After 3-4 years of being on the waiting list, I’m now an ‘associate’ member at a local dirt bike club. The club has use rights and leases land on a local west county ranch about 20 minutes from my home. There are dozens and dozens of trails, all at least semi-steep, some really steep going up to the tops of the hills on the property. I’ve now done my required associate member meetings, my work party (monthly gatherings where members work on trail and land improvement projects), and as of today, I completed my initiation/introduction ride.
Now for some perspective, my first introduction to motorcycles was back in 1980 on a Honda CT-70. We were pretty poor growing up so we never had motorcycles for us kids (my step-dad and dad both had street bikes) so I’d ride friends’ bikes. What we rode on were little empty tracts of land or some sand dune kind of terrain by the old mine tailings. Once I was old enough to drive, I got my license as well as my motorcycle endorsement. Once I could drive on the street, I didn’t ride friends’ dirt bikes much. I did spend a day out at the Prairie City MX track ~30 years ago with my boss who had a couple of Honda XR200s. I seem to remember that kicking my butt.
Back to recent times–as my steps were getting closer to getting into this club, I checked with a friend who can’t ride dirt anymore due to a back injury and his kids are no longer interested so he has loaned me his nicely set up 2013 WR250R (street legal). I don’t know dirt bikes very well but it’s reputed to be pretty easy to ride, friendly, etc. Yesterday afternoon I loaded it up, along with my friend’s gear (it all fit perfectly, even the boots and helmet). I took off this morning for my introduction ride, which was preceded by an hour meeting with one of the board members, then we geared up and headed for the trails.
These trails are all new to me, and I had a feeling they would be fairly technical single track. I was not wrong. So keep in mind, I’m learning this bike for the first time and then going up dirt trails up a steep hill not really knowing where I was going. My first fall happened when I came up quickly to one of the other inductees who was on a steep and slippery grade and had become stuck. I tried to stop and put my foot down but it slid out on me and then I was over. Then, trying to right the bike, it fell over on the other side. I didn’t get hurt with either but it took a good few minutes for me to get the bike situated. The trail leader suggested I go the other way so we turned my bike around and I slid (upright) back down to the turnoff and I took a different route up the first hill. It had more ruts but I could see what was coming up each time so that worked better for me. Getting up that was a non-incident. My biggest spill was when I was in front and I thought the trail to take was the one to the right so I set up on the left and then right as I approached I realized it was the one on the left and because I was already near the (I’ll call it) apex, I was pretty much in a rut. The bike fell to the left and I rolled 2 or 3 times down the hill before coming to a stop. I feel down a couple more times. I bent the shift lever once but being steel, it bent right back into place.
Things mostly improved after that. At the top of one of the hills (with spectacular vistas), one of the leaders gave us a 20 minute session on techniques and body position for riding a dirt bike. A lot of the core concepts made sense to me, a fairly seasoned street and track rider–lock on with your lower body, stand up whenever possible but keep some bend in the knees, if there is a side of the path that has rocks and one that has leaves and loose dirt, go for the rocks (better grip), stand up, even if going downhill so you can shift your weight forward/back and left/right to turn the bike and work on better control.
Come about 1:15 or 1:30 PM, we decided to head back to the clubhouse. We’d been on the trails for a good 3+ hours. I think that’s more dirt biking than I’d ever done at one stint and certainly more technical dirt riding than anything I’d ever done. Instead of staying out riding, I elected to take what I’d learned and head home.
I’m really glad for today’s experience and look forward to more. I need some time to let some of the things I learned today gel in my head still.
- Anything I’d learned as a kid riding dirt bikes was irrelevant–my friends and I had no idea as to technique, nor was the terrain anywhere as challenging
- Traction is there, but sometimes you have to look for it
- Standing is a must, even downhill
- Try to avoid getting stuck on a hill trying to go up!
- Keep your eyes up to where you want to go. A few times I’d glance down in front of me and I’d see these rocks or crevices in the trail and think there’s no way I can get through that. However when I looked further up, it happened, and it seemed slower. This is a street & track thing, anything with wheels that travels faster than humans can run, keep this in mind. Somehow we can get past obstacles if we look past them.
- I love the safety I feel wearing dirt boots, however, I could hardly feel a thing through the soles–I struggled to find rear brake feel and often ended up locking up the rear. This will take some time.
- You have to trust and respect the suspension and tires. You may need to spin the rear somewhat to keep momentum and keep the engine from bogging or stalling but don’t spin it up so much that the rear tire never grips.
- I’d never imagined that the bike with me piloting it could climb some of the steep hills that we did. At the top, when looking down, it was staggering how steep it was. Somehow we made it back down too.
- It is a major workout–I’m sure I’ll be feeling this for a few days.
I will absolutely be able to transfer some of these skills to track and street riding. Things happen quickly even at my modest pace and traction can go from great to nothing in an instant. Sometimes you just need to carry momentum and keep your eye on the next visual reference. Just like when you see a national or world-class rider go by you on track, the best dirt riders make it look easy–they’re in control, light on the controls, and just smooth.