Master Your Machine With RawHyde Adventures

RawHyde Adventures Teaches Trail-Busting Confidence

By Marc Cook, Photography by Kevin Wing

Dragging a 500-plus-pound motorcycle into the backwoods, beyond the safety of pavement, asks for guts but really demands skill. As the adventure-touring (ADV) segment has grown, so have the opportunities for street-mainly (or even street-only) riders to come to grips with fully loaded, poly-surface traveling machines under the watchful eye of those who know what they’re doing.

Among the stalwarts is RawHyde Adventures (www.rawhyde-offroad.com), celebrating a decade in the business and expanding its operation to include a camp in Park County, CO. Its California headquarters is on 100 acres north of Castaic, on land homesteaded by founder Jim Hyde’s grandfather. The school, endorsed as a BMW Off-Road Academy (the only one on the west coast), has developed a solid, thorough curriculum and gathered a set of truly top-notch instructors who are capable of doing what they’re teaching and teaching what they’re doing, but are also relentlessly enthusiastic.

I’d taken the Intro to Adventure entry-level course in early 2012 and returned nearly a year later—after plenty of miles exploring the trails around Los Angeles on my own Suzuki DR650—to take the Next Step intermediate school. There is overlap only in the accommodations and approach. RawHyde recognizes that it serves an affluent clientele, so even the rustic camp house—for the guys; couples and ladies quarters are separate—and permanent dining room/clubhouse are just right: Simple, functional, utterly clean, and totally comfortable. The bar is open every night; three meals a day are prepared by Le Cordon Bleu-trained chefs who know the difference between interesting and fussy. Typical courses run over the weekend: arrive Friday for a welcome dinner, ride all day Saturday and Sunday, remain over for a closing dinner, and depart Monday morning. All very civilized.

The Next Step course picks up where Intro to Adventure leaves off, but continues to emphasize and refine the concepts taught previously. RawHyde’s central themes are confidence and control, crucially important with big bikes. In the beginner’s course, you’re taught proper body position and balance, braking techniques, ways to initiate turns (inside peg weighting) and methods for maintaining traction through the turns (outside peg weighting with your knee against the tank and hip out, which forces the bike to go the direction you want). In Next Step, coach Del Christensen started us off with control techniques, refining clutch and brake use to precisely move your motorcycle. Inch-perfect control builds confidence and will eventually help you out of a rough spot on the trail.

Key pieces of the Next Step curriculum include sliding turns—initiating with the locked rear wheel and getting the feel for when and where the bike will stop rotating. We had a massive amount of fun practicing these turns in a section called The Meadow, winding around trees and dodging cones. Because of recent rains at RawHyde, the dirt road up to the cell tower was a gooey mess, claiming more than a few students. It was a great teaching moment for Del and his guys, who reinforced the need for smoothness and preservation of momentum. “Plus a positive attitude,” he said. “Go up that hill knowing you will make it, take charge of the situation.” Tell that to the goo.

Next Step students spend half a day in RawHyde’s sand pit, learning the fine points of balance, maintaining eye level (always look where you want to go), and suppressing the urge to turn the front wheel in the direction you want the bike to go. “It won’t,” reinforced Christensen. “Relax, let the bars waggle all they want. You’re steering with balance. If you hold the grips tight, the front will plow, drag your body weight over, and send you where you don’t want to go.” Each of the dozen students in Next Step worked on the fundamentals in sand, from basic aiming (“Ride between those cones, if you can.”) to making gradual S-turns in the nasty stuff. By the end, we were all tired, but a lot less intimidated by sand.

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