russell_bynum Posted March 28, 2007 Share Posted March 28, 2007 "If you're gonna play the game, you better learn to play it right." That was our reasoning when we signed up for the Intermediate dirt rider class at MotoVentures last Saturday. Lisa's never been on a dirt bike, and the closest she's been to dirt riding is taking the Mokee Dugway on her RS. I rode dirtbikes as a kid, but it's been 15+ years, and I was basically self-taught, so I figured any skills that I still remembered were probably wrong anyway. MotoVentures is located on a 300 acre dirt riding ranch Southeast of Temecula, CA. It's got everything from a challenging hill climb, to boulders, to nice flats, to a lake, to a sandy wash. In short: It's a dirt rider's paradise, and a great place to learn. They offer various levels of dirt rider training. Novice is for people who've never been on a bike before. Intermidiate is for people who already know how to ride, but maybe don't have any dirt skills, or their dirt skills are very basic. Advanced is for experieneced dirt riders. They also offer trials training, which we fully intend to go try sometime in the future. You can bring your own bike, or rent one of their Yamaha dirtbikes, which range in size from 230cc down to 50cc. Naturally, we brought our own bikes: Lisa on her DR200SE and me on my DRZ400S. We arrived and were greeted by trials guru, instructor, and the owner of MotoVentures, Gary Laplante. After getting our bikes unloaded, and gearing up, we had a quick rider's meeting where we talked about each other's skill levels, and divided up into groups for the day. Our group of 5 or so intermediate students went with Gary, while the beginners with with Gary's son and another instructor. (I can't remember either of their names now. ) We started with sit-down turns...foot down, counter-balancing the bike. We were riding on a big flat area that was mostly hard-packed dirt, with some loose sand here and there for good measure. Then we started doing stand-up stuff....really leaning the bike into the turn and counter-balancing with body weight. It was amazing how different it is than street. I haven't fully got my mind around the "why", but countersteering wasn't useful for much except sliding the front wheel. The way to initiate the lean, was by pressing on the inside footpeg. Body position is WAY more important than on the street, and you're constantly crawling all over the bike. I had one interesting moment turning a full-lock to the left when the damn bike died. No bogging down, no warning, just dead. Even though the bike touched the ground, I'm not counting that as a fall since I just stepped off, picked it up, and got back on. We did some small hill climbs, pretending the hill had no traction, so we had to use momentum to carry us up (but time it right so you don't carry so much momentum that you launch yourself halfway to Fresno). Gary said we can use this on small sandy hills, as well as low-traction areas of bigger hills, and it'll allow us to get up the hill without spinning the rear and digging big ruts. Along those lines, Gary really emphasized the stuff we can do to minimize our impact on the terrain. Standing beside the hill we were about to climb, it looked nearly impossible, but once we got to it, it wasn't nearly as hard as it seemed. Gary had me and two other guys move over to a bigger, steeper hill. I was just sure I was going down, but using the techniques he showed us, that was a breeze as well. We worked on K-turns to get ourselves unstuck if we get stuck on a hill. I'm sure this will become a VERY usefull skill. I suck at braking in the dirt. I feel like I'm fairly decent on the binders on the street, but I was having a real struggle trying to brake at the threshold of front wheel lockup during the braking drills that we did. Several times, I thought it was locked, but it wasn't, and when it did lock, I did a terrible job modulating it, and my forks were bouncing up and down as evidence. More stuff to work on. We did turns on a hill...riding across the lakebed, up the bank on the far side, then carving a big arc across the face of the bank. That felt strange having the ground's slope change under you so dramatically as you're riding. We practiced riding across a hill, leaning the bike down into the hill for traction. And we attacked the "sandy wash of doom". The first time across, we followed Gary through the shallow stuff. The bike squirmed around a little, but no big deal. Lisa got pretty sideways under power getting out of that, which made me laugh. The next time through, we could either take the easy way, or go off to the side through the deeper stuff. I took the deeper stuff, and that was definitely a learning experience. You can't turn with the bars or you crash. You can't let off the throttle or you crash. You can't drop below a certain speed or you crash. So basically, you twist the throttle, herd the bike along with footpeg pressure, and laugh like a hyena. What a riot. Then we did a short trail ride, which was really fun. I was getting very tired (especially my quads) and started making lots of mistakes. But, though I woudln't have won any points for style and grace, I kept the bike upright. Gary demonstrated the hill climb at the mid-point of the ride. Just about fell off my bike watching that. I couldn't even see the line that he was going to take...but he just blasted up there like it was no big deal. Then he turned around and came right back down like there was nothing to it. Shesh. Finally, Gary took three of us (whoever wanted to) and worked on doing a wheelie to get the front wheel up over a log. I sucked at that, but I think mostly because my quads were so toast, that I couldn't get the suspension working for me. We were supposed to press down on the suspension, then blip the throttle as it rebounded. The idea was to loft the front wheel over the obstacle, then cut the throttle before the rear wheel hit so it doesn't just plow into the obstacle at full speed. I suck at wheelies, aparently because I just wasn't getting it. I'm going to try again sometime when my quads haven't gone on strike. I'll let Lisa tell her tale. From my perspective, she was doing well considering this was her first time in the dirt, and really her first time riding that bike. Plus, all of the body position stuff is 100% opposite from the track stuff that she's been working so hard to learn. She fell a few times, but each time she got up, dusted herself off, and got back on the bike. I'm sure it will not be long before she gets it...and I'll be spending my time riding along in her dust cloud wondering where I went wrong. At lunch, Gary gave us a trials demo, and all I can say is Isaac Newton didn't know what that hell he was talking about. The day was really fun, and quite educational as well. I can't wait to get out there and put some of these skills into practice, and I'm really looking forward to coming back to try the trials thing. I highly recommend this to anyone who wants to learn how to ride in the dirt. If you've got a GS and you're affraid to take it offroad: This is the class for you. Take the class on their rental bikes, then take those skills back to your own bike. If you are a street rider considering riding dirt, this would be a great (and cheap) way to give it a try. If you're a street rider and you just want to increase your skills, this is your class. Learning to be comfortable in limited traction situations is very valuable. The body position stuff isn't good for high-speed work, but is ideal for the low-speed stuff. Anyone who ever had the chance to watch Fernando (former trials guru and dirt rider) effortlessly manuver his big RT through tight parking lots knows what those low-speed skills can do for a street rider. Speaking of Fernando: Big thanks to FB for suggesting this class. It was money well spent, and we had a ball. Link to comment
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