KTM Adventure Tours - Off The Beaten Track Time - MC Garage

A Taste Of Dakar

KTM Adventure Tours is a program that's been run all over Europe with great success for a number of years. It's proven to be an effective method for teaching off-road skills, providing novice and experienced riders alike with new experiences and, as importantly for KTM, planting bums on seats in the hope of selling motorcycles.

The franchise has now hit the USA (www.ktmadventuretours.com), and heading it up is off-road maestro and Dakar veteran Scot Harden. The bikes he uses are rally-prepped KTM 640 Adventures-which means they're equipped with road books, ICO-meters, GPS, sorted suspension and heavy-duty crash protection.

As for the methods Harden uses to teach his rally wannabes? Methodical, explanatory, exploratory and with a great deal of patience. Basic slow-speed, off-road control is first up, dealing with balance, available grip and fine throttle/clutch/brake control. A variety of exercises push riders gently initially, but build through the course of the day, culminating in a great thrash through some superb scenery and challenging riding-our school took place in and around Mammoth Lakes, California, and was absolutely stunning.

As this is a rally-based program, the real art of what Harden is teaching becomes apparent during the evening instructional: the ability to ride and think at the same time. Not always the easiest things to combine, I promise. Navigation is a big factor in all rallies, and using the road book (a rider-operated scrolling route map), ICO (an odometer used in conjunction with the road book, again rider-operated and "bumpable" a tenth of a mile back or forward) and GPS (which gives a rough direction of travel and distance to the next waypoint) is something of a challenge, especially while sitting on the back of a heaving KTM plowing through deep sand at 60 mph.

The challenge for everybody on the final day of the three-day program is to put it all together and complete a 60-mile mini-rally stage, navigated entirely by road book and GPS. The pressures of thinking and riding now become painfully obvious, and this is where the real insight into off-road rally racing comes into play. A cool 100 mph in the wrong direction is not conducive to making time, as some of my classmates found out.

As an aside, I'm an average off-road rider but competed in Barcelona-Dakar in 2005. I crashed out after 10 days and 3500 miles, catapulting out of a top-50 finish and literally losing my KTM 660 Factory Rallye bike in the process. I had to learn everything Harden teaches over the early days of the event, and obviously didn't learn enough. At about $5000 per day, racing Dakar is ridiculously expensive, and while the KTM Adventure Tours aren't cheap at $1295 (plus $500 for a rental motorcycle), they're a bargain by comparison. Just the insight Dakar Doc John Edwards gives about nutrition and hydration is well worth the price of admission for anybody half serious about dirtbike riding. I wish I'd had the chance to do this course before I did Dakar-I might have finished!

Whether you've got an off-road itch to scratch or are a hardened mud-junkie looking to step it up in search of the next challenge, there is one tangible common factor: You never stop learning. Harden and his KTM Adventure Tours will teach you that.