Google+ Two-Wheeled Tourist: MSF Dirtbike School...because romping off-road is fun!

9.12.2010

MSF Dirtbike School...because romping off-road is fun!

On September 11 I had the chance to participate in the Motorcycle Safety Foundation's Dirtbike School on the MSF's main campus in Troy, OH, about 100 miles from Columbus. It was a brisk ride there (it was about 55 degrees until about 10AM) but the mild weather was great for the five hours that I along with seven other riders would be outdoors on the dirt range.


The class began with a short classroom session explaining the parts of a dirtbike, and in our case (the class was made up of all experienced street riders) similarities and differences to on-road motorcycles. Additionally, we were introduced to the basics of off-road protective gear, their functions, and their differences from regular streetbike equipment. We suited up and headed outside; I took advantage of their stock of off-road protective gear and tried out a pair of tall dirtbike boots and a motocross helmet for the session.

When we got out on the dirtbikes (I was on a Honda CRF150 for this class), we started with several exercises that mimicked those of the Basic Rider Course such as clutch actuation, starting, stopping, and shifting gears. I realized very quickly that despite the looseness of the terrain the dirtbike had loads of traction to play with and I simply had to “allow” the thing to swish around and negotiate the unevenness on its own. The design of these bikes from the lightweight frame to the vast amount of suspension travel made riding through dirt and rocks as effortless as riding a standard motorcycle down the street. I also learned dirt-specific techniques such as counterbalancing a bike (placing your body weight opposite to the bike's path of travel while turning) and maneuvering the bike while standing up. During one of the exercises, I stalled my bike and tipped over, but I wrestled the bike back up and continued on with the drills. By the end of the course I found myself romping up and down hills, running over 2x4 pieces of wood, and sloshing through the mud without much thought at all. Yahoo!

For the longest time I have had a near-phobia of gravel because of the strange feeling I would get when those tires started sloshing around and digging into the dirt and rocks, not to mention that I had previously crashed in loose gravel during a poorly-plannned shortcut on a group ride two years ago. I feel like this class has helped me tremendously in getting over those fears and really opened up the possibilities for dual-sport and trail riding in my future. I know that with as many miles as I ride and as many strange places I visit seeing dirt will be inevitable. However, I feel more prepared when I encounter these conditions again.

If you're either a newbie thinking of getting onto a road bike for the firsts time or a seasoned street rider I recommend this class not only for the fun factor but also for the experience of running a motorcycle through uneven terrain. This class caters to riders as young as 6 years of age, and the only requirement is that you must know how to ride a bicycle. I recommend taking a day and going for it; it'll be the best $50 you'll spend in a while.

For more information about the MSF Dirtbike Course and where to take it, visit http://www.dirtbikeschool.com/.