I moved from Johannesburg to the Eastern Cape in 2019 and having ridden motorcycles most of my life, it was with great excitement, that I was looking forward to cruising around on my Harley and gaping at the wondrous scenery that the area has to offer.
It soon became very apparent that there were much more spectacular experiences to be had off the blacktop and other than an open smooth road, the Harley was going to limit my adventures immensely. “Horses for courses” I agree, but the wild child spirit inside this not so spring chicken was never going to be satisfied with just that!
So with the onset of Covid in 2020 and international travel bans and restrictions, I decided that it was time to start putting my money where my mouth is and exploring my “back yard”.
With that decision made, I went out and purchased a BMW F750GS. I thought at 1,68m and not the biggest of builds I was way vertically challenged to be riding a heavy adventure bike (yes the 750 is still over 200kg) but then “how hard can it be right ?” Well no! It isn’t hard if you know what you are doing and even though I have ridden scramblers (or “plastics”) when I lived in Dubai this was a whole different bucket of bolts – as I soon discovered.
To orientate myself with my new baby I decided to take it for a short ride offroad on the gravel roads and farm roads close to Oyster Bay. First mistake – riding alone but as I live alone I didn’t have much choice in the matter! So off I go and a little into the ride I took what I soon discovered was a wrong turn and ended up on private land and the farmer's driveway pretty much! Realising my error, I attempted a U-turn on the gravel bumpy road, lost my balance and went down hurting my thumb and snapping my brake lever. All the while I was not aware the farmer and his family were watching this. I attempted to lift the bike – cluelessly – and just get back on and sneak away. This was not happening – try as I might to lift over 200kg of dead weight. Nope!
So I knew I had to go seek help. The farmer came out of his property and once I removed my helmet and he realized I was a girl he was a little bit more friendly. I apologized profusely for trespassing and explained what happened and he then came over on his quad bike and helped me get back on my way.
Why am I rambling about this you ask? It's simple! I made so many mistakes that day unknown to me at the time that it subsequently hurt my confidence and instilled a fear of the bike. I was dejected and sore on top of it. I reached an epiphany that if I don’t overcome this fear I will never get on that bike again. It was then that I came across SA Adventure’s advertisement for their training course.
Facilitated by SA Adventure the training course is based at the property of Boulders SA Riding Academy which is hosted and run by International BMW Motorrad accredited instructor Mike Grimsted and his lovely wife Nadine. I signed up and booked my spot in January this year.
Boulders is situated close to Fouriesburg not far from Clarens and the Lesotho Border. So prior to arrival I called Mike to check which was the best route to travel given the conditions of the road and that I would be towing my bike on a trailer and if he had ample space to park the trailer etc. During the conversation, I threw in that I am now petrified of the bike and the height and that I dropped it as a result etc. His response “There is a reason why you dropped it and I will prove it to you and if your feet can touch the footpegs you are fine.
The training course offered by SA Adventure is over a weekend Friday to Sunday. Upon arrival on the Friday, there is a meet and greet and mirrors and screens are removed from the bikes (which I watched with a racing mind wondering what I had signed up for) and then a theory session before a delicious dinner made by Nadine.
Upon arrival at the venue I noticed a jar on the counter labelled “Cement” I did not pay too much attention to it at the time but the reason for it being there became very apparent on the Saturday and main day of training.
It’s an early start and a physically, mentally demanding and challenging day. After all, this is why you make this investment in yourself is it not!
Mike sets off with some simple “get to know your bike” orientation exercises which involves balancing the bike, walking the bike, moving around the bike and gradually builds up the ante to riding tight turns while standing on one side of the bike only or an arm in the air or on one knee on the saddle. All at a very slow speed.
Then we move on to learning how adjusting your body angle and moving hips can turn and manoeuvre the bike with little need for input on the bars. Correct braking and clutch use when to use ABS and when not and why. How to correctly pick up the bike when you have fallen. It's all covered.
The one thing that Mike teaches you from the get-go and is the fundamental golden rule is ALWAYS LOOK WHERE YOU WANT TO GO! This is the reason I dropped my bike – I was looking down in front at the terrain and not to my right where I was heading and I saw my ass!! This was the game-changer.
The training is then broken up into more intense exercises and then small rides on a circuit on the farm around trees, some inclines and declines to practice what you are learning.
Then comes the cone exercises and rut training and at some point in the day, you will face your nemesis! What I mean by this is that there will be something that you have a mental block against. For me – being female with such a heavy, high bike was a mental block on its own and my fear of falling. I did drop it many times during the training and what I loved about it and the group I was with – I was the only female – was that we were all there to learn and its best to leave your ego and pride at the door when you arrive because even if you think you know everything you will soon realise that’s not the case. Everyone there no matter their skill level walks away from the weekend a better rider.
My fellow trainees were all amazing and we all supported and cheered one another on. The camaraderie was awesome. During the day when I started feeling a little embattled and drained and “gatvol”, it was then I learned what the cement was for! Mike is strict and for your own benefit not his, so when you have your little “whiny” moments he says to you “Do you want some cement?” His way of telling you to toughen up! If he sees you are struggling he will do the exercise over and over with you and guide you all the while telling you and encouraging you to believe in yourself. He is an excellent instructor.
Towards the end of the day, it is then time to put all you have learned into perspective and Mike takes you to a neighbouring farm for an outride. On the outride there are some longer steeper rocky inclines and descents, a slow ride around the streets of Fouriesburg and then back through the farm. I dropped my bike again on the way back and in my frustration and exhaustion, all I could now think of was getting back to base and downing that beer that had been calling me for the last hour! This was not to be. Once I caught back up to the group I came to a stop and my face and heart sank! In front of us, after excessive amounts of recent rain was something tantamount to a massive swamp between me and that beer! Hell NOOOO...
I sat there and watched each rider go through one by one, slipping and sliding through this huge marsh but all had the luxury of being able to put their feet down and guide themselves through! I did not have that luxury and was scouting the area for an escape route or any other way around this that I could possibly take. There was no other route. I then decided I was just going to go for it but not the exact path – I went off to the left and gunned it. I think at one point I was going sideways but I did not fall. I went into what was close to a deep pond and did not fall all the while bouncing around but keeping a constant throttle, looking ahead, and when I popped out in front of everyone and stopped the bike – I could not help but turn back and give them my best “what was the problem?” gesture! This got me the new name of THE BOG BOSS!
I have no idea how I got through that without falling but all I could focus on was where I needed to go and if I did not learn one thing more on that day – that rule will be in my head for the rest of my riding days! Oh my – did that beer taste good after that.
Sunday was supposed to consist of another outride but torrential rain all night made the route too wet and having gone out to do a recce – Mike, wisely for our own safety called it off.
We all then received our certificates for Level 1 over a delicious breakfast and said our goodbyes.
The training is an essential must-do and I call out to all women who are maybe thinking of getting an adventure bike and are too afraid to or are even pillions (as they also need to learn what is required of them) – before you do anything – do this course. You will not regret it! I have since been on the Karoo is Calling trip with SA Adventure and the confidence that I had which I would not have – made all the difference to my riding and my level of enjoyment.
I cannot wait for my next SA Adventure!
I highly recommend signing up for one of these weekend training courses. All the details can be found at this link: Adventure Motorcycle Training Weekends...
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Stay Safe, Big Love, the SA Adventure Team!