I encounter a lot of rough roads when I travel around in different provinces. Over the years, I’ve had a few spills while driving a motorcycle. In Sagada, I fell off an embankment when my tires skidded on loose gravel on a slippery wooden bridge. When we rode from Coron to Calauit Safari Park, we encountered dirt roads that got progressively worse as we drove on. While driving from Koronadal to Lake Holon in South Cotabato, I got stuck in a rut and the bike fell on me while I was trying to drive uphill a trail normally reserved for hikers.
In these instances, medyo napasubo ako kasi wala akong choice. I was driving somewhere and just wanted to get to a certain destination instead of turning back. But somehow, these rides that take you off-the-beaten path always turn out to be the most memorable and awesome adventures.
Since I like going on solo rides a lot, I thought it’s about time I upgrade my riding skills so I don’t panic when faced with situations like these. I had been hearing about an off-road training course in Taytay, Rizal from people in the riding community and was invited to join an all-female flat-track session last May which I missed because of a family trip. Thanks to a writing assignment for Wheels Philippines, I got to try a basic session last weekend. If you’re interested in learning how to ride off-road or just want to level up your riding skills, you should check them out.
Mel Aquino’s Yamaha Off-Road Training Camp
Mel Aquino’s Yamaha Off-Road Training Camp (MAYOTC) is currently the only off-road riding school in existence in the country. Behind the school is former Motocross and Road Racing Champion Mel Aquino who was just 9 years old when he rode his first motorbike on the dirt roads of rural Taytay in Rizal. That first motorcycle encounter fueled a passion that would go on to encompass his professional riding career and has evolved into a mission to share his knowledge to a new generation of riders.
For the school, Mel partnered with premiere motorcycle brand Yamaha and motoring maintenance essentials VS1 and Mototek. Basic training sessions are held in Motocross Messiah Fairgrounds located at Club Manila East, in Taytay, Rizal. Their courses cover different basic off-road skills which can be customized for students with zero riding experience to advanced riders who want to prepare for multi-day cross country adventures. Their courses include: Learn to ride, Flat Track, Motocross, Circuit Racing, Safety Riding and Trail Riding.
MX MESSIAH FAIRGROUNDS:
I started my session with a bit of stretching and familiarizing myself with the bike to be used. I got to use a Yamaha XTZ 125, a lightweight motorcycle designed to withstand the harsh conditions of off-road driving. Unit number 14 was the lowest they had for my height, where I could reach the ground on tiptoes. I usually get scared of driving motorcycles which I feel are too tall or heavy for me, but apparently if you can manage the weight and find the proper balance of the bike, you can theoretically drive it.
Shortly after, we went to the actual off-road training on the flat track, doing rounds and focusing on the proper riding position and form. Coach Mel is very hands-on during the session and immediately corrected certain things in my posture that I need to watch out for. Apparently, you’re supposed to grip the tank with your knees to keep it more stable and keep your elbows raised at a certain level to have more control over the handlebars.
Driving around the track is pretty fun, but I ended up dropping the bike when I braked it suddenly because I lost my balance. The coaches taught me the trick of shifting one’s weight when dismounting so that I could easily keep my foot level on the ground while holding the bike up.
Next lesson was throttle control. I was told to forget that the clutch, front brake and rear brake existed, and just practice slowing down and speeding up by using the throttle and engine brakes. It was really hot and dusty on the track, but the coaches were right there assisting every step of the way and giving feedback. I learned the basics of different types of leaning: leaning with, leaning in and leaning out with the bike and which stance I need to use when turning corners.
We had a nice lunch break under the trees beside a fairly big pond (or small lake). Coach Mel brought his pickup with packed lunch for the coaches and other students. The training sessions come with food, which was great. I can imagine how nice it would be to have a hammock hung up in the trees or a floating hut in the middle of the water reachable by a raft for non-riding companions and kids to enjoy while waiting.
After lunch, we resumed lessons. We did some Slalom exercises, zigzagging between obstacles and proper u-turning on the track. Then, we moved on to Figure 8, using throttle control again to properly slow down and accelerate between the cones. I found cornering a bit tricky and feel like my U-Turns are always too wide because I’m afraid to lean the bike too much, which I’m going to work on when I ride on my own.
I wish I could do the proper drifting in the dirt as demonstrated by Coach Spike where you kick up a lot of dust. Not only does it look way cool, it’s really meant for attacking tight corners at high speeds. My technique is usually just to slow down and approach corners more cautiously instead of speeding up and drifting like I should, which is why I’m afraid to join races because I’ll probably suck if time trials are involved.
The last exercise of the day was acceleration and braking and the proper form including leaning forward and leaning back. After taking turns with other students on the track doing the different exercises, I completed the Level 1 Off-road training session with a token mug to signify I had graduated! Woohoo!
For those interested in signing up for their off-road training courses, here’s some basic info to help you out.
WHO SHOULD TRY IT:
The Mel Aquino Yamaha Off-road Training Camp accepts all types of students. They have trained adults with zero riding experience who just want to learn. Majority of the students are actually children as young as 4 to 5 years old! While some of the kids get into riding because of their parents influence, they’ve had some students with both parents who don’t know how to ride. Instead of letting kids and teens learn on the streets, the training camp offers a venue for them to learn motorcycle safety riding in a controlled environment with proper coaches instead of their peers.
I really envy the kids because when you start them young, they don’t have that innate fear of falling and can really build their confidence and passion. Kids also tend to have a much faster healing factor than adults. They get to use Yamaha PW50 units which are specifically for young riders. Seeing the kids ride is just so inspiring. If they can do it, you should be able to do it, right?! The training camp has held family off-road clinics where kids and parents get to learn to ride at the same time.
I heard they get a lot of foreign clients like missionaries who need to learn how to drive in rural roads in the Philippines as well as police personnel. Celebrities like Jericho Rosales, Gerard Anderson, Xian Lim, Ramon Bautista, Judy Ann Santos and Ryan Agoncillo have trained here. Agoncillo is part of the Royal Enfield Himalayan 7-member team who will leave for India to take on the challenge of being the first ever Filipino delegation to ride to the highest motorable peak in the Himalayas.
The riding school can accommodate up to 5-10 students a day depending on the availability of coaches. Weekends are preferred, but they also accept students during weekdays by request. Once they’ve put in lights at the track, they’re considering night classes for those who only have nights free. They also have membership programs and separate track fees for those who want to practice using their own dirt bikes on the course.
WHAT TO WEAR:
You don’t need to have Motocross gear. For the training session, you just need to be wearing a long sleeved shirt (dri-fit recommended because it can get hot!) or jacket, jeans and high-cut shoes or riding boots. You will also be issued safety equipment like a helmet (they use Sigma II downhill mountain biking helmets from Spyder), full gloves and elbow and kneepads. You can also use your own helmet and safety gear if you prefer.
WHAT TO BRING:
- Balaclava or Headware/scarf to wear under the helmet
- Facetowel; alcohol, wet wipes
- Drinking water
- Energy bars or light snacks would help keep your energy up throughout the day
- Extra shirt to change into after your session because you’ll be sweating a lot
WHERE TO EAT:
There’s no restaurant or eatery at the moment in MX Messiah Fairgrounds, though they sell water, softdrinks and sports drinks on the premises. Packed lunch is included in the training fee since the session will go on until after lunch. It’s important to reserve slots for classes, so that the team can prepare all the equipment and order food beforehand.
Aside from learning new riding skills, the great thing about taking the course is the camaraderie with the coaches and fellow riders you meet.
The training course costs P3,500 per session, inclusive of the use and gas for the motorcycle unit, services of certified riding instructors, use of safety gear (helmet, neck brace, gloves, knee pads and elbow pads) and lunch.
For those with their own dirt bikes who just want to practice riding on the course, the track fee is P200 for non-members and P100 for members.
I’ve been riding on the road for more than five years now, but it’s always good to level up your skills. Even the best and most cautious drivers get into accidents. I know I’ll be able to apply what I learned in future rides. What’s important is to build confidence in driving different types of bikes and over different road conditions.
Motocross Messiah Fairgrounds is located at Club Manila East, Taytay, Rizal.
ADDRESS & CONTACT INFO:
For inquiries, please visit MAYOTC official Facebook page: Mel Aquino’s Yamaha Off-Road Training Camp or contact: 0917-7031399.
PHOTO CREDITS: All of the awesome action photos here of MAYOTC are by Marvin Geronimo of No Barriers, Just Horizons. Check out his website!