This past week, ISDE and GNCC champ Shane Watts held two of his off-road DirtWise riding schools here in California. Like many of us, I learned to ride without any formal or informal instruction, and leapt at the opportunity to get some feedback on my riding and perhaps improve my skills. Though I can do any trail in either direction at my usual stomping grounds even on a two-stroke 125, and have done multiple 300-400 mile Baja trips without the bars touching the ground once, I am in competition a mid-pack C rider at best, and never been comfortable with tight, technical riding, and this is where I wanted to improve the most. I chose the Monday-Tuesday class instead of the weekend class in part because I figured there would be fewer participants, and this proved to be the case. On the first day, there were just five riders, plus Shane and D36 enduro champ Brian Sperle as instructors. On the second day, for various reasons just myself and one other guy showed up – so it was just the two of us with Shane and Brian. Wow. Because of the extremely small size of the class on both days, we moved more quickly through the curriculum, did more riding, and received more personal attention than we might have in a typically-sized class. The first day was devoted primarily to drills aimed at improving fundamental riding skills – balance, coordination, throttle-clutch-brake control, and cornering. Most of these drills were conducted at low speed on a flat surface and deceptively challenging. Proper use of the clutch and rear brake has been a challenge for me, and I found these easy-to-learn, but difficult to master drills to be a huge help in this area, just after doing them in many cases for 5-10 minutes. We ended the first day with cornering exercises, which allowed us to get on the throttle a little bit and were great fun. I headed for home the first day with my head buzzing with new insights, perhaps most significant of them the realization that there’s no magic to being a great rider – Shane’s class makes clear that great riders are simply those who have absolutely mastered basic but critical skills – like staying in the standing postion and coordinated use of throttle, clutch, and brakes. The second day was devoted mostly to utilizing the skills practiced on the first day in real-world trail situations. We tackled getting over logs, uphills and downhills, navigating a narrow, rocky creekbed, and off-camber situations. While I was able to tackle much of this without too much difficulty, I crashed a few times, and while taking a more advanced line through the ravine clipped a tree and went down pretty hard. It was about lunchtime, and I snapped my front brake lever in the crash, so we packed it in for lunch. Since we had (with only two students) finished the entire curriculum before lunch, Shane and Brian decided to take the two of us on a little trail ride in the afternoon. This was where things went pretty poorly for me. Though the trail wasn’t THAT difficult, my out-of-shape self just wasn’t feeling it. I crashed a bunch of times – even rolled down a hill at one point – and with every tip over got more and more tired and frustrated at my poor showing. With Shane’s help though, we made it to the end of the trail, got back to the trucks, and called it a day. Driving away at the conclusion of the class, I was disappointed that my own lack of fitness and concentration had made for a pathetic performance on the final trail ride. Aside from that, though, the second day of the school reinforced that I need to practice, practice, and practice my fundamental skills to be a better, safer rider. The bottom line is this - if you’re looking for catered lunches, pampering, and pleasure cruising, this school isn’t for you. If you’re SERIOUS about improving your riding, however, whether you’re currently an A-level or C-level rider, you’ll take away from this class exercises and insight that will definitely help you get to the next level. Shane will get you out of your riding comfort zone, challenge your abilities, and give you confidence to tackle things in a controlled environment that you might not try anywhere else. Shane is a good guy (kudos to him for not cancelling with so few students) and I highly, highly recommend this class. Easily worth the investment, whether you’re just starting out or already a champ like him. http://www.shanewatts.com/ A couple pics... Us mortals go through the ravine...Shane flies over the side. I don't remember Shane ever sitting, but here's the photographic proof.