Getting Schooled At BMW’s Two-Day Enduro School

Crashing and sweating (and crashing some more) to improve off-road skills.

2019 BMW R 1250 GS
Riding the 2019 BMW R 1250 GS Adventure during the Two-Day Enduro Skills Class.Patrick Cox

It’s remarkable how far and how fast the mind wanders while hurtling over the handlebars toward certain—though as yet undetermined—injury.

It's the very last exercise on the final day of BMW's Two-Day Enduro Skills Class, and after turning down a hill and running wide, I go straight into a field of kudzu that obscures a front wheel-swallowing ditch that's just about to cease the forward motion of my R 1250 GS Adventure in the most dramatic of fashions. In the split second before my crotch makes contact with some unknown pointy hard part on the front of the bike, feet already somersaulting above me, I'm thinking, "Gee, I wonder if this will make my return trip home uncomfortable. Who the hell is to blame for bringing this infernal vine to America, anyway? And how come more people don't like okra?"

Enduro Skills Class
Getting ready to put in some serious seat time on the BMW R 1250 GS Adventure at BMW’s Enduro Skills Class.Patrick Cox

As I discovered, in the aftermath of a mild off-road motorcycle accident, normative interpersonal barriers dwindle rapidly. Here I am, all red in the face, clutching my crotch, and waddling around like a toddler on the verge of an imminent pants-pee, while my four off-road instructors—complete strangers just yesterday—are simultaneously trying to free my motorcycle from the tentacles of kudzu while inquiring about what precisely I’d hurt, um, down there.

I’m afraid to look. Squinting with one eye as I slowly un-cup my hands, like Frodo tentatively proffering the one ring to Galadriel in the movie adaptation of The Lord of the Rings, I’m delighted to discover that future procreation isn’t permanently off the table, even if the act itself will be on hiatus for some time.

Ah, crashing. Some would argue the very reason to enroll in a skill-building course such as this is to learn to avoid it entirely. But as William Blake said, “Without crashing is no progression”—or something to that effect, anyway.

Regardless, it’s about time I get some expert instruction on how to ride an adventure bike, rather than continue to rely on the bad habits I formed riding a dirt bike as a kid.

proper body position
Practicing proper body position on downhill slopes.Patrick Cox

On a sweltering Southern morning in July, I—along with my friends Rob and Doug (with whom I rode the MABDR last summer)—pull up to the BMW Performance Center, in Greer, South Carolina. It's a first-class facility that's dedicated to helping build the skills of no-talent pretenders like me who want to get the most out of whatever vehicle they choose that's badged with the famous blue and white roundel. Ever the contrarian, Rob parks his KTM 1290 Adventure right out front.

We meet the other six participants, most of whom turn out to be IT professionals like Rob. But there’s also a globe-trotting retired ship’s captain and a gregarious voice-over actor. Fun group. We meet our instructors, Ricardo, Melinda, and childhood best friends Richie and Michael. Thanks to the 2:1 student-to-instructor ratio, we’ll get to know them pretty well as they give us plenty of individualized advice and encouragement along the way. And as they help pick up dropped bikes.

GSA starting to smoke after sand crashes
Things get smoky on the GSA after multiple sandpit crashes and spending too much time on its side.Patrick Cox

As it turns out, boxer twins really only crash halfway, coming to rest on their crashbars and jutting cylinder heads at an angle that most of the time keeps the bars off the ground. It means they’re roughly half as difficult to pick up as a bike with the same heft but with cylinders in the more usual arrangement.

The R 1250 GSA I’m given for the course is similar to the GS I rode down from New York, except for its larger tank, crashbars, and Continental TKC 80s. But instead of going touring speeds, the instructors tell us we’re rarely going to get out of first gear. The school is all about building foundational skills, so we begin with the basics: How to properly put a 600-pound motorcycle on its centerstand and how to mount it from both sides. We soon head to the off-road area, a 137-acre wonderland of whoops, ruts, hills, sandpits, and single-track sections through the woods.

Gravel riding
Feeling confident in the gravel.Patrick Cox

The sun is shining and it’s already in the 90s. After some balance-testing warm-up exercises that make us look like we’re trying out for the famous Purple Helmets stunt team, we get off the bikes and realize there’s not a lot of shade to stand in while guzzling water out of Performance Center-branded water bottles.

“Shade is only available as an option,” one of the instructors jokes, starting a course-long recurring quip at BMW’s expense.

If you’ve ever spec’d out a Beemer, you know that the base MSRP is just the start. On the GS, the highest-spec ride modes, heated grips, crashbars, etc. are all options. Nice to see the instructors not taking their Germanic overlords too seriously.

By lunch time, I’m as exhausted as I’ve ever been. We’ve practiced trials stops, cornering through cones, going through ruts and washboard, and navigating tight single-track. To cool down, the instructors let us have a few laps around the asphalt racetrack. I immediately feel more at home. If you’ve spent the last couple of decades on a sportbike like I have, proper off-road technique feels…funny. As my college math professor would say: “Funny hmmm, not funny haha.”

After carb loading for the afternoon and enjoying the air-conditioning in the Performance Center’s posh cafeteria, we’re all a bit haggard and reluctant to get on the bikes again. Someone in the group says, “I can’t believe I’m paying to do this.” He’s only half joking.

But in the afternoon session, things start to click.

low-speed maneuvers
One of my main objectives in taking the class was to learn how to do low-speed maneuvers on a heavyweight ADV bike. I’m getting better!Patrick Cox

Trying to turn around a big bike in a lane-and-half is my Achilles' heel. The instructors suggest I try putting my outside knee on top of the cylinder head. Doing so automatically twists my body and puts me in the right position. For the first time, I can feel the bike doing what I’ve always struggled to let it do.

Now my concern is that I’ll only ever be able to feel comfortable off road with my weight resting on a cylinder head. In other words, on a BMW. My concern must be pretty typical because the instructors tell me a lot of people who take the course wind up buying a new BMW within days of the class finishing. Have fun on Sunday; buy on Monday.

The R 1250 GSA is indeed a remarkable motorcycle. Thanks to the wasserboxer’s bottomless torque, I think I’m having an easier time than some of the guys on middle-weight GSs. I can ride around with my throttle hand in the air, dragging the rear brake, and without slipping the clutch. The Boxer carries its weight down low, so it feels very manageable tiptoeing through trees. It’s a big bike, which makes it all the more amazing that it can do the things it can.

If you’ve never ridden a BMW R bike, there’s something about the cadence of the power pulses and its user-friendliness that just makes it feel familiar. It’s like when you go furniture shopping and plop down in a deep leather chair, and go “ahhhh,” as though in a previous life, you’d sat in it for eight seasons of MotoGP-watching.

BMW R 1250 GSA
BMW R 1250 GSA at rest.Patrick Cox

Day two. The heat hasn’t dissipated, but I’m feeling confident.

BMW has done a great job of creating an info-heavy curriculum that’s packaged in a way that can be easily digested. Each exercise is designed to build upon the skills practiced in the preceding one.

The first new exercise of the day is emergency braking. First, we lock up the rear brake with ABS on. Then we do it with ABS off. Next, we apply the front brakes as hard as we dare. Finally, we use both the front and rear simultaneously.

I feel super confident with each new step. I’m stopping on gravel quicker than I ever have before. I keep the rear locked and I lock the front, modulating lever pressure enough to keep it from folding. Michael and Richie are cheering me on the whole time.

Richie giving the author some instruction
Richie giving me some instruction. I don’t think he’ll mind me saying he’s not the tallest man in the world. He’s not Gaston Rahier-short, but watching him launch a GS over a tabletop pretty well silences people who say they’re not tall enough to ride an ADV bike to the coffee shop.Patrick Cox

Next, we go to the gravel pit. They give us the spiel and Richie demonstrates the correct way of approaching it. Then he shows us the wrong way. Here, he gets a good head of steam and churns through the gravel, doing a tank-slapper for 100 feet without actually crashing. The rest of us look on enviously, knowing our fate will probably be different if we give it too much gas. But mine isn’t. I don’t crash.

I save the crashing for the sandpit.

Tackling the sandpit
“I’m gonna make it, I’m gonna make it!” Tackling the sandpit on an R 1250 GSA requires confidence and the right amount of throttle input. I had an overabundance of both.Patrick Cox

I’m overheated and flustered, and I crash again and again. The rest of the class is ready for the next exercise, but I don’t want to move on until I’ve conquered it. So everyone shuts off their bikes and watches as I keep trying. And keep crashing. I’m spurred on by their encouragement and laughter, but ultimately, the sand gets the better of me. At least I feel good knowing I didn’t sully the name of Cycle World by giving some pusillanimous attempt.

I save my kudzu crash for last, wrapping up two fantastic days on the pegs by cosseting my bits with a bag of melted ice. Fortunately, I find some shade to sit in.

Sandpit crash
“I’m not gonna make it.” I’m positive of that.Patrick Cox

Over the course of the school, a lot of guys crash more than me. Some crash less—like Rob, who dumps it only once, showing me up on a trip I invited him on. The gall.

I’d been looking forward to taking the Enduro School for some time. But my biggest concern going into it was that it could be tainted by the eye-rolling braggadocio common in a room full of men with motorcycles. But every participant was a complete gentleman and the camaraderie turns out to be one of my favorite parts of the whole experience. In case you’re wondering, there were no women in our class except for Melinda. But that’s not always the case. BMW also offers a ladies-only class.

BMW-supplied motorcycles at Enduro School
Using BMW-supplied motorcycles allow you to get the most out of the two-day class.Patrick Cox

The two-day class costs $1,590 if you use one of BMW’s bikes, or $1,270 if you ride your own (BMWs only). I easily had $1,590 worth of fun. More importantly, I learned more than the money’s worth and it proved to me that with a little guidance, I’m not afraid to try new things on two wheels—especially when I’m on a borrowed bike that I’m not afraid to crash.

Besides, boxers only crash halfway. I only wish the same could be said of me.

Gearbox

gearbox
Alpinestars Tech-Air Touring gear.Patrick Cox