Learning to Ride Off-Road With the Pros: Skills, Drills & Basics
The month of June is crucial for me as the TVS Media Racer Championship kicks off during the same time. Every second of track time I get plays a critical role in how I perform on race day.
Finishing 15th in the qualifying round hasn't done my morale any good so time on the track for me is like gold dust.
The 15 racers who qualified were invited to an off-road training program in Bengaluru as a part of the same programme.
An optimistic me thought the track time would do some good and this experience would help to cope with the competition on the race track. Turns out I was wrong. This off-road programme was a very different ball game altogether.
Too busy to read, listen to the story here:
Coached by The Pros
When you are being trained by two of India's best off-road motorcycle riders, you'd better keep your ears open. KP Aravind who completed the Dakar Rally in 2019 and Abdul Waheed Tanvir who won the Enduro round of the Merzouga Rally this year were the stalwarts of this training program.
The briefing was terse and focused on what training exercises we'd be going through.
We were riding a modified version of the TVS Apache RTR 200 with the lifted front and rear suspension and a free flowing exhaust. The bike was stripped to a bare minimum making it lightweight and nimble. Ideal for off-road riding.
Man Your Positions
Before we got on the bikes we were advised to do a bit of stretching. Just to avoid any damage to the anterior and posteriors. The session opened with a crash course in body positioning and gripping the bike.
Aravind very sternly advised us to forget how we did it on tarmac as off-road came with a set of unique requirements.
The first lesson on the menu was how a rider is supposed to position themselves on the seat. While sitting, the rider is supposed to be as close to the tank with his/her chin parallel to the handlebar.
The instructors also explained to us the perfect position to don while standing. The rider is supposed to keep his/her chin parallel to the handlebar while shifting his/her knee back and forth parallel to the tank.
Never should you lock your elbows and always avoid sitting away from the petrol tank, we were instructed.
With the outstretched elbows and a vacant expression on my face, I finally managed to complete the ‘off- rode aasan'. The yogi in me would have been mighty proud.
The Two Finger Rule
Most of the track riders and even daily commuters sometimes go hard on the clutch which is exactly what we were advised against. KP reiterated the "Two Finger Rule" where you're supposed to have just up to two fingers on the clutch and the front brake. Anything more than that is a BIG NO.
The reason behind this as explained to us is that he didn't want the riders going hard on either as it might result in loss of traction or excessive braking. Most beginners tend to make this mistake.
While making turns, the rider is supposed to have one leg outstretched pointing towards the front fork. When turning right, the right leg goes out and vice versa.
At first, I thought it's to help from stopping the bike to fall rather we were told it's primarily to maintain balance while turning. Also, helps to attack the apex better.
After we were done dancing on the bike, it was time to fire up the engines.
Easier Said Than Done
Riding on dirt in full body gear in excess of 40 degrees is painful enough, but to make things worse, KP Aravind gave us an even tougher time with his 'danda' treatment. The first drill was one of the most basic training drills bikers go through. It's called "making an 8".
Two cones at two ends and riders had to make an '8' by taking laps around the cones. The instructors were marshaling at the cones to make sure that we got our body positions in place, our wrists correctly gripping the brake and the clutch and the legs extended correctly. Anything out of position and... WHACK.
Nobody got it right the first time, but round two of the drill did reap rewards. I was more confident during turns and my body position was getting better with each lap.
Many did take the tumble, but that's part of the whole exercise. You don't fall, you don't learn.
The riders even did the "make a circle" drill just to get a hang of throttle control. To conclude the session, multiple cones were laid out on the practice track and the riders were asked to maneuver between the cones while standing. I did knock a few off I’ll confess.
This training was primarily to help us focus on our riding position while standing and riding in a straight line.
It was time to put all of it to the test. No checkered flag, no timers, no competition —the only thing we had to battle was a challenging race track filled with gravel and mud.
Testing turns and steep climbs were added to the recipe to make the experience more interesting. We took to the track in batches of 4 and were being marshaled by both the instructors during the track session.
I struggled initially, but as I spent more time on the track the more confident I became attacking sharp turns and running straight lines. Though it wasn't a timed race, I still wanted to go as fast as I could.
I managed to navigate the course in under 3 minutes. Some managed to complete the rigorous course with flying colours while some did bite the dust. Literally.
In the end, there were 11 satisfied riders who had more off-road riding skills to show off than what they had started with at the expense of a few bruises and a little body pain. Still, worth it.
More To It Than Meets the Eye
Off-road motorcycle riding is no cake walk and riders like KP Aravind and Abdul Tanveer are prime examples of how much dedication and commitment one needs to be a pro at this.
As per my experience, a day's training isn't really enough for one to become an expert at this, but it is more than enough to understand the basics of the sport.
There aren't many things I'd be taking from this off-road training program to the track in Coimbatore in June, but it sure has given me loads of confidence for the next time I am on dirt and gravel.