Last Tuesday night I was flicking through some websites I check out from time to time and saw that Maschine had a 4 day Adventure Riding Academy course (Friday to Monday) scheduled this weekend. I was very excited to see there was a spot still available. Unfortunately, Friday was out for me but I was keen to go the other three days so I took a chance and fired off an email. I’ve already done two Adv courses before and hoped I already had some of the day 1 basics covered. Despite that I’m sure I’ve still got lots to learn.
Trudi from Maschine got back to me promptly and it was sorted with no fuss. So as the sun rose on Saturday morning I fired up the Africa Twin and I was on my way to Riverwood Downs near Stroud NSW. The transport leg was a quick blap up the Pacific Hwy, some time on the bumpy Bucketts Way and a stop for a tank top-up at Booral. Soon enough I was soon on dirt on Monkerai Road where I was presented with this awesome early morning view and reminded why I was doing the course. There’s so much more you can see when you get off the tar!
I arrived at Riverwood Downs a bit early and parked next to the 4 bikes parked outside the motel section. There were two KTM 1190 Adventure R’s, one obviously Nick Selleck’s from Maschine, a R1200GS and a GS650 Sertao. So straight up it looked positive from and individual tuition perspective, a 1:4 ratio.
At 8am I checked in to the resort and a short time later the group arrived back from an early morning walk. I met Nick and the other course participants and unloaded the bike prior to heading down to breakfast with them. About 9am we were on a grass paddock with cones arranged here and there and Nick started us off on a drill. After a while he took me aside to catch me up on what they covered yesterday. Body position, bike setup, peg weighting, steering inputs and low speed manoeuvres. With that discussion in mind it was back to the drills while I got into the swing of it and the others reinforced the day 1 content.
The next drill was riding down a steep(ish) grass bank coming to a stop at first with the rear brake only then the front brake only and once stopped, ride off. No lockups allowed. I enjoyed that, stalled a couple of times (like a newbie) but fired the bike up and continued down the hill without touching down. The days of slow riding races on the old Harley at HOG Rallies paid dividends for this one.
Then Nick held a detailed discussion about Traction Control, Modes and ABS that was specific to each of the bikes there and provided information about what modes were suitable for particular scenarios. Then with everything off as far as the electronics would allow on each bike it was time to do some rear wheel skidding. Loch the rear wheel while maintaining control of the direction of the bike while up on the pegs, counter steer if required. It was all good there too, it’s always fun doing this – like a kid on a pushy!
The first surprise for the course came up next in the form of rear wheel skids leading into a turn, the first steps to “backing it in”. Being newish to dirt and coming from lots of road riding it’s the first time I’ve intentionally done this. There were a few close calls, many of them were’t pretty but I remained upright and got the hang of the theory even if the execution had lots of room for improvement. You always hope someone’s watching when you get it right don’t you?! Nick was on hand to provided plenty of individual feedback and also to help get a bike back on its wheels should it be necessary.
Next up was lunch at the kiosk at Riverwood Downs. It was a nice place to sit, eat and debrief the drills. The burger was pretty good too!
After lunch we took the gravel on Monkerai Road riding towards Dungog. It was an easy enough stretch and I set about concentrating hard on the lessons and trying to put the body position and peg weighting into practice. The technique was taught a little differently to other courses I’ve been on and I had a few lightbulb moments along the way. It was still feeling a bit odd and some focus was required but I could tell that putting the theory into practice had already made a difference to how I felt, particularly going around corners.
The others fuelled up in Dungog and we took the opportunity to call home taking advantage of the phone reception which was generally absent in the areas we were riding and hard to find at Riverwood Downs.
Back to the bikes Nick led us towards some more technical trails he’d ridden before in the KTM Rallye that Maschine is heavily involved in. Sadly some previous riders in the area had upset a farmer by leaving gates open allowing livestock to escape. The farmer expressed his frustration about them to us and we took another route to the area. What’s an adventure without a bit of drama? This part of the ride was more technical, steeper, rockier with ruts here and there with the occasional small rocky drops. I actually felt more confident in this terrain than on more open gravel and lapped it up. I’ve ridden some of this area on my Super Tenere in a RideADV event and appreciated the differences the lighter, more nimble Africa Twin brought to this type of terrain. We topped for a quick rest and Nick explained what was coming up – a higher difficulty level.
From the rest location we went up, then down into some tighter, steeper, more technical twin-ish track and stopped at the precipice of a very, very nasty washed out, deeply rutted and rocky downhill. I took one look at the terrain in front of us and one then at the other riders. I could see we were all thinking the same thing. Nick said “This is a lot worse than last time I was here” and spent some time talking about lines and appropriate paths to tackle this and similar obstacles. We agreed on the best route to take down and then back up and despite some encouragement from Nick none of us were actually keen to take that one on. He chose not to demonstrate although I suspect he wouldn’t have had any issues. It never looks as hard in the photos or videos does it! By the way, the right side gets way worse just out of shot and I’m only half way down – nasty!
So we had a lesson on turning bikes on a trail and back up the hill we went. We rode some more trails that eventually took us back to the open gravel roads to Upper Monkerai and back to Riverwood Downs. After cleaning up we went to the conference room for a detailed session on GPS setup and an introduction to routing with Basecamp. We then enjoyed an a-la-carte meal in the restaurant and had a discussion on all things bikes and riding which continued over some refreshments.
Day 3 (2 for me) kicked off with an optional brisk 5k walk to enjoy the scenery in a more sedate fashion and get the blood warm. What great weather!
Breakfast was back in the restaurant at 8.30am followed by a session on riding gear, boots, armour, other safety gear, SPOT’s, InReaches, Sat Phones etc. Then it was back to get the bikes for a session dedicated to trail-side repairs. This session included lots of information about what tools and repair oriented things to take on an Adventure and how to pack it on the bike. We were asked to expose our tool kits which were assessed to determine if we had stuff we didn’t need or the obvious alternative. Also covered was the removal of wheels, tyres, tubes and relevant repairs. Two of the group went through that process on their own bikes. Great hands on experience but I was pleased I wasn’t required to try to dig the Motoz Tractionator Adventure off the rear of the Africa Twin. Maybe because it was because my tyre levers might still be in their packaging!
Nick also took some time during that session to catch me up on bike setup and ergs which led to making an adjustment to the rear brake lever (still bent from my last off) that made a big difference.
Then it was time to gear up and we rode into Gloucester for lunch at Roadies Cafe. The food’s always good there (except for the pineapple on the burger, I don’t get that at all).
After lunch more trails with a focus on river and creek crossings were the order of the day. But first, some roadworks.
We took a right turn not far out of Gloucester and the first river crossing we encountered was to be the widest and most challenging crossing we were to attempt. Nick got his boots wet walking through the creek while providing a plethora of information about what to look out for and how to test the waters. He discussed the theory of approach, posture, vision and throttle control and what to do if things went wrong. Before it was time for us to take on the river it was Nick’s chance to demonstrate how to do it and put us at ease about how achievable that wide river was going to be for the rest of us. Leading by example as it were. At the end of Nick’s demonstration the intended effect had moved in the opposite direction. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t one of Nick’s best (sorry Nick), at least we know it’s OK to dab and paddle and are subject to Murphy’s Law.
Having said that, once we were all across he would have been pretty happy that none of us bested his attempt. Fortunately, despite the moments, no bikes were drowned. I have to admit to feeling very good about my effort until the last 3 metres where a big rock stopped me, the bum hit the seat, a stall, a quick restart and paddling was required but I made it out assistance free and without emotional distress. I took the opportunity to take some video of two of the others crossing after me that I’ve since sent to them but won’t put up here. What happens on the course stays…. well you know. Here’s a screen grab of one of the nicer bits.
After that there were fords a plenty and another shorter rocky creek crossing to keep us on our toes. We wound our way around some scenic narrow tar and gravel roads making our way back to Riverwood Downs. I continued to focus on my technique and could feel the improvement in my riding and confidence building as time progressed. On the way back we practiced a technique to turn the bike around on a steep incline after a stall which I think will be handy for me. Then it was back to the grass paddock and cones for half an hour or so practicing our “backing it in” drill and getting more feedback from Nick about our riding technique.
After cleaning up and before dinner we had another session on Basecamp, created a route and track for the first part of the following morning’s ride and loaded it onto our GPS’s. We also spent some time creating a mythical “Harden Up” ride to further explore the deeper features of Basecamp to create a themed ride. I also shared one of my own recent Iron Butt routes with Nick that he might modify into a very interesting ride in the future we’ll hopefully read about one day. Nick also discussed how to pack light if you were a camper and showed us some of his favourite gear to take on an Adventure.
Dinner was in the restaurant again. Another great feed. Riverwood Downs was a very pleasant surprise to be quite frank. I’m definitely going back with the family.
Back on the first day I was there I heard something that caused me a fight or flight reaction. Day 4 (3 for me) was beach and sand day. I wasn’t expecting that. Perhaps my hurried enrolment to the course meant I didn’t read the fine print/course details fully and missed it. I wasn’t feeling worthy.
But first we left Riverwood Downs at 7.30am and rode the dirt back to Dungog following the track we’d created the previous evening on my Garmin Montana 680T (with only one minor hiccup that was soon resolved). While this road isn’t particularly technical it was very clear to me that my skill level and confidence, with cornering in particular, had grown and that what I’d learned had started to kick in nicely. I’d ridden it only two days ago and the difference was amazing. I had reaffirmed a real appreciation for the value of these courses.
We had breakfast at Dungog, but not at Chillbillies, which wasn’t open.
Then we rode scenic tar through to Williamtown via Limeburners Creek Road and some roadworks.
Now I know some of you are noticing the KTM on a trailer and are wrongly thinking it broke down. Shame on you! We grouped back up near the Williamtown Macas where one of the group (on the GSA) decided riding on a beach probably wasn’t for him and decided to head home.
So four of us, including Nick, left there and rode towards Anna Bay. En route Nick took us to a sandy twin track section that ran parallel to the main road where we stopped and chatted about techniques for riding in sand and staying upright in sandy ruts. Looking ahead at the track with it’s deep grey sand and ruts I wasn’t feeling confident at all. A short way into the track the prophecy was self fulfilling. My first off for the day and the course. No damage, no injury and not the first time I’ve hoisted the Africa Twin back on it’s wheels since I’ve owned it. It didn’t help my confidence though and I remember asking myself that if this was supposed to be the easy bit what was I in for?
It did however lead to more feedback and discussion on sand riding technique. Further up the track there was an optional difficult sandy climb that the rider in front of me on the GS650 almost made. Nick and I provided some assistance to get him back down using the turning technique we’d learned the day before. I decided at that point to take the discretionary loose rocky/gravel option up the same steep rise which frankly kept me busy enough anyway. Back on the tar we went to Anna Bay and picked up some beach permits. I’ve never ridden onto a beach or on a beach before and Nick’s description of what we were to encounter on the way out to the hard sand left me trembling. Even though it probably wasn’t meant to.
Oh my giddy aunt! As a complete newbie to sand like this I have to admit to possibly the longest pucker moment in my life. Anyone watching would have been pissing themselves laughing and everyone nearby would have been running for cover. I really don’t have much of an idea how I kept the Africa Twin upright and heading loosely in the general direction of the ocean. I reckon I added about a third to the distance going all over the place. The word “rodeo” comes to mind with the Africa Twin the angry bull that’s never been ridden. Having said that I actually made it to within easy reach of the harder sand before I finally fell off as the bike, who at the time sensed I had little control, decided to try to take me up a small dune.
Eventually I made it to the hard sand and celebrated the lactic acid buildup from the effort with a photo.
Riding around the beach was just plain awesome! We had discussions about techniques for turning, starting off in sand and practiced the technique differences between gravel and sand. Our goal was to progress towards the softer sand as we built confidence and try to do “stuff” without falling off.
While we were out there I managed to spend quite some time in the soft sand cognisant of the fact that soon I would need to ride off the beach and hoping I didn’t repeat the song and dance in the opposite direction. Nick took some time to demonstrate how to extricate a deeply bogged bike out of sand. Tricky, who’d have thought it’d be that easy!
The ride off the beach compared to getting onto it was chalk and cheese. Up on the pegs the whole time and while I was directionally challenged from time to time I managed to hold it together. I stopped to wait for the others at the end of the sand allowing the adrenaline to subside and feeling very proud of myself. Baby steps. Of course that wasn’t to last. But before the next challenge lunch was provided at Crest Cafe at Birubi Beach. The food was sensational and we had plenty of laughs discussing our beach experiences. This pic sums it up.
With more sand to ride after lunch another of the participants, who had taken a couple of unplanned rests on the beach, decided to call it a day. So Nick and the remaining two of us headed north to the Big Rocky Trail which will be the stuff of nightmares for me for a while. The first bit was gravel and we stopped to discuss and practice techniques for getting over obstacles like small logs, loading/unloading suspension, throttle control, little wheelies, approaches and the like. We practiced that until Nick was happy we had an appreciation for the skill and then it was time to ride the last 1.2km of the track. Deep, deep wheel swallowing sandy twin trail with sharpish corners lined by wicked trees. About 50 metres in I had my third off for the day. I really struggled in there.
Nick provided copious advice but my brain wasn’t converting it into a motor skill that was useful. I finally made it to the carpark at the end, took a breather and led the group on the way out. It was still chaotic and when coming up I saw the nastiest, deepest corner that had almost brought me undone once again on the way in. The inevitable happened. On the positive side I discovered that it’s much easier to get your leg out from under the bike in sand, it can be done without having someone lift the bike off you!
I’d picked the Africa Twin up by the time Nick arrived. We had a chat, he’d looked at my wheel tracks and marvelled at how sharp my last corner must have been. Then he provided some more advice. I took a deep breath and settled down, I didn’t want this to beat me. I reckon I had been trying too hard. I took a bit of throttle off, rode more steadily and rode out the last 400m without further incident. I was actually keen to go back in and see if it was a fluke but time was running short. I’m going to head back there soon to practice until I get it right!
On the way back to Nick’s vehicle we took a short detour into the State Forest near Medowie and rode some mud, slime and rocks before deciding to call it quits. We grabbed our luggage from Nick’s van and said our goodbyes but not before a photo opportunity with Nick himself.
This is the third Adventure Riding course I’ve done and the longest. The four day “live-in” format provided the opportunity to discuss anything and everything adventure riding and Nick’s knowledge is immense. The longer format also enabled us to learn and explore higher level and more technical skills than the other courses I’ve done, particularly the lengthy sojourn into sand riding. One of the things that struck me was Nick’s acute sense of the differences between developing skills on big bikes as opposed to Enduro or light- weight Adventure Bikes. “On a smaller bike you could do it like this, but it doesn’t work so well on one of these because…..”
Machine’s Adventure Riding Academy 4 day course is not cheap, starting at $2495 twin share, but for me it represented excellent value. The price included motel accommodation, 4-starish, very comfortable, queen bed, aircon, coffee. Breakfasts, lunches and dinners were all of an excellent standard and from local restaurants or cafe’s. We ordered whatever we preferred straight from the menus, nothing was done on the cheap. We were very well looked after. My only out of pocket expenses for the course were a couple of G&T’s each night and fuel. A very civilised way to recover from a hard day on the pegs.
In terms of the education, the group was small and all the benefits of that were fully realised. Nick asked us many times what we wanted to learn and tailored each of our experiences to our current riding level and where we hoped to be by the end of the course. So the course was flexible and was based on our needs, not just “cookie cuttered”. The individual feedback abounded and we were encouraged to step outside our comfort zone but not forced to tackle anything we were absolutely not ready for.
Personally, I think one of the best things about these courses is that with support, encouragement and advice on hand you will generally have a crack at stuff you might never try alone. Doing this leads to bigger riding possibilities moving forward. To me that’s what it’s about, geting ready to tackle the next big thing with confidence. This course has me looking at places to take the Africa Twin that up until yesterday were on my too hard list.
A beach for heaven’s sake! It’s just a desert with some wet cool stuff on one side isn’t it? Where’s the map?
P.S. I wish I’d done this course before I tackled the 1650k in one day on gravel a few weeks ago!