The Rich Oliver Mystery School | Seeing Sideways

Getting educated at the Rich Oliver Mystery School

By Ari Henning, Photography by Richard VanderMeulen

If all this sliding business sounds like a thrill, it is. But if it sounds easy, you’re mistaken. “There is no perfect lap, because the track is always changing. This differs from roadracing, and it’s harder,” says Oliver. “If you can excel here, you’re going to have an edge on a paved track that offers consistent traction and reference points.” And there it is—the crux of the whole dirt-riding concept, and a concise answer to my question. While the specific techniques you practice at the Mystery School are largely unique to flattrack, the overarching skills and bike control you learn will aid you in whatever discipline of the sport you choose to pursue, whether that’s roadracing, carving up the canyons, or just commuting to work.

Oliver’s yard is a petri dish for culturing riding skill, and the Mystery School is an effective way to form the mental connections and develop the muscle memory needed to properly react to a sudden loss of traction. But as it turns out, sliding is just the medium by which you learn a whole host of skills that will make you a safer, faster, more confident rider.

As goofy as it sounds, “Fun Camp” is an appropriate name. Two-day schools are held on weekends and cost $600. That price includes use of a bike, gas, two lunches, breakfast on Sunday, and unlimited snacks and drinks. Head-to-toe gear is available for rent for $25 a day. Crashing occurs, but nearly all the falls are low-speed, low-side spills, and Oliver doesn’t charge a damage deposit. Break a lever or bust a strap on a roost guard and Oliver or one of his staff appear with a replacement.

How much of what you learn on a little TT-R carries over to your full-size bike? Just about everything. Sliding a 430-pound KLR650 requires the same actions as sliding a 175-lb. TT-R, and driving your weight into the outside footpeg helps a YZF-R1’s rear tire find traction in a slide just like it does for the little Yamaha. The skills you hone riding in a group carry over to riding in traffic, and who wouldn’t benefit from better throttle control? The Mystery School is ideal for racers or anyone that spends time on two wheels, and it offers a glimpse into why dirttrackers’ sideways view of the world is a good perspective for roadracers.

I’ve already seen the benefits of the Mystery School’s lessons while racing my CBR250R and testing bigger bikes for the magazine. Ready to unlock riding abilities you didn’t know you had, and have a blast doing it? Sign up for a Fun Camp (559.855.3089;, and get ready to get sideways.

Who Is Rich Oliver?

Besides being one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet, he’s also the second-winningest roadracer in AMA history. With 71 individual victories and five 250cc Grand Prix championships, the metrics of his professional career nip at the heels of Mat Mladin.

Oliver started roadracing at 16 and enjoyed moderate success, but it wasn’t until he began training in the dirt at Kenny Roberts’ ranch that his top-three finishes turned into consistent firsts. In the late ‘80s, Oliver raced a Yamaha TZ250 for Randy Mamola, then joined the Roberts camp for the ’90 and ’91 season, winning the WERA Formula USA championship on a Roberts YZR500 in ’91. The following year he returned to riding a TZ250 for Wayne Rainey, and in ‘94 Oliver formed his own 250 team and proceeded to accrue wins at an outstanding rate, going undefeated in the ’96-’97 seasons with 20 straight wins.

Not only is Oliver’s career an inspiration for young racers (he struggled, worked hard, honed his skill, and became a champion), his post-racing career is worth studying. Oliver didn’t see racing as the only thing. He looked to the future, planned ahead, exited roadracing gracefully, and is currently enjoying a satisfying second career as an instructor, consultant, painter, sculptor, husband, and father.

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