“This time, do it with one hand” Trainer Brian yelled out in my direction as I rolled by on a fully fueled BMW R1250GS Adventure slaloming by between offset cones on a corner of their track making a 180 degree turn as you take the bike full steering locked left or right. I was working the clutch too much so Brian’s advice was to take my left hand off the handlebars and I completed 2 more rounds of 18 cones this way with just one hand.
Before 2:30PM on a Saturday in April, I never knew I could do that on my bike which is to move the bike a full 180 left and right for 3 minutes with just one hand on my bars and on the final run, I was forced to switch hands and give no throttle input at all. Bonkers.
BMW’s U.S. Rider’s Academy located at the BMW Performance Center in Greer, South Carolina is a magical place. You show up surrounded by millions of dollars in BMW M-Cars and Mini Coopers and every motorcycle BMW produces except the S1000 class of bike. If you want BMW certified training on their super sport bike, you have to go to California Superbike School. The Rider’s Academy is staffed 17 trainers, some of which are full-time police officers who spend their days current or formerly riding BMW’s R1250 RT-P (P for police) patrolling the streets and spending their weekends in Greer teaching civilians how to be better riders. For these trainers, this is not a job it’s their play-time after a long week. This was evident on our 2-3 bits of downtime under the pop-up tents as they talked about their collections of bikes, travels, previous experiences in motor cross or comparing how tight they can turn on a fully dressed Harley Davidson or BMW.
The BMW Motorcycle Owners of America (MOA) has a non-profit foundation supporting rider safety and training and through, this fund, they sponsored 8 editions of “premiere training” in 2020. The premise is simple: Pay $995 and receive:
- Two nights in a hotel
- Two days of breakfast
- Two dinners
- One Lunch
- Transport to and from hotel and performance center
- $30 to spend at the Performance Center gift shop
- One day of training with 6 BMW certified instructors
- One day on a BMW motorcycle with no damage waiver or any sort of issue. if you drop it or break something, no problem.
This is an incredible value. BMW’s On or Off-Road training courses are each 2 days long and cost $1590 which includes the use of their bike and lunch both days. Training is usually a 3:1 student to teacher ratio and a maximum of 12 participants. The one-day training is $795 with a bike and lunch included The MOA’s Premiere Training was limited to just 14 participants per weekend with one weekend being women only.
We arrived at the performance center on Saturday at 7:30AM and we were on our bikes by 8AM because Friday night was the 1 hour rider’s presentation and guide….no Powerpoint on Saturday, just show up and ride. You do have to bring your own gear but the rules on this were fairly relaxed. All parts of your body must be covered but no requirements on leather or padding. All of us were wearing touring gear with padding, gloves, boots and helmets including the trainers.
The 14 persons were split into 2 groups and I was so freaking lucky. Not only was I assigned a bike identical to mine, an R1250GS Adventure but I was also in the Off-Road AM group which was great because there’s nothing worse than doing off-road low speed maneuvers in full gear at the high temperature of the day after 5 hours of on-road track time. It was cool, crisp and I was ready to ride.
Off-Road Included these exercises all on lose terrain (gravel, sand):
- Balancing the bike while stationary (moving around it on foot), proper mounting, dismount and center stand deploymnet
- Enduro Warmups (side-saddle, moving around the bike while riding it for 6 laps)
- Trial Stops (stop to zero, don’t stall or drop the bike, start again before you lose balance)
- Throttle/Brake/Friction Zone Exercises
- Dragging the front brake exercise. Get 20 MPH on the speedo, keep throttle on, lock up the front tire for a second then release and do those for 150 feet on gravel. Gives you good feeling of brake and tire traction and resistance without ABS
- Semi-advanced slalom work around cones requiring full lock of the steering
- Panic Braking of ABS on, Off, Enduro Pro and semi-ABS on front & rear brakes from 2nd gear 25 MPH
- Enduro Course exercises (traveling through trees, water crossing, between obstacles in the woods)
- Rutted/Whoopties/Washboard exercises with random stops and starts added by the trainers
This 4 hours of off-road time was great and represented a condensed version of days one and two of their Off-Road Enduro training. Basically 12 hours was condensed to 4. The only thing we didn’t do that is on the 2-day course is hill climb / descent along with gravel pit and sand pit. Everything else was included just very very condensed.
Lunch was baked chicken, Mac & cheese, salad, baked beans and a cookie in the cafeteria and lasted for 1 hour.
On-Road training took place in the afternoon from 1PM-4PM and took place on a mini paved track with plenty of cones to hit. We took on these exercises:
- Group run of the course at a fairly high speed to work off the cookies we just consumed
- Tight cone slalom focusing on brake & clutch control and full lock turning with body positioning focus. 4 of my 10 runs, I touched no cones
- Counter steer both left & right. Get to 35 MPH, get in sight of a cone in your way and avoid this without cutting power or touching the brake
- Road course with descending space simulating two cars that you slowly go through while maintaining balance
- Two, 1×4 pieces of wood you can go between or ride on top of to focus on balance and your line
- Full stop, foot down and technique for this
- Trials stops (no foot down) on pavement
- Large sweeping slalom of cones where the cones were 8 feet wide and about 6 feet deep so basically if you go through the left cone, 6 feet later you’re passing the next cone which sits 8 feet to the right. I hope that makes sense? It requires full body control and bike control
- Braking in an emergency which was fantastic. We started by disabling ABS, climbing to 40 miles per hour and just locking up the rear brake to a stop. Then we turned on ABS and did rear brake only and finally 60 miles per hour front & rear, ABS on. I messed up on the ABS-Off exercise by engaging front & rear brake and luckily, knew what I was doing and just locked up both wheels to a slide without any ill effects
- Finally, 30 minutes of on and off road track time. We navigated another enduro course that’s more sand, water and exposed roots, a few hill climbs, more gravel and larger rocks then we moved over to the BMW M-Track for 6 laps with no rules other than no-passing
Sound like a lot? It was. On-Road was also basically 1.5 days of on-road training in 4 hours. I checked with the performance center and they added that the 2nd day of the On-Road class they go into cornering styles, How to setup and Apex a curve (Early, Standard, Late), Off-Road Recovery , Riding over obstacles, High Speed Cone Weave, Emergency braking in a curve and ABS Pro. Quite a lot!
After the sessions, it was award certificate and SWAG time and we were done. Dinner was great and “order what you want” from a local smoke house. I was in bed by 10:30PM on Saturday night with a very sore clutch forearm, calves and abdominals.
The alarm went off at 4AM and it’s now 6:30AM and I’m in the air on a flight back to New Hampshire. Writing a blog post on an 11” iPad is hard…these airlines give you so little space now.
Before we talk about what I got out of this training, I’d like to be more general and give my opinion for others who may be thinking of doing this training. First, don’t delay. Premiere Training sells out within a week of going on sale due to the incredible value it offers to members to receive basically 4 days of training in 8 hours with 6 world-class BMW certified trainers and everything else included.
Every GS rider should take this training if given the opportunity. Everyone I spoke to following this training mentioned that their bike did things they didn’t think it could do and they did things that, when they woke up, they didn’t think they could do. Pushing through these mental barriers makes us all better riders, keeps us safer and builds confidence. It sets the tone for your entire year as you embark out onto the open road knowing you can avoid obstacles and traverse dirt roads without any issues. $1000 is a lot of money but once you arrive, you don’t spend a dime for 2 days. The value is huge. I took the first training of the year and am going home feeling more confident in my abilities.
Many people in the community know I take a lot of training. I can no longer count on two hands how many training weekends I’ve taken since March of 2016. One of the trainers asked me how many years I’ve been riding and I yelled out “FIVE!” As I flew past him with one hand on the handlebars and he said “awesome, great job” I don’t ride like someone with 5 years of experience because I ride 15,000 miles a year and do 2,000 miles of off-road riding on New Hampshire and Vermont dirt roads often getting myself stuff in nasty muddy rocky creek beds and because I hate getting stuck, I’ve gotten really good and not getting stuck and plowing through. Every year I get the 670 pound motorcycle stuck in some crappy situation and know exactly how I could have avoided it.
What this means to me is training is not about improving my current skills. It’s about keeping bad-habits in check, experimenting in a controlled and safe environment, socializing with other riders and supporting programs that really need our support for the next generation of riders. I try to live by example and get training and every time, I learn some tiny nugget that fundamentally takes me to the next level of riding.
On this day, I learned one piece of information and confirmed something else I was suspected of.
First, on ultra tight turns off-road, my foot peg pressure, handle bar angle and bike angle are all perfect but I stick my butt out over the edge of the bike to make a tight turn when I should be keeping my back straight and bending my knees and more hanging off the opposite side rather than just keeping my legs straight and putting my butt out. Now, the trainers at the academy didn’t know I almost never stand off-road. I don’t have to. Nothing we did would have been any easier when standing. This is how I ride personally and I’ve never felt “I should have been standing” when I make a mistake. I tried very hard to make standing work for me and it doesn’t. I just get tired and screw up more. Trust me, I’ve put a lot of time into this and sitting is easier.
Second, emergency stopping. When I’m screwing around off-road and doing emergency braking (ABS Off, locking up the wheels, loose terrain), my rear tire always comes out to the right…not much only 5 inches off the front wheel’s track and I never lose balance but it happens every time. I asked what it was and he had two bits of advice. First is to put more weight on the rear wheel. I don’t put weight over the rear wheel when braking. I do it when I’m going down hill but never on flat terrain. Second, I’m left biased. I know this and if you ever meet me in person I’m always leaning on my left leg. It’s shorter than my right leg so I put all of my weight on my left leg 100% of the time. I try to break myself of this but have failed. So when I brake, my left foot puts more pressure on my left peg and that causes the rear wheel to break right. The instructor said if I know it happens and can account for it, it’s not a huge issue. Just don’t freak out if it goes left. During rear wheel only emergency braking in the course, I pushed on my left peg and the bike went out to the left. I didn’t lose balance and he and I had a brief chat about how that felt and now I know what’s causing my issue.
The rest of the classes were very painless and I wish were more challenging. Unfortunately, even their 2 day on or off road courses aren’t that much more challenging minus the sand & gravel riding which I need to ace if I’m going to qualify for the GS Trophy Qualifier USA in September.
I’ve spoken to Heather about this and I inquired about private lessons. Private 1:1 training for 8 hours is $1100. This is one on one with a trainer working on anything you need help with along with a BMW GS included in the training. It’s only $300 more than a normal one-day class. They also do private lessons with a minimum group of 4 riders for $895 a person.
- Sand Pit Timing & balance
- Gravel Pit timing & Balance
- Enduro Course on ‘hard mode’ and making sure I pick lines and approach obstacles in a certain way to reduce dabs on the ground and get the fastest time possible
Winning the GS Trophy Qualifier for Team USA is something I am very interested in putting the time and money in to do well. I’ll be judged in the qualifier on time, accuracy and feet going down (or dropping the bike). Improving all of those areas will help me get close to winning so that’s worth it to me so I’ll probably take up a one day private course by myself to focus on all of the necessary skills I’m lacking.
The private lessons are also on their bikes with lunch included. I can fly down, get one night in a hotel and fly out the next evening and I can do the training 2 weeks before the GS Trophy Qualifier which takes place the 2nd week of September.
This has been a long post but I had a lot to say about my experience. If you have the means and time to go the BMW MOA’s Premiere Training at the BMW Performance Center, do it! You won’t be disappointed.