A Weekend in the Cult of RawHyde, Day 1

In Travel by AbhiLeave a Comment

As mentioned in the Introduction to this story, Nathan and I got the chance to attend RawHyde Adventures, and we took the opportunity to sample what they offered by splitting our time between Level 1 and Level 2 (both are 2 day courses). Here’s the story of our weekend, starting with Day 1.

Level 1: Intro to Adventure
This class is designed for riders who are competent on pavement but have minimal to zero dirt experience on big bikes. If you have a little bit of dirt experience and are trying to figure out if you should take Level 1 or Level 2, consider that the last drill Nathan and I did in Day 1 of the Intro class was figure eights in a restricted space. If you aren’t confident in your ability to do this, then I would suggest you take the Intro class.

Level 1 starts with an introduction from Jim Hyde himself. He tells you about the capabilities of these big bikes and how most people are nervous to get them dirty. His lecture has the potential to be very boring (after all, there’s a group of riders and all they want to do is start riding), but he does an excellent job of employing visual aids.

Here, coach Bill Langford demonstrates the benefits of having a loose grip on the bars. When you hit a rock or similar obstacle (simulated by a kick from Jim), a death grip will twist your whole body with the impact. A loose grip keeps your body isolated and in control.

Bill gives Level 1 riders a goal to emulate when it comes to body positioning:

Jim also spent some time explaining tire dynamics in the dirt. The main takeaway is that on average, you should only expect to have 30% of traction off-road compared to what you get on-road.

Then Jim wished everyone good luck and we were off to try the first exercise…which was actual exercise, sort of. We started with some light stretching and then learned the correct form for how to pick these big bikes when (not if) they fell over. Don’t just try to wrestle it up with the bars, get your butt up on the seat and use the strength of your lower body as leverage.

A few people brought their own bikes to learn on, while most people (myself included) utilized one of RawHyde’s rental bikes. I ended up getting a triple black BMW R1200GSW, and I was pretty excited about it:

The first drill was simply riding up and down the RawHyde driveway while getting a feel for balance by constantly bringing your legs over the seat. It’s not sexy but it’s fundamental, and that would be the overall theme for Level 1 drills.

Through friends of friends, I’ve met several RawHyde instructors over the last few years and I’ve always been very impressed with them during pavement rides. Seeing them in their element was rewarding, as it was clear that they want to help riders get better. Our main instructor for Level 1 was Owen Balduf, who also happens to sell bikes at Long Beach BMW Motorcycles. He’s mastered the balance of riding and teaching skills required to help beginners get to the next level – plus he’ll entertain you in the evening with some tunes from an electric guitar!

My Aerostich Roadcrafter has been getting a ton of use in the last few months because it’s so versatile, but Nathan gets annoyed when I wear what’s basically a black onesie (especially on a black bike) – it can be harder for him to get photos in focus when I dress up like this. This was my response. I’m so pleasant to work with!

In a class like this, bikes will be dropped early and often. But when you’re with a group of people you don’t know, dropping the bike can be embarrassing. This means students can be more focused on not dropping their bikes than actually learning the drills. RawHyde has a nice way of making everyone feel relaxed about dropping the bike if (when) it happens – if you see someone go down, you honk your horn. Because it happens to everyone, it reduces the tension and makes the situation lighthearted.

The drills are building blocks. You’ll start with balance and get comfortable with using controls while standing up:

Then you move on to learning the limits, like locking up the rear as Nathan demonstrates here:

Unfortunately, someone else confused the rear for the front in a moment of panic. The result should not be a surprise:

Despite the crash above, the Level 1 riders were generally doing a good job through the morning. Where things got messy was “turn initiation”. It’s designed to teach you how to counterbalance and manage the clutch in the friction zone. Owen shows us how it’s done – note his body position.

Keeping a bike upright when you’ve got momentum is easy. Balancing at crawling speed while turning is much more difficult, and that’s why we started to see a lot more bikes hitting the ground (and hearing a lot more horns from everyone else):

After all the drills, Day 1’s riding ended with a fun ribbon course challenge. It was an effective way of taking all the skills that had been reviewed over the day and combining them into one exercise. Nathan manages to sneak just stay inside the course here:

A keen eye will notice that the tree on the right has met more than its fair share of handguards on the inner edge, but this rider squeaks through just fine:

When we were done riding for the day, it was time to head back to base and lie to each other about how good we were over drinks from an open bar:

When I take a motorcycle-focused class, my assumption is that the food will be an afterthought. That is not the case here.

Where else can you eat with the first BMW R80GS imported to the US?

During dinner, everyone has to stand up and say what their high and low was for the day. My high was being part of the five in the box drill. My low? Nathan hadn’t fallen yet so I couldn’t make fun of him by honking.

Riding coaches by day, food servers by night. I was impressed with the staff and their attitudes in the program. No one’s too good for anything, they all just contribute to make sure everything is taken care of.

The night ends with a little more alcohol while we are treated to a performance from the E&O Medicine Show. As I mentioned above when I first introduced Owen, he plays an electric violin in conjunction with Evan Firstman on guitar. They asked for a request, so I asked for Jessica by the Allman Brothers:

Everyone retired to their rooms at their own pace. Nathan and I had enjoyed getting to meet the Level 1 riders but we were excited about the increased challenges of Level 2 the next morning. We had seen the Level 2 riders do some crazy things earlier in the day…would we be able to keep up?

On to Day 2!