Apr. 5-6, 2013
Jason and I had the opportunity to attend one of Shane Watt’s “DirtWise” two-day riding classes. Shane is a former world class enduro racer that now travels around the country teaching riding skills. He is originally from Australia, so he is really fun to listen to. He has a great sense of humor and an amazing ability to pick out what each person in the class needs to work on.
Shane focuses on increasing our skill so that we can ride safer, longer, and if we desire, faster. He helps you improve your skill and riding efficiency so you don’t get tired so quickly. But to do so really takes a lot of work. We were hammered by the end of each day. On day we rode about 25 miles in total, but it felt like at least 100. On day two we only rode 10-12 miles, but it was even more intense than the first day.
Shane teaches you how to do each skill and why it is important. He has a series of skill exercises that help you focus on one or two keys points at a time. It was amazing how much everyone in the class improved on each skill within about 15 minutes of doing drills. We would then go apply those drills out on the trail.
Shane set up a fun warm-up loop that consisted of tight corners, ravines, whoops, and hill climbs and descents. I suspect by the end of the course we could ride the loop at least twice as fast as our first attempt – and feel safer doing so.
The class is fairly expensive, but I felt it was well worth the money. I learned more in two days than I would in two years attempting this on my own. I certainly haven’t mastered these new skills, but at least I know some things to focus on and some simple drills to help me improve.
This document gives a brief summary of some of the skills we covered, as well as my comments about the experience. Here is a brief video containing a few short clips from the class.
Perhaps the most valuable skill exercise of the entire class is the “slow ride” drill. Shane taught us about proper body position (which I have always had wrong) and then had us ride as slowly as possible without losing balance. We had to shift our body position and use all of the controls to maintain balance and try for a minimum speed. At first it was challenging, but within a few minutes everyone was able to go a little bit slower without dabbing a foot down. Shane said that if we can balance while stopped, that is slow enough. I never got quite that slow, but the drill certainly helped prepare me for the rest of the exercises.
After completing this drill we rode around the warm-up loop again – this time standing up the entire time. It was challenging, but it forced us to use the skills as we had just practiced. Later on we rode the loop sitting down the entire way. That was terrible. We then discussed where it was best to stand and where it was best to sit.
The next drill was drag racing. One of the goals was to learn to quickly accelerate without lifting the front end or losing control. This is the first time I quickly stomped through the gears without using the clutch or letting off the throttle. When I did it right, I was amazed at how quickly the bike accelerated. It felt like being on a rocket. At first it was a little scary, but there was also an adrenaline rush.
Jason was at a disadvantage being a big boy on a 250 racing against guys on their 450s and two-stroke 300s. But he had fun giving it a shot.
I have always been afraid of doing a “stoppie” for fear of going over the bars – but it really wasn’t that difficult. I was surprised how slowly you could go and still get the rear end up in the air. The challenge was to stomp on the front brake hard enough to launch the rear end. Once up, the challenge was to keep your feet on the pegs and not panic and stick your feet out. This drill helped us gain confidence and improve our balance.
Front Tire Skid
The front tire skid is a very valuable drill. It is inevitable that on occasion you will brake too hard and lock the front wheel. When this happens, it can be extremely scary. The goal of this drill was to help us get used to that feeling and gain confidence in applying the slow riding skills to maintain balance and control.
Shane then showed us the effectiveness of engine braking (which I have relied on heavily), use of the rear brake, the front brake, and using both brakes together. To help us master aggressive braking we returned to the drag race course, only this time we were judging how quickly we could come to a stop at the far end.
Cornering has always been one of my biggest weaknesses. For some reason I have always been afraid to lean my bike enough to do a quick turn. Our first exercise was to ride in circles around four cones set in a square about 10’ on a side. We tried to gradually increase our speed as we went.
We then did a drill that combined fast acceleration, hard braking, and cornering all in one. We had two left turn routes and two right turn routes all going simultaneously. Luckily the wind was howling, otherwise we would have had zero visibility due to all of the dust.
The final drill of day one was the brake slide. We rode in a zigzag pattern through a set of cones. As we started a turn, we would lock the rear brake, causing the rear end to slide out. This would take us about ¼ of the way through the turn and get us in a good leaning position. The trick was to then complete the turn using the cornering skills we had just practiced. I did fairly well at the brake slide, but I had a really hard time smoothly transitioning to the rest of the turn. When I locked the brake I would pull in the clutch so my motor wouldn’t kill, and then I would forget to let it back out. Thus, I usually came to a stop between the sliding and the turning. I need to work on that skill a lot more.
The first drill of day two was taking rutted corners at a relatively high speed. I was impressed as Shane demonstrated the skill – but I was also intimidated – it looked pretty scary to me.
I actually did better than I expected on this drill. While out on the trail I have always noticed that my left turns are worse than my right turns, but in this drill the opposite was true. I am not sure why.
We started off riding around the rut slowly, trying to keep our front tire down in the bottom of the rut. Then we gradually picked up our speed. This drill required the simultaneous execution of several key skills, which I could never seem to put together. Sometimes I would not keep my foot firmly placed out in front, sometimes I would let the front wheel leave the bottom of the rut (and I would blow through the berm and crash), and sometimes I would not be aggressive enough on the throttle (falling to the inside).
Even though I never executed any ‘good’ turns, I did make some progress and increased my confidence at leaning. This really helped me take the corners on the warm-up loop at a slightly faster pace.
During this exercise I took my first three crashes of the day. I was sure glad that Jason and I got body armor for Christmas! We both tested it out today.
Now that we had covered balance, acceleration, braking, and cornering, Shane wanted us to push ourselves a little harder. So, we returned to the warm-up loop for some timed laps. Shane started us off one at a time, about 30 seconds apart. It was amazing how much faster everyone rode the loop when they were being timed.
Jason started after me and Shane challenged him to catch me. He did – five times in a row.
One my first lap I did fairly well except in one left-hand off-camber turn (the hardest corner for me). This was the only time I killed my bike on the loop. That allowed Jason to easily catch up to me.
On my second lap I started off really badly. I was just a little off on everything – missing my line, feeling off balance, etc. So, I decided to slow down a bit and relax and enjoy the ride. For the rest of that lap and the next three laps, I focused on precision riding and being consistent rather than just pushing the speed. The final three laps were my best of the two days. I was able to ride the entire loop without any major flaws. And Jason didn’t catch me until near the end of the loop!
I have practiced wheelies in the past, and on occasion I have attempted a small wheelie to get over a log or a ledge. Sometimes it would work, and sometimes I would lunge forward and slam into the ledge. I definitely need to work on consistency.
Shane teaches four different types of wheelie. First is a wheelie from a stop. This is performed mostly with the clutch. I did fairly well with these, although I never really got consistent. I focused on keeping my right foot on the brake lever since application of the rear brake is the safe way to prevent looping out (going over backwards). The natural tendency is to put your feet down, so you have to force yourself to keep your feet on the pegs and use that brake.
The second wheelie is performed while sitting down but moving forward. This is done primarily with a blip of the throttle, although sometimes it helped to blip the clutch as well. I found this quite a bit more difficult than the first type of wheelie unless I was going fast enough that my engine was getting up into its power band. But our goal was to increase the height of our wheelie, not go for distance.
The third type is a stand-up wheelie. Jason and never did have any success with this one. I can sometimes do it on the trail (usually when I don’t want to), but on flat ground I just couldn’t get the timing of pre-loading the suspension and blipping the throttle. This skill will require a lot more work.
I didn’t even attempt the fourth type of wheelie – the 180º wheelie. The goal is to pop a wheelie without moving forward, then pirouette the bike around one foot placed on the ground. To do this skill (which could come in very handy on tight trails) you really need to have mastered the first type. I was not getting my wheelie high enough and I was moving forward much too far.
The afternoon of day two was extremely exciting. Unfortunately, Jason and I were really tired so we decided to leave our camcorder and helmet camera in the car. Big mistake. This would have made great video – there were tons of wipe-outs!
Shane took us to the bottom of ravine about 50-70’ deep with very steep side walls. We stopped at the base of a hill that was steep enough that I would normally not attempt to ride up it (unless there was no way around it).
We started back from the hill so we could carry some momentum into the climb. That was actually very easy on my 450. I noticed Jason struggling a little bit on his 250.
Each time we would move in a little closer so we had less speed attacking the hill. I did fine all the way up to the base of the hill. But on my final two attempts, I started about 8-10’ up from the bottom of the hill, so I had no running start at all. Each time I made it part way up, then started to wheelie. Rather than slip the clutch (as I should), I would let off the gas, losing my power. I would then gun it to regain power and loop out, taking a tumble down the hill. Luckily it was fairly soft clay so the fall wasn’t too bad.
Shane also taught us how to spin our fallen bike around so that it is easy to pick up and get back on the bike. His technique made so much sense, but it is amazing how difficult most people make this task.
That gave me crashes #4 and #5.
One of the challenges of this exercise was dodging all of the fallen bikes and bodies scattered all over the hill. We had three lines of climbers going simultaneously, and waiting for someone to get out the way was not an option. We simply had to dodge the obstacles just like you might encounter out on the trail. At times there were several riders down at the same time, which is why it would have made an entertaining video.
I knew about grinding since we had previously watched Shane’s DirtWise DVDs. In fact, at times someone in the family would often comment that they did some grinding as we rode through a rutted section of trail.
Grinding is when your rear wheel is following a different line than your front wheel. Again, it requires good slow-speed balance and use of the controls to properly grind through and obstacle.
In the videos Shane teaches grinding by riding along a smooth log with the front wheel on one side and the rear wheel on the other. Since there are no trees in the area we were riding, we went straight to applying the skill on the steep hill we had just been climbing.
As with the hill climb, we had a lot of spectacular wipe-outs during the grinding exercise. Shane started off with a spectacular demonstration of the skill, including riding up the opposite side of the ravine that seemed almost straight up. I doubt I could climb up that side, but Shane rode up and down it multiple times, having a great time doing so. This was finally his time to have some fun. And we had fun watching him.
Jason really struggled with this drill at first because he attempted it while sitting down. You really need to stand up so you can shift your balance as your rear wheel slides around.
As you traverse a side hill, your rear wheel will spin out and slide down the hill. You have to react by shifting your balance and counter steering the bike.
I was really nervous on my first attempt since the hill was so steep and you could easily slide down and drop about 4’ into the wash bottom. And there were bikes and bodies scattered all over the hill from those that had already failed.
But for some reason, I actually did quite well on this drill. I stood up and gunned it – just like Shane said to do. And it was a blast. As my back end slid around, I just shifted my balance and pressed on. After three of four fun and successful runs, I got a little over confident and crashed on my final three attempts. But it was a lot of fun. I just wish we had more time so I could have tried grinding the other direction across the hill.
This exercise would have also been great to capture on video. One guy even did a full somersault as he got launched over the handlebars. He was not doing the drill set up by Shane, but attempted to climb out of the wash like Shane did while playing around. Rather than wheelie to get out of the wash bottom, he slammed straight into it – while most of the class was watching. That was the best blooper of the trip!
After picking my bike up eight times and doing all of these more advanced drills, I was pretty exhausted by the time we got to our final drill – crossing ravines. We crossed a small ravine (about 10’ deep) on our warm-up loop, but Shane took us to about a 70’ extremely steep ravine for the final drill. When I saw it, I thought no way – not me.
Again Shane gave a spectacular demonstration and had a lot of fun doing so. Not only was he cruising up and down the ravine, he was getting some impressive air as he launched out of the top of the ravine on each side. The entire class was content to just watch him in action.
Only the better riders in the group attempted this exercise (since there were no easier ravines nearby). Again, we saw some spectacular wipe-outs! Some looped out on the way up, and others popped a wheelie at the very top. One fellow wheelied at the top and fell off the back, but his bike kept going – doing a wheelie until it dropped out of sight on the other side.
Jason and I both thoroughly enjoyed taking this class and we were amazed at how much we learned and progressed in just two days. We certainly didn’t master any of the new skills, but we made significant progress and now know many things that we need to continually practice until we replace our old bad habits with correct habits. The class was well worth our time and the cost.