MotoMark 1: Gaining Confidence

Apr 20, 2013 View Comments by

MotoMark 1: Gaining ConfidenceMotorcycling, like most anything worth doing, requires multiple investments. There are the obvious financial expenditures— the bike itself, insurance, gas, gear, tires, maintenance—as well as the actual riding. All in all, we pour a lot of time, money, and energy into the sport we love, and we’re more than happy to do it. But there’s one investment that all too easily gets overlooked: ourselves. Most of us realize the potential dangers inherent to motorcycling and take as many steps as we can to mitigate that, usually in the form of protective gear. Though the right gear is essential, proper training is just as important. While a good helmet may save your life once, a solid riding foundation can do it throughout your two-wheeled career.

To that end, I recently attended the MotoMark 1 Basic Overland Confidence Course. This new, two-day class is designed to teach adventure riders how to take their big machines off-road safely, though the knowledgeable instructors don’t let you off the hook just because you’re on pavement. Having only limited experience with this skill (do gravel driveways count?), I was eager to explore this avenue of biking, and, as the saying goes, I didn’t know what I didn’t know.

A First Taste

On Sunday afternoon, I picked up my rental bike, a Suzuki DR200 from GSMmotorent in Townsend, TN. As I was gearing up for my ride, MotoRent’s proprietor Dan Dickey suggested that I take a “shortcut” through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This trek would include ten miles of trails before spitting me out on U.S. 129, the famous “Tail of the Dragon.” Since I knew I would be spending the next couple days off the beaten path anyway, I decided to go ahead and get my feet wet. Dan supplied incredibly precise, turn by-turn directions, and I was off. I arrived at the Iron Horse Motorcycle Lodge in Stecoah, NC, just as the tree line outstretched the sun and twilight descended on the valley. Though MotoMark’s headquarters are in Apex, NC, the Basic Overland Confidence Course is hosted by the Iron Horse in the heart of the Smoky Mountains. Dan’s shortcut had given me my first real taste of dirt riding, but the next day I was to learn that I had done it all wrong.

Back in School

The class began at 8:30 the following morning. The lead instructor and MotoMark owner, Mark Brown, a recently retired North Carolina State Highway Patrolman and head motorcycling instructor for officers, started with a rundown of some basic, sound riding techniques along with his lane-position philosophy, which aims to maximize down-road vision. He then covered off-road specific topics like stance and counter-balancing, but it wasn’t long before we were out of the classroom and on to practicing drills in the parking lot. Our group consisted of six students (the maximum) and four instructors. Each instructor came from either a law enforcement or military background with years of motorcycle training and experience. Several of the coaches were also certified in wilderness survival and first-response medicine. Thankfully, they didn’t need any of those skills for this course.

Making the Switch

As our tires found the open tarmac later that day, Mark’s voice, piped in via radio, filled our helmets. “Coming up on blind left-hander; move to lane position three. There’s an intersection to the right. Watch out for this truck up ahead; give him some space. There’s a dog to the right; move to position two….” So it went as we honed our skills on the curves of western North Carolina. It wasn’t long before we came to a place where the road continued into the forest and the trees formed leafy green tunnel walls. Mark encouraged us to stand up and “make the switch” as we passed under those first limbs and felt the crunch of gravel under our tires. We ate lunch by a river, went over what to do in case of a crash, and learned how to help an injured rider or handle an emergency situation. As the day’s ride continued and the route got a little more difficult, Mark had each trainee take a turn leading the group while he coached from behind. At the same time, he was also filming. During the day, Mark compiled about ten minutes of footage for each of us. Back at the Iron Horse that evening, we went over the footage with all the instructors offering critical feedback.

Rivers and Roads

Our first real challenge came the next day when we faced a rocky-bottomed water crossing about 30 feet wide and two feet deep. After watching a trainer demonstrate, we each took a turn. I made it without dropping the bike but not without putting my feet down once. One of the other students, however, went a bit too slowly and ended up dunking his BMW R 1200 GS in the river. He couldn’t hit the kill switch fast enough and the big beemer sucked in some water. This was where it really paid off having a chase vehicle. Instead of sitting around for the next few hours waiting for a wrecker to find us in the middle of nowhere, we wheeled the soggy GS onto a trailer behind our Jeep support truck and continued on our way. Throughout the day, things got steadily more challenging, reaching their zenith as our little group crested Tellico Gap. I was having a blast when the first tight, steep switchback caught me off guard. I went in a little too fast, forgot to look through the turn, and ended up off the side of the trail, thankfully without a scratch. Once again, planning and preparation proved their worth as a winch on the front of the Jeep brought my bike back up to the road. We were back in the saddle within ten minutes.

Two Days Well Spent

Benjamin Franklin once said, “Experience keeps a dear school, but fools will learn in no other.” MotoMark 1’s Basic Overland Confidence Course (or a similar safety program), offers the opportunity to learn through practice while surrounded by a highly trained and well-prepared support team who can both coach and keep you safe. This combination of low-risk and high-reward makes for one very sound investment.

MotoMark 1 will be joining us at the 8th Annual RoadRUNNER Touring Weekend in Maggie Valley, NC this July. They will be offering a condensed, one day version of the Basic Overland Confidence Course. Be sure to sign up when you register for the Touring Weekend.



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About the author

There’s something relentlessly romantic about riding a motorcycle. I’m blessed to know that feeling. With a background in photography and a love for motorcycles, I’m interested in the beauty and honesty of the open road. You’ll find me riding Carolina’s roads on my Suzuki SV650.