By Paul Berglund
Self evaluation can be difficult. If you’re racing your motorcycle on a track, you can compare your times to other racers. You will know where you stand in that context and you can give your self a grade using that as a guide. It can be very hard to figure out how to improve your riding on your own. Riding on the street is only graded on a pass \ fail. Did you come home from your ride? Good, you pass. How well you ride is hard to judge on the street or out on the trail. Who do you ask to evaluate your riding?
Cat Ely works for our fine paper. She’s a long time street rider. She’s been listening to me and my friends jabber on and on about trail riding for a few years now. She decided that she wanted to give it a try. She picked up a Honda CRF250L (an excellent choice) and signed up for a class at DirtBike Tech (DirtBikeTech.com or 763-757-DIRT).
Cat’s not a slacker like me, so she scheduled the introductory class for one week and the next class (Basic Trail Riding) the following week. The first class was filled up right away but there were two spots open in the second class. She asked if my friend (another long time trail rider) and I wanted to join her. The class size was small, just four students and the two instructors, Troy and Doug, really know their stuff. I was curious to know how good of a trail rider I am. It was even possible I might learn something. So sign up I did.
The class takes place near Henderson Minnesota. They have a large field set up with the usual cones and they have several trails laid out in the woods. The first part of the class is all about seeing how you ride a dirt bike. Troy and Doug start out by demonstrating an exercise and then watch you carry it out. They don’t just launch into the same program for every class, they take time to find out what skills you do and don’t have. Then they start to teach you. Like most people, I was surprised to find out what I didn’t know. I thought trail riding skills could be graded on a scale of 1 up to 3 or 4 and I was a solid two. For sure. Well, I may be a solid two, but the scale goes to ten.
The men and women who get a ten for their skill set are professionals making millions of dollars or earning gold medals in the Olympics. You see them on TV, not in your mirror. So step one, realistically evaluating my skills as a trail rider, didn’t make me very happy. My ego took it hard. I quietly put my whimpering ego in my lunch box and got back on the bike. Step two went much better, like Oscar Goldman, Troy and Doug began to rebuild me. They made me better, smoother, oranger.
I don’t have room to go into all I learned at DirtBike Tech, but I do want to address one thing that I mentioned in last months article. I accused KTM of making horrible seats for their off road bikes. That is still (very) true. KTM’s counter point was, if you’re sitting down, you are riding the bike wrong. Turns out, that’s (partly) true. One last observation, don’t keep your bruised ego in the cooler next to your lunch. It makes your sandwiches taste funny.
At no point did my instructors tell me I was doing it wrong. They were very quick to praise things that were done right and when they saw room for improvement, they would demonstrate a better way to do things. They could break any skill down to components and work with you till you understood each part and the whole of the skill. I wanted to pout, but I was too distracted by actual learning. It became clear that my bike is far more capable at trail riding than I am. I’m sure that’s true for you and your motorcycle. Whether we ride on the street, track or trail, our job as a rider is to not get in the way of the motorcycle doing it’s job. Your bike is already there, it’s you and me that are holding the process back.
In my case, I was hobbling the bike by placing my body in the wrong place. When riding off road you should stand on the pegs to give the bike room to move. You remain upright and keep your weight balanced while the bike leans left and right and see saws front to back. I now understood how to ride better, but I had been doing it wrong for years now. I think it’s harder to change old habits than to learn new skills. Two weeks after the class I had the chance to go trail riding for a whole day. I knew in my head what I was supposed to do, but my body would stubbornly revert to it’s old ways when ever I wan’t paying attention. I have a long way to go, but the home work is an absolute blast.
So what ever kind of motorcycle riding you’re doing or would like to do, take a class. Find out what you don’t know. Find out the best way to go about things. If you love motorcycles like me it can only improve your relationship. You will enjoy riding more when you improve your riding. A new bike can cost 10 or 20 thousand dollars. Figure out how much you have invested in your motorcycle(s). What percentage of that have you invested in learning how to ride? If you’re like me, it’s an embarrassing small amount. Like I said, your bike is capable of making it around that decreasing radius corner, or going over that log in the trail. Don’t you think it’s worth investing in yourself, so you can do it too?