Improving my off-road skills with BMW and Grondpadman

Adventure bikes are everywhere, however only a few go off-road. The manufacturers for their part, would of course like to see more adventure bike riders exploring the off-road capabilities of their motorcycle (“unbelievable what my bike can do!”). So more and more manufacturers are starting collaborations with local off-road instructors.

Since this year BMW has two off-road training partners in Belgium: Grondpadman and Backtrail. When BMW invited me to an introductory day to discover their off-road training facilities and the off-road qualities of their motorbikes, I immediately said yes.

Because riding off-road with a big GS isn’t something I’m allowed to do every day. I decided to go to the event at Grondpadman, since I already knew Backtrail (and approved their course, after having followed an advanced training in the Ardennes last year). I’m the guy wearing the green jacket and white helmet by the way.

The Grondpadman team consists of Piet Lievens (who’s authorised to put a BMW Certified Offroad Instructor badge on his jacket for quite some years now), instructor Bart and sidekick Annelise. On their training grounds, Enduropark Mandes in Ingelmunster (Belgium), they offer a basic and an advanced off-road training and training for women only. You can participate with your own GS, but you can also rent one (from the 310 to the 1250). You’re not allowed to ride another brand during their trainings. After all, Grondpadman is an official BMW partner.

The exercises

Our day wasn’t a regular training day but presented a sample of what the various courses and the training grounds have to offer. In the morning we got an overview of the basic training while in the afternoon more difficult exercises needed to be tackled.

For the basic training exercises Grondpadman hasn’t developed new concepts. And that’s very logical. In all beginner courses you’ll see off-road variations of the riding exam exercises. And that counts for Grondpadman too. Slaloms, figure eight cornering, emergency stops … The basics, but because you master them on asphalt, doesn’t mean you also master them off-road. If you do, it’s time to explore the rest of the training grounds.

The training grounds

Enduropark Mandes offers plenty of choices to make every exercise easier or harder. The spacious off-road area is one big playground: soil, sand, high grass with single tracks, small hills, steep climbs, stairs in all shapes and sizes, a deep gutter, a seesaw, a low and a higher balance beam, a tree trunk passage and a car tire passage, you name it. So more experienced off-road riders will find something demanding to deal with too.

Next to the off-road section, there’s also a big chunk of asphalt which Grondpadman uses for warming up and the first exercises. Unless the participants have enough skills, in which case they’ll go off-road immediately.

The instructors

Explanations and feedback are very good. For every exercise you get brief but clear instructions and a demonstration. In their personal feedback the instructors pay a lot of attention to the correct application of the techniques. Every aspect must be right, down to the smallest detail. And if it’s too easy for you, you’ll get further instructions to make the exercise more challenging. “Next time slalom as slowly as possible” or “Now turn those eight’s as short as you can”. This way they fit every exercise to each participant’s level.

The bikes

I started the day on a BMW R 1250 GS, then switched to an 850 GS Adventure, and finished on a G 310 GS.

The biggest GS surprised me, again. It’s amazing how stable, balanced and easy to handle this heavy bike is on off-road terrain. The low center of gravity has a lot to do with that, but the perfect throttle response and good ergonomics also help.

After the 1250 GS, the 850 GS Adventure (with a full tank) felt very top-heavy, especially during slower maneuvers. Despite being 30 kg lighter, I found the 850 harder to handle than the 1250.

In the afternoon the sun disappeared and we got a few rain showers, making some parts of the terrain very slippery. The G 310 GS didn’t have all-road tires so I had to deal with a gliding rear regularly. Despite that, the 310 was the most playful and forgiving of the three bikes due to its limited weight and compact size. A set of risers, however, would improve the riding position when standing up. And some all-road tires would also be cool.

So which motorbike should you choose for your training? Personally, I’d go for the 1250 GS, without a second thought.

The competition

I can highly recommend both BMW off-road partners Grondpadman and Backtrail. They have private training grounds for their basic training, so that you can work intensively on your techniques. Combined with the excellent guidance, you’ll certainly improve your off-road skills in a day.

But they’re not the only ones offering this formula. Triumph Benelux started the Triumph Adventure Experience last year, with exactly the same concept. Here too you take courses on a private site (in Zolder and Loon op Zand) and I can – from my own experience with Motokhana – only praise the instructors.

Since this year, KTM Belgium offers all-road courses in collaboration with Training & Touring. And Ducati has been organizing courses for a few years, but only in Italy.

So a lot will depend on the bike you’re riding (or want to ride), and how far you’re willing to travel for your training.

If you’d like to see some moving images, check out the video of French-speaking colleague Matt Adventure.

Photography © janmarchand.be

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