BMW Enduro Park Hechlingen
I used to doubt the true off-road capabilities of big adventure bikes like the BMW R1200GS. After all, who in their right mind would bring a 200-plus kg fully laden behemoth of a motorcycle trail riding? Even after watching the “Long Way Round” several times, I’m still not convinced. But after attending two intense days of training at the BMW Enduro Park Hechlingen in Germany, it made me a believer. Apparently, it’s all about learning the proper riding techniques I hereto refer to as “Dirty Tricks”.
The BMW Enduro Park Hechlingen is a 26-hectare enduro playground for BMW Motorrad enthusiasts. Carved out on the side of a small hill, the park features (almost) every possible scenario an enduro rider would encounter in the real world but in a safe and controlled environment. No wonder it’s the go-to place for BMW enduro riders all over the world (including Hollywood celebrities Brad Pitt and Orlando Bloom, apparently) who want to learn the dirty tricks of proper off-roading. Yours truly, together with ten others from the Philippines, were extremely lucky to be given the opportunity by ACC BMW Motorrad to participate in the two-day enduro crash course.
We were divided into two groups: one for advanced riders and another for beginners. Having very limited experience riding off-road, much less on 1200cc adventure bikes, I joined the beginners group. Our first session started by learning the fundamentals of off-roading with basic drills like standing on the footpegs and proper body positioning. Next, we were told to run alongside the bike in 1st gear while fanning the clutch to determine which side was our “sweet side”. After that, we were told to navigate a set of pylons laid out on the dirt. Yes, on the dirt, where traction, or the lack thereof, made it more challenging. Of course, our instructor showed us beforehand how to properly do it. While it certainly looked very easy from a spectator’s point of view, actually doing it ourselves was a different story altogether. It wasn’t not long before some of us put a different meaning to the word “crash course”, because we all literally did. Thankfully, part of the training was how to safely pick up a toppled 1200cc adventure bike, which we all unwillingly managed to practice many times during the day. True story.
The most exciting part of the training, however, was during the trail rides around the enduro park where we applied some of the exercises we learned during the drills. If you noticed, I used the word “some” in the previous sentence because honestly, nothing could ever prepare you for the real deal. These include riding up and down a 45 degree slope hill, ascending and descending rock-strewn trails with deep, slippery ruts in the middle, fording deep muddy puddles with protruding rocks, going through deep muddy ruts inside a forest and riding through narrow fire trails with a deep ravine on one side. I know it may not sound that perilous on paper, but I guarantee you it certainly does in practice. Especially when you consider that we were riding giant adventure bikes that weigh more than five times my bodyweight. But quite frankly, the overall experience was petrifying and satisfying at the same time, especially when you emerged unscathed after every exercise. In between sessions, we also got to ride outside the Enduro Park for some sightseeing around the picturesque Hechlingen countryside.
Riding the R1200GS in its natural element gives you a profound respect for BMW for building a bike that somehow defies belief. You see, despite its cumbersome appearance, the R1200GS is surprisingly maneuverable and needless to say, very capable off-road. The linear flat-twin torque allows you to crawl steep gradients while hardly touching the throttle, while the ingenious Telelever front suspension soaks everything in its path while isolating the chassis from harsh impacts. The Paralever rear suspension, on the other hand, effectively sends power to the rear wheel seamlessly and onto the ground with no noticeable driveline lash. It also helps that the R1200GS carries its weight down low, making it easier to coax the bike around obstacles just using the wide handlebars for leverage. But I must say the real lifesaver there is the superb onboard electronics suite that manages everything from electronic suspension to ABS. Speaking of which, those who say to turn off ABS during off-roading obviously never tried using BMW’s ABS. It just finds traction where there seems to be none. It’s incredible.
For a brief moment there, I felt like I was Charley Boorman in the hit UK television documentary show The Long Way Round. But unlike on the documentary series, the motorcycles we used at the BMW Enduro Park Hechlingen were mildly modified from their stock form. Changes made were the addition of handlebar risers, cylinder head crash bars, rear brake-lever extension and a set of knobby off road tires. The handlebar was also adjusted slightly forward to optimize the clutch and brake lever positions for better control when riding while standing up on the footpegs. But everything else was what you’d expect from any BMW motorcycle you can buy from the showroom. It’s just unfortunate that most, if not all, of the R1200GS sold don’t get to see off-road action in their lifetime. Because honestly, they are far more capable than what you’d expect. Perhaps the question you should ask yourself before buying an R1200GS is if you’re capable of exploiting 100 percent of its potential. If you think you do, then you found yourself the perfect adventure bike. A do-everything go-anywhere bike you can potentially grow old with.
Hopefully, ACC BMW Motorrad Philippines brings the Enduro Park Hechlingen experience to the Philippines so you can also learn the “dirty tricks” of proper off-roading from the experts. Big thanks to ACC BMW Motorrad for this once in a lifetime experience.