5 Skills You Will Learn At BMW’s Enduro Skills Class

Two days working towards better riding.

2019 BMW R 1250 GS Adventure
The 2019 BMW R 1250 GS Adventure at BMW’s Performance Center in Greer, South Carolina.Patrick Cox

ADV riders are no strangers to being stuck in a rut—both figuratively and literally. In fact, our figurative rut often takes us right down the trail into the literal rut, as our stunted abilities struggle to cope with tricky terrain. Motorcycling is a game of consequences, so when our skills aren’t up to the task, we pay for it. How many times do you really want to pick up your fully loaded ADV bike in an afternoon of riding?

Moreover, if you’re like me, when you watch someone who really knows what they’re doing, you can’t help but think, “Geez, it looks like they’re having more fun than I am. I want to be able to sling a 600-pound bike through tight single-track and soar over tabletops.”

But I also don’t want my last words to be, “Hey guys! Watch this!”

GSA smoking
The GSA is smoking after I dumped it one too many times in the sand. Here, I’m giving it some gas trying to get it unstuck after picking it up for the umpteenth time.Patrick Cox

Motorcycling is fun even if you’re not a pro, but proficiency makes it even more fun—not least because the better you are, the safer you’ll likely be.

Sometimes it takes a little tutelage to get our riding skills out of that rut. Which is why I enrolled in BMW’s Two-Day Enduro School at the BMW Performance Center in Greer, South Carolina.

The school’s curriculum provides a structured way to learn without being overwhelming. Each new exercise builds on techniques learned in the preceding one, and instructors give plenty of one-on-one advice. Within the safety net of the curriculum, riders can try techniques they’d otherwise shy away from.

“You want me to do what?!” is a common refrain from riders facing a new challenge in the Enduro School. Rising to the occasion becomes one of its greatest rewards.

ADV advice
Getting some instruction on how to get the most out of riding a big ADV bike off road.Patrick Cox

Plus, you can try out all of BMW’s latest ADV bikes. I opted for an R 1250 GS Adventure, having only ridden it on road, and was amazed at just how capable it is off the pavement. Can you ride a big GSA through tight trees and sand? Sure enough.

Here are five skills the course teaches to provide a path out of that rut and toward off-road proficiency.

How to do tight cornering at low speeds.

Top tip: While cornering at slow speeds, gravity wants to pull the rider to the ground. Counterweight the motorcycle by getting your body off the center of the motorcycle. Think about dropping your outside knee toward the engine, which automatically pulls your entire body past the centerline of the bike, allowing the bike to lean in while you’re in command on the high side.

Day 2 and I’m improving with tight cornering.Patrick Cox

I always struggle with low-speed maneuvering on big bikes. And regardless of how many expert riders give me advice (“Go faster!” “Drag the rear brake!” “Just commit!”), I still look a little pathetic tentatively turning around in an off-camber, narrow canyon road while, inevitably, a group of tourists who all look like swimsuit models looks on.

At the Enduro School, one of the instructors, a bike cop from New Hampshire, practically shoved me off my bike as I was riding to demonstrate how I needed to move my body. It was actually helpful, if not startling.

But I really had a light bulb moment when he told me to put my outside knee on the cylinder head to get my weight in the right spot. So that’s why BMWs still have boxer engines! No?

I’m not an expert yet, but I’m working on it. And now I know _how_ to work on it.

How to navigate loose surfaces.

Top tip: In low-grip scenarios, too much throttle can break precious traction. Only use as much throttle as you need to maintain forward momentum.

gravel pit
The gravel pit.Patrick Cox

If you’re daunted by deep gravel and sand, book a place in the Enduro School. We spent a lot of time in the loose stuff, learning to modulate throttle inputs, getting body position right, and growing comfortable with the bike moving around. Also, if you enjoy slapstick humor, the sand and gravel pits are great places to watch your classmates wipe out with vaudevillian flair and give their brand-new Klim gear some “off-road cred.”

How to mount the bike/ride away like an ADV pro.

Top tip: Know thy clutch. The key to jumping on the bike as it moves away is engaging the clutch with assurance. Your body will follow the bike as it moves away. If you mess up with the clutch and stall, be prepared to catch the bike as it falls.

Practicing stopping
Practicing coming to a stop while dismounting over the right side of the bike.Patrick Cox

Street riders pretty much get underway one way: sitting down in the seat and releasing the clutch. There are a thousand off-road scenarios where that’s not possible, so being able to start and stop while remaining in the standing position comes in handy. It also makes it look like you know what you’re doing (not that I’m encouraging posturing in any way).

We also learned how to stand next to the bike, and simultaneously let out the clutch and hop aboard. I’ve always wanted to try this maneuver, but in the back of my mind I was afraid of dropping my bike. Or more accurately, someone else’s bike—likely a shiny new press bike or one that belongs to a buddy—given that my garage is sans ADV at the moment. At the Enduro School, since crashing GSs is practically encouraged (or at least expected), I had little qualms about the whole thing, and managed to get it right straight away.

How to panic brake off road.

Top tip: As you’re hard on the front brakes, maintain stability as weight transfers to the front end by leaning as far back on the bike as you can.

emergency brake
Getting advice on how to emergency brake off road.Patrick Cox

A lot of us regularly practice emergency braking on the street, but off road where traction is even more at a premium, it’s a whole other can of worms. Plus, it doesn’t help when there’s erroneous information swirling around the internet like, “Don’t use the front brake off road.” That’s not a thing. Use the front brake.

I was amazed how quickly I could stop in the gravel after the instructors progressively built up to having us use both front and rear brakes (with ABS off). By keeping the rear locked and modulating front pressure just to the point of locking, the big GS came to a swift halt.

Maybe I’m overly cautious (I’m not as young and foolhardy as I once was—and even then…), but it’s not something I would’ve tried in the middle of the woods all by myself, without cell service and miles from civilization. With instructors enumerating the finer points of the procedure and in the confines of a controlled environment, the school is the perfect place to try new things.

How to panic stop on a hill.

Top tip: When you come to a swift halt with the bike pointed upward, don’t touch your clutch lever. The bike will stall in gear, giving you time to catch your breath and find your footing. If you grab the clutch you’ll start rolling backward down the hill.

Practicing stopping on a hill
It seems like a straightforward exercise, but the motorcycle on its side next to me suggests otherwise.Patrick Cox

There are plenty of situations where stopping on a hill is necessary. Maybe your buddy just wiped out in front of you. Or maybe what looked like a hill is really the steep bank of a pond, and you’re not wearing a swimsuit under your riding gear.

The instructors taught us to leave the clutch out and intentionally stall with the bike pointing uphill. They also showed us how to dump the bike and spin it around on its jug to get it pointed downhill. We all practiced using the clutch to slowly reverse down to level ground—a pretty easy exercise, but remember: uneven ground, a short inseam, and jangling nerves can make simple techniques difficult to properly execute. Relying on technical proficiency to overcome an emotional response (like panic) is a huge difference between the hack and the master.

The advantages of instruction in a controlled environment.

Hill riding
Giving the suspension a workout.Patrick Cox

There are a lot of limiting factors to getting better at riding a motorcycle off road: You may be afraid to damage your own bike or afraid to hurt yourself. And you may not even know _how_ to improve. Watching YouTube videos—even good ones—will only get you so far. For a lot of us, time is also a huge limiting factor to learning new skills.

Two days and $1,590 (or $1,270 if you ride your own BMW) all of a sudden seems like a bargain. I’m the sort of risk-averse person who isn’t going to just go out there and send it. But when an instructor shows me what to do—even if the technique looks difficult—I’m able to trust in the process. Consequently, I learned more in two days than I would practicing the wrong techniques all season long on my own.

Keeping my balance while doing a trials stop.Patrick Cox

Not only does it teach proper techniques, the BMW Enduro School eliminates some of the barriers preventing riders from developing into better off-roaders. I still have to find time to practice, sure, but I have a better sense of what I’m capable of, and now I know what I need to work on.

Besides that, riding a brand-new R 1250 GSA through the woods, over hills, and through sand was a complete blast. Now I’m on my way to being able to say “Hey guys, watch this!” without their being my famous last words.