This might seem an obvious piece of advice, but for anyone looking to embark on an adventure ride (or pick it up as a hobby), some training is in order. The stakes are just too high on a heavy, expensive piece of machinery (like most adventure bikes) to not drop a few hundred on a course or two. Dirt riders coming to the street should take a track school to fine-tune asphalt control, and street riders should take a dirt bike course, in my opinion, even before taking an adventure course.
When I first rode a motorcycle 37 years ago, it was an off road machine. Somewhere in between then and now I started riding ATVs, then street bikes, and my two-wheeled off-road mojo became effectively zero. Obviously, my mastery of how to brake, clutch, and control a bike is at a high level, but (almost) everything I instinctively do on the street is wrong in the bizarro world of dirt riding. Just like anybody else venturing off-pavement, I needed to be able to change my responses to the feedback the bike gave me.
I needed a coach. Based on a couple of recommendations, I gave MotoVentures a call. Owner and lead instructor Gary LaPlante is a veteran off-road racer with over 40 years of experience, and his staff isn’t too far behind. Unlike an MSF dirt bike course that revolves around a lot of repetition and book-reading, MotoVentures’ loose curriculum is based on the individual needs of riders, made possible by small class sizes.
Thankfully, Gary and his staff were there to help. While the drills were being run, two other instructors remained at the ready if somebody needed a little extra coaching at a particular skill. They’d peel the shaky riders off the main group to coach them.
Conversely, once you nail a particular skill, you can either go catch a breather while the other students work, or practice other skills on the adjacent terrain. We used Gary’s rental Yamahas; WR450Fs or WR250Fs, depending on skill and size.
The open and close of the class was rooted in trail riding. The first was an easy meander around the grounds near base camp, while the closer led us farther afield on more difficult trails. The trickiest thing we did was practice in the conveniently located sand wash. Nobody in our group did the drill particularly well, but the practice paid off a few days later.
I felt like I was ready for the dirt after class, and to prove it, photographer Mike Calabro and I headed out on a two-day trek in the California desert—right from the training course. Drills in the sand finally clicked out on the trail, and riding down a long stretch of sandy trail on an overloaded XR650 proved to be surmountable, even if I hadn’t pulled it together during the class.
After class, one long-time dirt rider enthused, “Listen to your teachers, shut the f*** up, and do what you’re told. You’ll learn.” A later-in-life convert plainly stated, “I suck worse than I thought I did.” But we all felt like we learned a great deal that day.
If you’re in the Southwest, this class is well worth the trip. There are options to use your own bike and gear, or MotoVentures can rent you theirs.
Price for the one-day Skills Builder Class is $195 or $300 with bike rental. Gear is free.
PSS Off Road
Pine Barrens Adventure Camp