The forecast for the day was 23 degrees Celsius, sunny with occasional showers. Of course, it rained most of the day and mud and puddles highlighted our riding. Some members of the BMW Motorcycle Club of Ontario arranged to meet at Clinton Smout’s training school, CMTS (www.cmts.org) in Barrie, ON for a day of trying our riding skills on dirt roads at Horseshoe Valley. We met at 8.30 AM and after the usual paper work and putting on gear, which made all of us look like we were Star Wars soldiers on duty, we began our ride on the practice field in front of the office. Because we all ride on pavement, riding in sand, gravel and ruts with large stones or boulders is a new experience. A little practice before entering the trails was a good thing. It gave us all a chance to warm up and gave all of us a chance to get used to the new, different bikes. I rode an almost new, 230 cc Yamaha. I believe all of the bikes Clinton has are Yamahas and I am not such an expert on off road bikes that I would notice that one bike is better than another. Chris, one of the instructors, rode a 450 cc but then he sure knows how to ride a dirt bike. We circled over little bumps, rode alongside a very small hill, skidded thru a bit of sand and got a feel for how the tires gripped the gravel before we split into two groups. Our practice day started around 9.30 AM. About 10 of us had Chris in the lead with another guide at the tail, so about a dozen bikes. The other group, and I was in this group, were led by Joe. Our tail rider was John and he was a quiet chap but rode well. The basic positioning of the body on the seat was our first lesson. To shift your body forward gives the front wheel better traction. To move your body towards the end of the seating bench, loads more weight unto the rear wheel. These basic positions, most of them now instinctive with me, are always good to rehash. We left the premises in wonderful weather and our next exercise was learning how to skid to a stop. On an oval, narrow, sand track, in third gear, and at a good speed, we had to pull in the clutch and step hard on the rear brake. No, do not use the front brake. The result of this maneuver was a good slide of the rear wheel and the objective was to keep the bike straight and move the front wheel in the direction of the slide. We prepped for the feeling of the rear wheel wiggling and sliding away from under us. It was nothing new to me but the first time it happens; it created some anxiety, because instinctively I try to avoid this behavior on a bike and to make it happen on purpose is counter to what I normally do. After some practice, though, I had a good time slipping and sliding in the sand. We moved on to a section at Horseshoe Resort where a very twisty, tightly curved, single track, dirt path was laid out. This path meandered among some trees and around bushes and was just a left right, right left, arrangement to learn how to maneuver your bike around objects. The objective was to do it slowly and ride smoothly. By pulling in the clutch, even partway some times, revving the motor to keep the RPM’s up we crawled around the neighborhood. Some turns on this path had deep grooves to making the ride a bit more difficult. The ground was mostly sandy and we were lucky with this exercise because by now, it was raining constantly. The sand did not give us much of a problem but now we had puddles on the track. We rode back and forth a few times along this path to get us really used to it. By now, the rain came down in earnest. Joe told us that if he sees lighting we would stop and go back to base station to wait out the thunderstorm. Sure enough, that is exactly what we did. We rode off to base in our soaked, wet clothing to wait for a break in the weather. It gave all of us a chance to drink some water, to use the facilities behind the trailer and to get some rain gear. Not all this lasted long, thank god, the thunder and lightning moved off and again we went out for some more fun. Next, we practiced riding the bikes over logs. In an open practice field laid a small, about six-inch diameter, log and then a larger, about 15-inch diameter tree trunk. Joe showed us that yes, you can ride over logs like this, especially with the bikes we had. He rode towards each log and made sure each time he approached the log it was perpendicular to him. Just before the front tire reached the log, Joe stood on the pegs, twisted this throttle, and just rode squarely over the log. It was amazing to see what rider and bike could do. As a unit, they just hopped over the log and rode on as if little mattered. Those off road bikes are amazing. The power transfer to the rear wheel is so fast and always available that with a flip of the wrist this exercise was more of a confidence booster than a skill learned. The bike did all the work, it was easy enough to do, just remember to have the object perpendicular to you, stand on your pegs, and twist the throttle to get over the hurdle. The bike will do all the work for you. Remember this too, when you encounter objects on the road that appear to be insurmountable such as a 4x4 dropped from a truck, or similar debris. So now that we had practiced some basics, we moved on to ride into the woods under strict rules not to get lost or what to do if we, or someone else got hurt. Horseshoe Resort is very large and one can get lost in the vast forest. Staying with the group was essential. Lead by Joe and tailed by John we rode into the woods assuming that after our practice sessions, we now could ride among the trees. The speed was frisky and the road conditions were nature at her best. We encountered tree roots, wet soaking soil, rocks strewn about, tree trunks from previously cut down trees, steep grades up and down, whoop-de-doo sections, ruts of all dimensions, sand, low hanging branches, narrow passages between trees, twisty single file sections, angled hills, old and slick leaves, puddles of water and muck of undetermined depth. Sure, some folks got off the bike and inspected the surface of the forest floor a little closer. Sure, it took a bit of time to get the bike back on its wheels and get going again, but overall it was fun. This is a new way of riding for me. My bike performed flawlessly. I am very impressed with how the Yamaha performed when my performance was a little short of stellar. With a mind of its own, my bike found the route. It climbed over the fallen trees, jumped over rocks and inclines and bad sections of the trail. All I had to do is hang on and point it in the right direction; the bike did all the work. I give myself credit in that I took our training sessions in the morning seriously. It truly helped me not to fall, it really made the difference when I trained earlier, paid attention to the details and tried hard while testing myself just a few hours before. Riding roads like the ones we did, doing easy and not so easy trail riding, being in the extreme end of motorcycling could be addictive. I can see how this adventure could be part of me if only I were a few years younger. After a lunch at Crazy Horse, a nearby eatery who allowed us in with wet boots, wet clothing and a huge appetite some of us changed clothing or donned a rain jacket or rain suit back at base camp. My feet were soaked from all the rain. I did bring dry socks but what is the use, it still rained anyhow and the inside of my boots were soaked. I changed to a different pair of gloves; put a rain cover over a dry, new shirt and off we went for more of the same woods riding all afternoon. Our group increased because Joe took on some folks that wanted to ride along with us. We cut a swath this afternoon. I have no clue which way Joe took us but the terrain was very varied. At one point Joe asked all of us if we wanted to try climbing a steep hill. “You need considerable speed and be in third gear”: he said, “with high revs and not let up on the gas”. All of us said yes, of course and a long line formed. One by one, we assaulted the steep grade and I am happy to report all made it. Even the smaller 125 cc bike, with some coaxing arrived at the top. Ok, I give the riders some credit but all the bikes of our group did a fantastic job. All the bikes did what we asked of them and more. I made a small video clip of the last two riders. ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ve9MGYomIP0 ) I hope the video downloads correctly. The ride for the afternoon took a good two or two and a half hours but it did not feel like it. My bike, at one point just died. It ran out of gasoline. Switching to reserve saved the day; I did make it to home base. The final treat for the day was a run on a motocross course. We had a large group of riders, like I said before and the course was crowded. One section, immediately after a left-hander was muddy. I had to go wide into the grass to avoid being stuck in the mud. The bumps were such that, with some extra speed, you could learn how to fly. I took it easy, no use spoiling the day with acrobatics. Joe explained to all of us that with age our bones are more brittle and snap easier. Young folks have more resilience. Well, as I said before, I did pay attention to Joe; I made it out of this experience unscathed. It was a good ride and I will do it again someday but not today. My arms are sore and my neck and shoulders are aching from exercising muscles I have not used for a while. I am glad I went and the newly developed riding skills may come in handy on the pavement, too. My confidence in my own bike is now much better, too. Many believe that BMW is the best bike around and if a Yamaha took that good care of me, then my own BMW certainly will take care of me. I sure hope this is true. All is well that ends well.