Based near Inveraray, the southern gateway to the Scottish Highlands, MotoScotland offers off-road motorbike training on the Duke of Argyll’s beautiful 50,000 acre private estate. As part of an extended ride around Scotland, my hubby Clive and I decided to incorporate some professional training with the opportunity the further explore the incredible landscape.
We chose Level 1 and 2 courses on consecutive days and took advantage of the fantastically good rate of £34.95 for dinner, bed and breakfast offered for MotoScotland clients in the Inverary Inn. First opened in 1755, the Inn has recently been bought by a local family and is being restored to its former glory. Our recently refurbished room had a terrific loch view, but I digress.
Booking was straight forward via MotoScotland.com and preparatory pre-course info was all provided. On arrival we were greeted with hot/cold drinks and a comprehensive but informal safety briefing put us at ease. On our course we were joined by sisters Trudi and Carol, and for day 2 Mark joined us. He was repeating the level 2 day having enjoyed it so much before.
Next we got kitted up. We had given our approx sizes in advance for the equipment provided is part of the course package. A wide range of sizes are available, meaning even my tiny head, feet and hands were catered for. All the equipment was excellent quality and in great condition. No need to worry about smelly worn-out equipment when you attend MotoScotland. Of note: while upper body and knee/shin armour are provided, no hip protection is supplied.
It is suggested you bring your own thermal base layers though. Presumably hygiene issues make loans of this impractical. I opted to wear my own textile suit over the armour, but waterproof outer trousers and jacket are provided; you might need another layer to wear under these. Clive (husband) opted to wear his Forcefield armoured shorts (see review) and a pair of cargo trousers under the water proof trousers provided. Both combinations worked well.
Much hilarity emanated from the changing cubicles as we all tried to follow the instructions and get our armour, boots etc on.
A rucksack complete with bottled water and snack bar was also provided, which is a nice touch, though we opted to wear our own Kriega rucksacks and I used my hydration bladder. Even anti-midge spray was provided – the perils of Scotland, and it was indeed needed.
It’s great not to have to have/bring all the kit and to be suitably dressed in high quality gear for the riding. If you fall in love with the equipment provided having really tested it, MotoScotland are also a dealer so you can buy riding gear, or even a bike, from them!
For our course we rode AJP trail bikes, though a range of BMW options are available too. I was sceptical that I would have any hope of touching the floor, despite assurances beforehand from Clive (instructor), but was instantly in love with my bike. It was an AJP PR3 air-cooled 240cc, with ¾ size frame, 17″ rear and 19″ front wheel and a lowline seat. I’m five feet, two inches, with a pretty short inside leg, and it was fabulous to have all that ground clearance and suspension travel and still touch the floor with ease. Geared for off road riding, it was a bit disconcerting for the occasional short on road stints in between trails, but it was able to get up to safe tarmac speeds and was a revelation off road!
Clive (husband) rode an AJP PR4 240cc air-cooled, but a full frame bike with 18″ rear and 21″ front wheel. There are other variants and options as well, including a 125cc with ¾ size frame that can be used by a shorter rider or those with an A1 licence. Clive (instructor) and Mark rode AJP PR5s – 250cc liquid cooled – with enduro full frame with 18″ rear and 21″ front. We were all welcome (and encouraged) to try out all the different bikes if we wished. Clive (husband) reports the extra 10cc and LC on the enduro bike made it noticeably more powerful but actually more challenging to ride off road as a result. I found the 125 easier for very slow speed handling, but much preferred the extra ‘braap’ offered by the 240!
The website says “Level 1 training is aimed at licensed road riders who are novice to off road riding.”
It is however not an option to skip this day unless previously agreed and suitable evidence provided. This is understandable and while we had some previous off-road experience, we learnt a lot on this day that it would have been useful to know years ago!
Low trainee group numbers meant we all got individual coaching while others in the group practiced slow speed manoeuvring techniques and tried out a mini motocross course nearby. Constructive feedback was given throughout to all riders.
The morning session on day 1 was helpful. It might seem overkill if you are an experienced rider with some off road experience, but this course caters for all comers and the balance of individualised instruction was excellent. The thorough but easygoing teaching of the underpinning theory made it very worthwhile.
Some of the exercises (on both days) were initially difficult to attempt as they were designed to make you push the limits of braking in a controlled situation, in order to experience them and learn how to recover from them; it’s hard to let go of ‘normal’ riding instincts! I also found myself comfortable standing on the pegs to ride, almost immediately, something I have never been able to do before. This was transferable to my own GS when departing up the gravel track from the centre, with a grin on my face, as opposed to the nervous seated tottering on arrival!
We then headed back to base, where lunch and chocolate was provided as well as a fluid top up. The afternoon on both days was then a consolidation of the respective morning’s learning, on an extended trail ride. Stunning scenery and quiet trails made this a highlight for me. I would have liked this part of the days to have been even longer – but I understand riders might then have been too tired and at risk as a result. I was utterly stoked and grinning and chuckling …. Hooked!
“Level 2 is aimed at licensed road riders who are novice to off road riding who wish to develop a foundation of key off road skills.”
Day 2 was a chance to really get stuck in and learn more complex handling skills. It included a comprehensive session on ‘slippy and grippy’ braking theory and techniques, bike handling and picking up a dropped bike. At the end of the day, back at base I was able to lift a BMW650 using the techniques taught. The most eye opening part of day 2 for me was the recovery of the bike when stalled on a steep, stony hill. By following the directions given, despite sounding crazy and impossible initially, it was easily achievable. The really scary part was after turning the bike using the clutch and some vigorous, but careful front wheel waggling, setting off facing downhill, engine now running front brake off and let clutch out…. Wow – I did it! I’m not so sure I fancy it on my dual sport bike though, but at least I know how to try if I have to.
The refreshing thing about Clive’s (instructor) approach, is that they teach techniques that give you good bike control (on road as well as off), with the reasons why explained. There is also acknowledgement that nothing is written in stone and that under some circumstances the ‘right’ technique may not be the best option. I’ve never been very responsive to ‘because I said so’ or ‘this way, or the wrong way’ methods of training, so this was great for me. It was also about learning to deal with the hazards you might encounter, not a case of simply blindly following a leader. I felt safe, at ease, and totally trusted Clive (instructor) throughout. Obviously I trust the other Clive (husband) too!
You can even get a discount from some major insurers (others likely to be added soon) for completing level 2, as the transferable skills gained are now recognised by DVSA as advanced motorcycle training. MotoScotland is the first UK off-road training centre to have been recognised in this way.
A great combination of emphasis on safe riding and having fun was achieved with ease by the MotoScotland team. This course is highly recommended for anyone wanting to improve their riding skills off or ON road and for the chance to enjoy the stunning Scottish Highland landscapes and variety of trails that can be accessed on the Duke of Argyll’s estate. We will be back for Level 3 (sounds very gnarly! – see website for details) and/ or to take up the option of a days riding the trails at Level 2 and the chance to sample more of the variety of surfaces and utterly breathtaking landscape.