I‘m sure I’m not alone and there must be other riders out there who are not convinced of taking off-road courses, regardless whether they ride dirt bikes or adventure bikes. Most of us are stubborn and think we have it all figured out on our own or just have a hard time picturing how you could learn so much in a day or two. All this in a group setting!
Photo credit: Lorry Gombos, Jeff Gast photography
Well, I had belonged to both groups before. A bit stubborn, thinking “I got this. I’ve watched all the Dakar races…” or I just could not figure out how an off-road coach can teach you so much about riding small or big bikes off-road.
I can say that now it’s all in the past thanks to a good friend of mine – Lance, who’s also one of the founding members of the GS Giants – who had previously signed up for the Chris Birch off-road training course. Unfortunately for him and fortunately for me (Sorry, Lance!) work had got in his way last minute and he thought of me as his worthy replacement. I had seen those wicked videos of Chris doing extraterrestrial stunts on his KTM 1190R and thought that this guy might know a thing or two on how to handle 650cc+ dual sport bikes.
Believe it or not, I still was not fully convinced. As a former teacher myself, I often think that being outstanding at e.g. enduro racing does not guarantee you can properly explain how to perform different maneuvers, positioning, braking, clutching etc. to the average guy, like me. Not to mention it takes a lot of enthusiasm to keep your students focused! In a nut shell, I expected a lot from Mr. Birch even though I was not looking to improve any particular off-road skills of mine. It was more like the curiosity whether there’s someone out there who can prove my point wrong: how to improve your off-road skills in one day in a group setting?
And there it was. The day I met Chris had arrived, thanks to the always awesome Rally Connex guys, Kevin and Lee.
The location was ideal for such training. A 100+ acres horse farm near Georgetown, Ontario. It offered us everything from steep hills, sand, grass, multiple creeks and a long stretch of winding gravel road 5 minutes away from the training ground.
12 riders showed up to absorb knowledge Chris had to give. We rode our 80, F800 and 1200GS models, KTM 990 and 1200R ADV models and there was one KLR 650.
I arrived the earliest and had the opportunity to get to know Chris a bit more. Right off the bat I knew he was a down-to-earth guy, simple as one can be despite his world class racing achievements. He helped us all find appropriate setup for our handlebars, clutch and brake levers.
An inappropriately setup clutch or brake lever can cause you a lot of headaches while off-road, could be very distracting or can tire you out sooner that you think.
The riding only began after everyone’s bike was off-road ready and safe to operate under rough conditions. In the next 3 hours we hit the winding gravel section and practiced turning at high speed, going uphill and downhill. Some parts of this road had gravel up to 2-3 inches deep. To my biggest surprise I was really enjoying the morning part of the ride and I remained right next to Chris asking questions and trying to absorb all he had to say. And he has a lot to say. It was becoming clear that this guy was not only a phenomenal rider but a pretty good teacher as well.
The gravel section part was done and we headed back to the farm location to practice some more balancing skills up and down hill and then we all stopped for a well-deserved lunch break. To be frank, I had the least interest in feeding my stomach. I was now really excited to learn more.
By now, some other things were clear as well. Although I grew up riding all sorts of dirt bikes but I never had the chance to learn to improve my skills from a pro. Perhaps that’s why I had carried on riding with some bad, old habits and often wondered why I got easily exhausted on trail rides or multiple day adventure rallies.
Like everything in life, riding motorcycles is all about balance. I used to be very tense, for example when I hit a deep sandy stretch on a trail and what happened was my brain told my arms to clinch the bars really hard, tense up and…hold your breath! That’s just probably me and I can only blame my silly brain. The truth is that your arms have very little things to do controlling your bike while your wheels are about to lose traction. According to Chris it’s your legs and abdomen or torso and body positioning. He added most professional off-road riders have “spaghetti arms” but very muscular legs and abdomen.
This one might shock you but we gotta breath as well. Do not focus on it, make it natural, even in tense situations.
Too simple and you’re surprised you’ve never thought of it? Because we want to begin our rides with the best accessories. Knobby tires, steering stabilizer and so on. Those are usually first on the list. I don’t blame anyone who wants all these farkles but I also don’t think it’s fair to blame your bike’s suspension, handlebars, tires, rims etc. for not being able to ride off-road properly. As we can hear it too often.
Anyhow, let’s get back to the afternoon part of the training. There was more exciting stuffs to come! Do I want to bore you with it? Hell no! All I can say that we beat our bikes, bent crash bars, destroyed skid plates but everything and everyone was just fine. We improved riding skills seated, standing, uphill, downhill, jumped 20″ logs, popped wheelies, rode very tight single tracks, dragged bikes, picked up bikes, crossed creeks fast and slow and got “motivated” by the Rally Connex guys to pay better attention to our body posture.
All in all, I can say in all the attendants’ name, we had a fantastic day!
Did the Chris Birch off-road training meet my standards? It surpassed. The key to it though is not thinking how the coach can manage to teach 10-12 riders, it’s more like how active you are paying attention to details, asking questions and requesting some one-on-one time. I know there are dozens of off-road riding schools with great reputation in the US and Canada and I hope you will take your time signing up for one of them to eliminate bad, old habits like I did or simply just to improve your skills on the road less traveled.
Do you want to train with Chris specifically? Outback Motortek has two tickets to give away to two lucky riders who qualify. So far, we’ve got one training covered in the Vancouver, B.C. area and one 30 minutes outside of Toronto. It looks like we will be able to include Quebec with a third training location on this list as well but the full details are still being worked out. Stay in touch by signing up for our newsletter.
Read more here: https://outbackmotortek.com/chris-birch-is-coming-to-town/
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