The 2015 BMW MOA International Rally, in Billings, Montana, presented some interesting challenges for the BMW MOA Foundation’s GEARS (Gaining Early Advanced Riding Skills) program. Real estate was at a premium at the Billings Metra Park, so the Foundation had to locate an off-site range. As the nominee to operate the shuttle to and from the range, Foundation Board Member Bruce Sanders found himself with the unique opportunity to talk with the kids on the way to and from the range and to provide peripheral support to the instructor on the range. Bruce was able to spend 2 days watching the riders, fetching water, chasing down tools, locating the occasional band aid or aspirin, and, most enjoyably, observing a wonderful transformation in the attitudes and skills being acquired by the student riders.
The first day revealed that we indeed had a wide range of skill levels amongst the students. Our eldest pupil had a few thousand miles of experience, while a couple of young ladies had never operated the controls of a motorcycle. We actually did have to start the process with “this is the throttle and this is the brake.” There were a few sets of eyes rolled back, and on one occasion we had hands on hips declaring “that’s not how I was taught.” As our instructor turned up the degree of difficulty, attitudes became more and more supportive. We had a returning GEARS student that really helped get everyone into the “support group” mentality. We had a brother and sister on range and the sibling rivalry helped get everyone into the “I can do that better on the next pass’ mind set. Bruce was impressed that the young ladies exhibited a lot more grit than some of the boys, stepping fearlessly out of their comfort zones more readily than any of the young men.
Meanwhile back at the ranch (Rally Central), we had a few young ladies that were so apprehensive that they refused to come out to the range. Voni Glaves, in her inimitable style, located a scooter and actually had these girls putting around the parking lot with confidence by the time we brought the others back.
Interestingly, we had listened to a few parents express misgivings about teaching their children off-road riding techniques. In some of the banter on our ride back to town, I was impressed that our charges had already caught on that regardless of the riding surface, the major objective was all about managing traction and center of gravity- skills that will serve them well on or off-road.
Day 2 of GEARS started with lessons in negotiating small obstacles like logs and mud. The surprise came when the second portion of the range was revealed. We had a steep embankment along a stream bed with some challenging mid-slope turns. We successfully learned to negotiate a u-turn and how to turn a stalled bike around on a steep grade. When all the mandatory drills were complete, much to Bruce’s amusement, the gauntlet was thrown down to try practicing some more feet-up turns on a steep bank. As each pupil was called on, each young man declined. The first young lady responded to the call by kicking off her engine and gassing it right up the slope with a perfectly executed turn. A couple more of our young ladies joined in while the guys all sat down to “cool off.”
Watching the camaraderie and fun being experienced by the GEARS students, Bruce could not help feeling like he was watching characters unfold into the crew that will put on the 2025 MOA International Rally. It has been our experience that the GEARS veterans really do stay in touch long after their classes and establish bonds that carry on for years.
We urge you to sign your aspiring young riders up for an amazing experience when GEARS is presented at each MOA International Rally. There is a lot more to be gained than just the riding techniques. This is an opportunity for our young riders to start building those bonds that so many of us in the riding community have had the pleasure of renewing and savoring at every rally – and beyond.
We want to increase the number of GEARS students, and we welcome repeat participants. The Foundation is considering a level II GEARS course, depending on the interest expressed by prospective participants.
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