A Weekend at the BMW Country Trax Off road Riding Academy

Author: Steve and Carole Eilertsen. stevei@icon.co.za

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When I had ridden a couple of thousand kms off road I learnt one thing . . . I was not going to get any better unless I got some professional input and so the BMW Motorrad Rider Academy with its chief instructor 
Jan du Toit was duly booked in April 2003


If you want the short version here it is, 'It was an awesome weekend! My off road riding moved to the next level in just a few hours. With the help of the carefully graded program I was able to move out of my comfort zone which had trapped me for months. I left in control, confident and excited about our next off road adventure"

The longer version of this report starts with a good decision i.e. to put the motorbike onto the trailer and tow it for the 3.5  hour trip from Johannesburg to Amersfort. This stretch of road is boring as hell and was crawling with traffic cops for a lot of the trip. The academy is not that easy to find and is not a place to search for in the dark.

While we were sitting in the log pub having dinner the heavens opened up with torrential rain, howling wind, lightening and hail. This was a problem because four of the participants, slowed down by a puncture on the road where somewhere out in the elements! It was dark and the last 40km was on dirt. Even the best of riders tries not ride at night and definitely not in an electrical rain storm.

Thankfully they did arrive with only two riders loosing it on the slick road surface (same spot just outside the gate - it was suggested that Jan had set a boobie trap for them!) but with no immediate damage it seemed. Peter, Peter, Steve and Ursula, even as I write this report I want to commend you-folk on your courage (or foolhardiness!). That was a difficult ride and a helleva way to start what was to be a tough and physically demanding weekend.

I cannot do Country Trax justice without mentioning the log cabin accommodation. If you love wood as I do, these structures have to be seen. In particular a wooden bench (with a full size backrest)  that seats 4 adults on one side, with 4 adults facing them on the other, hand crafted out of a single tree and a single piece of wood! Has to be seen to be believed! Jan du Toit is a man of many talents!

A unique bedroom

The lounge area.
Various cabins styles are available

Equally I cannot do Country Trax justice without mentioning the catering. Food fit for a king! Beautifully prepared, tasty and with unusual salads. What a treat after a hard days biking!

Amersfort

This small farming town is 44km north of Volksrust

 

The next day started with the reminder that you cannot just arrive with your bike. There is a list of things that you need to bring with . . . 

Proper riding boots that offer good ankle protection

Long riding pants that offer good knee protection (Jan can help out here if you arrive with just a pair of jeans)

Riding jacket with soft body armour and preferably one that is not too warm

Riding gloves

Helmet - full face or open with goggles

You need your bike's tool kit because you are required to remove all breakables from the bike e.g. mirrors, windshield etc

Rain suit (enough said!)

Chain lube for the guys with 650s or other chain driven models

Own alcoholic drinks (soft drinks can be bought from the bar)

An assortment of fasteners, wire, tape, glues, zip ties, etc as there is a fair chance that you will drop your bike and may need to make some makeshift repairs over the weekend. Yes, this weekend is not for posers who want to parade their new German hardware! The weekend is as punishing on the bikes as it is on the riders.

Water bottle that you can keep with you during the day

Full tank of petrol!!

My spectacular wipe out in the deep sand.
Trying to master a tough cornering exercise. 

That morning also saw the arrival of Kobus Johnstone, the assistant instructor - a sugar farmer from Pongola with a generously cultivated military air. He complemented Jan's teaching style perfectly. When you went to wall with an exercise you could not cope with you were entrusted to Kobus who would ensure that you got the extra attention you needed. He was also 'Tail End Charlie' ensuring that during the out rides from the safety of the exercise paddock that you did not get lost or dump yourself, unnoticed into a ditch (or worse)

The whole day was spent doing umpteen different off road motorcycle exercises designed to instil balance, control and confidence in a variety of different circumstances and trail conditions. Jan and Kobus, in tandem with the graded program, slowly moved you out of your comfort zone and built up your faith in yourself and your motorbike with each consecutive exercise. For example. Would I ever ride my 170kg motorcycle over a deep hole? Never! But I did! and will have no problem doing it the next time I encounter a hole of similar size.

Jan demonstrates riding over a deep hole on his much heavier GS Adventurer.

Many off road exercises were taught in their own specially designed area, sometimes one or two km from the main paddock. Clearly no expense had been spared and hundreds of cubes of earth had to moved to created the perfect conditions for each exercise to be mastered in a predictable and controlled environment. For me the highlight was the 6.2km off road track, challenging but within our capabilities.

Practicing steep ascents and descents with the 6km track on the hillside in the distance

 

The evenings were spent sitting around the long dining room table talking about the days events. Personally this was a time to ask questions about issues that I had never successfully bedded down in my own mind about suspension, tyres, wet and dry clutches, helmets and a host of other issues.

The next morning was set aside for a three hour motorbike ride through the area. While the ride to Amersfort was not exciting the immediate area around Jan's farm was very pretty. It provided a variety of different trails, roads and surfaces to practice our new skills. Blasting along a narrow, stony pathway with the throttle wide open, the grass a green blur and the wind in my face is a special memory I will remember for some time to come.

Heading out to practice our skills

Jan says that there are plans to split the offering into two separate courses i.e. novice and advanced. This will probably be a good thing. Despite my steep learning curve there were exercises I did not master and a host of optional ones that I did not even attempt.

After yet another magnificent meal we all prepared to go home. Those that had arrived by bike made them roadworthy again while we secured ours back onto its trailer. My aching and exhausted body was pleased to slip into a comfy seat. With the aircon going and some good music the road back to reality would not be that bad.

That was fun. Let's do it again!

 

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