I will take my hat off to Wattsy as he is one person that truly loves his job. He’s probably got more bike talent in his little finger than I have in my entire human. The man can truly handle a bike like it is a third arm. He certainly was able to explain the exercise, provide real-world experience and demonstrate the exercises with ease. There is absolutely no doubting his talent on a bike. With very minor infrastructure, Wattsy was able to craft many different exercises. In fact, it is surprising how many things you can practice on a flat piece of land, which can be varying complexity and intensity. I would probably consider another class.
However, having just come home the BMW performance center 2-day off road course last weekend, this course was more different that I could imagine. I would have never survived the Wattsy class without the skills learned then. It was interesting that some core skills are the same regardless of the bike or track. Front brake locking, rear brake skidding, hills up and down rider position were prevent in both classes.
As a novice (dirt) rider, I would rather learn a technique properly from the beginning than learn a bad habit which invariably impossible to break later--> Practice doesn’t make perfect; Perfect practice makes perfect!
Wattsy was very encouraging and never angered the entire day. However, I know he recognized I was the novice but just ran out of bandwidth to coach me to great success. I would have really preferred the exercise lanes to be tailored to receive feedback on every loop, rather than a “survival of the fittest” race we often found ourselves in. The latter, I suspect is part of the deeply rooted MX mentality that “if you aren’t on the throttle, you’d better be on the brake” and I am the outsider wondering why. Riding dual sport, you learn to take care of other riders, because you are so far from home . The MX mentality appears to be cutoff other riders off at all expense, non-safety conscience, almost appearing to down-right lack manners and sensible judgment.
I accomplished great things when Wattsy was able to personally coach me through it for the rookie errors that I was making. For example, I did my first wheelie mid-morning, and before lunch he had me over a 2 FT diameter log! I found the warmup lap daunting on the Sat AM and got completely overfaced. But by Sun PM I was confident that I could get through it despite my pokey speed.
1) Safety—There were numerous acts that I found to be dangerous. The exercises didn’t allow control of the riders nor their MX mentality, despite a training event. For example, while I was setting up for a turn other riders would cut to the inside, then screw up their line leaving me and other riders to concentrate on accident avoidance rather than skill development. Riders often failed to yield right of way to fallen riders, often even roosting them as they tried to regain themselves. Late on the last day during the hill climb, there were multiple bike collisions, riders falling into trees and general mishaps. I would absolutely agree that learning to start a bike on a hill is a most useful tool, however, it would have seemed prudent to find a smaller incline to practice the start/stop hill exercise as most appeared to get through on luck and ignorance rather than true developed/mastered skills.
2) Breaks—Really need to encourage riders to take off their helmets and get off their bikes for rest/water. Need a mid-morning and mid-afternoon break. A lot of energy wasted on sitting on a bike, that could be used to learn techniques. Most riders were spent mid-afternoon. Lastly, with only one instructor, there was nobody to ride "drag". The novice slowpoke, was left to find my own way home off the trail multiple occasions.
3) Exercises are meant for training. However, need to provide riders more room to practice. The exercise with acceleration in the straight lines needs to provide riders with more room between lanes. The 4-circle exercise would have also benefited from moving the circles themselves away from each other.
4) It’s tough to cater to advanced and novice riders, but the student to instructor ratio (16:1) made it difficult to provide consistent feedback to during exercises.
5) Recommend either adding a block to the registration form on experience or asking students to ensure students don’t get overfaced. Although every rider needs to ride their own ride, you can surely get yourself in too deep quickly.
I will have to agree with Dorito in her assessment. I think the class is intended for people to improve their MX skills. Some of those skills transfer well into trail riding, but I think the "race" mentality doesn't. The class is also geared toward smaller bikes and so it is difficult to do some of the exercises on a bigger bike. For example trying to do a stoppie on my 625 was difficult and that is where I injured myself (I also don't think that drill was applicable to my riding style).
Please take my criticism with a grain of salt. Shane did an excellent job of teaching the class. I just think that maybe this class wasn't intended for me. Don't get me wrong I had a blast and learned some new skills that I will practice for the rest of my life as well as reinforcing others that I had already learned.
Class - After taking the class I would submit that a fair amount of trail riding experience was needed to complete some of those exercises. I think Shane writes the FAQs to include as many prospective students as reasonably possible...but remember that he thinks its easy..."anyone can do it, just keep on the gas
Pain - I got to admit I now feel my inner thighs...and my forearms (i.e., arm pump).
Bruce - very good to hear your doing well...that was a scary moment for all of us! I guess the crunch you heard was the foam compressing in your helmet...a good lesson in NEVER ride an MC without all of the proper safety gear!
Pics - I really like the pics Dana and Bruce took! Particularly the one with all of us at the end of day 2....great meomories!
Racing - anyone want to race a Hare Scramble this Sunday...in DE...shouldnt be too difficult...I hope to get all of the repairs/maintance done on my bike in time. If not - then there is a race in WV on the 17th...it is a little more challenging though...I won my class that last time I raced, but they also life-flighted 3 guys out. All my amibitions are predicated on getting all the repairs/maintance done AND no major complaints from CINCHome/Daughters
THANK YOU ALL for making the weekend a great experience for me!
Tom (WhizzKidd, KTM Tom, Tom_WR450F)
The Wicomico Motorsports Park
in Southern Maryland hosted its inaugural Shane Watts’ Dirtwise Riding School
on April 2nd and 3rd, offering intensive instruction, practice, and feedback to 15 – 16 riders on many of the fundamental enduro techniques covered in Watts’ advance rider series videos. The class attracted a mix of riders, skill levels, and bikes and provided a structured series of exercises over two days that in combination can help trail riders with speed, control, safety, and confidence. I was fortunate to have a chance to take the course at a park I ride a lot and with SMIB and other riders whom I'd met previously.
Anyone familiar with the Shane Watts’ advanced rider series videos
– not to mention the trailer
for his riding school – will know precisely what he or she is in for when signing up for the class. Day 1 covers slow speed riding, proper braking, front wheel locking, flat turns, ruts, flat out acceleration, and stoppies. Day 2 builds on these techniques by adding low speed wheelies, grinding, log crossing, ascents and descents, and even ravines. The final day also included trailside instruction at key locations where these and other techniques could be applied successfully to challenging sections.
In terms of Watts himself, what you see is what you get. He’s a former world champion enduro racer still in love with the sport, despite having turned it into a job instructing talented, mediocre, or, like me, knuckleheaded riders every weekend. His riding abilities are incredible and speak for themselves. As an instructor, he’s genuinely great to be around – he’s intelligent, charismatic, good humored, patient, and modest. He uses standard teaching techniques very effectively by first describing the skills, demonstrating them, and providing practice opportunities with clear feedback, tips, and encouragement. He constantly has an eye out for the safety of the group and will admonish missteps in a simple direct manner that achieves results. For Watts, a high priority for teaching the fundamentals is to promote safe, controlled, efficient, and fast riding. Frankly, he offers a rare combination of extraordinary riding and instructional skill that allows students the opportunity to push their own limits with adult supervision and in a manner that achieves results.
But don’t be fooled: The class is challenging, even for more experienced riders. Prospective students would do well to familiarize themselves with Watt’s videos – or even the trailer for the school – in order to have an accurate expectation of what to expect when they sign up for this enduro riding class targeted to moderate- to advanced-riders. Anyone who shows up expecting otherwise is fooling him or herself. The days are long, formal breaks are few, and the instruction takes place rain or shine. Bring hydration packs, cliff bars, and catch your breath at any of the many, at times long, sections when Watts is teaching a new skill. Dismount if resting on your bike doesn’t work for you.
Some may still complain that there aren’t enough bathroom or rest breaks. The fact is, students can always step out to relieve themselves, grab a snack or a drink, or pull their helmets to help cool down during instruction. Likewise, some may feel that they were pushed to try things that were well beyond them. In fact, Watts encouraged riders to self-select into different riding groups while on the warm-up trails, by selecting different sizes of logs for grinding practice, or choosing different areas to attempt during the log clearing exercises. And there’s nothing stopping students from finding their own lines, attempting more proximal challenges, or sitting out sections. In fact, only about a third of the riders in our class attempted the ravine at the end of Day 2. Being in the class doesn’t excuse students from thinking for themselves and making the class work for them. I saw no evidence that Watts thought any differently.
If you are thinking about taking the class, following are some Dos and Don’ts to consider:
- …think this is a beginner’s trails, motocross, or dual sport class. It is an enduro riding class taught by a former world champion enduro racer. While the skills may apply broadly, the aim here is to teach fundamentals for riding trails.
- …expect 1:1 instruction. The ratio for our class was at best 1:16, and in other cases might be as low as 2:25. If you need specific help, seek it out. But don’t expect to get individualized feedback at every turn. The numbers simply don’t permit it.
- …ride a bike that’s new to you. Whether you’re considering bringing a friend’s bike or something you picked up the day before, don’t do it. You need to know the bike you bring to class and to be confident on it in order to make the most of the training opportunities the class presents. Worse, you may even injure yourself. And for those tempted to lend a bike to a friend for a class like this, be sure to collect a deposit first. The trails and courses were littered in plastic and parts by the end of the weekend.
- …overestimate your skill. If you are truly a beginner or a cautious intermediate rider, don’t like the idea of picking up your bike 10 – 20 times a day, are unable to assist others, or otherwise think you are all that and a bag of chips, consider skipping the class this round. Get a training video and start building up from there. If you’ve never pulled a wheelie, aren’t comfortable with riding beginner level trails like those at Wicomico, or have a bike that’s more road-oriented than dirt, it may be best to find another class. Injuries and trailside mechanicals resulting from such overestimates are terrible for those directly involved, certainly, but they also affect everyone in the class.
- …start by previewing the Dirtwise riding class trailers and videos. Doing so will help to manage expectations about the contents of the class, what kinds of bikers will likely attend, and what sort of gear to bring.
- …push your limits, but not so far as to put yourself or others at risk. Showing up with a lighter, dirt-oriented bike that you know will enable you to push into the next skill level on many of the exercises. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, drop your bike, or swim in the mud like that rider in the trailer. It’s all about learning.
- …help others. Between Watts and the various riders, there were decades of riding experience in our class. It was good to see students sharing tips, helping each other when they’d fallen. Go, push yourself, but help others, too.
In the end, Watts provides a great overall experience in his enduro classes. He combines effective teaching, skill demonstration, practice sessions, and feedback in a manner that helps riders acquire new skills that will inevitably require hours of additional practice to master. And that’s the point. By starting with the fundamentals and building up from there, Watts shows riders how to ride more quickly, safely, efficiently, and with more confidence. Personally, I can’t wait to complete my repairs (lots of lost plastic), get past the soreness, and get back out where I can practice and then run trails. And of course, I can’t wait to show my usual riding pals what I learned. They’ll be just as shocked as I was. I just hope Wicomico will keep the logs around for us to practice on during our future visits to the park.