Dirt Bike School - Track Time - Mc Garage

Dirt Bike School - How To Do It In The Dirt Without Eating Dirt

I rarely say no when someone invites me on a two-wheeled adventure, but this time I did. Jan Plessner, Kawasaki's manager of public relations, asked if I wanted to join her on a dual-sport ride through the mountains of northern San Diego County. Considering that my last dirt outing ended in a trip to the emergency room, I politely declined. Fortunately for me, Jan didn't take no for an answer and proposed Plan B: Dirtbike School and then the dual-sport ride.

Jan arranged for me to attend a session with Coach 2 Ride (www.coach2ride.com), a Motorcycle Safety Foundation-certified outfit that teaches basic skills for beginning off-road riders. Instructors Andrea Beach and Bonnie Warch normally conduct classes at Amago Sports Park in northern San Diego County, but they made a special trip to Irvine to teach a few Kawasaki employees and me at the dirt lot adjacent to company headquarters. Jan arranged for us all to ride brand-new KLX125 four-strokes, which were much less of a handful than the Suzuki RM250 two-stroke a friend talked me into buying a few years ago.

After an introductory briefing and a talk on the importance of safety gear, we began our first exercise: braking. The class rode around in an oval applying the front brake, then the rear brake and, finally, both brakes in unison until we could stop perfectly between two cones. The exercise seemed painfully basic until I realized I had never really practiced braking on a dirtbike.

Next came counterbalancing techniques, which were problematic for me because I've done 90 percent of my riding on the street. Cornering on a streetbike requires you to countersteer and lean your body in the direction of the turn. But on a dirtbike, you weight the outside footpeg and lean away from the turn to keep your body weight on the middle part of the tires. A cone course was set up for us to practice figure-8s and slaloming, but clearly I was struggling because all I could hear was Warch yelling, "You're such a roadracer-lean the other way!" Having to unlearn everything I knew proved difficult. But when I finally got it down, it felt good and started to make sense.

One of my favorite lessons was learning to make K-turns. That's what you do when you don't make it to the top of a hill and need to turn around to go back down. When you stall a bike on a slope you need to dismount, which renders the rear brake pedal useless, and applying the front brake just makes the tire skid as you slide down the hill backwards! In a K-turn, you use the front brake and engine compression to control the bike, slipping the clutch to let the rear tire roll and gradually pivoting the bike until it's facing downhill. Then you just hop on-board and ride back down-or bulldog the bike down the hill if it's too steep to ride.

The remainder of the afternoon we did lead-follows around the lot, which included a variety of terrain. Deep brush, sand, jumps, ruts and wet soil gave us a good sampling of what we'd encounter off-road. That provided us an opportunity to practice each of the techniques we learned and play around a bit. I also practiced a technique I didn't learn in the class, but from my husband: When in doubt, pin it! I don't know if that's good advice, but it got me out of trouble a few times.

The skills I learned at Dirtbike School will not only help me in my next off-road outing, but on the street as well. Throttle management, smooth and controlled braking, looking where you want to go and getting out of a tight situation are important techniques for any type of motorcycling. Not to mention using the rear brake to back it into corners like Nicky Hayden-you can tell he has a dirt-riding background. For $150 (which includes bike rental, gear and lunch), this school is great for both beginners and people like me who know how to ride, but need to brush up on the basics before flying over a double-jump and ending up on a stretcher.