Two years ago, I bought a BMW R 1200 GS, the type of motorcycle I’ve always wanted for touring, travel and adventure. But I did not know how to ride it in the dirt. After about a year, I attempted to ride off-road in the canyons west of where I live in Fort Collins, Colorado. I survived, even mapped a 90-mile Favorite Ride loop that is 1/3 hard-packed gravel. If I’m honest, though, I was not riding off-road very confidently, nor very competently. Everything felt different. Perhaps because everything was different. As it turns out, I had no idea how different.
In time, I met people interested in riding with me. No matter their motivation, I was happy to be riding with, and better yet, learning from others. I learned some new road loops west and north of town. I also learned I was leaning the wrong way in dirt and gravel turns — whoops! That could be a tough lesson to learn the hard, or shall I say, washed-out tire, way. As a long-time road bicyclist and motorcyclist, I am used to leaning into turns — Mark and Dave (and later Rusty and everyone from West38Moto who helped me train) coached me to drop my weight down and to the outside of a turn in loose terrain. They also coached me to get more training, particularly if I wanted to learn to use my R 1200 GS fully as intended. As an educator myself, I knew they were right — I needed help from experts in developing riding skills. I also wanted a complete operation that would feed me, house me and train me all in one place.
That operation is RawHyde Adventures motorcycle training and touring. Yes, they trained me, fed me and housed me. But RawHyde did so much more. They also surrounded me with great people who genuinely wanted all of us to succeed. The experience was like adult summer camp, with coaches passionately teaching us, and their passion was infectious.
Day 1 we had the benefit of Coaches Erin, Trev and Nick taking us through the drills. Nick teaches daily in his architecture business. In motorcycling camp, he enjoys watching his students have “Aha!” moments when learning. One of mine was realizing I could drop my outside knee all the way to the cylinder head / crash bars on my GS when I need to make a slow, tight turn. This is lower than many others, but necessary for me to properly lower my center of gravity given I am height challenged. Trev coaches because he loves being part of a coaching family. He is living his dream riding motorcycles, and helping others live their dream riding too. Erin is the fastest person alive on a conventional BMW motorcycle. She coaches because motorcycles are her passion and loves helping others pursue motorcycling as their passion too.
These bikes are big, often unwieldy and sometimes intimidating. RawHyde coaches know this. They also know how to help people develop confidence and competence. Founder Jim Hyde reminds everyone that 90% of the roads in the world are unpaved. Using a motorcycle as a tool, he explores the world on these roads. And he runs RawHyde, teaching others how to expand their motorcycling toolkit so they too can explore the world beyond the pavement.
During my course, the coaches worked together seamlessly, guiding us through multiple stopping, starting, braking, clutch feathering and maneuvering drills on a 1.5-mile, 4-corner dirt course. The coaching team described these Day 1 drills as basics that are stackable. And to help us build muscle memory (and confidence) as we stacked these skills, we would do the same drills the next morning. This might seem odd — redoing on Day 2 exactly what we learned on Day 1 — but it fits well with active learning. You have to practice, practice, practice and then actively practice some more if you want to learn new skills and develop muscle memory.
The next morning, as promised, we went through the same drills as the day before. We then stacked on these base skills with extended braking maneuvers, further cementing our newly poured muscle memory! This 2nd day we were also fortunate to have Coach Owen join our group. As a senior RawHyde coach, his primary passion is leading group tours. Owen also loves to coach and inspire new riders, and his dedication to teaching had him on his hands and knees using a spare tire to demonstrate tire washout.
In the afternoon of Day 2, we stacked new skills on top of new skills when we did an extended training dirt and gravel ride. Outside weight shifting while cornering was integrated with tight U-turns; trail stops were integrated with figure-8 crossings; clutch feathering was stacked with s-turns; weighting of motorcycle pegs was utilized for negotiating off camber turns; friction zones and brake break-free points were explored in slow, tight uphill and downhill s-curves.
This stacking of pre-training and morning skills, in order to build new skills as we progressed through the day, was a great confidence and competence booster. In the 1970s this interaction of confidence and competence was integrated into a learning model called the Four Stages of Competence. Though not widely used with cognitive-only training programs, the approach is extremely useful when cognitive and motor learning are combined — as is the case with motorcycle training.
This learning model begins with unconscious incompetence — you don’t know what you don’t know how to do. Then with some experience and training, you gain knowledge and begin to know what you don’t know how to do — progressing to conscious incompetence. Then you practice so you can improve and learn to do what you don’t know how to do, progressing to conscious competence. Finally, with proactive practice, and then more practice, you progress to unconscious competence, automatically utilizing the necessary skills when needed. Take me for example — as a long-time road cyclist and motorcyclist, until last year, I had almost never ridden either a bicycle or motorcycle in the dirt. Then I bought a GS and took it off-road. As an educator myself (I teach college online), I knew I did not have the skills necessary to ride competently off-road. I needed someone to teach me. So, I took a training course, and learned I was leaning the wrong way in dirt. What I did not know then, I do know now. This knowing now means I have progressed to conscious competence. I now know I need to weight the outside peg when cornering in dirt and gravel, but I do not do so unconsciously and automatically — I still have to think about it. I have to continue to practice and strengthen my conscious competence skills, and then practice some more, as I work to develop (and cement) my muscle memory. This will allow me to continue progressing toward unconscious competence — automatically knowing and using what I need to know. Wish me luck!
RawHyde offers adventure motorcycle training in California and Colorado — visit rawhyde-offroad.com or call (702) 209-8503.