Rich Oliver Mystery School Review

Motorcycle champion shares riding secrets, using flat track technique

Rich Oliver’s Mystery School
Learning flat track tips from the best at Rich Oliver’s Mystery School.Rich Oliver Mystery School

Ask a road racing champion for riding tips, and you might not expect to be pointed to a dirt track for training and instruction. But with MotoGP, MotoAmerica, and World Superbike champions riding flat track left and right (well, mostly left), it's easy to see how learning to manage traction in the dirt can give a distinct advantage on tarmac. Rich Oliver's Mystery School is revered by many as one of the best flat track schools. And as a newly licensed racer, it was time to start getting some instruction under my belt.

Rich Oliver Mystery School
Rich shows us proper riding position for kicking it out in the corners.Rich Oliver Mystery School
Rich Oliver Mystery School
Definitely new to this type of riding. I’m not even close to getting the bike leaned over far enough.Rich Oliver Mystery School

At his new facility in the Sierra foothills, Rich and his wife, Karin, assistant instructor Brigitta, and helpers Lianna and Liz, greet us with snacks, drinks and bins to put our gear in. I was attending the Two Day Fun Camp along with Ari, Zack, Marcus DeMichel from Yamaha, and a handful of repeat ROMS students. Once again I was the newbie joining a crew of riders far more experienced than myself.

After a quick stretching session, everyone changed into riding gear, and headed out to our Yamaha TT-R125s, where Rich began teaching us correct body position. When cornering, sit to the outside corner of the seat, inside leg out, hips pivoted to the inside of the turn, toes in to shift, using rear brake almost exclusively, except when stopping in a straight line. Rich’s flat track-style attack of corners involves downshifting and braking simultaneously, then dipping the bike deep into the turn as you pivot on the inside foot, throttling out when the bike is facing the exit of the turn. In theory, it makes sense. But in practice? That’s a whole different kettle of fish. As someone who’s ridden mostly pavement for over a decade, these were all counterintuitive.

Rich Oliver Mystery School
Rich’s assistant instructor, Brigitta, zipped around the course like a natural.Rich Oliver Mystery School

We started the day with a few slaloms, u-turns, and other drills. Nearly every exercise we practiced required the bike to almost be on its side. At first, I struggled to remember all the different points of Rich’s riding technique, but after repeating them in my head, gradually they started to sink in. It was so much new information to coordinate all in a matter of seconds. I was generally slower than everyone else, so my transition through sharp corners was not as smooth, and I struggled to get the back end to step out. But after I crashed the first time, and recovered quickly, dropping into first gear and stabbing that rear brake wasn’t as intimidating.

Rich Oliver Mystery School
You gotta lean it over this far...Rich Oliver Mystery School

About midway through the day, Rich had us strap on our “hot shoes,” a steel plate with a toe and heel cap that straps on over your left boot. You’d think adding a heavy, slippery attachment to your riding boot would make things harder, but it was the opposite. Now in the left hand turns, planting my left foot provided a weighted contact point, while the slick steel plate made pivoting the bike that much easier. It took some getting used to, but sliding the rear end out became more and more addicting.

Rich Oliver Mystery School
Like this?Rich Oliver Mystery School
Rich Oliver Mystery School
No… LIKE THIS!Rich Oliver Mystery School

After multiple mock races, and a few lead/follow sessions with Rich around the various courses, we headed to the mud pit. The small circle track was built into a slight hill, and with heavy watering, turns into a slick mud bath. Sliding through the muddy puddle felt like trying to walk on ice, especially with the steel shoe. Zack hit me with a rooster tail of mud on more than one occasion, and I took pleasure in returning the favor when I got the chance. We were all laughing and whooping and hollering the whole time. It was a great way to end the first day.

Rich Oliver Mystery School
Trying to avoid Zack’s rooster tail of mud.Rich Oliver Mystery School
Rich Oliver Mystery School
This mud pit is too slick. These hay bales have great traction!Rich Oliver Mystery School
Rich Oliver Mystery School
A proper mud bath from head to toe.Rich Oliver Mystery School

Day two started with refresher exercises and drills, including a little donut session, and a few mock race starts, then Rich started running us through timed qualifying runs. At some point midday, the fatigue hit me hard. I started getting frustrated, getting passed and outrun by everyone so much more experienced than I was. I was losing steam, and was grateful for a break when it came. In between sessions, everyone enthusiastically discussed what went right and wrong for each of them; which parts of the track were more challenging than others. For the most part, I just listened, and tried to take in as much info from the others as possible. I was too tired to even talk.

Rich Oliver Mystery School
You know you’ve had a good day when everyone looks like they’ve been eating dirt sandwiches, and we’re still smiling.Rich Oliver Mystery School
Rich Oliver Mystery School
Practicing a LeMans race start. Hard to run in a steel shoe!Rich Oliver Mystery School

Finally sometime mid-afternoon, all the lessons from the last day and a half sunk in, and it started to click. The fatigue passed, and I started picking up speed and keeping up with my classmates through at least a turn or two. At one point, Marcus commented “I went to pass you in that left hand sweeper, but you kept up your speed! I was like, Alright!” I was in the flow, having fun, feeling energized!

Rich Oliver Mystery School
Round and round we go, where we’re headed, only Rich knows!Rich Oliver Mystery School
Rich Oliver Mystery School
Like this?? Ooof! Too far…Rich Oliver Mystery School

We finished the day with a final 24-lap race. As I rode around each lap, I knew I was still the slowest of the bunch, but I didn’t care. I was riding with friends old and new, and focusing on my technique. The checkered flag waved, with Zack taking the win, and everyone cheered. I was happy to finally have absorbed so much of Rich’s teaching; to have crashed a few times, but nothing that crushed my spirit (or any bones).

Rich Oliver Mystery School
Happy campers at the end of the main race, with winner Zack holding the checkered flag. I’m too exhausted to raise my thumbs up!Rich Oliver Mystery School

From the time I first threw a leg over the bike the first day, to the last race, I learned SO MUCH, and gained a ton of confidence in the dirt. I was physically exhausted, but satisfied, and eager to come back for more. I can see why so many champions train in flat track to give themselves an advantage on tarmac. If you’re looking to up your riding game, either on track or on street, Rich Oliver’s Mystery School is a must. I can’t recommend it enough.