Confidence as an adventure motorcycle rider is something I lack. It’s strange. It’s not that I think I can’t ride – I know I can, I have ridden my bike thousands of miles and in several countries. And I go to bed at night dreaming about amazing trips across continents and on all kinds of terrain. I’ve also got photos to prove where I’ve been and what I’ve seen.
But every time I start a trip, I get on my bike and I feel, well, vulnerable. My in-my-dreams and in-those-photographs confidence gets banished by a worry that I’ll be shown up as an imposter. The excitement to travel and explore on two wheels gets turned into the wrong kind of butterflies in my stomach. And that worry in turn leads to being very unsure of what I’m doing sitting astride an 800cc adventure-ready motorcycle.
Adventure Bike Training
Knowing all this, one of the things I wanted to do before heading to Iceland for a predominately off-road overland adventure, was to boost the confidence levels with some more training. Practice makes perfect, after all. Or so I hoped.
When we originally planned on going to Iceland (a few years ago now), we went and did the BMW Off Road Skills Level One course (which I talked about in this post). It was a bucket list item of mine anyway, and it comes highly recommended for road loving motorcyclists who want to become something more akin to adventure motorcyclists. I can’t explain just how amazing I felt after those two days. I mean, I was very cold, wet, muddy, and utterly exhausted, but as far as riding skills and confidence goes, I felt amazing. There is no doubt in my mind that I left that course a much better rider, and still am today because of it. Training works.
We did that course back in 2017. It was the year after our big North American trip, when we first decided we wanted to start exploring more off-road options when road tripping, and just before we originally booked our Iceland trip with Globebusters. It was doing that course that gave us the confidence to part with our deposit for the mini overland adventure. Of course, you know what happened to that trip, it was delayed until August 2021. Anyway.
Preparing for Iceland
As we were preparing for our rescheduled Iceland trip, once we knew it was definitely going ahead (or at least was nearly maybe probably going ahead), the imposter came to pay me a visit again. I’d not ridden a huge amount during the pandemic, just a week-long road trip around some of England and Wales’ National Parks, a quick one-day jaunt on the smallest section of TET and on Salisbury Plain, and a handful of tarmac rides from home.
We booked on a Moto Junkies trail ride for big bikes, thinking that would be a great opportunity to remind us what off road riding felt like. The description sounded like it was within our skillset, and I was excited to ride with the crew. But as I mentioned in Weekly Blog Episode 68, I didn’t get off the starting line as my bike broke down on the petrol station forecourt. The first time I’d ever had an issue with my bike starting. I was so sad!
But after that day I saw a few social media posts from Moto Junkies talking about their events not being for training, or for inexperienced riders, and my lack of confidence took over again. Despite having a credit meaning we could book another go, I was put off. As it happened, we couldn’t do any of their other dates before August anyway, but still, maybe it wasn’t the right choice for me after all.
There wasn’t any availability on the BMW Level Two courses (they had a backlog thanks to the pandemic), so instead, we decided to book something just for us. Some bespoke, in person training that would help the three of us – me, my husband, and our friend – have some fun on our own bikes, remember the skills we learned with BMW back in 2017, and especially for me, work on that all important confidence. After a bit of research, we booked two days with Kevin over at Adventure Bike Training in Norfolk.
Tailored for Us
Kevin and Debs run Adventure Bike Training from their home near Fakenham, having set aside a large field with obstacles for training exercises (“the park”), and with access to a bunch of green lanes and trails for ride-outs. I honestly had no idea that Norfolk had such a great network of green lanes – a happy discovery, at least for the most part (more on that later).
The main benefits of this particular option over the BMW course was that we rode our own bikes, and it was just us – so, we were able to concentrate on the things that we needed to. Before we rode over to Norfolk, I’d chatted with Kevin about the kinds of things we wanted to get from the course. Our wish list included general confidence on uneven and potentially slippery surfaces (mud, gravel, you know), how to properly tackle water crossings (specifically with Iceland in mind), and to have some fun on our bikes.
Back to Basics
I suspect the preamble you’ve already read will be much longer than the next bit where I talk about what we actually did with Kevin over the two days. The whole point of Kevin’s courses is that he tailors them to you and your riding; the course put on for the three of us will be different to the course he might run for you. I’m not going to go through each individual skill learnt and practiced, but hopefully I can give you a flavour of how we spent the 12 hours or so.
First on the training menu, after tea and snacks, and the obligatory check we knew how to properly pick our bikes up once they had fallen over, was a gentle ride around the park. This was so we could get a feel for the way Kevin would teach us, and so he could see our riding. We rode around, follow the leader style, sat on the seat and stood up on the pegs, using our weight to turn the bike, controlling speed using the clutch, the usual kind of things.
This might have been basic, but these things really are the ground rules for good riding – on and off road. That initial half hour or so absolutely helped me to control my nerves, and remind myself that I do actually know how to ride my motorbike.
Every now and again Kevin would stop and chat to us about our form and technique, giving tips and pointers which he would then encourage is to try out over the next few minutes. He was always watching how each of us was doing, a very attentive teacher, even when leading the group around in loops of varying shapes around the field.
Up and Down, Round and Round
As time progressed Kevin would include different obstacles and skill elements, including sharp turns, u-turns, a slalom course, little lumps, steep ascents and descents, narrow lanes with low clearance, high banks with turns, muddy banks, all sorts. Each time he would explain best practice, demo the element, and then allow us to practice (over and over again in some cases), until we had it nailed.
Then he would loop different elements together, run obstacles in reverse, and also let us have the freedom to try things in our own time. I loved this, it really worked with my learning style, giving me an opportunity to watch, tentatively try, and then build my confidence as I repeated the section as often as I needed. Practice makes perfect, after all.
My favourite parts of the park were the raised mud banks. There is something very empowering about feeling in control of a motorbike going up a steep hill taller than me, riding along a narrow trail along the top, and then guiding it back down the steep descent. Towards the end of the second day, we spent a bit of time taking a few photos, which means I have a permanent reminder that I can actually ride my GS in its natural habitat.
Out on Trail
Although there was probably enough on the park to keep a rider like me occupied for two full days, we were also with Kevin to get out on some trails, to both learn something about riding big bikes on green lanes, and to have some fun in the countryside. Kevin has an amazing knowledge of all the trails in this part of the country, and it was fabulous to be guided by him.
I really loved the green lanes; they were the best bit, the reason I wanted to better my riding skills – so I can access this kind of riding. We played follow the leader with Kevin at the front, then my husband, then me, then our friend. We used lovely quiet country lanes to get between sections of green lane, and tried some trails with gravel, deep pot holes, rocks, mud, grass, a nice variety.
It was all going so well – I was a bit nervous but felt like I was doing okay. That was until I came off. More than once.
The first couple of times (it was three in total) I caught the edge of a rut in the trail and made an error correcting (steering or throttle or both), and ditched the bike on its side. I wasn’t riding fast, the ground was soft, and while I did land with a thud, all was okay. I rolled over immediately, got up, had some help picking the bike up (the benefit of riding with friends), and got back on it. The adrenaline was pumping, and I was keen to ride again straight away, no messing around.
Third Time Not Lucky
The third time was a bit different, a bit bigger. It was still a small off in the grand scheme of things, and please don’t worry, I was absolutely okay. But they say it’s the stories of danger and misfortune that make something a real adventure, so I couldn’t not tell the full story.
I basically did the same thing again; caught my wheel on the edge of a rut, and didn’t correct it properly. You would think third time lucky, but no, it was third time let’s fly a little. I felt my front wheel lift, and I left the bike. As I did so I hit something, and landed in a bit of a heap on the floor a little bit away from my GS.
I knew this one was different because this time I had to take a moment before I knew I was okay. I’d hit my side on something on the way down, and I wasn’t entirely sure if I’d done any damage. I was certainly winded, no doubt about that. My friend came over, killed the engine, and came to make sure I was okay. I started by telling him I needed my helmet off immediately, and as he was making sure that was a good idea (thanks Paul), I snapped out of whatever daze I was in and got a hold of myself again. I sat up, got my lid off, did a quick check of all my limbs, and moved out of the muddy puddle I was in.
Writing this a little way in the future, I can tell you know that my left hip, right thigh and both arms turned a lovely shade of purple over the next few days. It was quite an impressive colour, very vibrant! My side was sore for days and days, but I really did come off lightly. As I say, we weren’t riding fast, and I was of course fully kitted out in my riding gear with armour. I think it was my phone mount I hit (without my phone in it), which broke, and the only other damage to the bike was a broken mirror, which I replaced thanks to eBay. Everything else could be moved back into place on the trail or that evening, or ignored – adventure scars.
Getting Back On
Admitting that I had a reasonable off on a motorcycle training course on a publicly available blog is not exactly good for the confidence, but in hindsight I can honestly say that I learnt a lot from that incident. Clearly, I would rather not have, but hey, it happened. I walked away (well, rode away), and it didn’t take me long to get back on again. About five minutes.
We went back to our familiar follow the leader ride, which I rode seated for a bit until I had my adrenaline under control. I got back into the swing of things, concentrated so hard to keep inside those ruts, revelled when the trail became wider, and just about enjoyed the rest of the afternoon. I hurt, both physically and mentally, after my ground-based excursions, but with another day of training left to go, I was determined to continue to get the most out of it.
Back for More
Our second day followed a similar pattern to the first, with time spent practising skills on the park and out on trail. I knuckled down and tried hard to nail the slalom course, using my weight to turn the bike, and thoroughly enjoyed taking my bike up those steep hills and riding over logs (although my factory lowered F650GS really is low… my recently fitted sump guard took a beating, worth every penny!).
Kevin was keen that I re-rode the trail that caused me the previous day’s problems, which I was (mostly) happy to, and I was very happy to have no problems at all with it this time. Yes, my pulse was racing, but I felt like I achieved something, perhaps even conquered something. This is why a two-day course is best; an opportunity to sleep halfway through learning is so good to set everything in place and allow the brain to recover a little.
Our final skill to learn was how to ride through water crossings. Iceland is notorious for roads going through rivers, and for those rivers being a little unpredictable, so it was important (to us) that we weren’t total novices when we started riding along our first F road. Kevin took us to ride three different fords, one on a farm track style green lane, which we did twice, one which had a concrete base, and one on a tarmac country lane. He explained what to look out for, how to pick a line, how to know what speed is right, and then showed us how to do them before it was our turn.
The water crossings, while a little bit scary in some ways, were so much fun. I had no problems controlling my bike through each, even when I felt my bike slip around a little, and it was good to get a feel for what riding through running water was like. The farm track was definitely the easiest, the concrete was the most slippery, and the last one was deep and had mossy stuff growing in the middle. I probably (almost certainly) took the last one, the deepest and longest of the three, a little bit fast, but it was all good. A most excellent way to end two days of motorcycling fun in Norfolk.
By this point I was absolutely done in – so tired, and my hip had started to stiffen up. I sat and took a load off while my husband and friend went with Kevin to tackle a particularly overgrown trail without me. Kevin had been particularly excited to show us this trail, and seeing the dashcam footage of it my husband got, I can see why. I wouldn’t say I chickened out, but my limits had been well and truly reached already, and didn’t want to make any more mistakes that would lead to more damage. Should we return for more training with Kevin (which I very much hope we will), I’ll make sure I leave some energy to give that trail a go.
All the Food
That was the riding part, but I can’t write up a report of our experience with Adventure Bike Training without mentioning the food. While the riding itself was clearly the highlight, the fact we were fed so well was a definite bonus. I don’t think I’ve been on any training course before with such great food.
I think we were expecting some bog standard sandwiches and crisps, but we had homemade meals and snacks, and plenty of time to sit and enjoy them. Debs explained that one thing lots of people are bad at when riding is taking breaks and eating properly, and that makes riding harder and ultimately more dangerous. Very good advice, I do love a nice lunch on a road trip.
It was also super lovely to sit and chat with two very experienced motorcycle adventurers with a similar outlook on life as us. We learnt physical skills out on the trail, but there was so much inspiration and encouragement over hot drinks and home cooked food. Kevin and Debs make a great double act, there’s no doubt about that.
The Fine Print
The two days cost us £375 each, which was for the tailored-to-us course. There were no other riders on site those two days, we had Kevin and Debs all to ourselves. The price also included all our food and drink which, as I mentioned above, was utterly fabulous. Oh, and the loan of some thin motocross-style gloves to lessen the barrier between us and our levers. We rode our own bikes, wore our own kit and boots, and paid for our own fuel, naturally. Each day started at 9am and ended around 3.30pm (ish).
Maybe it would be useful if I pointed out that the course was cheaper than the BMW Off Road Skills course, even if you add the hire of one of Kevin’s bikes into the mix,
We stayed down the road at Kings Lynn Premier Inn, which was within walking distance of the town centre where we could eat dinner each night (I’d highly recommend Liquor and Loaded if you’re looking for a death themed American barbecue – yes, really). It was about half an hour from there to Kevin’s base, and you always know what you’re getting with a Premier Inn, can’t go wrong.
It was absolutely worth the money, and the travel over to Norfolk from our home in Gloucestershire.
Looking Back Now
The training was excellent, the welcome warm, and we had a great time with Adventure Bike Training. Thinking back now I realise just how much we squeezed into the two days, and there is no doubt I left a better rider and one ready to take on whatever Iceland threw at me. I also left covered in colourful bruises and very tired, but those were things I recovered from!
I’m still a rider who lacks confidence, especially when tackling new-to-me roads (more on that in my Iceland blogs, coming sometime soon), but things like this help me hone my skills and remind myself I can control that machine. I am a biker!
If I wanted to be someone who can just jump on my bike and ride it on any kind of trail going (have you seen Ed March’s video of his trip to Moab in Utah?!), I could. I would need do lots (and lots) more riding practice, but there are so many other fun things to do with my time, the trade-off is that I stick to the kinds of roads and trails I know I like. And I’m happy with that. Motorcycling, for me, is always about getting out into the big wide world, and spending money and time developing my skills bit by bit with people like Adventure Bike Training just helps me enjoy that even more.
This has turned into a very long post about a two-day activity, but hopefully it’s been interesting to read about how I got on with Adventure Bike Training. I can certainly see us returning to Kevin for more another time, to keep the skills topped up and enjoy time getting muddy and dusty. I would highly recommend him to anyone looking for something similar.