surface I found I could lock the front wheel up at low speed and tractor along with the rear wheel spinning. Awesome fun but perhaps a bit naughty and not quite mastering the required skill. Putting that together we practiced hard braking without locking up until we all had it nailed.
Then there were a couple of steep climbs and a drop to master (larger than I expected and certainly larger than used in the last course I did) and a rear wheel lockup turning technique that I really need to practice much more when I get a chance.
Here’s Bernie demonstrating body positioning when turning (Photo David Tranter)
All through the day Bernie and Dave demonstrated the techniques and provided plenty of personal guidance and feedback.
Just when I thought the training for the day was over Bernie led us up a new track and into a mud pit (swamp). The Super Tenere sank almost to the bash plate but I kept it moving and made it across without stopping. However it was very much all over the place with feet and legs and rear wheel everywhere. Like mud pinball. Without time to take a breath and self-congratulate for making it through we were straight into a deep sandy area which stopped the guy in front of me and made trying to steer around him very ugly. I almost bogged the Super Tenere as it came to a halt but somehow found some traction and got it going. I then noticed the sand track made a right turn that I somehow made it around before finding solid ground again. Some brief technique discussion was had and I was happy not to have to go through the sand again but going back through the mud was the only way out. That seemed to make Bernie happy! I would like to say it was a little prettier than the first time…but it probably wasn’t. However I made it through again without binning it. There were smiles and cheers all round. After some more technique discussions (ahh, forgot the clutch) and we were on our way back to the accommodation via some nice winding tar.
Back in the man cave it was time for a shower and a fantastic steak and salad dinner personally prepared by Bernie and his lovely wife Sharon. A debrief and plenty of questions answered over food and a couple of coldies and it was time to hit the sack and get ready to put the skills into practice on Day 2. It sounded like it was going to be a cracker!
The first day of the course is also offered as a single day. One of the participants did it that way. It’s a good option if you don’t have the time to spare or funds are short. but my recommendation would be to do both days to get the skills dialled in properly.