(Originally posted on motorcyclebloggers.com: Tuesday, December 11th, 2007 at 8:27 pm by rhino )
When you learn more in 2 days than the previous 10 years of riding, it’s significant. Such was my experience under the tutelage of Jimmy and Heather Lewis. Jimmy stresses proper body position, peg weighting, throttle/clutch control and picking an appropriate speed as the keys to success.
I spent a recent weekend with about 30 like-minded nutcases in Primm, Nevada learning how little I really knew about riding off-road. I started riding in the dirt pretty late in life, about age 35. Fortunately, several experienced friends gave me plenty of practical suggestions to get me through my initial rides. And over subsequent years, I acquired additional ideas that helped me refine my craft. But over the last few years I could smell the stagnation of a lack of fresh information. So it didn’t take much cajoling from one of my early mentors to convince me to sign-up for professional instruction.
Besides, the fact that I could combine it with a preceding week of riding in AZ this time of year didn’t hurt.
In case Jimmy’s name isn’t familiar to you, he was Cycle World magazine’s off-road editor for a bunch of years. He also competed in numerous long distance dirt events including the Baja 1000 and the Paris to Dakar. In the later, he took 3rd place in 1994. So the guy pretty much knows what he’s doing. The fact that he rides a BMW GS1200 means he tends to attract the Beemer crowd, but all brands, displacements and skill levels are welcomed. Jimmy performs all the same drills he asked us to attempt, but on the big and very heavy GS.
The class lasts 2 full days and costs about $600 and includes a very complete lunch both days as well as dinner the night in between.
The class had quite a diverse group of attendees. In addition to the expected GS, HP and X-Challenge BMW groups, there was substantial representation from the Austrian and Japanese faithful also. One guy even gave it a go on A Suzuki 650 V-Strom. The age seemed to range from mid-20s well into the 50s and maybe beyond. Even the fairer gender had several representatives. This mix demonstrates a large diversity of riders in the off-road community.
We spent the first day doing drills. While this may not seem very interesting or challenging, it really let’s you know where you’re at and some of them were things you normally wouldn’t attempt while just out for a trail ride.
My favorties were:
Purposely locking up the front wheel to get intimate with the sensation, and then reacting appropriately by releasing the front brake. I’ve always been very uncomfortable with a sliding front wheel but as I gained the “feel” for it, I started purposely trying to hold it on as long as possible and “enjoyed” it. The low sun angle this time of year allowed us to see the spokes stop rotating and feel the difference during the transition from rolling to sliding and back. Fantastic!
I also really enjoyed practicing unweighting the front wheel to assist in clearing objects which may be encountered out on the trail. It didn’t take long for this to turn in wheelie practice due to the ease with which the WR would hoist the front end.
The second day we went trail riding and interspersed it with a few additional practical drills. We divided ourselves into “hard” and “easy” groups and took separate trails to various rendezvous points. I choose the hard group and was rewarded with several very challenging sections that really test my mental and physical envelope. Perfect!
My most remembered moments were:
On a first stop of the second day, during a demonstration of ledge ascent/descent, Jimmy used me as an example of how vertical a bike bike can get without going over.
Later in the day, some of the riders in the easy group were given a chance to try something a little harder. When the first two members of the hard group got stuck going up the steep climb, most of the courage gathered earlier in the day by several members of the easy group waned. Most headed back down the easy way. As the third starter, I motored past one of the zero-velocity climbers and made it to the top without event. Serious accomplishment confidence!One of our stops was a sizable sand dune. My first attempt at a long, steep sand climb was successful and exhilerating, so I did it several more times, gaining additional confidence and knowledge.
No one was made to do anything they didn’t want too, which kept everyone basically in their own personal comfort zone.The biggest lessons I learned were: I should be spending most of my time on the pegs (sitting takes away stability and control), the front brake is still more important than the rear (even in the dirt), smooth throttle application keeps your wheels in line and in control and it’s better to slow down and have more time to react to a hazard than hammering it and hoping for the best.
I definitely give this class my highest rating and will probably take it again next time my skills need a jump start. And if you find yourself looking for a top notch school to improve your own personal off-road riding skills…….
ALL PHOTOS COURTESY OF CLASS MEMBER JASON LIEBRECHT