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Two days with Wattsy

Posted by desflurane on October 25, 2010

Wattsy and I getting soaked

This past Saturday and Sunday I attended Shane Watts’ Dirtwise Riding Academy. It was held in the hills just south of Carson city. It was an all-around excellent weekend! (Except for the weather)

It all started five or six months ago when one of my partners, who bought a nice 200xc-w last spring, noticed that Shane Watts was going to hold a two-day session of his Dirtwise Academy near Carson City. We both swore that we were going to be there, as each of us really benefitted from Shane’s initial Dirtwise DVD.

The months rolled by, crunch time to get signed up for the course arrived and unfortunately, David ended up being scheduled for a weekend of call, so he was out. Having pretty much committed myself to this wild Romaniacs plan, I was still firmly bent on going. So I forked over the cash and got myself registered.

Saturday came along and I drove down to the OHV area which lies just south of Carson City. I badly misjudged how long it would take me to get there, so I pulled in at 8:20. The information email asked us to arrive by 7:45 to allow time to finish up any paperwork (release forms, etc.) get geared up and ready to ride. I felt a little foolish as I rushed to get my stuff on while everybody else was gathering up to start. But Shane didn’t seem to mind too much, and we were pretty much ready to start by 8:30.

We moved up onto a large mostly flat, gravelly area where Shane led us on a merry chase through the sagebrush to establish a small practice track that we would use many times over the next two days. We did about six laps on the track then gathered up on the flat where Shane talked to us for a bit about what we were going to do for the day. He said right off that we would only cover about twenty miles, but with the number of times we would be pulling the clutch, hitting the brakes, changing body position on the bike and so forth, it would be comparable to going on about a one-hundred mile trail ride. This turned out to be fairly accurate. By the end of the day, I was pretty blasted!

We began with basic riding skills covered on the DVD’s. Things I had worked on a little bit before, but had certainly never mastered. It really changes things to have Shane right there coaching you along, rather than just his advice on the television. I didn’t want to look like a dope with Wattsy (as well as seventeen other people) watching – it made me try a little harder.

I won’t try to give a blow-by-blow account of the two days but we covered all the basic skills the first day: body position on the bike, slow riding, braking, front tire skids, stoppies (lots of scary-fun!), drag racing and “stop racing.” As I said, I have tried all of these things before, as recommended on the DVD’s, but I didn’t REALLY try. Well, we did. And Shane was quick to point out how rapidly we all improved. Within twenty minutes most everybody was doing reasonable stoppies and front tire skidding a good long way. I must say that the front brake exercises were quite a revelation. Of course I use my front brake hundreds of times on every ride, but I never FOCUSED on using my front brake. I never learned just how powerful it actually is or how to recognize the moment when the front wheel breaks loose and starts skidding – very useful stuff. In a rather short time I was coming to a stop much quicker than I would have thought possible – because I could confidently brake much harder than before – right up to the point where the front wheel came loose and I had to ease it off a bit. It turns out to be a game of finding that sweet spot of maximum traction that occurs right before the wheel starts skidding. We did some hill-climbing exercises the second day – hammering up and down a nicely pitched hill (not excessively steep, but better than 45 degrees I think). I started trying to incorporate the front brake skill as I came down each time. It was impressive! It had begun to rain, and the dirt was getting a little muddy and slippery, but I could really put on the skids and slow down very effectively. It was great!

The course was full of “ah-hah” moments like that. Shane had us work on the basic skills and then apply them to other riding situations and things that seemed really difficult suddenly weren’t such a big deal. You just revert back to the basic skill you already knew how to do! Riding in the standing position (which I already do probably 75% of the time) combined with the ability to keep your feet on the pegs nearly all the time (which, again, I had never focused on) did wonders for feeling confident and in control of the bike. It allowed me to simply roll through or over obstacles that would have had me sitting, dabbing my feet before.

It wasn’t all success though. Inevitably one exercise or another would highlight each rider’s weaknesses. You would excel at a bunch of things, then suck royally at the next. For me it was the rutted turns. I just could not put the pieces together and do it right. The cool thing is that I know what to do. PRACTICE IT! With time I’ll start nailing it, and it will become automatic. That is the kind of thinking I felt like Shane was trying to get across – that we aren’t going to magically become world-class riders overnite, but that improving is a lengthy process. The fact that I suck at making rutted turns just means that I need more practice at it. That is all. It doesn’t mean that I’m a poor rider. There were a whole lot of other skills that I did quite well with.

Anyway, I felt the course was a complete success when I did “what I had come to do.” Which was a 180 degree wheelie. I didn’t know if we would cover that sort of specific skill, but we did. At least a group of us did. And with Shane’s coaching I actually pulled it off! A full 180 degree turn without tipping over. It needs more practice for sure. but I have done it!

Shane had me start with my left foot on a little mound of dirt, about six inches tall. He stood on my right side and jammed his foot in front of my front wheel to prevent forward motion as I started my wheelie. I then dropped the clutch and tried to swing the bike around. It really felt like I was just throwing it away from myself, but the next thing I knew, the front wheel came down and –lo and behold– I was facing the opposite direction! I did it a few more times with reasonable success both with a “cheater” bump and without. Now I need to practice it to get it nice and slick and to do it in both directions. Nasty, tight switchbacks beware!

At the end of the second day, after the hillclimbing session, the rains descended in earnest. We went to a little oval track full of sand whoops and worked those for a while (again, Shane’s demonstration was impressive – he isn’t a world champion for no reason!). After forty-five minutes of that, everybody was soaked to the skin. The plan had been to go out for a group ride to finish everything off, but conditions were just too poor to make that happen, so we all loaded up, said our goodbyes and headed out. A few of us snapped some photos with Shane just before leaving. In the lead photo, Shane and I are getting drenched! He was very patient, however, despite having battled a nasty cold throughout the weekend.

I really don’t have a bad thing to say about the course, except for the nasty weather. The only frustrations were the times when I came up against my own riding weaknesses, and that is a good thing. Now I know where I need to improve.
The whole Dirtwise group

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