Most driving instructors will tell you before a course that if you retain just one new skill, the course is worth it.
If that is the case, this ProRider gravel riding course is damn good value. I picked up multiple skills to help make gravel riding missions much safer and a hell of a lot more fun.
Heading from South Auckland to the Nikau Cave on the rugged west coast, a host of fantastic gravel roads are our classroom for a full day of exhausting fun.
ProRider Gravel course instructor Karel Pavich starts with the basics on gravel.
Karel Pavich, Director of ProRider motorcycle training, is my instructor for the day along with partner Howard. With decades of combined riding knowledge under their boots their word is taken as gospel by the ten riders on the course.
Coming into the course I have little experience riding on gravel. Sure, I’ve done my share of it, often on a hopelessly out-of-place sports bike, but nothing like the 115km we are about to take on.
Sourcing an appropriate bike is a priority before the course — after all, a 250cc commuter cruiser simply won’t handle what is ahead.
With a Yamaha Motor NZ Tenere 660 press bike, complete with knobbly tyres (a popular choice for the Adventure class) and slightly adjusted suspension for my 100kg frame, I brim the 23-litre fuel tank and make my way to the meeting point in Tuakau.
Our Yamaha Tenere test bike was perfectly suited for the task
ProRider runs three separate gravel courses, one for new riders with no experience and any level of licence, one for riders of road bikes with full licences, and one for fully licensed adventure riders who have bikes specifically set up for the road less travelled. This is the course I embark on aboard the big Yamaha single.
The first stop for the course is Les Batkin Reserve by the Tuakau Bridge. The big gravel carpark is the perfect location to learn the basics of gravel riding.
After a briefing and short video, we get stuck into the riding.
First our instructors demonstrate the correct body position for gravel riding, by standing on the footpegs instead of sitting. This lowers the centre of gravity of both rider and bike, which in turn provides more stability on loose surfaces.
With this foundation set, the next lesson is in counter-weighting. This involves placing the rider’s weight on the opposite side of the bike to the direction of travel. It keeps the rear tyre as flat as possible on the road, making the most use of the section of tyre in contact with the ground.
ProRider instructor Howard demonstrates counter-weighting.
The last big lesson is possibly the most important — how to stop effectively on gravel. On the highway you can rely on the grip of your tyres when you need to come to a quick stop, but you can’t rely on your tyres to help stop quickly on gravel.
After some practice bringing our bikes to a halt in a short distance on the gravel at the reserve, it is time to move out into the real world.
Braking on gravel at Tuakau Bridge before we hit the gravel on public roads
Our route takes us southwest of Tuakau through some spectacular back country, and once past Onewhero we turn off paved roads and have our first taste of real gravel roads.
Despite all the practice at the reserve, getting on to a gravel road is still immensely challenging at first. While the surface at the reserve was uniform and flat, the gravel roads are rutted, undulating and cambered.
Riders stop for further tips from the course instructors
Within the first 10 minutes one rider comes off, but thanks to the relatively low speeds we are travelling and the rider’s experience, he survives relatively unscathed. The only real casualty is an indicator light on his DL1000 Suzuki.
After stopping for a reminder on the best way to approach gravel riding as well as extra tips to cope with the condition, we continue our trek to the Nikau Cave. The narrow, often single-lane roads remain challenging all the way to the cafe at Nikau Cave. As the kilometres roll under our wheels, our confidence grows, and I join a small group, including a heavily modified Honda CB500X and a Triumph Tiger 800, at the front of the pack.
Stopping at intersections to ensure we don’t get lost in the back country, we have plenty of time to marvel at incredibly beautiful scenery, hard to believe it is so close to Auckland.
By the end of the day, my confidence is at an all-time high. After riding back to Tuakau Bridge and fighting fatigue, our instructors have a surprise for us. For those of us who aren’t completely shattered, the chance to try our skills in the dirt next to the Waikato River.
In an area favoured by off-roaders we combine all our gravel skills and take to the dirt.
The ProRider Gravel course gave our rider a little too much confidence.
After discovering I can jump the Yamaha Tenere over a berm it soon becomes apparent that I have maybe gained a little bit too much confidence than intended. I call an end to my day before I break the Yamaha or myself.
To find out more about the $249 Gravel Riding course, head to the ProRider website: prorider.co.nz