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How good of an adventure rider do you think you are?


Skillful? Need work? Join Heather Ellis as she takes an off-road skills course with Simon Pavy.

So What’s Off Road skills Got To Do With It?

I’ve never had any rider training; neither on or off road. I started riding motorcycles aged eight years on a sheep station in outback South Australia. Back then it was a Honda Z50.

Later, working in Kakadu, it was a Honda XL185 and soon after a Yamaha XT250. This was later superseded by my beloved Yamaha TT600, which
I rode through Africa, couriered on in London and rode home via Central Asia: a world motorcycle adventure from 1993 to 1997. Since then, I’ve been a road rider with my present ride a Triumph Thruxton. There’s been no off-road riding since 1997 when I ended my travels in Vietnam. Life moved in a different direction and my TT600 sat in my shed waiting… patiently. So when, by chance, I came across Simon Pavey’s Off Road Skills course and saw their 2023 course was in Mansfield, just up the road from me, it was perfect timing. And even more so as my TT600 is booked in for its rebuild with Just Dirt Bikes in Derrimut, Victoria, who are flat out rebuilding old model big thumpers like mine.

Simon Pavey is one of the world’s most experienced off road motorcycle riders and a renowned Dakar Rally racer. In recent years he’s been teaching off- road riding skills through Off Road Skills (based in the UK), which partnered with world motorcycle tour operator Compass Expeditions (based in Melbourne) to
run the course down under each year.

For 2023, it was a sheep farm and state forest trails near Mansfield with the option for riders to join a five-day ride-out with Simon and his team of instructors deep into the wilderness of the Victorian and NSW high country.
To refresh my maintenance skills (it’s been 27 years since I used a set of tyre leavers!), I also booked the optional Adventure Riding Maintenance workshop run the day before the Off-Road Skills course. Before my travels, I pretty much had no mechanical knowledge but armed with my tools and the bike’s workshop manual, I did a few road-side repairs plus regular servicing. Simon Pavey’s maintenance workshop was very much hands on and, for a novice, would give you the confidence to change brake pads, fix a tubeless puncture and you’d learn how to use tyre leavers. Simon and his team also covered what tools (only those unique to your bike), and what equipment to carry, including the must have metal weld for fixing a cracked crankcase and leavers. This came in handy on the Aprilia Tuareg as leaver protectors are not standard issue. Yes, you could watch a few You Tube videos or study your bike’s workshop manual but there’s a lot to be said for doing a confidence-building, hands-on maintenance workshop.

For the Off-Road Skills course, I had the use of Aprilia’s Tuareg 660. I’ve already gone into detail about how FOPFD I was with this bike in my review. And while I began the first day rather nervous about how ‘off-road’ things would get, I breathed a sigh when all the course newbies, like me, were in Level 1 with Sarah Taylor and Sam Davidson as our instructors. The newbies included 10 of us with the other 11 riders having done Simon Pavey’s course before. They were placed in either Level 2. For some, the course was their third or fourth and for one guy, it was his seventh.

As well as the Aprilia Tuareg 660, the line-up of adventure bikes were mostly a mix of BMW GSs 850s and 1200s plus two KLR650s, a KTM 890, a KTM 690 and a Norden 901.

The first day started with mastering the lifting technique followed by clutch and braking control. With most adventure bikes being over 200kg, this was a two-person lift. However, my lifting partner advised I’d taken most of the weight of the BMW GS 1200 so technique does work! And it was a technique I got to practise with the Tuareg on a few occasions over the weekend on my first attempt at tight turns and stopping on steep hill descents. For shorter riders, seat height to weight ratio on any motor- cycle, I believe, is critical to avoid a topple. However, Simon Pavey repeatedly told me that perfecting my off-road riding skills would make the height and the weight of the Tuareg irrelevant. Maybe I need to another course or two, before I’m convinced.

With no off-road training, I’d never ridden standing up and this concept was totally foreign. Through mud, sand and over rocks on my world adventure travels, it was always sitting down. But with some one-on-one instruction from Sam Davidson, by the end of the weekend, I was blasting along the trails in the forested hills near Mansfield.

In learning the art of tight turns, my first attempt on the Tuareg did not end well. But I climbed back on and with a few more goes, I had my ‘aha’ moment. It was a skill that we practiced numerous times on the trails and with my new found confidence, I felt I’d nailed it.

The next step would be just to get out there and practise. Off Road Skills also offer an online course ‘Off Road Skills LearningWorld’.Thebasiccourseisfree. If online learning works for you, there is a premium section with a subscription fee where you get feedback from the instructors. You also join a community of riders and can attend weekly Zoom meetings and webinars as well as access to new practice drills.

Unlike many other off roads skills courses out there, the Simon Pavey course is run in conjunction with an optional five-day ride out where you get to practise all those skills acquired over the weekend in some of Australia’s stunning wilderness regions only accessible off road. For 2023, the ride out was deep into the Victorian and NSW high country with the 21 riders spilt into three groups. For December 2024, the course and ride out will be in Tasmania. Riders have the option of doing just the ride out or combining it with the off-road skills course.


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