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Old 12-15-2010, 05:25 AM   #1
nevlec
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DirtWise After Action Report

My son Matthew, age 12, and I spent the weekend of December 11-12 at the Shane Watts DirtWise Offroad School. The school was held at Triple E Ranch in Navasota. The cost of the school is $360 and info can be found here: http://www.shanewatts.com/faq.

I signed up for the school in order to improve my dirt skills. My riding background is primarily street on sport bikes. I have done numerous track days, have commuted by bike for several years, and am extremely comfortable in that environment. I began riding dirt about a year ago as a way to combine my love of riding with spending time with my kids. I purchased dirt bikes for each of them and myself, opting for a WR450F. I chose a larger bike as I wanted to be able to have something I could dual sport with to ride in places like Big Bend. In retrospect a 250 would have been fine, but I’m happy with the 450.

My dirt experience consists of a few trips to Big Bend doing the park roads, a few roads off the park outside of Terlingua, a couple of days at Sam Houston National Forest doing the single track there and probably 10 or so days spent at Skull Creek, a property south of Cleveland I have a membership in via the Trail Riders of Houston, and a few trips to other dirt parks.

I would say my comfort level on dirt roads is high, and on single track low. Anything technical like deep ruts in tight woods and I’m slow as molasses. I found that a major avenue for improvement in my street skills was reading books like Lee Parks’ Total Control and Nick Ienatsch’s Sport Riding Techniques in addition to the Bible, David Hough’s Proficient Motorcycling. Track days and MSF courses rounded out the educational side of improving skills. As a new dirt rider I was humbled by the lack of transferability of my road skills to dirt. I was starting all over again and was looking for a way to duplicate the type of learning I had done for the street, identify the core skills needed and begin to hone those. I remember the mantra from the various books and road lessons – work on smooth and fast will come. So, with this mission I signed up for DirtWise.

The school consists of two days of instruction and is roughly akin to an MSF course for dirt on steroids. Shane has identified several specific skills he has students work on via exercises conducted in an open field and mixes in rides through single track in the woods where you can apply the skills in a real environment.

Class began promptly at 8:30 with an intro and then a warm up lap through the woods. I knew I was going to be stretching my comfort level as soon as I turned into the woods, the single track was as challenging as the most gnarly stuff you can find in Sam Houston my son and I were, with possibly one exception, the least capable riders in the class. Most, if not all, the other riders were experienced trail riders who had been racing for some time.

Drills were aimed at teaching proper body positioning, use of the controls, balance, and improving rider confidence. The superiority of the standing position in most situations was emphasized via many of the drills being done in both a sitting then standing position. Drills included a slow ride, riding with the front wheel locked, riding in a rut, fast stops, stoppies, fast acceleration, turning in circles, and riding along (straddeling) a log (grinding). After ever couple of drills we would head to the woods for a few laps to practice incorporating the skills in the trails.

Shane also pointed out specific skills to be utilized in the trails such as line selection by holding a class at a spot on the trail appropriate to the point he wanted to make.

The day ended around 5:30. It was a long day with a 30 min break for lunch and though I had done arguably the least amount of riding of anyone taking the class (did I mention I’m slow) I was exhausted. As soon as I crawled into bed my thigh cramped – that kind of exhausted.

We hit it again at 8:30 the next morning and moved onto more advanced skills like wheelies (I endoed twice), log crossing, drifting, and cornering in a rut. Same sort of format, drills mixed with trail rides. Class ended around 2:30 after an amazing demonstration of hill climbing by Shane up a ridiculously high vertical sand wall on a hill. Just sick.

My son was riding a CRF80, a small bike that made a doing a lot of the drills and riding in the rough trails difficult, but he kept at it, had a great attitude and really had a good time and I believe learned a lot. I learned how much I don’t know, but learned that like with sport bikes, there are specific skills you can work on to improve technique that you can then apply to various situations which will make you a smoother and eventually faster rider.

The school is fast paced, no frills, no breaks, hard core learning. Shane clearly enjoys what he is doing, has skills that mortals can only dream of, and works very hard at providing individual feedback and ensuring that all students at various skill levels get the most out of the experience.

I think the class could have been improved had there been trails that were less difficult for less experienced riders, but he has to work with what he has available, and when the trails became too much for my son and I we just retreated to the open field and worked on the skills such as slow riding, wheelies, etc.

I highly recommend the class for those looking to improve trail riding skills, though I imagine buying his DVD would be provide similar benefits if you are disciplined enough to actually go out and create the drills yourself and do them.

I plan on working on the skills at Skull Creek, setting up an area to work on the drills and do a couple of them before each trail ride.
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Old 12-15-2010, 01:48 PM   #2
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Re: DirtWise After Action Report

Good write up. I wanted to do this class before they relocated it from Houston to Navasota. Too far for me to ride back and forth each day on the dirtbike.

I have a copy of the Dirtwise DVD and what you outlined for your class does sounds almost identical to it. With that in mind my big question for you is whether you thought the $360 cost was worth it? How many riders attended your class? Was it Shane only as instructor or does he use assistants?

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Old 12-15-2010, 02:01 PM   #3
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Old 12-15-2010, 03:17 PM   #4
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Re: DirtWise After Action Report

Yes I think the $360 was worth it as I honestly do not have the discipline to go and do all the exercises and having very little dirt experience having Shane critique my technique was very valuable. To really get the benefit out of the class however, I will need to put into practice the lessons taught. There is no magic tid bit that he gives that will transform your riding, it is all the little things such as how to stand, where to place your body weight in different situations, where to aim the front wheel while turning in a rut, where to sit on the bike in a turn etc. This is where the DVD would be useful as a reminder/reinforcment of the ideas taught in the class.

It is just Shane, no assistants.
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Old 12-15-2010, 05:10 PM   #5
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Re: DirtWise After Action Report

Great write up!

I appreciate the offer of the loaner bike and I wish I could have take you up on it. Unfortunately, work got in the way. Sounds like the class was pretty demanding physically, like it might be worth getting in shape before taking it :doh;

I think I will start with the DVD maybe. Like you, I like the idea of having very specific skills/drills to work on. All my dirt riding "skills" have been acquired through trial and error... well... mostly error
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Old 12-15-2010, 05:22 PM   #6
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Re: DirtWise After Action Report

Yea, I'd imagine it'd be kind of like trying to learn a musical instrument by video. You really need someone experienced to kind of help you, critique you and guide you along.

I have his video and have tried some of the exercises. I usually end up in the situation however with other riders who are like "Hey, let's go ride" and head off into the trails. And to be honest, the trails are more fun than doing drills in a field, so I end up on the trails. I plan on dragging out the dvd and taking it with me on my ipod or android. I did that last time with my ipod. Watch a section, go out and do it, watch another section and go out and do it.

I'd still love to take his class however as I think it would be highly beneficial. Glad you and your son had a good time, thanks for the report.
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Old 12-15-2010, 06:15 PM   #7
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Re: DirtWise After Action Report

I have never heard a bad report on his riding courses and they are suppoased to be well worth the money.
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Old 12-16-2010, 09:10 AM   #8
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Re: DirtWise After Action Report

Thanks for the writeup! Sounds like a great class, would love to attend one. That March 26th class sounds good... that's my birthday
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Old 12-16-2010, 09:38 AM   #9
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Re: DirtWise After Action Report

Nice write up. I'm very interested in this course. Like you, my background is on the streets. Just started DS'ing a couple of years ago and still have a lot to learn. Riding on the streets and in the dirt are more different then people think.

I too my start with the video since it's going to be awhile before i'm back in Texas.
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Old 12-21-2010, 02:03 PM   #10
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Re: DirtWise After Action Report

Good report Charles. Considering we were the only riders on larger, street legal 4 stroke bikes, we did pretty good. Short of the guy "Ken" on a CRF450 most of the other riders had smaller KTM 2 strokes.

The one thing that became evident rather quickly is that we were out of shape compared to the other riders. The trails were pretty beat up and rutted in a major way but still doable. My problem here was that I had to spend too much time getting out of the way as the faster riders bagan to lap us.

I noticed that we were able to complete most of the drills but at a slower pace than the other, more experianced riders. The "U" shaped rut had me beat. I never did get around one properly. By mid morning the second day muscle fatigue started to set in and I couldn't keep the pace. Ended up doing one or two trys at a drill and moved off to the side as to not slow up the other riders. Operating the clutch at this point was becomming a chore.


Your son Matthew was looking good out there. He had some trouble grinding the log due to the ground clearance of his bike. Shane seemed to offer some one on one instruction that helped Matthew gain the confidence to clear the log on the other side. Shane also stayed on me for using more than two fingers on the clutch and seemed to be watching everyone closely.

All in all a had a great time and I feel that the instruction was well worth the money. Other than the trails being less than ideal the class size could have been smaller. What happend to water crossings? Thought that was part of the class?

One thing to remember about the trail riding portion is this. Shane kept telling the young ones that it wasn't a race. We were supposed to be practicing our slow ride skills and line selection on the trail. Somehow this was lost in translation.
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