Feature: Off-Piste Racing Rallyscape school – Mirth in the dirt

    Off-Piste is all about learning how to make the fun continue after the road ends, under the watchful eyes of Ashish Raorane, a Dakar competitor.

    Published On Jan 16, 2023 07:00:00 AM


    Nothing beats the comfort and confidence of having grippy, well-paved tarmac underneath you. At least that was my thinking. I never really understood how people could possibly enjoy riding off-road, willingly putting yourself in a situation where you’re constantly scrambling for traction. It’s amazing how much of a difference just one day of well-structured tutelage can make in changing how you look at riding off-road. Of course, it helps that in this case, the tutelage came from one of only four Indians to have ever competed in the Dakar Rally.

    Ashish’s piercing gaze can be a little intimidating at first, but you get used to it.

    Ashish Raorane participated in the toughest race of them all, in the toughest category of them all, back in 2021, and plans to do it again in 2024. For the moment, though, he’s training people like you and me at the Off Piste Racing Rallyscape school. The course is structured into two levels that take place across two days, and I was able to do the first of these. This included the fundamental building blocks of riding off-road, covering things such as body position and braking techniques.

    But before a single engine was fired up, Ashish explained the importance of having the motorcycle’s controls set up correctly for off-road riding. Being able to quickly access your rear brake lever in a standing position could be the difference between surviving an unexpected situation unscathed and not. 

    Which is why, for the first half an hour, my hands were holding not a handlebar, but a ratchet, as I set about adjusting the position of the hand and foot levers.

    Applying the techniques when standing up is the next step in the learning curve.

    From that point on, the practical drills went full steam ahead. But what stood out to me (in a very good way) was an approach of quality over quantity. Too many riding schools bombard you with an insane number of vastly diverse practical drills in an impossibly short period of time, and the irony of it all is that you end up learning very little. This information overload is an absolute nightmare when you’re trying to commit some very alien tasks to muscle memory (a process that’s impossible to fast-track).

    Happily, at Off Piste, the learning was a beautifully layered process. It starts off small and simple, and gives you enough seat time to let you repeatedly deploy and fine-tune your learnings in a ‘wax on, wax off’ sort of process. And little by little, one new element is brought in at every theory session, before you go out and incorporate it into your process.

    The braking drills, for example, were first done in a familiar seated position, allowing us to get comfortable with the behaviour of the motorcycle and familiar with the techniques. And only then were we encouraged to stand up and attempt them. The same went for many of the body position drills, which first focused on the feet, then the legs, and then the upper body; each with a dedicated on-track session, allowing you to put one element into practice at a time.

    Ashish later joined us on track, which was equal parts instructional and reality check.

    Many of the techniques taught on the day were completely new to me, and often rudely awoke inert muscles that otherwise aren’t called upon on a daily basis. The friendly learning curve and generous seat time at Rallyscape was the difference between hastily (and often unsuccessfully) attempting these techniques for a day, only to then revert to habit soon after, and successfully bringing about meaningful change in my riding habits and techniques.

    The end result was a very fulfilling day of genuine learning that really resulted in a feeling of empowerment. Perhaps the biggest praise I can give the Rallyscape school is that it has left me hungry for more, so I am looking forward to Level 2. And this is coming from someone whose historical reaction at the end of an off-road ride has always been overwhelming relief and a gratitude for the resumption of tarmac. I can’t quite say I’ve begun to enjoy riding off-road yet, but it has equipped me with enough tools that I don’t have to shy away from it anymore.

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