Not many people would be enthusiastic about getting up at 4:30 am on a Sunday morning. Me neither! I would rather stay in the bed till 10 am, but the Sunday that just went by was completely different. Up and about, I was in full riding gear, with a twinkle in my eye as I was finally about to attend an off-road riding school. This was the first ever Ducati Riding Experience (DRE) off-road days to be held in India and Ducati sent us an invitation to attend the same. Now I admit that I am a complete newbie when it comes to off-roading on two wheels but this was a great opportunity to learn and allow me to conquer my fears of taking a bike off-road.
Our two coaches for the day were Vijay Parmar, a veteran off-road enthusiast and a certified DRE instructor along with Shahnawaz Karim. Our day started with a briefing session which spoke at length about very basics of off-road riding such as body position, navigating through the riding modes of the adventure bike and the theory behind tackling different types of situations that you might come across when riding your bike through tough terrain. What it meant was one had to unlearn every bit of riding knowledge that was gleaned while riding on roads and racetrack and re-program the mind to adapt to a different style of riding. With the instructions given and the theory running on a loop in my mind, it was time for us to take to our bikes and apply it on the off-road track. Oh! And my ride for the day was the imposing Ducati Multistrada 1200 Enduro. After putting my lid on and saying a quick prayer, I was ready to hit the dirt, literally! (More on that later)
Our first exercise was to manoeuvre the motorcycle through a slalom section. At decent speeds, one hardly notices the bulk and the weight of the bike but at walking speeds, it is easier said than done. The trick is to keep the balls of your feet on the footpeg, grasp the fuel tank with your knees, point your toes inwards and use your lower body to manoeuvre the bike rather than the handlebar and look up and ahead. Once I got the technique right, it was actually easy to control the heft of the bike while negotiating the cones on the slalom. I did stumble once but as I repeated the exercise, I finally found my confidence and got used to the correct riding position on a big adventure bike.
The vanishing point
No! It is not the name of a magic trick! After repeating the slalom course thrice, it was time to move on to the next exercise, which was aptly named the vanishing point. So the idea is to go around a small hillock in circles, get the body position right (gripping the tank with knees, toes pointed inwards, and handlebar held loosely and chin up) and keep the head tilted in the direction of your turn-in. This was basically an exercise to look further ahead so that you are better prepared to deal with any obstacles or change in terrain.
Hill climb fail
If you are climbing up a gradient on an adventure bike, there might be a situation where you stall your bike on a slope. The idea behind this exercise was to teach to teach how to safely control the bike and slowly climb down with the help of just the clutch. So I hopped on to my bike, climbed up the slope and killed the engine at the crest with the bike in gear. Then, move your upper body forward, push your feet behind, get a firm footing and without starting the bike, press the clutch so as to disengage the gear and let the bike gently roll. Keep the clutch movement smooth so that the bike rolls down smoothly. Also, the idea is to press the clutch intermittently and take the bike down not all at once but one step at a time.
Hill climb and going down
After the hill climb exercise, we were supposed to climb up and down two man made mounds, keeping the throttle input smooth and slow. This was one of the easiest exercises that we did during the day.
This was the toughest exercise of them all and this is where I had a spectacular fall in the slush as well. We were supposed to ride our bikes through a 30 metre slush pit and not take a tumble in doing so. The correct way to do this is to stand up on the footpegs with toes pointing inwards, gripping the tank with the knees, pushing the upper body slightly forward, keep the throttle input constant and ploughing through. Except the fact that it did not go as planned and I ended up with front end washed out and tasting mud thereafter. The trick is to spot a line and stick to it as much as possible.
The Ducati Riding Experience Off-Road Days is a good program launched by Ducati India. Not only does it serve as a great customer connect initiative but also teaches Ducati riders the nuances of off-road riding and extracting the best out of the capable Ducati bikes. For me personally, it was my first ever off-road riding school and it helped me allay my fear of taking a big, burly adventure bike and get downright dirty riding it through tough terrain.
Photography: Azam Siddiqui