I took my first big fall while riding offroad, but I’m cool with it
TL;DR: I bought a trail bike because of a commercial I saw for a completely different bike, I took offroad classes, I felt and I dropped the 240 kgs bike on my foot. But I’m okay and happy with the experience.
Keep reading for the long version!
Step 1 —falling victim to #marketing
— Hi everyone, my name is Tudor, I am 37 years old and I have never been camping.
For me, going to the forest means drive there, park, go around a bit, no further than 100–150 meters from the car, take some pictures and check in on Instagram. Hashtag naturelover. Then proceed to the nearest restaurant. Ideally with BBQ. Hashtag meatlover.
As I wrote before, some months ago I got my A2 license and I was looking for a motorcycle. When some friends recommended I buy a trail bike, I told them off. That’s not for me. I won’t go offroad. Why would I ever need that!? I’m getting a Harley Davidson. Like I’ve seen in the movies. Hashtag badboyforlife.
However, when I actually went to see the Harley, I was completely disappointed. Lately, I worked out some of my insecurities, thus I saw no need to buy an underpowered overpriced 120 decibels look-at-me look-at-me bike to cover them up. But I did look a lot at Harley bikes. And the big data algorithms took notice. Hashtag bigbrotheriswatching.
I am not very privacy-conscious when it comes to my online activity, so there’s a lot of information that big data companies have about me. Age, gender, political stance, spoken languages, areas of interest, likes, dislikes. Even Pornhub history since browser fingerprinting works through incognito mode. Pretty everything about what I do online. Which is pretty much everything I do.
And at some point, the algorithms, sitting in their cloud, in their infinite wisdom, decided that I should see the following commercial. Which started appearing everywhere.
And I was kind of hooked. Not on the bike per se, but the lifestyle. Because let’s face it, Harley Davidson hasn’t been selling bikes for decades. They’re selling a lifestyle. I just happen to click better with this representation of HD’s values of freedom and individuality than the previous one. You know, the one with leather vests and bar fights. I think the fact that I’m a software engineer who wears glasses takes away all that bad boy vibe.
I must admit that I admire the marketing team behind the campaign and how well they targeted their audience. I am old enough to be able to afford that bike, young enough to stay with the company for decades to come if I am hooked as a customer. I’m also keen on new experiences. I am a good fit, although I won’t buy the bike. For now at least, since I can’t even legally drive it, but I must give them their kudos.
And this is all it took. A couple of minutes of nifty crafted imagery on Youtube to plant the idea in my head. I now want to buy an offroad bike and use it to go camping in the woods.
Lesson number one: marketing works. And a side learning: if a campaign can target me that well, maybe I am not that special. Could it be that my mom was wrong all this time?
Step 2— decide to go all-in (-ish)
The last year was pretty crazy and it brought up a new perspective — for me at least: all the things we take for granted can be taken away in an instant. Without warning. So it’s more important to live in the present. To not try to relieve a long gone past or make plans for a future that may never come. Live the moment. A phrase that can be articulated as either Carpe Diem or YOLO, depending on one’s IQ.
Thus I will waste time by thinking about buying a trail bike, I will just go ahead and buy one. And take it offroad. But living in the moment doesn't mean I need to be reckless. I can still think it through and do things the right way. Given that riding offroad is completely different than on asphalt and difficult to master, I will buy a cheaper 2nd hand bike. No need to spend big bucks to then cry next to my bike when I scratch it.
After looking for about a month, I decided on a Benelli TRK 502. Reviews mark it as a good beginner bike. It’s big enough so I don’t look like I’m riding a pony. It’s accessible price-wise and cheap to maintain. Sold! Or should I say “bought”? I find one that I like. In Andalucia. They’ll ship it here for free. This is my bike!
Two weeks later they unload it in front of my house. I take it for a spin. It rides differently than the naked. But in a cool way! I can’t wait to take it offroad.
Lesson number two: just do it! There’s no point in waiting.
Step 3— teach me, master!
Since I have never done any offroad riding. Nor that much regular riding, to be honest, I decide to get some classes. After looking around, I find Dostrial — a Barcelona-based company that organizes motorcycle trips to Morocco and trail courses in Catalunya. After a quick chat with the instructor over Whatsapp, we agree to do the course. The scheduled date is 4 days after getting the bike and less than 6 months after getting my license. All in!
I meet Manel Cusido— the instructor — at a gas station and then I follow him to the training site, which is quite remote in the mountains and difficult to get to if you don’t know where you’re going. He uses this time to test my mettle and see how I handle the bike.
When we get to the training camp, he suggests that we split the one day course into two half days, I can do the theoretical part now and a bit of basic practice and come back in a month or so after I get more accustomed to the bike for the second part. He’s very diplomatic while making the case so that I don’t get offended by him pointing out my lack of experience. I’m don’t. I am actually happy I found an instructor that cares more about teaching me something rather than just cashing some quick money.
We start with basic instructions on how to stand on the bike, how to turn, how to bend my knees when passing an obstacle. How to, how to. My brain is starting to overload. Seconds before my head exploding, the instructor tells me to get on the bike and follow him slowly. I push the ignition button and go.
I stand up on the motorcycle. It’s uncomfortable. And weird. I need to hold the bike with my knees. I cannot learn in the corners so all curves need to be wide. I am stressed and my body is tensed. I’m clumsy. I think I look like the protagonist of a really bad Frankenstein movie.
But it’s fun. The experience is exhilarating. I’m definitely doing this in the future. As time passes, I get to relax a bit and look around. And actually, see my surroundings. The scenery is amazing. This is cool. But I am getting increasingly tired and my movements are becoming less and less sharp. Not that they were too sharp, to begin with. The instructor picks it up and we take a break. Then we go back to the camp.
It hasn’t been a long ride, but I am completely destroyed. I feel like I ran a marathon. Actually, I don’t know how it feels to run a marathon, but it’s the only comparison I can find. I chat with the instructor for few more minutes at base camp and I go home. It
Lesson three: find a good teacher. Especially important when trying something new.
Step 4— everybody falls the first time…
Fast forward six weeks. I rode the bike more than 1000 km already. I am ready for a second try. I talk with the Manel and we agree on a date and to rendez-vous directly at the camp since I now know the way.
Not wanting to be late, I get there 20 minutes early. I meet the instructor and we have coffee to up our energy levels before the course. I am already caffeinated from home, but for me, coffee is like candy: there’s always room for one more. Drink up and away we go.
We try a different route than last time. Now I am far more confident. The bike “listens” to me. I manage to keep the rhythm. Granted, the instructor is not going that fast. I see a bigger bump in the road. I bend my knees so that I can better absorb the shock. I do half a squat while riding over. This is fun! I start going faster. Minutes pass, the slope becomes more abrupt and I more tired. But I don’t want to stop. The show must go on.
It’s too much. I accept defeat. I push my chin in my chest and let go of the bike.
At some point, we’re going up. The hill seems too steep and there’s a corner at the top. I’ll go slow, it’s better. I ease on the gas a bit. Bad call, as I am just passing a ditch. Gravity is a bitch and now it’s pulling me backward. I feel the bike wiggling out of balance. I’ll just give it more power, that will do it. I squeeze the throttle, but now it’s too much. With its newly found torque, the rear wheel loses grip on gravel. I give it even more gas to exit the ditch. It works and now I’m out.
Now the bike starts moving too fast. I am reaching the peak and I need to turn left. There’s no more street. I look towards the corner and try to steer the bike in. But it’s too much. Too late. I accept defeat. I push my chin in my chest and let go of the bike. I land flat on my back. A split second later, the motorcycle lands on my left leg and then slides away. It’s done! It’s over!
I lean my head back and take a deep breath. And another one. And another one. I know from kickboxing that a spike in adrenaline can mask pain. I try to calm myself down and find out if something is wrong before standing up. My leg hurts a bit, but that’s it. I stand up and remove my helmet. I need some air.
In the meantime, the instructor secured his own bike and came over. He helps me lift the bike up and secure it on the side of the road. I’m quite okay. My equipment absorbed most of the impact. The boots took the hit really well. Without them, the bike would have most likely broken my leg. The bike is also okay, except for the mirror which is some meters away. I pick it up, sit down on a rock, and watch my reflection. This could have ended badly…
Lesson number four: buy quality gear! That’s money well spent.
Step 5— dust yourself up and try again!
After 5–10 minutes, the situation became clear: we’re on a mountain top and one way or another, we need to go back. And walking while pushing the bike is not really a solution.
The instructor gives me a pep talk. I can tell he’s done this before. He calms me down. Mentally, I was prepared for this. I get on the bike. Manel uses this opportunity to teach me a technique of how to get out of a situation like this: sit on the bike with both feet down, put it in gear and turn the engine off. Now by releasing the clutch, I can simulate a rear-break while keeping both legs on the ground. I start crawling the bike down the hill.
As minutes pass I get my confidence back. Now it’s easier. I’m going back. I already know this part. I push the ignition button and stand up on the bike. We’re back in business. The ride back is fun.
Once in the camp, I get another pep talk. The instructor explains to me how these things should be handled. He changes the subject and tells me about the history of the place. There was a massive fire some 20 something years ago. Looking in the distance, one can still tell what was burnt and what wasn't due to the different sizes and colors of the vegetation. He then recommends me some routes to take around Catalunya.
Lesson number 5: accept setbacks as part of the process from the start. It makes it easier to move on.
Bonus track, if you’re into motorcycling but not into going offroad: La província de Barcelona en moto, Les 7 millors rutes per carretera — a booklet in Catalan with the top 7 routes around Barcelona published by the local government, Diputacio de Barcelona that was recommended to me by the instructor.
I did number 5 with a friend and it was awesome. Our tax money at work. This time, the government got it right :)