Jimmy Lewis Off-Road Riding School | Track Time

By Tim Carrithers, Photography by Heather Lewis

“A whole different set of rules apply when you do this stuff,” Jimmy Lewis says. Pushing back a cold Pahrump, Nevada morning with hot coffee, my classmates and I are listening. Carefully. That’s what any sane human straddling 527 lbs. of motorcycle does when the four-time ISDE Medalist/Baja 1000 winner/Dakar Rally podium finisher is talking. Especially before heading out into the desert to learn the fundamentals of keeping a big adventure bike on track and out of trouble (www.jimmylewisoffroad.com). Lewis will also tell you that a shaky foundation in said fundamentals is the biggest thing between the rider you are and the one you’d like to be: more capable, more confident, safer and, consequently, faster.

That applies to an accomplished racer-turned-motorcycle journalist like Lewis as much or more than anybody else. You can’t build much on a weak foundation, which is why he starts our Saturday-morning class with balance and body position. Nobody can wrestle an adventure behemoth into submission for long, but Lewis keeps his BMW R1200GS Adventure upright with one finger by never letting it go too far in the wrong direction. With the bike on its stand, he demonstrates correct body position. Standing on the pegs effectively lowers your center of mass, which is vital on something that outweighs you by 250 lbs. Keep those knees bent, shoulders parallel to the handlebar and hands on the grips such that you can roll the throttle without dropping that right elbow. Keep two fingers on the clutch and one or two on the front brake. Make sure levers and pedals are adjusted to fit your personal dimensions—and relax.

“Using body weight to control the motorcycle gives you a huge advantage,” Lewis tells us. “Relaxed arms and shoulders control the throttle, brake and clutch more accurately than doing a push-up or pull-up on the bars.” You can learn a lot in 15 minutes on the centerstand, but we’re just getting started. Before turning a wheel, everybody rolls on real off-road knobbies like the Metzeler Karoo 2s on my KTM 990. No skittish universal tires allowed where we’re going...

After graduating to the nearby dry lakebed, Jimmy runs us through a comprehensive, comprehensible sequence of basic drills that are as hard (or as easy) as we want them to be. As it turns out, modulating the clutch to crawl at a sub-snail’s pace without losing your balance, steering with a locked rear wheel or lifting the front wheel on cue from a standstill are a whole lot harder than they look. Slower really is faster, revealing all the tiny mistakes speed can cover up.

Lewis and his mercifully patient instructors (including wife Heather) are adept at spotting tiny miscues and showing you how to correct them, even on complicated exercises like the frustrating-yet-invaluable panic stop. Throttle off, clutch in, weight back and brakes on—modulating the front while locking the rear and bracing yourself against the pegs—all in one fluid motion is tough. But the confidence that comes with getting it down is worth every bead of sweat it takes to get there. Individual drills build practical skill sets that come together in the hills surrounding the lakebed on Jimmy’s Trail Situation Ride.

Easy? No. Fun? Absolutely! Bottom line? For $600 in tuition plus the cost of two nights at a local motel, the Adventure Bike Skills class will make you better, safer and more confident doing what these bikes were designed to do. After a good set of knobbies, it’s the best off-road performance accessory money can buy. MC

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