My day at the BMW On-Road Skills course
Last Friday I completed the On-Road Skills course at the BMW Performance Center in Spartanburg, SC.
First off, a word about the performance center.... WOW! The performance center is a gorgeous 143 acre facility which is pretty much across the street form the Spartanburg manufacturing plant. There is a very good commissary. Lunch was included in the price. The track facility can be split up so the vehicles in various training programs can be segregated. There is a small off-road course for training in the X3 and X5 SUVs, a challenging off-road enduro track, and a 2 mile long strip used for high-speed testing. (They were doing tests with the new X6 at more than 120 mph) BMW has a fleeting of GS1200 and 650 motorcycles available (for a fee, of course) and just about every BMW car made is available for the driving courses. A day at the Performance Center is your chance to drive a car you could never afford!
Im lucky to live only 170 miles from the center, so I saved several hundred bucks by bringing my K1200GT to the course. Another guy from western NC brought his R1150RT. The other 8 participants rode the center's GS1200's and GS650's.
Our instructor was Ray Helms, assisted by Matt. Ray is one of only three BMW certified motorcycle instructors based in the US. Ray was instrumental in setting up the course having been involved in the similar courses in Munich and Hechlingen, Germany. Ray is very experienced, a very effective communicator, and he suffers from a case of terminal politeness.
The focus of the course was, for the most part, slow speed handling and accident avoidance. (We did get to play around a bit on the other sections of the track.) The braking exercises were very helpful. I learned that at 25mph I can stop my GT in 22 feet. At 35, it takes nearly 70 feet. We only did one cornering exercise. We rode around a circle and learned how we can control radius and speed using the three. I really noticed that the GT, which is awfully nimble at high speeds, feels like it weighs a thousand pounds at slow speeds.
A word about accommodations: The hotels listed on your confirmation letter, Marriott, Courtyard and one other which I can't recall, are close to the center but a bit pricey. The Marriott is around $200. If you're willing to drive 18 miles past the center on I-85, you can get Radisson for under $50 by bidding for a three-star hotel in Spartanburg. The room was decent. The staff was great. They eased my fears about leaving my bike outside by letting me park the bike on the sidewalk by the hotel's front door.
In summary, the course is well worth the cost and I recommend it to anyone interested in becoming a safer rider. However, it is strenuous and by no means a beginner's course.
Go for it!