Upskilling Riders for better Adventure

“A lot of riders don’t invest in their own riding ability. They would readily spend £300 on a jacket …”

John-Paul Dixon, Course Director of The Overland Guide Association

The popularity of adventure biking is surging, and the bikes we use to go off-road are becoming more affordable and more powerful, the great outdoors and its incredible possibilities are something that more and more motorcycle enthusiasts are learning to enjoy. 

People who ride motorcycles are more aware of the risks than most, they embrace the dangers of riding a motorcycle on a daily basis, and yet there is a world of difference between weaving between traffic on a urban street and traversing the side of a mountain in a remote area and the skills gap is something the industry hasn’t been able to fill, until now. 

The Overland Guide Association is an organisation that sets an industry standard in the skills and knowledge needed to safely and competently plan, navigate and enjoy the world’s most inhospitable terrains on two wheels. John-Paul Dixon appears in an episode of the Side Car Guys’ Wild Ride, produced in partnership with the British Motorcycle Insurance Community (BMIC), which sees Matt and Reece travel the trails and roads of the UK on their Ural motorcycle with a sidecar, in search of a wild adventure.

“We saw that there was a need for an industry standard, but because most motorcycle guides were running ungoverned, they felt there was no need for it.” says John-Paul Dixon, Course Director of The Overland Guide Association. “We thought we had to roll out training as quickly and as widely as possible. We started giving away the training courses free of charge, just to try and make sure there were no more deaths due to basic skills gaps and lack of knowledge…” 

“We were able to train people in first aid and guide skills, specific to motor biking in remote locations by literally stealing everything from the adventure industry and adapting it slightly. So over the years, together with all the providers we have worked with, we have been able to build this course that people love, it’s really useful, it’s fun, we deliver it in a very kinaesthetic style, with a lot of scenario-based learning. We teach people what to do when the s**t hits the fan, when they need to get out of a certain environment”.

John-Paul came to the motorcycle adventure industry after years in the general adventure industry and was able to translate his knowledge and learnings from canoeing, mountain biking, climbing and more, all of which already had very clear safety standards and protocols in place and adapted them for the needs of the off road biker.

The Overland Guide Association Website is full of information for riders seeking smart adventures.

It came from a personal loss of a friend who died while adventuring.

“I suffered a loss,” says Dixon. “I had a friend who died in the desert, on a guided trip, and when I looked at what had happened, it was obvious that there was a gap in the knowledge here, that could have made a difference.”

Dixon sees a clear need for the skills that the OGA can provide. There is a cultural shift needed though, particularly as the riders themselves tend to invest in kit rather than skills.

“There’s still a very strong culture there that you buy expensive kit and that will protect you,” he says. “A lot of riders don’t invest in their own riding ability. They would readily spend £300 on a jacket rather than invest the same amount in a riding course to upskill their bike handling. 

“Anyone who goes trail riding can benefit from a one day remote trail rider first aid course, just to get their head in the game – when can you take a helmet off, what’s going to kill you first a broken leg or hypothermia? Simple but useful stuff.”

Riders will definitely spend on learning to ride properly on a road, on the skills they need to get around the city or to navigate their commute, but once you go off road, it’s a different kettle of fish.

“The transition from road riding to unsurfaced road, the techniques are quite different,” says Dixon. “Let’s say for a flat turning, for a flat left-hander, you can’t lean with the bike, as you would with a normal road surface, with the right traction, you can’t lean with the bike, because what that does is, it asks too much of the bike, the friction of the tyres. It’s that ability to be aware of a change of body position, to adjust for that slide and loss of traction. That’s the gap, for 90% of riders.

“The counter steering technique that an accomplished road rider uses will overload a front tyre and cause a flip to drop out and then they fall off. A lot of the time, they want to lean with the bike, because that’s what they’ve been doing for the last fifteen years on the road, so you have to relearn that.”

But the possibilities that motorcycles open up in the adventure industry are incredible. More and more people can access remote areas and sublime natural environments with bikes, when they might not otherwise be able to do it.

“You don’t have to be super fit to get into quite remote places. We see most of the riders on our adventure trips are over 40. I was working recently on a Himalaya trip and the guests are men in their forties, and not necessarily in the best shape, but because of the bikes they could get up to over 5000 metres and experience the wondrous expanse of those majestic mountains, the hidden temples and the Tibetan culture. It was just brilliant to share that with them.”

To find out more about The Overland Guide Association and information on becoming a member please visit their website https://theoga.info

Watch John talking to The Side Car Guys in Episode One of their UK Adventure, sponsored by the BMIC, by clicking the image below.

Image Sources: theoga.info, The Side Car Guys.