My Birthday Treat

Ed had organised a birthday treat for me. It was meant to be on the day of my birthday and he kept it quiet until the Tuesday prior to the day. The only reason he had to tell me was circumstantial. I was being taken to Moto Scotland for my first ever off road riding day. An introductory day, considering the only off road experience I have even got close to is riding up through our gravel car park, the fact it was an introduction was fine with me! Don’t get me wrong, our car park is challenging for even some of the best riders. Gravel makes a lot of people tense up. Roddy, Police instructor at Tullyallan Police College makes a point of taking his trainees right up the back of our car park, the rotter, or is he? It was postponed. Someone had damaged the G650GS that day, which meant that my ‘ride’ wasn’t going to be available for the Thursday. It gave me an extra week to think about it. That maybe wasn’t good!

This is Scotland’s first off road motorcycle training centre. Their trusty steeds are mainly BMW’s so I was pretty comfortable knowing that. The bit I was uncomfortable with was knowing whether or not I would be able to do it, physically. I have a reconstructed right knee (from International hockey days); no anterior cruciate ligament in my left knee and meniscus damage that can’t be fixed, unless with a knee replacement, I am too young to have it done *snigger*.

It was a strange thing. We had discussed going to Wales to the BMW school there. I know tons of my IAM colleagues have been, however, I didn’t want to go and risk that I couldn’t manage it. So, Inverary it was. That’s better, a wee hop up one of our favourite roads. I have to say, the Dalmally road is a favourite ‘test track’ of mine, for cars and bikes. I have been driving that road since I was 17. Those days it was in a Sherpa minibus. I did my first ever 3-point turn in this; a ditch on one side and a fence on the other. It seems my choice of transport has improved since then! My ability to do a 3-point-turn is still amazing because of it!

Anyway, we woke on the Friday morning. As you know, we had had the most stunning spell of weather. Yep, it was raining. Not heavily though. We had a wee bit of breakfast; scrambled eggs and toast just to make sure we had fuel in our stomachs. We really didn’t know what to expect. We wanted to make sure that we ate something semi-substantial, but not so much that we couldn’t swing our legs over our bikes.

We arrived at the Moto Scotland site; in the middle of the glorious Argyll Estate. Really quite bonny. Clive appeared to welcome us; just after we had put the side stands down on our bikes. A lovely welcome. There were 3 of us getting instruction. Rachel was from Helensburgh; another IAM member and owns two bikes, a KTM (iirc) and a Ducati Monster (jealous, much). We got ‘kitted up’. Helmet, gloves, shin and knee protectors, body armour and a ‘suit’ to cover it all. Sweaty suit.

Cuppa and briefing time. Clive gave us an idea of what we were about to do. I was comfortable with what he said, it seems I wasn’t nervous; what will be, will be.

We went out to introduce ourselves to our steeds for the day. I had a white and red G650GS; I was so busy concentrating, he didn’t have a chance to tell me his name. For those that know me well, I have a name for most things! As it happens, my wee Smoggy was a bit sick :(. He was in the garage getting a service, and there were a lot of things getting done to him, so they gave me a G650GS as a courtesy bike. Bloody hell. Talk about shake, rattle and roll. On the way home, he told me his name was Rabbit. A good vibrator. I know, I’m sorry. I am slightly unhinged. Apologies if that offends. (aye, right)

It was so ‘bad’, I was filtering through stationary traffic and I wasn’t able to read the gantry signs. The bike however, had amazing torque, hated going at 30mph and the option of dropping down to 2nd gear was so shaky, it will remain imprinted in my memory for ever. For all the wrong reasons!

So, it was going to be interesting, having the same bike for the off-road day. Luckily my (rather ample) arse wasn’t going to be attached to the seat for the day. Just as well really. Knobbly tyres and standing on my pegs was the menu for the day.

Clive gave us an excellent demonstration and training session which included feeling the weight of the bike. No side stand, walking around the bike, seeing how far you could tip the bike comfortably. Walk round the bike (still no side stand) holding on and understanding the ‘balance’ of it. That in itself was an education. During my IAM training; I voiced my opinion that I wasn’t happy retracting the side stand before swinging my leg over the seat. Not now. I have to say, Clive’s teaching was superb. If I had gone home at that point, I would have been seriously satisfied that I had learned something.

We were shown how to get on the bike. Yeah, I know, we all know how to get on a bike, however, having the front wheel facing away, swinging your leg over and placing your foot on the offside peg made sense. Remember to have the bike in gear when you are doing all of the above exercises. If you don’t, you know what will happen. TIMBER! SPLAT!

Next was another familiarisation exercise. Put the bike on its centre stand. Those who know me appreciate that I am slightly vertically challenged. I have never had to use a centre stand. I have never ever taken a pillion either. That was another valuable learning curve. Now I know I could teach a potential Associate how to ‘do it’. Easy peasy, lemon squeezy. Then we got on the bike, with the centre stand in place and got used to rocking the bike, using body weight on the pegs. Another easy peasy, lemon squeezy exercise for me. (no comment required)

All the bikes had all ‘non-essential’ stuff stripped off. No beak, no indicators, no mirrors. That was freaky. I know Rachel shared the same feeling as I did. How odd. All this IAM training and the mirrors are stripped off. Makes ‘blind spot’ checks very important all of a sudden. Hand signals too. Another education.

Introductions to our machines done, it was off for a short hop into Inverary to get fuel. Another short hop to the access road. All in all, no mirrors and hand signal requirements was only for about a half mile. All the time, Clive is looking behind, making sure we are still with him, not fallen off, or collected an unsuspecting tourist. Excellent rear obs, Clive!

We started on a single track road, and Clive was in the front, on his pegs demonstrating how to shift your weight to move the bike. Great. Ninja moves. A little bit of weaving and bobbing and some areas where we definitely had to sit where there was that ‘road work gravel’. Safety first. After a couple of miles on single track, that’s where it got interesting. Off onto a ‘track’. Not terribly difficult, however, as we got towards the top, my thoughts (and Rachel’s) was; ‘oh FFS, we have to come back down from here’.

We needn’t have worried. We got all the training that was essential to get us back down in a little quarry.

The first thing we did before anything was drink water. Clive brought plenty ‘fuel’ for our bodies. You don’t want to dehydrate, or lack food energy.

In the meantime, Clive was setting out wee cones. I was watching as he laid them out. Honestly, the distance in the ‘square’ was all of four of my paces. I couldn’t help but comment. It was along the lines of, “Good god, Clive, I would struggle to do circles with my arse planted on the seat in that space, are you SERIOUS?” Yes, he was. Another section amongst the rubble and rocks, a slalom. OK then.

We had a selection of terrain. Bloody slippy grass, grass covered boulders, ruts, bloody mud, and not a flat section in sight. OK. Clive did a demo. Right oh. It’s that easy, is it? (ROFL) In the meantime, my thighs were objecting. As much as they teach you to keep your legs straight, it was challenging. No smutty comments required.

Right then, another verbal lesson, and get on with it. He need a volunteer to do the ‘square’. Feeling brave (*read, stupid) I went to do the circles first. The instruction was in 3 stages: get the speed right, using your clutch and throttle. No back brake. Then do the ‘ninja’ bit, lean the bike in towards the centre of the circle and have your body going the other way. The third part was looking where you want to go.


It was at that point I realised why they give you knee protectors and shin guards as my bike swiped my shin on the way to the ground. No worries, Clive had already given us instruction on picking your bike up. Kill switch, turn the bars, then assume the position, then HEAVE! Well, I did have a bit of help for this one. After a wee breather, I was back on the pegs and trying again. Shortly there after, I was doing full lock circles, on my pegs and enjoying every minute of it. Doing it the other way, same thing, nae buther. I was chuffed to bits. The trick? Don’t look at, or think about the terrain, have belief that the bike WILL go over it.

The slalom was quite rocky, however, again I managed it, stalls and all. Then after that we were given instruction on braking on the surface which was rocky… did I say that? Again, an amazing experience. All contributed towards having a confident ride back down the track. Clive’s training was just excellent, in an odd way, he filled you full of confidence subliminally. Bite size training which your brain took in and tried out before you realised it, you were doing it. Yes, he talked and explained a lot, demonstrated what he wanted us to do. I got it. Just the kind of training that I have had in the last fun filled year. Informative, educational and confidence inspiring.

Been there, done that. Sorted.

Been there, done that. Sorted.

I have to be honest, going down the track I was thinking to myself, “Good god, can my totally buggered knee take much more of this?” I knew I needed fuel, as in food. We got back down to the portakabin and filled our faces. Clive had organised a gluten free lunch for me, happy bam. I had turkey with salad rolled in it. At that point I would have scoffed a mars bar too. I knew that I needed the calories. I had gone beyond ‘perspiration’ to sweating like a …. fill in the blanks.

The rest was just what I needed. I asked how long the track ride was going to be. A small circuit, only 30 minutes or so. Ok, I decided to ‘complete’ our day, I could manage it. I am glad I did; a bit of body fuel, tea and some sugar intake, we were off. I have to say, leaving early, getting home for a hot tub was attractive. As a lot of you know, I hate to fail. Onwards and upwards.

The trail ride was just what was needed to underpin the learning we had in the morning, ‘clatters’ and all. We rode through a variety of terrain, rocks, clay (slippery, watch it) forest tracks and of course the corners that you had to do ‘ninja style’ to get round. It was amazing.

Woohoo, doing it!

Woohoo, doing it!

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not for the feint hearted. I was chuffed to bits, purely because of my knee issues. Also because of personal confidence, I was not considering that I could do what we did. Being told to stand with legs straight was the bonus, after all, your bike is your shock absorber. I have found that riding through the car park at home, on the pegs, arse (ample) out of seat is just so much easier that having my (ample) arse on the seat. I think you, my reader gets the message. It doesn’t matter what your confidence level is, your frame of mind or what you think your capabilities are, just bloody do it. Clive well and truly sets the course of the day to your abilities. If you think you can be a hero, then your ability to be such will be revealed, good or bad. At this point I have to thank those who are responsible for my slo-mo capabilities: Rory, Kenny, Roddie, Rennie, and all the other ‘seniors’ who very patiently taught me machine control. Without that, I would have been in ‘clatter mode’ more than I was. Cheers, guys, I love you all. I totally appreciate the learning that I have had over the last months and all credit to you all for your input.

When we got back to the portakabin, I was still gagging for a mars bar.

Mars bar craving

Mars bar craving

So, if you don’t know, what’s ‘ninja style’? I may not have explained it very well. Yep, there’s no doubt those that know what I mean, for those who don’t, here it is. It’s when you are wanting to move our trusty steed whilst your feet are on the pegs and your legs are straight. You lean the bike in, so your bars are ‘in’ the ‘circle’, going clockwise, your right bar is in there; the rest of your body is going the opposite way, arse over seat the opposite way, whilst controlling the throttle and clutch. A bit unnatural, given our training, we are using the back brake, no, not part of the picture, back brake out of the question. Get the speed sorted, the ninja style, and look where you are going, all gives you the perfect ‘oh my god, this works,’ moment. I was doing circles over bumps, wet grass, all sorts of shit terrain and had a HUGE, MASSIVE grin on my face. It works, cheers, Clive.

Beyond needing a rather large, huge, massive mars bar, there’s not much more that you can ask for. You are provided with everything. Shin pads (a must), helmet, sweaty outer clothing to cover the body armour and boots. Well, the boots, thanks Clive for ordering the size 5 boots. I have size 4 feet – quite wide, however, I know that they are now broken in. My feet screamed for the whole day, the size 5’s just weren’t wide enough. Square feet and a large arse. Nae hope then.

What’s happened since then? A visit to the chiropractor. I was twisted. She was honest. She said, “I love it when you come in to see me, your smile lights up our day, however, there’s something else there today.” That set the challenge.

I didn’t say a thing. She had a ‘furtle’. The first thing was, “You came off your bike, however, it wasn’t on the road, it was on mud.” OK, how the FUCK did she work that out? She knew. She asked if I had done rib damage, no thank god, however, she thought that given my spine was so out of alignment that I had done damage. That’s when I confessed to wearing shin-guards. The search continued, my spine was out, my shoulders were out, my knee had taken a hammering, and her last words were, “you twisted your knee, really badly.” Quite right, all that braking on the gravel had taken it’s toll. Twisted knee. I was glad I hadn’t burst into tears – not pretty. I had forgotten that bit, where I whined to Ed that I’d twisted my knee. Suck it up, buttercup. I was having so much fun, it didn’t matter.

The fact that I have booked another session with Gina is an indicator: pain killers to help me up the stairs to the office. A double whammy of therapy (she’s great, and we totally ‘get’ our personalities and our needs – not often that happens), so next week, after a rather expensive (worth it) session, I am sure I will be ‘good to go’.

Yep, I have decided I want to go on the foundation course. How can it be any more painful?

So, how can I summarise the experience?

Sare; for those with knee troubles be cautious
Balance enhancing
Thought provoking
Confidence inspiring

Should you do it? Yep. Just book it. It helps you no-end in riding your road bike. OK, my wee Smoggy may not be the most inspirational, not the fastest bike on the planet, however, I love my Smoggy, mostly, I can keep up. To the pure confidence in riding on your pegs, being confident, following the best guidance and get the best experience that you may have in your short life, go for it.

The drawback....

The drawback….

Cheers, Clive, I had a blast. I have decided to go to the ‘next level’. I don’t care how much pain or how many pain killers I have to take, I totally get that you can transfer the experience to your road riding. I hope that this blog, feeding it into the right folk, can give you the input that you need to promote your business and make it the success that it surely deserves. As for your last comment about checking out your skills, and refreshing your IAM knowledge, I will pass you on to my mentor. You can blether for Scotland; Rory is in a completely different league, taught me all that I know so far and is a much better place to give your a refresher. Respect. I believe the pair of you met at Knockhill. Let’s meet at the Welly and get the join-up between the IAM and your off-road training school, ultimately, we are the best marketing tool there is. Passionate, caring, wanting to promote road safety and ultimately wanting fellow bikers to get the most out of what they do.

Hmmm… I don’t think that’s just me. I hope! 🙂

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