BMW Motorcycle Training Classes

Text: Christa Neuhauser • Photography: Victor Newman

Last fall, I was invited to join the BMW Motorcycles new on- and off-road training program for motorcyclists at the BMW Performance Center near Spartanburg, South Carolina. The facility, located behind the BMW manufacturing plant and used successfully by car drivers for many years, was recently expanded for motorcycle training.

The off-road area is modeled on the Hechlingen Enduro Park in Germany with all its hills, gravel roads, ascents and descents, water holes, and washboards; and the on-road training program, developed over the course of many years, is based on the famous Nürburgring track in Germany. Altogether, these two components constitute a very challenging yet effective program.

Improving riding skills is the whole point, and the offered courses help riders attain a focused feel for the motorcycle, learn to cope with unexpected situations, to stay relaxed, and to keep the motorcycle under control. Participants can bring their own bikes or rent from BMW. The instructors highly recommend the latter so that riders can focus entirely on the lessons without having to worry any about possible damage from falling.

Riders are encouraged to push the limits within their comfort zone under the guidance of a skilled professional in a secure environment, and I found the experience to be interesting and fun as I gained a better understanding of how the right techniques promote control of the motorcycle while increasing ease and reducing risk all in one. Overall, the program represents a great opportunity for anyone to improve their riding skills or to just brush up on what they already know.

These courses are offered as one-day classes with a variety of exercises. First of all, the sitting positions are completely different for each type of riding. You sit upright with the balls of your feet on the pegs during the on-road sessions; whereas, during off-road classes you're in a standing position with the feet centered on pegs. Each position allows for the required control, depending on the terrain, and correctly positioning body weight significantly influences the extent of the bike's maneuverability.

The eyes have it, though, as a crucial factor in skills enhancement. Not only do you need to look where you want to go so the hands will follow, but the faster you go, the further ahead you have to look. That sounds like a simple lesson, and one that we learn early on in MSF training, but it's not always easy to follow. You have to overcome the dangerous habit of looking at an obstacle rather than where you want to go. The instructors kept reminding us to look at the center, as we formed very tight circles, which, even though counterintuitive, enabled us to stay upright..

Another useful exercise is high-speed braking on loose gravel. The rider experiences different braking methods and braking with and without ABS, which is highly recommended for off-road. Also, alternating between using just the rear brake or just the front brake really lets the rider get a feel for the bike, especially how the bike moves around underneath them while still being able to securely control it. Having done a complete "panic stop," you now know the reaction you can expect from your motorcycle and have a frame of reference for how to control it. On-road traffic situation exercises cover running into stopped traffic and making split-second decisions about where to go to avoid a collision. This includes coming up on two lanes of stopped vehicles (cones for the exercises), analyzing your best option, and following through accordingly.

The program is designed to prepare the motorcyclist for the most likely traffic situations and whatever unexpected situations arise. While you're touring, the road might suddenly turn into gravel, a deer might jump in front of you, or the terrain changes without warning. Even everyday commuting has its surprises, and the BMW Performance Riding School expands a rider's complement of skills to use when adjusting and adapting to changing circumstances. Even though I've ridden many roads in many different conditions, I came out of this intensive program with a new perspective that I'm sure will further my enjoyment of the sport.

To find out more about the BMW Performance Center Motorcycle Rider Training Course, call (888) 345-4269 or go to www.bmwmotorcycles.com.