Jimmy Lewis Off-Road Riding School: Review

(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…….

http://www.jimmylewisoffroad.com/Jimmy_Lewis_Off-Road_Riding_School/Ji mmy_Lewis_Racing_Inc._.html 





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A Taste of Harley

(Originally posted on motorcyclebloggers.com: Friday, March 21st, 2008 at 2:55 pm by rhino)

Several years ago I had a defining moment related to women and motorcycling. I was talking with some coworkers about two-wheeled touring in southern Utah and our resident biker chick, I’ll call her Molly, suggested we combine a ride with attending the annual Shakespearean festival in Cedar City. Not a suggestion you’d expect from a rough and tumble kinda gal like that.

Now I’m not the most cultured soul, but I liked the idea of riding some great roads and combining it with some intellectual entertainment, so I was in. The other riders in the conversation all bowed out with a myriad of lame excuses. So Molly and I made plans to ride the backroads down south, camp in the mountains (we were both cheap) and spend a couple days watching traditional Elizabethan thespian-ship.

I decided to take my Suzuki Bandit 1200 since I needed to take camping gear and a few days worth of supplies. I would normally have preferred one of my sportier mounts but El Bandito Grande, can hold it’s own when the road starts changing elevation and direction, and is vastly more comfortable on the long straight stretches. Molly rode her Harley Springer Softail Classic. I’d give you the multi-letter designation, but I’ve never acquired the knowledge or desire to decipher it. Molly was a match for her bike: attractive, in a girl next door kinda way, but also a tomboy and a bit rough around the edges.

We rode down to Cedar Breaks and pitched our tent in the mountains about 20 miles outside of town on a great piece of convoluted pavement. This gave us the opportunity to enjoy some challenging riding to and from our scheduled showtimes. And getting away from the crowds at the festival was a welcome respite also.

When we awoke the day after our arrival, there were no plays to attend until the afternoon, so my first thought was “let’s torture some rubber for an hour or two”. Molly was the still sleepy and bowed out, so I took the bags off the Bandit and proceeded to do a little canyon scratching. Now, the Bandit’s no ballerina, but she can get leant reet o’er when necessary, and after several entertaining passes through winding bits, I headed back to camp.

Upon my arrival, Molly (who was a bit more lucid), asked if I wanted to try out her Harley for comparison. As I’ve stated before, I’m not one to turn down the opportunity to experience a different flavor, so I said “sure”. As she proceeded to give me a pre-flight briefing, I could tell from her marketing type description of the bike, that she expected me to be totally enamored by the experience. Likely believing this test ride would have me eschewing all other manufacturers for American iron.

As I mounted the beast, my first thought was how different the riding position was. It took me several tries to find the floorboards. They were a lot further forward than I had imagined. The bars were also higher and further back than anticipated, putting me in the chopper traditional ape-hangar pose. Not a feeling of comfort or control for my sporty tastes. As the engine rumbled to life, I noticed shaking the likes of which were almost disconcerting. The front wheel moving back and forth a couple inches at idle. Also, the mirrors were a blur until you revved the engine. And, if you’ve never experienced heel/toe shifting, you are in for one strange experience.

So I took off, riding quite gingerly for the first several miles. As my confidence grew I started pushing a little and discovered some additional concerns. As expected, the floorboards touched down quite early, limiting my pace substantially. While the engine pulled strongly, it ran out of revs fast. The suspension travel was so limited that even small bumps caused wallowing and bottoming. And the brakes required a seriously hefty squeeze to get the bike to slow with authority.

As I arrived back at base, the expectant look on Molly’s face hinted that she was waiting for me to start gushing about her choice of mounts. In a good news, bad news choice, I usually lead with the positive side. I complimented how far Harley had come from it’s days of noise, smoke, leaking and general unreliability. I also made mention of the motors torque and relative smoothness when underway. I noted that resale prices made it a good investment. Unfortunately, I couldn’t think of many compliments related to actual functionality, especially when compared several other brands I’ve sampled.

After my synopsis, which created a look of disbelief and likely a bit of incredulity, I took a few steps back over to the Bandit. As I slung a leg over and pressed the starter button, a surprised Molly asked “Where are you going?”

“To get the taste of that Harley out of my mouth” was my reply.


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Gamma Get Together – May 2011- Asheville, NC

I have been friends with Rick Lance for more than 20 years. Our relationship started out as a source for me to get parts and advice for my 1986 Suzuki RG500 Gamma, but eventually grew beyond business into a friendship. Rick knows more about Gammas than just about anyone, and has made a business out of upgrading, servicing and selling these unique machines. If you’ve got a question about Gammas, this is your guy! (www.lancegamma.com)

Gamma Guru – Rick Lance

He has been putting on these Gamma meet and greet and rides (which also welcomes other two-strokers from the era – Yamaha RZ500/350 and Honda’s rare NS400) fairly regularly over the years, but circumstances have always prevented my attendance. This year, however, my excuses ran out and I found myself buying a plane ticket back east. Of course, a cheap round-trip airfare and the promise of an empty saddle for my butt didn’t hurt.

Alan and his Totally Trick, Gunmetal Gray Beauty

Rick lives in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains near Asheville, NC. And as you might guess, the roads are pretty spectacular. In fact they start just outside his front door and seem to go on endlessly. And while the famous/infamous “Dragon” is only a couple hours down the road, the local tarmac erases any desire to travel very far a field.

Yawn, not another Scenic Overlook

According to our host, this was one of the smaller gatherings in recent memory, but it didn’t lack for personality or riding skill. Attendees included folks from all over the country as well as Australia.

Dump the Clutch, Tom – an inside joke

We went on a couple rides each day to places named Marshall, Trust, Wolf Laurel, and we even made a brief foray into Tennessee.

Breakfast in Marshall at Zuma’s Coffee House – Rick dispensing advice

We sampled home-cooked breakfasts and lunches at a number of local establishments, but my personal favorites were the pie and sweet tea break in Hot Springs, and breakfast at the stunningly scenic Pisgah Inn on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Breakfast at the Pisgah Inn – more advice

At the end of each ride, the debrief was always very lively and entertaining with everyone recounting their own unique perspective, and doing so with a reasonable amount of honesty.

Lots of Lively Conversation and Fish Stories post ride

Lots of folks brought cameras and a plethora of photos were taken and exchanged. The roads were in very good condition with only the occasional sand/gravel detrius to keep your attentions focused. Traffic in this rural area was almost non-existent. The weather was virtually perfect; cool, foggy mornings followed by bright, sunny and warm afternoons. Only one thunderstorm made it’s way through and it was an after-hours affair.

Last Day Group – Rick, author, Tom, Scott

A couple pleasant outcomes: no one crashed or received the extra attentions of the local constabulary (pretty amazing considering some of the speeds and antics on the rides). And none of the Gammas came up lame after some pretty serious spankings they were enduring. This was a bit of a surprise considering these machines are as much as 25 years old and many are heavily modified. Fortunately, Rick’s emphasis with these bikes is more on reliability and functionality rather than outright performance. You see, he likes to ride at least as much as wrench.

Fresh Pistons and ready for reassembly

Even if one of the bikes had broken, Rick has the means and parts to fix virtually any issue that might have arisen. He could have even done a complete engine swap within hours if necessary. His garage is a wonder to behold; with as many as 15 Gammas in various states of operation, replacement parts stacked and hanging from the rafters, fabrications in various stages of completion and the equivalent of a full machine shop; it’s gear-head heaven.

Didn’t die and go to heaven, so this must be the Rapture

His personal and for-sale stable consists of everything from lightly modified originals all the way to custom-painted, big-bore, tweaked-within-an-inch-of-their-life beasts. The bike I rode was a limited edition Walter Wolf replica that was as close to stock as one these machines gets these days.

Rhino ready to mount the Wolf

It performed flawlessly. The softer stock suspension and old-school brakes made the bike easy to ride, even fast. It didn’t wear me out like more modern, stiffer, more abrupt machinery.

But for me, the best part of the entire trip was having a chance to ride a truly unique motorcycle on roads that suit it strengths perfectly. In reality, this “antique” hasn’t lost a step to modern machinery. You might conclude that I’m living nostalgically in the past and not familiar with modern performance, but my 05’ GSXR 750 and ’06 R1 LE would beg to differ. The rider is always the limiting factor, even more so in this day and age. And the pace of a few of my fellow riders was as quick as I’ve ever seen on any bike.

Air Quality Alerts everywhere we went

The Gamma’s traits of super light weight, flickability and thrilling power delivery was a perfect match to the roads in this region. Ridden properly (which is quite difficult for those used to modern 4-strokes), only racetracks or long straights reveal the Gammas age and weaknesses. But in the real world of sub-triple digit speeds and required mid-corner corrections, the Gamma can still surprise and delight!

A Gaggle of Gammas

The company of a bunch of like-minded two-stroke lunatics made the whole experience an event in a way that just a bunch of rides never could. What a fine way to spend a long Spring weekend. Thanks, Rick!

Damn, time to leave

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Riding the Spyder (Can Am that is)

Finally had a chance to sample one of those 3-wheeled motorcycles today. I have a little trouble calling it a motorcycle because while it shares a few similarties with it’s two-wheeled bretheren, there are some pretty radical differences also. We could argue forever as to the catagory this machine belongs in, but the fact is that most jurisdictions consider it a motorcycle, and it’s popularity, means here to stay. (Kinda like when skiers first po-poed the snowboarders)

Hangin out in Culpeper

 I’ll have to preface all my observations with the caveat that I’ve never ridden a trike or a motorcycle with a sidecar, or even one of those ancient death-trap ATVs, so I have no point of comparison with this type of machine. But after reading several favorable reviews, I’ve wanted to sample one for myself. The actual opportunity didn’t present itself until recently when I looked-up a former acquaintance. We’ll call her “Roxy”.

Anyway, I played passenger first while she demonstrated the various methods and controls. I don’t like to hop on such an unusual machine without some kinda demo, since a lot of AFV $10,000 winners seem to fit into this category, especially when unfamiliarity and a motor is involved.

To quote the owner: “this thing kinda drives itself”; not far from wrong when compared to a traditional motorcycle. A long time ago, I predicted motorcycles would do away with the clutch/gearshift combo and one of the brake levers. Well, apparently we’ve arrived. The clutch and front brake levers are GONE and the gearshift is a plastic paddle to the side of the horn button. It downshifts automatically as you slow down, which is both cool and disconcerting as it “blips” the throttle automatically when going down through the box (weird, because you hear and feel it blip down without any accompanying motions on your part). It still requires you to upshift, although I’m not sure why? I found the smoothest upshifts were accomplished by holding the throttle steady and just stabbing the shift paddle. Rolling off at all seemed to add a bit of herky-jerky to the affair. You can downshift if you like, but what’s the point, except maybe to get some additional RPMs for a pass.

This thing has reverse, which it needs because of it’s weight and size. But it’s also just plain fun to back out of a parking space with your feet already up on the footrests 🙂 You have to have to hold the shift paddle forward and push a special “R” button, but it only required a couple iterations to sink-in. After reversing, you have to double tap the shift paddle to get to first gear because neutral is at the bottom of the batting order, not between first and second. It only has 5 speeds, but that’s plenty. Also because of it’s heft, it has an emergency brake, which is probably a good idea when parking on even a slight slope. And failure to activate it results in lots of warning histrionics. Also, the start-up screen asks the you read the Owners Manual before you ride (before every ride? PLEASE? Lawyer scum!) but fortunately Bombardier incorporated an easy defeat to this message so you can get underway quickly.

The Rotax 60 deg V-twin displaces just under a liter (I’m guessing it the “old” Aprilia Mille engine) and has plenty of poke to pull this somewhat weighty rig around. And if you are willing to exercise the tach near it’s 12K redline, it’ll scoot!

There is a trunk under the “hood” that holds a good bit of stuff including your helmet. It was relatively comfortable, not much different from the riding position on a typical naked bike. It had decent wind protection but still has that “out in the breeze” feel which most of us prefer. And this thing gets the “looks”, young/old, male/female, motorcyclist/not, Harley/sportbike, everyone wants a closer look. And you get a lot more waves from folks by the side of the road too.

My biggest complaint about riding this contraption was the fact that it felt real “busy” even when cruising in a straight line on a smooth road. The slightest camber in the road causes it to wander downhill, requiring constant correction, if not brute force to keep it tracking between the lines. I feel that either a geometry change or some kind of self centering mechanism would make this much less annoying. With 3 staggered wheels it almost impossible to avoid objects in your path, like road-kill. so you hit a lot more stuff than you would on a traditional motorcycle. Cornering seemed much more “forced” (like you have to fight it a bit) rather than “flowing”, which took away a lot of the feel I look for when riding. I don’t know if I just wasn’t doing something right, or if it would always be awkward (it seems cars corner better, maybe it’s the 3-wheels thing)

My traditional motorcycle reflexes gave Roxy the giggles on several occasions: like when I’d put my left foot down at all stops, when I’d toe-up the next gear where there is no lever and also when I’d reach for the front brake when slowing. It reminded me just how much we are creatures of habits

After only an hour or so on the machine, I was getting comfortable as an operator, and it seems like it wouldn’t take much time to convert over (kinda like getting used to the turn signals on a BMW). But I would NOT recommend having a traditional motorcycle and one of these at the same time, because it would be really hard to go back and forth.

Would I buy one? Potentially in the future, if I thought balance would be a problem. But for now I’ll stick to my single-tracker. But I was impressed enough with the technology, feel and integration to move it from the “never” category into the “possible” one.

But that’s just my opinion,


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Phoenix – rising from the ashes of motorcyclebloggers.com

Yeah, I’m back online.

The first blog site I belonged to, motorcyclebloggers.com, has gone belly-up due to apathy. We had a great run of about 5 years and as many as 5 or 6 contributors, but various real life events slowed down postings to a crawl (and we never had a big audience anyway). It was kind of an outlet for several of us who liked to ride and then talk about it. So after months of inactivity, our fearless leader, AngryBob, let the site lapse (I don’t blame him).

But I still have a desire to post various stories and thoughts (mostly about motorcycles) from time to time, so I’m setting up this location for my future thoughts and observations.

I’m going to try to recreate several of my previous posts from motorcyclebloggers.com in addition to creating new material.

Wish me luck (and motivation),


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