“It’s challenge by choice,” instructor Lorne Banks says as we ready for a drill he calls, “monkey-see, monkey-do”. It’s a warm up exercise where we mimic the instructor: If he takes a foot off a peg, we take a foot off a peg. If he takes a hand off the bar, we take a hand off the bar. If he throws both legs over the seat and rides side-saddle, we throw both legs over the seat and ride side-saddle.
It all sounds easy enough, until you remember that this is the first day of an Adventure Riding Motorcycling School and we’re riding 650cc – or larger – dual-sport and adventure bikes in a circle around a bumpy, slippery hay field.
I’m in the Adventure Riders International Intermediate course. My DR650 is the smallest bike in the class, which includes KRL650’s, BMW 650’s, a Suzuki V-Strom 1000 and several BMW GS1200’s. Most of us have little off-road experience, except for boyhood go’s on borrowed dirt bikes. I don’t even have that. I bought the DR last year and at 52 years old, this is my second season riding off road.
Riders in "monkey-see-monkey-do" exercise
Monkey-see-monkey-do teaches us the importance of body position and counter-balancing: two skills which form the basis for riding large motorcycles off-road. “You can’t just pin-it-to-win-it on a big bike. You need subtle skills,” Banks reminds us.
As a group, we have similar objectives: to become better riders at slow speeds in difficult conditions. Two members of our group have a trip planned to Ecuador, but most of us just want to feel comfortable exploring roads around New England.
Our instructor, Lorne Banks, is more than qualified to teach us. Lorne started riding dirt bikes at 5 and raced motocross until he switched to road racing. As a road racer, he won two Canadian National Championships and raced AMA Superbike as a privateer, finishing as high as 9th overall at the pro level.
His training credentials are more impressive. Lorne was trained on the BMW GS1200 at the BMW factory in Germany and taught at the BMW Performance Riding School in South Carolina. He has taught Navy Seals, FBI agents and Special Forces personnel on both cars and motorcycles. He has even participated in live fire drills simulating a motorcycle ambush, where he was the infiltrator, carrying an AK47-wielding passenger firing live rounds. It’s unlikely that you can be too much of a bad-ass for Lorne.
But the best thing about Lorne’s teaching is watching him ride. As he gases his bike to the far end of the field, wheeling as he goes, I can’t help but be inspired by the fun of motorcycling.
“Challenge by choice” and having fun work together to encourage us past our personal comfort zone, pushing our skills further. The more you know, the more fun you have, right?
The Intermediate level course is the middle day of a three-day school that has Introductory and Advanced level days on either side. Students can take the Introductory, Intermediate or Advanced classes as individual days or as part of a three day Adventure Riding School that combines all three levels.
The Introductory and Intermediate courses cover the basics of counter-balancing, body position and motorcycle dynamics. Lorne begins by reviewing the controls on our bikes. He helps us refine our bike setup for the stand-up riding position favored by adventure riders.
Adventure riders stand for endurance and control and the position enables us to get better leverage at the foot pegs. When standing, a rider can make small weight shifts that have quick results. Standing also allows us use our big butts to counter balance the weight of the motorcycle so it doesn’t fall.
Braking, like all skills taught in the course, is taught in a progression, building from rear-brake only, to front-brake only, to a full emergency stop on a loose surface. All drills are done while standing. We learn when to favor the rear brakes (loose surfaces, turning, running up hills) and when to favor the front brake (steep descents, where there is little weight on the rear).
Lorne reminds us that the key to good braking is being progressive on the brakes. “It’s squeeze the front brake, not grab,” he says as he briefs us for an exercise where we will intentionally lock the front brake. During this drill, I gain some confidence and explore the limits of brakes and throttle and quickly find myself on the ground.
Falling down is okay here. It gives me a chance to learn how to pick up the bike and Lorne shows me a great trick for straightening my bars (they aren’t really bent; they’re just twisted in their rubber mounts). He locks the bars and we give them a quick tug and a twist and they’re pointing straight down the road again!
Adventure Riders International keeps their class size small. “I limit it to eight students,” Lorne says. “That way, I can make sure everyone gets the attention they need.” The small class size makes it possible for Lorne to observe each rider and give immediate feedback during the exercises.
In addition to braking, the intermediate course covers line selection and cornering techniques, hill climbing, riding the “camels hump”, steep descents and emergency hill stops. When time allows, there are exercises for riding in mud, sand and water.
The Advanced course covers reading the terrain, side hilling, big descents, using a GPS and in-field repairs. An advanced rider will find challenge taking the Introductory and Intermediate levels of the school, as well. “You can take these exercises are far as you want,” Lorne says. Student of various levels can participate together in the same class, because more advanced students can challenge themselves by running the drills faster.
Adventure Riders International is planning to return to Vermont this fall. As long as demand stays strong, they will continue returning to our area. Watch for announcements on Motorcycle-Vermont in the News and Events sections or visit the Adventure Riders International web site for more information.