Before a recent assignment riding through the Mojave desert with riders far more experienced than myself, I’d been afraid I’d bitten off more than I could chew, so I signed up for a one-day class to wake up my hidden dirt-riding talents.
It wasn’t my first mile off the pavement, and while I think I’m somewhat experienced, I’m simply luckier than anything else. I know there’s stuff I need to learn, and while I can head to the OHV park next weekend and ride in circles all day long, I’m never going to learn the right way through the turn until I ask someone better to correct my bad habits. So, who better to learn from than one of America’s finest?
Cue the family-operated Jimmy Lewis Riding School (JLR), a friendly, two-day, hands-on training session that’s a great first step for getting your dual-purpose motorcycle or MX bike onto the trail. The school has a welcoming feel, offering classes for adventure bikes and smaller-displacement dirt bikes, as well as providing a racing curriculum for those seeking to podium. The Jimmy Lewis Off-Road Riding School schedules classes primarily on weekends from autumn through spring, unless the school is attached to events like the KTM Adventure Rider Rally and the like.
So what did I hope to glean from this class? Proficiency in the sand, primarily…or at least learning how to tackle the terrain. OK, I know to lean back, sure, but what do I do when the front hooks up and I’ve got a two-foot escape window? Jump? Been there, done that, paid for the parts. I also hoped to learn how to regain momentum after stopping on a hill—which happens to me all the time. I get knocked off my line, bike pointed toward the trailside abyss and I lock it all down, saving myself but killing my progress. So now what?
Jimmy Lewis has been riding since he was a child, rising through the ranks to podium in the famed Dakar rally, and winning four International Six Day Enduro gold medals—and so much more. This man can ride a 1200GS better than many of us maneuver our desk chairs, and is also Editor-at-Large for sister publication Dirt Rider magazine. He’s been schooling road runners in the desert sands of California and Nevada since 1998.
Requirements for taking any JLR class includes the proper riding gear and your bike, which must have knobby tires installed. So-called “round” tires won’t do, so check the school’s website for clarification if you don’t know. The website also explains how to determine your riding level so you are grouped with appropriately-matched riders, but no matter your level, you’re sure to be challenged, and sure to learn something. If you think you know everything there is to know about riding a motorcycle, get off it before you hurt yourself.
During my abbreviated riding class, my classmates and I began our day in the seat of a classroom chair before we put one mile on our bikes. Re-training those with bad dirt-riding habits requires attention, but thanks to a baby-step approach, each drill in the day's course is built upon the last, thus creating a better overall riding package. There's no such thing as a dumb question, so ask away!
Teaching more than just riding techniques, Jimmy challenges you to think as well. Going fast does not equal more skill; in fact, speed masks skill and increases the amplitude of the mistake, especially when your skill runs out.
The JLR approach to turning you into a better rider on and off road is often duplicated by other riding classes, so I can’t go into the details here without risking my life, but I can tell you the drills are fun as well as educating. Ever do a stoppie on the dirt? Intentionally? You will. How about panic braking with control? You’ll be doing it by the end of the day; you might even stop without putting your foot down, and wheely away, all in one combination. By the end of day two, you’ll be drag racing your classmates and sliding the back end around while Jimmy coaches you around the cones, then critiques you afterward. It’s not as scary as it sounds, and believe me, you’ll want to hear what he’s got to say.
So, don’t ride the knobbies off your tires on the asphalt, get that machine in the dirt where it belongs. Might as well take some instruction from a seasoned veteran of dirt riding while you’re at it.
Two full days of instruction from Jimmy Lewis and associates (including lunch and dinner the first day) will run you just $600. Lodging is available in the Pahrump, NV area. Most students ride their own bikes, but rentals are available through JLR partners.