On the third day, it happened. Clambering up a rocky slope, the BMW G650GS Sertao caught a rut and jinked hard right. In the uh-oh moment that followed, I reverted to old, bad form and looked at the hillside that was about to add some pretty white plastic to the sand-and-shale mix. And then, unexpectedly, came the correct response: I looked back up the trail to where I wanted to go—not where the motorcycle was pointing at that instant—and could swear I’d heard a coach’s voice, “Look up the trail!” Then, without a second thought, I stood hard on the left footpeg, swiveled my hips and thrust my right knee into the side of the tank, transferring weight to the topside peg. Next thing I knew, the BMW was pointed back up the hill, bounding over nature’s dun-colored softballs like nothing had happened.
Experienced dirt riders may now say, “so what?” But as someone who spends such a high percentage of time on the pavement that it easily rounds up to 100, the fact that I could convince the dual-sport Beemer to go where I wanted it to go was nothing short of astounding. I’d always seen dirtbikes in the same light as horses: They’re in control, you aren’t. Man up and get over it.
Thanks be to RawHyde Adventures (www.rawhyde-offroad.com). Brainchild of Jim Hyde, RawHyde is also BMW’s only Off-Road Academy in the U.S. and an incredibly successful venture—for Hyde and BMW. Underpinning every piece of the curriculum is the understanding that adventure riders are different from the traditional off-roader looking for short-range thrills on light, agile motorcycles. Along with adventure bikes’ newfound popularity comes the need for specific training with an emphasis on real-world adventure riding. It’s a philosophy that eschews pure speed for a modest, sustainable pace that preserves man and machine, one that acknowledges the inherent limitations of 600-pound “dirtbikes” while highlighting their strengths. Triple-jumpers they’re not; tractors is more like it.
RawHyde focuses on teaching street-experienced riders the critical differences in riding technique required of these big rigs, and doing so in a logical, step-by-step fashion. For the first hour of the Intro to Adventure course—the first of three levels that includes The Next Step and Expedition CV—the exercises are meant to make you comfortable balancing the bike while standing on the footpegs, a crucial technique that helps stabilize the bike on uneven terrain. Soon, we were on one of the several courses set up inside RawHyde’s 150-acre facility, learning the fine art of balancing, body position and effective braking techniques; these included demonstrations of how to best balance front-to-back braking effort, all with ABS disabled.
By the end of the first day, we were all thoroughly whipped, and none of the bikes had come out of first gear! On the second day, we started with some review and then moved to a new course set around mature trees and featuring off-camber turns. I managed to sneak the Sertao into second gear, a small victory. The Intro to Adventure syllabus ends after tackling hill descents, exploring techniques for restarting on a hill, and getting a taste of riding in the sand with a gentle trail ride around several of the courses. It’s a terrific tactic. You use your new skills without the watchful eye of an instructor as a distraction—though, to be fair, the RawHyde staff found just the right balance of chummy camaraderie and I’m-watching-you drill sergeant.
Those who haven’t had enough can sign up for the Base Camp Alpha ride, which starts on the Monday after the Intro course and takes students on a guided tour through the Mojave desert, eventually ending in a comfortable camp near Trona, California. Tuesday includes a tour around the Trona Pinnacles, a dozen miles of sand whoops and a wide loop back around Lake Isabella. In all, it’s 350 miles on the road, 40 percent off the tarmac. The ride’s proximity to the training helps cement it all together. Other rides and guided tours are available.
Accommodations at the RawHyde ranch exceed expectations. Three big, healthy meals each day are covered in the cost, as is an open bar and other amenities. Courses range in price from $1395 for the first two levels to $2595 for the seven-day Expedition CV. The Base Camp Alpha ride is $595. Bring your own bike or rent a school sled—$145 a day for an F650GS; $165/day for an F800GS and $185/day for an R1200GS.
After four days with the RawHyde crew, I understand their zeal for adventure riding and appreciate that it’s as much about confidence and finesse as raw courage. As it should be.