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Old 12-15-2010, 05:25 AM   #1
nevlec
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Join Date: Sep 2004
Location: Houston, Tx
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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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Charles Nevle
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