Here’s a confession: I often dream of having a fleet of motorcycles scattered around the world. I’d have a Royal Enfield tucked away somewhere in Leh, India; a Husky 701 for all my European and North African rally shenanigans; my brave old Lucy (DR650) for everyday travels; a Yamaha WR250 and a KTM 350 for hard enduro riding and my Romaniacs debut; an Africa Twin for… well, frankly, just because it’s so pretty. I’d also add a trials bike, an electric mountain bike for training, and a Cake Kalk for silent braaping to the collection.
For now, however, I’m more focused on training rather than amassing motorcycles. Having recently ridden a WR250, an Africa Twin DCT, a regular Africa Twin, and a couple of different DR650’s, I’m even more convinced that when it comes to riding, the question of motorcycles or training still has that same straightforward answer: experience is worth more than stuff. Here’s why.
Few months back, I had the pleasure of interviewing off-road riding coach and tour guide Bret Tkac (AKA Mototrek on Youtube). He said he found it odd that most people were happily spending thousands of dollars on new ADV bikes and the best riding gear imaginable, but hesitated when it came to rider training. “Good training can prevent trouble just as much as protective gear”, Bret said to me back then, and I couldn’t agree more. Shiny new bikes are awesome, but what good are they if you can’t ride them? The more training you do, and the more diverse riding classes you take, the safer you’ll be – on any bike, any terrain, any road or off road conditions.
I’m a bit of a “do first, think later” kind of person, which is why I set out to ride South America with zero experience six years ago. I did OK, and I’m still happy with that decision; however, just a couple of off-road training weekends in the US have improved my riding more than years in the saddle self-taught. Bikes can be replaced, bought second-hand, repaired; but skills and experience are priceless.
The feeling of purchasing a new bike is exhilarating… but so is the feeling you get when you cross a rally finish line, tackle a nasty hillclimb, or ride your first dune. The more training, riding, and racing you do, the more diverse you become as a rider. Just a year back, I dreaded riding off-road fast, steep hills littered with babyhead rocks made my right eye twitch nervously, and the thought of entering rallies as a competitor seemed beyond absurd. Now, every new challenge feels exciting rather than terrifying. And sure, I still drop my bike, I’m nowhere near as fast as I’d like to be, and I can’t wheelie properly. Still, there’s progress, and the more you train, the faster your progress.
Confidence can make you or break you – especially when riding. There’s nothing worse than getting into a funk of “I can’t” while out on the trails; attitude matters, and training can help boost your riding confidence in heaps. Just one weekend of training probably won’t transform you into a fearless Dakar rider, but it will give you the tools to take on new challenges and keep improving with each mile you ride.
For the first few years of my adventure travels, I blissfully plodded along and couldn’t care less whether I was riding on or off the road, well or just barely. I was still learning the basics, still thrilled to simply be on a two-wheeled adventure, still excited to just ride and soak in the sights.
Little by little, however, just plodding along became not enough. I wanted to do more off-road, more single track, then more rally, then more enduro… I still enjoy simply riding and taking the world in. But from time to time, I need more, and the ability to take on different kinds of riding and racing expand my horizons. I don’t necessarily need to be trying out every roadbook navigation rally out there; but the fact that I could if I chose to gives me a sense of even more freedom and takes the adventure to the next level.
Rider training is the best investment you can make. If you can afford it, take off-road, track, hard enduro, ADV – anything you can get! – riding lessons from the pros, go on training tours, enter training rallies.
If you can’t, learn from your riding buddies, YouTube, volunteer at events and races in exchange for a few hours of training, practice on your own, and keep on challenging yourself. At the end of the day, the feeling you get flying along some remote track on an older, beat up bike is a million times better than gingeerly duck-walking a brand new two-wheeled beast around a switchback fearing to drop it.
Images: Reini Wenzel