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Now before we get started on the important business of reviewing the motorcycle I should say I’m a little bit biased towards the F800GS. I rode one while at Simon Pavey’s off-road training school and that was one of the best weekends I’ve ever had, not just of riding bikes, but ever.

I’m not sure if this makes me terribly sad or just a little bit too into motorbikes but I think you should be aware that just looking at the bike, especially covered in mud, reminds me of good times. And yes, I’ve just realised that sounds a bit sleazy. At the off-road school I got to experience what the F800GS is like in the mud with proper knobbly tires on it, and I’ll put a link to that at the bottom of the page. This is a review of what the bike is like on the roads.

The bike, with a little bit of mud on it.

The F 800 GS, with a little bit of mud on it.

I tried to think of somewhere completely unlike rural Wales to take the bike. Something far away from the rolling hills and muddy tracks I’d been on before so I took the motorbike to London. In the rush hour. In the rain.

Since I first encountered the F800GS when it was parked up next to a load of 1200 GS motorbikes I always think of it as rather small, well perhaps not small but not huge. However when you put it next to most other bikes it’s size is fairly noticeable. It’s a bit of a giant, but in a good way. The only time that this became an issue was when I was trying to park the bike, although too be fair the panniers were causing most of the troubles.

The bike had the BMW panniers attached to it and they are big, heavy and waterproof. They are wider than the handle bars and after about ten minutes of riding around London I realised why you never see couriers with panniers, they only ever have top boxes. They also make it fairly difficult to park the bike snugly in the motorcycle bays dotted around London. On the plus side the can be removed in a few seconds with a satisfying clunk so once you’ve found a space you just pop them off and put the bike in.

The bike lurking in London.

The F800GS lurking in London.

The rest of the ride around London was fairly uneventful. The F800GS has lots of pleasant torque at low revs which means if you need to blip ahead of someone when the traffic lights go green you will. While it can be a little bit snatchy at low speeds once you allow for that with a bit of clutch work it’s great fun. It’s roll-on acceleration is really impressive so if you have to go from 30mph to 60mph it will get you there before almost anyone else.

The height is also an advantage, while sat in the seat you will see over the top of most cars and if you stand up on the pegs you’ll be able to see over the roofs of black cabs which is very, very useful. So useful in fact that they should include that in the sales pitch when selling the bike in London.

The next big test of the bike was some motorway riding. I had to go up to Silverstone for a work thing and then down to Devon. The weather report was awful with rain, vicious crosswinds and even a hint of snow. This would be a proper long distance test of the bike. I zipped up everything I could on my Tuareg suit (a link to the review is at the bottom of the page) and set off.

At 70mph the bike cruises happly, and strangely doesn’t seem to actually use any petrol. It has a specially programmed engine which tries to use as little fuel as possible and it really works. it’s amazing how far you can go between filling up.

Aside from the surprising fuel economy there isn’t really much else to report about the bike on long distance slogs and I mean that as a good thing. I travelled through horrible cross winds, had to deal with rush hour on a motorway in the snow and even a couple of slightly hairy moments when a hire van decided to change lanes without indicating or checking it’s mirrors the bike just dealt with it.

This glows orange at night which looks excellent.

The display glows orange at night which looks excellent.

That’s the overriding impression the bike gives, it deals with things confidently. Put the panniers on and you can cover vast distances with all the gear you will need without it getting wet and take them off and you’ve got a surprisingly slim bike that can slip through tiny gaps in traffic.

Even without the impressive fuel economy this would be a bike to consider but once you factor that in it’s something you really should take for a test ride. BMW really are ahead of the pack on this, I talked to a load of other motoring journalists about reviewing bikes and they said the top question they get asked about bikes these days is fuel economy.

So it’s stylish, comfortable, fast, adaptable and even suitable for when the fuel runs out and we live in a Mad Max style society fighting over petrol. in short it gets a big thumbs up from me.

Links mentioned
A review of Simon Pavey’s off-road school

An off road review of the F 800 GS

Review of Hein Gericke Tuareg gear

BMW F 800 GS

“Riding motorcycles only really becomes dangerous when you ride beyond your ability.” My riding instructor used to say “Well that and when some berk doesn’t see you, but you can’t do much about that.”

Since this was drilled into me and because I’ve got at least a vague sense of self-preservation (on motorbikes, anything else is fair game) I don’t tend to get talked into doing something I’m not comfortable with, well mostly. As part of Honda’s organised event at Silverstone there was the chance to do some laps on the bikes. The selection of bikes was, well it was a selection of different coloured Fireblades.

A Fireblade, in silver

A Fireblade, in silver

Now the Fireblade has a bit of a reputation, it’s almost given as the definition of a bike you shouldn’t get until you’ve got a few miles under your belt. So as I threw my leg over it I said a little prayer to Thor and Ogri and set off.

At first it wasn’t so bad, it had be beautiful purr of an engine that isn’t even trying and yet you are already going stupidly fast and like the CBR 600 RR it felt nimble and light the moment it started moving. The first corner wasn’t too bad either, we weren’t going that fast and while it was a bit cold it wasn’t awful. With the first few corners out of the way and a lovely straight ahead I thought I’d give the bike a bit of a twist to see what it could do.

My throat hurt, this motorcycle accelerated so fast that it made my throat hurt. It didn’t just feel like it was about to take off, or that I could barely hold on it was something else. It was brilliant, and way beyond what I could handle and then it started snowing.

Yes snow, I’d been around Donington in the rain and so Silverstone had to go one better and snow. I dread to think what Brands hatch will do.

The rest of the track session was spent in well, blind terror. Not because the Fireblade is so unmanageable, it’s not, for something so powerful it’s very well behaved. It’s just that not only was the track cold, now the weather had decided to combined a gusty crosswind with some light snow and a bit of rain. I would have made a mess in my trousers if I hadn’t been worried that it would have affected the delicate balance of the bike and thrown me off.

A few, not exactly brisk laps (but still rather faster than I would have liked) later I got off the bike and felt simultaneously more and less of a man. I’d had the absolutely limits of my riding tested and I’d spent a lot of the time rediscovering god – it’s hard to be an atheist when the rear-wheel is hopping around as you approach a corner a little bit too fast. At least I wasn’t dead, and more importantly I hadn’t dropped the beautiful motorcycle.

I’m not sure I’d want a Fireblade, or at least, perhaps not as a winter ride but perhaps now I’ve had a snow-bound track day on one everything else will seem rather sedate and sensible. They do look rather good in red.

Thanks to a strange mixture of events that I don’t really understand I was invited to go to Silverstone by the lovely people at Honda. I think it’s because I wrote about going to the Ron Haslem racing school a few months ago and Honda saw it and approved but I’m not sure.
Either way, on a rather chilly Friday morning I rode up the motorway on the F 800 GS (there will be more on this later) towards Silverstone.  Honda had arranged a few days at the track so slightly over-excited journalists could turn up and try out, well almost everything Honda make. The entire product range was there, and I mean the entire range.
Everything was there to test.

Everything was there to test.

Sadly the sporty little number on the right wasn’t available to take out on the track but a selection of Honda’s cars were. Cars are okay, they have too many wheels if you ask me and so I consider them a bit dull but my first few laps in an S2000 soon showed me that cars can have their charms. It was a bit chilly so the track didn’t offer much in the way of grip and so having foor wheels planted on the ground was reassuring.

Once we’d had a few laps in the S2000 we took a Civic type-R out around Silverstone which was jolly entertaining (the cockpit is hillarious and like something out of Star Wars) and allowed me to learn the circuit a bit from the comfort of a chair before I took a bike around it. Honda had said that in the afternoon just before the day ended the circuit would be opened up to bikes, this was what pretty much everyone was looking forward too.  

 The honda range, of bikes

After the car stuff was out of the way I set about taking a few different bikes from the Honda range out for a ride. The first was their 125 which was being launched, it’s wasn’t the minature race-rep CBR 125 RR but the new CBF 125. A chap from the Telegraph had just brought it back and was singing it’s praises so I hopped on and took a slightly wobbly ride out of the gate and down some country roads.
 
CBF1 25 Review
 
It’s a great bike. It’s light, extremely nimble and while it’s not exactly got thumping amounts of power it’s more than happy to get up to 60mph and cruise around on country roads. If that isn’t enough to sell you on it feels like a proper big bike, but a very lightweight one. The fuel economy is mind-boggling – The chap from the Telegraph thinks it will do 100 miles per gallon plus perhaps a little more but he had to do a few more caculations – After 50 miles of riding the gauge had only gone down to the top of ‘full’ so it hadn’t drunk much.
 
It would be a great bike for beginners – I’m going to recommend it to my little brother. It would also be a great bike for anyone who isn’t too sure of themselves and wants something nimble to commute about in but doesn’t want a scooter. Everything is put together to Honda’s usual high standards and it is a real gem, the rest of the journalists who had taken it out agreed that Honda had got it right,  this was going to be a future classic and a first bike to a whole new generation of riders.
 
This is good but Honda’s range don’t always cause people to agree so much, like the DN 01.
 
DN01
 
One I’d taken the CBF 125 out I wanted to try something different something weird like the DN 01. If you’ve not seen it before he is a picture.
DN 01

DN 01

The DN is weird, I had been warned it was strange by well just about every bike magazine who had been pretty damning about it. Before I got on it the chap who had taken it out was going on about how pointless it was and how he hated it. It’s not gone down very well with the press to say the least.
 
It is a very different bike for a few reasons, it’s got a feet-forward riding style which was entirely alien to me, but would seem natural to anyone who has a Harley. It’s an automatic using a very clever fluid based gearbox so it’s a twist and go but it can pretend to have gears if you like that sort of thing. The tank is quite small, and it’s got almost no storage or anywhere to mount bags. The dashboard is set under a visor so if you are really tall and don’t adjust the seat you will struggle to see how fast you are going and it’s costs as much as a Fireblade.
 
So with the facts out of the way let’s talk about how the bike feels, it feels cool. Maybe it’s because I saw Akira when I was younger or because I’m from the computer games generation or perhaps because at that point I’d had rather too much coffee but I liked this bike, quite a lot.
 
Yes it’s futuristic and weird. Yes it’s not really a commuter bike, or a crusier, or a racer or well anything really but when did bikes become entirely about having a purpose in life? Most race-rep bikes will never get properly raced, how many 1200 GS will get taken around the world, or even off road? When was the last time you saw a KTM covered in mud? Actually that last one does happen fairly often but that’s not the point.
 
Most people ride bikes because they are fun, and the DN 01 is fun. in fact it’s really good fun. Not ‘oh my god I’m going so fast my head is about to fall off’ fun but a different sort of enjoyment that makes you chuckle into your helmet.
 
The twist and go gearbox is really impressive so if gears aren’t you thing that won’t hold you back and the sitting position requires a bit of mental adjustment, and trouser adjustment but after that it’s really entertaining. If I lived somewhere hot and I had a cool silver jacket with like lasers on it then I’d consider getting a DN 01, if you want a relaxed riding style and you don’t want a chopper or a bit of vintage iron then it’s something to think about.
 
I’ll write about what happened when I took a Fireblade around Silverstone next.

kanedas20bike

I’ve been loaned a Triumph Bonneville T100 for a few days so I could write about it for a feature. Since I had the motorcycle I thought I would post a review of it online as well where I can make it a bit longer with out having to worry about word count.

As is traditional for first getting on a bike with a dealer or instructor watching you my ride away was a bit more wobbly than I would have liked. Which isn’t to say that the T100 is a hard motorcycle to ride, it was just different, if anything it’s a bit disarmingly easy to control but more on that later.

With the initial wobbles out of the way, and out of sight of everyone else I started to learn what the Bonnie was all about. It’s a retro bike designed to evoke simpler times when nylon was futuristic and computers filled rooms. What this means is it’s a motorcycle that looks like a proper motorcycle, but made as easy as a modern bike to ride and look after. This means people who don’t ride bikes think it is cool, even my little brother thought it was excellent and his favourite bike is a Ninja so I was surprised that he took to it so much.

Even cats think it's cool

Even cats think it's cool

On the motorway the bike is fine, it’s stable and will quickly get up to 70mph with out any bother. There is more power there if you want to throw away your license but it does tend to get a bit windy due to the lack of protection. I found this rather charming as it actually felt like you were going fast and it means you are more likely to stay with in the speed limits.

For the next part of the test I took the Bonnie on some wiggly back roads. A few of which were a bit more run-down than I remembered them, including one or two that had grass in the middle but that just added to the fun. The bike seemed happy with all of this and didn’t mind just ambling along and people that I passed smiled and waved. I think they were slightly surprised to see a bike. To give you an idea of how remote these roads are, I rode for thirty minutes without seeing another vehicle.

After this I headed out onto some wider roads, with lovely sweeping corners and up some hills. This was when the Bonnie really started to come together, it was excellent fun riding it around these flowing roads and at around 60mph it really made sense. I was overtaking lorries and tractors and enjoying the beautiful countryside as I sped on by. This was what the bike was for, or at least I thought so until I took it into some towns to see what it was like.

The simple, clear dials showing you everything you need to know.

The simple, clear dials showing you everything you need to know.

It was in a city that the Bonnie really blew my socks off. The smooth engine and light clutch were perfect in traffic and the bike was surprisingly nimble. Even more brilliantly the bike will happlysit at 30mph and stay there so you can just set it at that speed and concentrate on other things like people pulling out when they shouldn’t. This doesn’t happen very often as it’s a nice big bike with road presence so people see you and notice you and this is why I think the Bonnie would make such a great first big bike for any urban rider.

It feels like a big bike, and acts like one but it’s tame and well behaved so after only a few minutes on it you are a far more confident rider. If I was going to be commuting in and out of London, and it wouldn’t involve motorways this would be my bike of choice by a long way. I’ve been on scooters that were harder to manage than this motorcycle, the Bonnie doesn’t have any weird strange habits or anything like that it just gets on with things leaving you to enjoy riding around.

In short if I wasn’t already obsessed with another bike in the Triumph range I’d be seriously considering getting a Bonnie of my own, and I’ve already been recommending them to friends who are thinking of getting into biking. I’m going to stop writing now because, well I want to take the bike out for another spin before I have to hand it back.

The bike relaxing while I open a gate

The bike relaxing while I open a gate

I’ve spent most of today playing with the new motorcycles. After a quick oil change the large of the two was fired up and I gave it a good blat around the fields. It’s not really designed for riding sitting down, as the pegs are so far backwards so you really have to stand. The gearing is very low and rather annoyingly the farm is rather flat so it’s not really in it’s element at the moment. I need to take it to somewhere really muddy and preferably, vertical and then it will come alive. It was interesting to think about how different it was to the F 800 GS I rode a few weeks ago. The 800 GS is a serious off road bike but this motorbike is something else, it’s just so specialised.

Some parts of the bike are still a bit of a mystery to me, I can remember being told the sequence of things you had to do to start it but the reasons behind them were slightly lost to me. Thankfully the lovely chaps at the Classic Bike Forum were able to work out what was going on.

The clutch is fairly easy to spot, but what are the other two things?

The clutch is fairly easy to spot, but what are the other two things?

As you may notice this end of the handbar has slightly more levers on it than normal. The one on the top of the handles is the advance/retard for the ignition, it changes the rate at which the engine ticks over. The one below is a bit more mysterious. If you squeeze it when the engine is running the bike stops (which is handy because the bike doesn’t have any other off switches) and it is also used when kick starting. After I explained what happened to the chaps on the forum they said it might be a valve lifter, so I took some photos to investigate

There is where the cable goes, so valve lifter it is then.

There is where the cable goes, so valve lifter it is then.

And so you can see on the right where the cable connects to the top of the engine. Another mystery solved. I also got my Dad’s old helmets when the bikes were delivered. One of which is lovely old school lid, perfect for riding retro bikes around.

It just needs some goggles.

It just needs some goggles.

I dug it out this morning to wear while riding the bike around the farm but when I picked it up I noticed it still had my dad’s white hairs on the inside. It was as if he had only taken it off five minutes ago and so I decided I think I’ll leave it for now, I’ll buy a new helmet for me and leave that one for him.

I was thinking about the new Daytona today, it’s going to be launched at the NEC motorbike and scooter show at the end of November and so no one is allowed to ride it until then. A few photos have come out and revealed that it’s not going to be an exactly radical change to the motorcycle just a few tweaks.

On the practical side of things the bike is going to lose a bit of weight and gain a bit of power but that’s about it really, apart from a few minor cosmetic changes. Weirdly no one seems to have thought of putting photos of the two models next to each other so we can compare them directly so I’m going to just that. I’ve even managed to get photos of the two bikes in the same colour to make it just that little bit easier.

You’ll notice that the lights are different on the ’09 Daytona, but also the brakes have been updated and the wing mirrors are a slightly different shape. The engine on both models is painted black for a bit more rust protection, but early Daytona’s didn’t have that.

The 08, old shape Daytona

The 08, old shape Daytona

The 09 Daytona

The 09 Daytona

We could even play spot the difference, so can anyone else see any other changes to the bike?

If you are going to ride a motorcycle off road you are going to need some serious boots. Even though you will probably be travelling at lower speeds than you would on a road the chance of twisting your ankle or doing some other unpleasant thing to your foot is much higher. Even an fairly innocent action like putting your boot down for a just moment to steady yourself at low speeds can end up in a nasty injury.

It was because of this I invested in some very serious boots before my first adventure ride. I was told by the instructors that I had to wear motocross boots because of the high level of ankle protection they provide, normal road boots just wouldn’t cut it. Water proofing wasn’t an issue as they said that nothing will help when you end up walking through a river so just take lots of spare socks.

When I explained what I needed the boots for the chaps in my local Hein Gericke store suggested some TRG Cross boots. I’d not worn a motocross boot before so I was a bit taken back by the lack of flexibility in them, I could hardly move my ankles at all which made me a bit concerned about if I’d be able to change gear while wearing them.
The boots before the course

The boots before I went riding in them.

The plus side of having your ankles are so cosseted is that they are incredibly well protected, which is perfect for adventure riding. I was told that if I wore the boots around the house for a day before I went out riding it would be equivalent to the movements of thousands of miles or riding and they would become a bit more supple.  So by the time I got to wear them on a motorbike they felt far more natural. They still were a bit like something Robocop would wear but at least they were nice and snug.

Gear changing proved a bit interesting at first, but once I got a feel for the shape of the boots it was fine. The chunky soles mean you can use the edge of them to move the gear lever up which helps if you are still struggling with the lack of ankle movement. I gave the boots a really hard time, they were walked through rivers, stamped in bogs, jammed under bikes and even used for a bit of running and they were brilliant.

The boots after a few days hard riding

The boots after a few days hard riding

Even though they aren’t listed as waterproof you will be fine in a light shower or if you have to put your foot down quickly in a puddle and if they do get wet they dry out pretty fast. They even have a nice leather bit on the inside so you don’t scratch your bike.

After a weekend in them my normal road going boots felt about as armoured as an old sock and so I suspect in the future I’ll be wearing these TRG boots for more than just adventure riding.

The boots were £129.99 and you can order them here.

If you liked this review you can read about my review of the Hein Gerick Tuareg jacket and trousers (pants if you prefer) or read about my first adventure ride here

Okay, let me start off by saying this is an off-road review of the F 800 GS, I did get to ride the motorcycle around a bit on some roads but that was a fairly limited experience so I can’t really talk about that yet. I’m going to try and do a road review in a bit but I’ll have to sort out a loan of a motorcycle with BMW and various other things like insurance.

I managed to get a flat tire, but it was fairly easy to change.

I managed to get a flat tire on the first day, I'm still not sure how.

The first thing you notice when getting on the F 800 GS is that it is fairly tall, so I wouldn’t recommend it to shorter riders. It’s not stupidly tall but if you are riding something off-road you want to be able to stamp your feet down if you need to. It’s also a pretty heavy motorbike. You don’t realise it at first because the handling is so good but when you drop it a couple of times (like I did) it soon starts to get heavy. It’s 185kg dry and a reported 207kg ‘road ready’ with a full tank which is a lot to lift in the mud. Interestingly the bike has a maximum load of 443kg so in theory you could use the F 800 GS to carry another F 800 GS if you could sort out the bungee cords to hold it on. That’s pretty cool when you think about it and gives you an idea of the grunt this bike has.

This power is a bit of an issue until you get the hang of it, the controls are so sharp that if you go over a bump or a rock your hand may jerk around the throttle and the bike will go screaming off into the distance, possibly with you hanging on. I got caught out with this a few times until I got in the habit of riding in a higher gear and feathering the clutch to take the edge off the engine.

The bike is designed for people who really know what they are doing off-road so I have to admit the first day on it was a bit of a struggle. It was exhausting trying to control the bike over hills and things, it was just so eager to go and since a mistake was typically rewarded by having to pick the bike up again I was not a huge fan by the time came to go the pub. After chatting with the instructors about the bike over a pint (read about the course I was on here) they said you had to bully it a bit to get the best out of it and so that is what I resolved to do the next day.

The F 800 GS sporting optional water carriers.

The F 800 GS sporting optional water carriers.

With the advice I’d been given repeating in my head I set off on the second day of riding and tried to be a bit more bossy with the bike. I didn’t quite understand what this involved at first but the F 800 GS has so much oomph in every gear that you can just chuck it into things and it will sort itself out. I just had to have the confidence to do that. The Eureka moment for me was during a hill climb where suddenly the vast amounts of power on tap became a huge asset and from then I was completely sold on the bike.

I could happily scream up and down hills in second gear, third with a bit of a run up and any really tricky tracks (the sort that would trouble you on foot) were resolved by just keeping the throttle open at a reasonable rate in first and using the clutch to control the speed. Even though I’d just adjusted my riding style a bit it felt like a completely different bike, an excellent bike, a wonderful bike.

The F 800 GS is a great machine, one that can handle almost any terrain and after you have been on it a bit other off-road bikes either seem a bit breathless or sluggish. It really is something really special so special that I think my dream garage may have to be changed a bit to make way for a new member.

Here is the official BMW F 800 GS website, and click here to read more about my time at the BMW Off-Road skills course in Wales.

I thought I’d do a quick report on the Tuareg suit I recently aquired, this review is based on two days of hard riding in Wales, in a range of weather conditions including sideways rain and boiling heat so I think it’s a fairly good test. I even fell off a few times so the armour got a bit of a going over as well.

The suit drying out after getting soaked, the next day it was bone dry.

The suit drying out after getting soaked, the next day it was bone dry.

The suit is composed of three main components. An outer layer which isn’t completely waterproof but seems to hold off light showers and splashes, some lovely chunky armour and a warm and waterproof inner lining. The outer layer has a load of pockets for storing small important things and includes a few handy vents that can be opened for extra cooling. On the back there is a quite large pocket mounted low down which I found perfect for stashing maps and my license in. The build quality is excellent and there are lots of little touches that make you realise how much thought has gone into the suit. The trousers are just as well made and the knee armour feels especially secure.

I spent most of the weekend wearing the trousers with the lining in, to try and stop getting completely soaked when riding through rivers but I wore the jacket without the lining to stay cool. I was fine in this combination in light showers but when it really started to rain I chucked in the waterproof lining and I was instantly snug and dry. It’s a great bit of kit, my only niggle is that you have to be a little bit careful when opening and closing the poppers that hold the lining in. They are designed to be a lightweight as possible so they don’t get in the way but this means they seem a bit fragile. You don’t have to do them all up if you are in a hurry, I got caught in the rain and just zipped the lining in the front and left the poppers alone.

I’d say the suit gets a bit thumbs up from me. It’s going to become part of my winter kit, who am I kidding it is my winter kit. It’s lovely and warm, dries out really fast and it impresses girls who see it because it looks so serious. Yup, so I’d say that is a success. It would be suitable for a serious adventure rider but it would work just as well for a commuter who only rides to work but has sparkle in their eyes that hints of the Dakar.

The Tuarag jacket was £299.99, the trousers (pants for my American chums) were £129.99

Http://www.heingericke.co.uk/

Click here to read a review of the boots I used with the suit

Like almost every other man alive I watched Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman ride motorbikes around the world and thought, ‘cor I’d love a go at that’ so when the opportunity arose to be trained to ride off-road with Charley Boorman I couldn’t resist.
The BMW off-road centre in Wales was set up eight years ago by Simon Pavey and the sadly departed John Deacon, to teach novices, and Jedi (Ewan and Charley did the course before they set off) all the skills they would need to ride motorbikes around the world. Simon really knows his stuff when it comes to off-road riding; he has competed in the Paris Dakar rally six times. All the instructors on the course have at least some Dakar experience so you are in good hands. 
Rows and rows of lovely bikes

Rows and rows of lovely bikes

You can hire out almost everything you will need – apart from a helmet but I decided to get my own gear as I’d been warned how hot you get and I didn’t want to spend a couple of days bathed in someone else’s sweat. I got slightly over-excited and so got hold of a top of the range Tuareg suit – I’ll have reviewed it here.

On the F 800 in the Taureg suit

On the F 800 in the Taureg suit

I was riding around on the new F 800 GS which has only recently been launched and is a bit of beast. There are a range of bikes you can ride (650s and 1200) but for off-road beginners like me, there are more suitable bikes. It’s an amazing bike, but as it’s so responsive I found it a bit of handful to begin with.

The first day started with us filling out extremely long disclaimer forms and then being assigned our bikes. We would have a short, slightly nervous ride to the site on roads and then the proper training would begin. The site is amazing, it’s an old quarry that has been landscaped so we had 4000 acres of muddy paths, gravel roads and streams to ride around in and we didn’t have to share it with anyone else.

We began with familiarising ourselves with the bikes, we had to walk around them holding on with only one hand to get a feel of the balancing point and the weight. Then we practiced picking the bikes up when they were on the ground – something I’d be doing a lot over the weekend. This training course is quite different to other off-road courses in that they make a big thing of really teaching you skills. So we worked through a series of excises like turning in the tightest circle possible and how to slow down properly on mud so we could handle the bikes off-road. The breaking was excellent fun because before we were shown how to do it properly we had to practice doing it wrong and then learning to control the bike. I’ve never done so many skids and wheel spins in a short amount of time.

Charley appeared at this point to help out and almost immediately someone flew off their bike because they got distracted. The chap and the bike were fine (although the 1200 lost it’s windscreen which I thought was a vast improvement) and so teaching resumed and we started working on some more advanced, alien techniques with Charley helping out. We were standing up on our bikes at this point – it feels weird at first but it makes it much easier to balance and gives you more control.

The first big step was being taught to steer the bikes only using our legs, something I didn’t realise was even possible. And then once we had got the hang of that we had a ride around with our hands in the air – only using our legs to manoeuvre. Riding at 40mph on a gravel track with your hands in the air is a bit terrifying to say the least.

After a morning of skill based work we started on our first ride around the site. Gary (one of the instructors) took us out in a group of six and we would follow him and try not to fall off. I fell off a lot. I could have been auditioning for BMW bike diving team, but I didn’t hurt myself, or the bike and I loved every minute of it. I couldn’t believe some of the tracks we were managing to ride along. At about 4pm the riding stopped for the day and we were physically and mentally exhausted. It was definitely time to go to the pub and swap stories.

All the instructors joined us in the pub as did Charley. Everyone was really jolly after having such a fun day, Charley said this was entirely normal for the course ‘The lovely thing about helping teach here is that everyone is so happy and then people go away and realise that there is a whole world out there to explore.’

The second day began with a couple more advanced techniques, like stopping the bikes on hills you couldn’t even walk down and then more tricky rides around the site. I was feeling far more confident at this point and I started to really understand and enjoy the bike. The F 800 GS is an amazing bike, absolutely amazing but you have to have the confidence to bully it a little bit and then it really comes alive. We also had a chance to ride around on the other bikes on the course so I had a quick lap on the F 650 XChallenge, F 650 GS and the infamous  R 1200 GS. Compared to the F 800 GS the F 650 GSs were a bit more nimble but didn’t quite have the same responsive grunt that I’d come to love on the F 800 GS and the R 1200 GS felt very strange but stable. On the first day I wasn’t a big fan of the F 800 GS but by the second day I’d got the hang of it and now I’m a huge fan.

Other people on the course were also amazed by how far they had come. Paul, a lecturer in Scotland had been riding for 35 years had learned things and even Elvin, a Policeman from Northern Ireland who also is an observer with the Institute of Advanced Motoring was picking up new skills.

Simon explained that this was one of his favourite aspects of teaching ‘People are always amazed by how much they have come by the end of the course, and then they go and use these skills in the real world. We train people up and then a few months later we get an email from them saying that they are in Ulaanbaatar (in Mongolia).’

Near the end of the course Gary offered to take out a brave group on a really tough ride to test out their new skills. Testosterone got the better of me and I volunteered to join them. Out of the thirty people on the course only four people dared to go on this ride. It was really tough work, everyone else fell off their bikes at least once including the instructor but it was the moment when it really clicked for me and I fell in love with my bike – when I had to hand it back I had a manly tear in my eye.

The group who dared to go on the final ride

The group who dared to go on the final ride

The course ended with us getting certificates and people talking about what they were going to do next – almost everyone was planning to go off exploring around the world. If you are even slightly tempted to do any off-road riding go on this course, the level of instruction is amazing and no-matter how long you have been riding you will learn some useful skills. So who else is up for a jolly around the planet?

The two day beginner off-road course costs £449 – Http://www.worldofbmw.com – 08000 131 282.

My Tuareg suit is from Hein Gericke – www.hein-gericke.co.uk

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