At BMW Enduro Park, riders like Brad Pitt pick up skills off the road that can come in handy anywhere
Pictures by Peter Musch
HECHLINGEN AM SEE, GERMANY — “Smile,” says Gerdy Seitz, a curly-haired instructor at BMW Enduro Park Hechlingen. “When your facial muscles are locked, your arms and the rest of your body will for sure be locked up, also.” And having a body that is literally scared stiff, apparently, is a good way to crash a motorcycle when you’re guiding it over slippery, unpredictable terrain.
There might be something to that idea. Seitz is constantly cracking jokes to ease the tension of a hard days’ off-road training, with his pearly whites seemingly on permanent display. He hasn’t come close to crashing.
Then again, I should probably chalk that up to pure riding skill. All the instructors at Hechlingen Park exhibit a depressingly high level of virtuosity on two wheels when CarBuyer shows up there.
Maybe that’s why it’s the off-road riding school that movie stars seem to love. Brad Pitt and Orlando Bloom are among its alumni, and when I’m there, Arianto “Ari” Wibowo, an Indonesian film star, is a classmate. Who said being covered in muck from off-road biking is unglam?
Constructed in a disused stone quarry about 150km from Munich, Enduro Park is where riders learn how to keep going when a paved road ends.
Spread around its 26-hectare facility (that’s about 42 football fields), the school has gravel slopes so high and steep that you can’t walk up them, numerous water passages, deep pits of mud and sand, and just about anything the adventure rider would encounter in the wild.
The courses there are BMW’s way of helping customers get the most out of the GS family of adventure bikes.
“A BMW is the about riding, the experience. It’s sheer riding pleasure,” says Miguel Llabrés-Pohl, the head of the brand’s motorcycle business in East Asia. “Some of that comes through training.”
The concept has been so popular that BMW Enduro Parks have popped up all around the world — Chile, South Africa, Russia, Wales, and even on the outskirts of Bangkok. There are plans for one in Johor, CarBuyer understands.
But the original, and the one that Enduro Park trainers around the world go to in order to receive their certification from BMW, is the one at Hechlingen. “This is the mother of all Enduro Parks,” says Walter Bachhuber, an instructor here since it opened in 1994.
Hechlingen attracts students from around the world, says Bachhuber. The school trained 3,216 riders last year. Lessons are usually in German, but many of the staff speak excellent English. Bachhuber says sometimes he will conduct a class in English for foreigners even if there are Germans in the session, because it actually saves him from having to say everything twice.
Students either ride their own bikes there or rent a BMW. The fee for a basic two-day course? 590 Euros (S$900) if you use one of the school’s BMWs.
A cheaper one-day introductory course is available, but the two-day session covers far more Enduro essentials, including how to recover your bike if you’ve crashed on the way up a steep slope (assuming it hasn’t somersaulted back down to the bottom).
But even if you feel little inclination to ride on dirt, the two-day course is a worthwhile investment, says Ari Wibowo, the Indonesian actor. The techniques you pick up at the school apply anywhere you ride, and do wonders for your self assurance on a bike, he says.
“It’s the confidence that you have handling a motorcycle, whether it’s on the dirt or on the road that will help you get away from danger,” says Wibowo. “These two days could be a life-saver.”
The actor, who has been riding motorcycles for 31 years, had never ridden off-road before, but never felt intimidated by the demands of the course. “The instructors are very observant,” he notes. “There are so many different tracks, they see what level we are in and take us according to that.”
Most sessions are split into four groups according to the students’ abilities. During the day they are free to change groups if they feel they’ve ended up in the wrong company.
And each lesson is finely tailored to a class’ skills. “It’s up to my personal evaluation which (obstacles) are included and which are maybe too difficult,” says Bachhuber. “We go step-by-step.”
That’s probably why this rep from CarBuyer didn’t actually spent too much time picking up a crashed motorcycle.
The exercises started out fairly easy (for example, learning how to stand properly on a bike, and why it’s important to do so), and became progressively more challenging (crossing a sand pit nicknamed “The Sahara” brought down many riders), but they never got to the point where they threatened to leave skidmarks in my underpants.
By the second day I could feel myself starting to indulge in little tailslides instead of dreading them, and most important of all, my confidence in handling a big, heavy BMW R 1200 GS in the dirt had soared.
I’m a better rider in the dirt now, and feel that my biking horizons have broadened. Towards the very end, my instructor would have been happy, too. On top of the bike, I’d begun to smile.
Enduro Park Thailand: Off-Road in the city
Keen on giving dirt riding a try? You don’t have to fly all the way to Germany to pick up dirt-biking skills from BMW instructors. Enduro Park Thailand opened its doors in 2014 and now caters to riders from Hong Kong, Taiwan, Malaysia, the Philippines and Singapore.
The 3.3-acre school has 15 different off-road stations and three levels of riding instruction, all for reasonable prices: the course fees start at 8,000THB (S$315), including motorcycle rental.
You’ll learn from properly skilled instructors, too. The school’s head coach, Patima Kongpetch, is a marshall for the gruelling international BMW GS Trophy.
A word of warning: we know of at least one Singaporean who had an expensive experience there. He found the training at Enduro Park Thailand so enjoyable, he came home and bought a BMW R 1200 GS Adventure immediately.
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