At this point it’s important to note that students are free use their own bikes for training (one fellow in our group road all the way from Florida on his GS), but most opt to rent bikes from RawHyde’s well-maintained fleet of BMW GS mounts. The R1200 flagship is the primary rental offering, but the smaller F800 and G650 are also available. All RawHyde’s rentals sport dirt-friendly tires and are outfitted for harsh treatment, with rugged aftermarket skid plates and engine guards keeping the much-abused Beemers in running shape.
I had expected to source one of RawHyde’s GS rentals too, but upon hearing that some journalists were taking the course, BMW rushed up press bikes at the last minute. My mount was an all-new water-cooled R1200GS (RawHyde had just received its allotment of the 2013 GS right before my training, but hadn’t had time to get them prepped for the rental fleet). I knew the GS would prove more than capable, but a wry grin escaped when I noticed it had standard street tires and no engine guards or supplemental crash protection… Is there a word in German for ‘wildly misplaced optimism’?
About half-way through the first day, at last I joined the list of involuntary dismounts. While practicing a hard braking drill I lost the rear and went down. A minor scratch to the Boxer’s cylinder head was the result, with no major harm to me or the bike. But the fall did force me into a realization – I was riding not to crash, rather than fully committing to the training regimen. Understandable concerns over damaging the press bike (it’s borrowed) had turned into an obsession, and I suppose this is a big reason why ADV bikes never stray too far off-road – owners don’t want to break their toys. Shedding this psychological hindrance alone is worth the cost of a RawHyde rental. My get-off also made me face up to the fact that I was afraid of looking foolish in front of the class – a childish concern, but true nonetheless. So much for checking my ego at the door.
But a funny thing happened after my fall. I rode better. I was more relaxed at the controls and had way more confidence. I didn’t throw all caution to the wind, by any means, but I allowed myself the option of messing up. After all, if you’re not making mistakes, you’re not learning. Remember: Humble yourself and engage... Find the good path…
Once I fully bought in, that’s when the RawHyde class started clicking.
After a restful night in the RawHyde bunkhouse, students will awake to several muscles demanding an explanation for what happened the day before. In my case, hours of feathering the clutch in low-speed drills had my left hand crying for mercy. The first day of training is all about the basics. Instructors pepper the drills with some quick trail rides, and occasionally we skirted past the Step Up crew practicing their impressive black-belt OHV maneuvers. We also ran through an obstacle course that tied in all our newly acquired skills – particularly that tight low-speed maneuvering.
Day 2 picks right up where the first left off. Back on the bike, back up on the pegs, back to the obstacle course and drills. The impressive thing is how the students now respond. Tentative riders are visibly more confident behind the controls. The inputs are smoother and rear tires are starting to step out a little here and there, but on purpose this time!
The drills get more challenging too, with elevations introduced. Students do things like stop halfway on a hill ascent, intentionally stall the bike and then restart to continue the climb – as well as engage a panic stop on a steep descent. Rider confidence increases with the difficulty level, and now routines like super tight figure-eight patterns are attacked with a smile.
Training included some runs through the whoops section, slow and steady at first, then with a little be of steam later.
As the final day wears on our group pokes around and explores the RawHyde confines. We pay a visit up to the whoops section and a tight cones course to practice more low-speed turns. It feels like we’re all on a team together, and we genuinely celebrate everyone’s individual victories – and laugh off our mistakes while helping pick up errant bikes.
The second day also lets students have a go at riding in sand. RawHyde boasts a couple different sand sections, one euphemistically dubbed the litter box courtesy of the lone horse and a black bull that roam the estate (it is a ranch after all). The comedy factor ramps up here, as even the instructors have trouble wobbling their heavy Beemers through the loose washes. It’s a playful exercise, and students learn the finer points of navigating in sand - or at least how to crash gracefully…
As the light starts to fade, some gung-ho students beg for more time on the bike. Shawn and Owen are happy to oblige, and we embark on an extra credit trail ride to cap off our time in the saddle. The final hour culminates in some spirited hill climbs and sustained higher-intensity riding, where we put all our novice skills to the test. It feels less like a training now, and more like we’re hitting the trail with new riding buddies.
RawHyde’s instructors keep the environment fun and pressure free. They are coaches in the truest sense of the word, offering instruction and motivation. Students will appreciate that they are being pushed – never too far beyond their ability, but just far enough to surprise themselves.
Sunday evening the class celebrates, with Jim congratulating his latest crop of graduates. The after-hours hospitality on the ranch features the top-notch culinary skills of its on-site chef, and an open bar next to the mess hall, which makes for a fun evening too. Before long students will find themselves amongst a host of new friends.
A typical RawHyde training exercise will have an instructor explain the purpose of the drill and its real-world application. Then an
instructor demonstrates the correct form. After that the student runs through the drill several times, with direct feedback from coaches.
The new RawHyde graduates had all shown dramatic improvement during our class. Riders completely new to dirt upon arrival leave the ranch competent enough to keep pace on fire roads and easy trails. Others like me, who had some off-road experience but not much confidence, finish the class surprised by their own progression and eager to learn more. Many riders in the Step Up class were quite experienced in the dirt to begin with, but their skills had either lapsed or they wanted to hone them on bigger ADV bikes. Regardless of skill level at the beginning, everyone leaves the RawHyde ranch a more accomplished rider.
Our class featured a diverse group that included folks from Germany, Ireland and Mexico – as well as a large contingent of Canadians. Of course, there were many Americans and a lot of local Californians in attendance as well, for whom the RawHyde estate is but a short drive out of town. The RawHyde class schedule, which begins Friday at 5 p.m. and ends Sunday evening, caters to the busy working professional – and a handful of my fellow classmates had simply left work early on Friday and were slated to be back in the office Monday morning. RawHyde’s proximity to LAX (50 miles south) also makes it an enticing destination for those aspiring ADV riders from further afield, with shuttle service offered to and from the airport.
Almost all the riders I spoke with had chosen RawHyde based off of word-of-mouth recommendation from one of the more than 2000 people who have already cycled through the training. And RawHyde’s clientele includes several repeat customers. In fact, most of the instructors are themselves former students who continue on because they love teaching and riding off-road.
The Intro to Adventure class ends with the presentation of a certificate, and a lighthearted recap from the student about the highs and, often hilarious, lows of the RawHyde experience. Some riders leave that evening for the Monday-morning grind, while others opt to stay another night in the bunkhouse and celebrate. Still others extend their class with the optional Base Camp Alpha tour package, an overnight trek into the Mojave Desert. Here is where the training turns into true adventure, and students put all their newly acquired skills together in a real-world environment (stay tuned for MotoUSA’s follow-up review).
The RawHyde Adventure training delivers an authentic riding experience. The expert instruction improves rider skills, both off-road and on the street. The shared camaraderie leaves a lasting impression as the RawHyde curriculum empowers students to do some true adventuring. Go beyond Starbucks!