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Old 05-13-2011, 08:33 PM   #1
Remarksman OP
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Joined: Feb 2006
Location: Oregon coast
Oddometer: 451
DirtWise class in Lebanon, OR May 7/8

I went to the two-day DirtWise class put on by Shane Watts this past weekend near Lebanon, OR.
I caught a bit of the off-road racing "bug" and did my first ISDE race last month (China Hatp, and plan to hit a few other ISDE or XC/GP races later this year. I signed up for OMRA's 2011 Dualsport series, but so far I don't really understand how that works, since the events all seem to say they are not races. In any case, my off-road skills could use improvement, and CrazyBrit talked me into taking the class :-) Then he went and pulled a neck muscle or something, so I ended up taking the class without him.
The event was held at the Rock Hill Rec. Dirt Bike Park. This is apparently a large operating farm/ranch that plows some of their fields into motocross courses. You'll see in the photos that it's a really pretty area. I'm not sure how you go about riding there other than at the class. The class was limited to 18 students with one instructor.
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Old 05-13-2011, 08:45 PM   #2
Remarksman OP
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Day 1

Day 1
The weather had been wet beforehand, and it rained quite a bit on Saturday morning. We started out by warming up a bit on a really short little motocross track just behind the barn. About a third of the class dumped their bikes within the first lap, as the mud was really slippery. I didn't crash, but I did mis-judge what turned out to be a closely spaced "double" jump, and really tested the front forks on the landing! Here's a bunch of the group waiting for people to make their way out of the mud. Notice the Beta is still fairly clean:

Part of the ranch includes a large hill, and Shane had set up some cones for exercises on a meadow plateau part-way up the hill, and that was our next destination. Getting there involved riding up a steep rocky jeep road, then down a steep, muddy single-track trail. Things got a bit pear-shaped right away, as several people had a very hard time getting up the rocky road, and no-one was "riding sweep." After Shane finally rounded up the stragglers, it was all down-hill to the meadow, so it should have been easy, right? Some carnage ensued on the slippery trail down. Several people crashed, and one teen broke his clutch lever, which made most of the rest of the day a wash for him. Here are the "more capable" riders awaiting the rest of the class at the meadow:

Here in the meadow we did a number of the exercises covered in the first 10 minutes of Shane's DirtWise video -- slow riding, braking practice, and riding with the front wheel locked. On this wet, grassy, mud, it was pretty easy to carry a locked front wheel for quite a ways. I really recommend his video, and I had already spent several hours practicing the exercises and techniques he discusses in just the first several minutes of the video. The difference here is that Shane is right there to tell you that your legs are bent too much, you're not using the rear brake enough, etc. This was the true value of the class for me.
Then Shane set up four "lanes" and we ran short drag races. The idea here is to teach you to maximize your acceleration. This was kind of fun, and there was significant motivation to make sure you did well in the "race" since getting too far behind other people ensured a face-full of muddy roost. Unfortunately, I felt the lanes were a bit too narrow, and with all the slipping around I had to avoid collisions with other students several times, usually by slowing down and getting roosted :-(
After a couple hours of various lessons in the meadow, the mud started to really cake on. Here's my new "brown belt drive" look:

I looked worse than the bike. I still hadn't dumped the bike, but I looked like I'd gone mud surfing face-first or something from being roosted a number of times. And it wasn't raining quite hard enough to clean it off
Eventually it was lunch time. This meant going back up the muddy trail, then down the rocky road. I passed several crashed riders and made it to a ledge area and parked the bike. Then I walked back down and helped pick up six crashed bikes and get people turned around for another try at the hill. One case was a bit hilarious, as neither me nor the other rider could actually stand up on the trail -- we'd get the bike stood up, then one or both of us would start sliding down the hill. Shane did ride sweep on this one. Eventually, he decided there was another vague trail that went more-or-less horizontally, and got all the stranded riders out to lunch.

After lunch, Shane moved all the cone exercise stuff out to a field which was much closer and easier to ride to. He admitted the other location had been a bit of bad planning and apogized for that. Before hitting the next exercises, though, he sent us out on another track for a few laps to "get the blood pumping again." This was just a winding track that had been disced out of a hillside field. It was slippery and gooey. So gooey in some spots that if you went too slow, the mud would jam up your rear wheel so much the bike would stall. That was a useful lesson that Shane pointed out afterward -- in muddy conditions, keeping up some speed can keep your knobbies cleared, giving you better traction.
I did one lap being careful to avoid hitting the people crashing and stalling, then another guy went past me slinging roost all over me again. Well, that was it for slow, careful, and polite -- my blood got pumping, and the race was on! There were five or so of us who could actually keep up some speed up around the track, and we seemed to be fairly evenly matched -- that was fun!
The next exercise didn't make too much sense at first -- we just rode around in small circles on the grass. After a bit of that, Shane got down to what he was really after: sliding around that small circle dirt-track style. Here he is demonstrating:

This is what the class looked like trying to emulate him:

For this exercise the goal is to keep the rear wheel sliding for several laps in a row. It is very difficult to keep it sliding for even one whole lap. I was a bit frustrated on this exercise because I felt like I was fairly accomplished at going around corners on logging roads with the rear wheel sliding, so I thought the exercise would be easier. But I talked to Shane later, and he explained that it's one thing to go around a 90-degree corner with the rear tire sliding for a fair fraction of the way around, but it is quite another thing to maintain that slide for 360 degrees.
We also had a few "slow races." That is, the last rider to cross the finish line without putting their foot down wins. Since I had been practicing this, I did quite well, coming in 2nd each time.
Another useful tip from Shane was how to straighten forks that seem to put the front wheel out of alignment half the time you crash. You move the bars to the 'lock', then kick the front wheel. Inmate joints4sale taped Shawn explaining this tip from a DirtWise class in Maryland:

Remarksman screwed with this post 05-13-2011 at 08:51 PM Reason: Fix video sizes
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Old 05-13-2011, 09:22 PM   #3
Remarksman OP
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Joined: Feb 2006
Location: Oregon coast
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Day 2

Day 2
Sunday's weather was quite a bit nicer -- we only got one short downpour and a few showers.

We hit the motocross track again to warm up, and it was even slipperier in some places than before. Then we practiced feeling for traction by stopping while going up a hill and then getting moving again. Then we hit some steeper hills and practiced going up and down, then we did some "grinding" on telephone poles laid on the ground.
Then we set up some "ovals" on the grass -- just two cones far enough apart that you would shift up a gear or two before getting to the cone, where you would turn around and go back toward the other one. This practiced maximum braking, sliding around a U-turn, and acceleration -- fun!
Lots of different exercises, and I was pretty worn out by lunch time. Short lunch, since Shane was trying to pack in some stuff that we had missed because of the delays on Saturday morning. But I noticed the parking area seemed very pastoral with sheep grazing in the field.

I think the Beta was twenty pounds heavier today with accumulated mud:

After lunch was wheelie lessons. This is the exercise that really stumped me. Realize that everything that Shane teaches, he connects back to the slow riding exercise. That is, pretty much every skill or exercise relates back to skillful control of the throttle, clutch, and brakes. Wheelies are all about throttle and clutch control. (And keeping the rear brake at the ready in case you go too far!)
After some reflection, I realized that my clutch control is not actually that great. I have done all my trail riding with four-strokes which are fairly forgiving, and I very rarely slip the clutch other than to start from a stop. So, I slowly realized that my skill at slow riding is more to do with good balance than with good control.
Add to this a couple problems with the Beta: 1) its clutch is kind of grabby (which is not really a bad thing for the wheelies!), and; 2) it has some kind of problem with the accelerator pump which makes it likely to stall when trying to go quickly from very low throttle to medium throttle.
Anyway, I struggled with this. I could manage some sitting down wheelies, but the bike would either stall or almost stall once the wheel came up, making them inconsistent. I dropped the bike trying to do a standing wheelie, and I never got consistent enough to practice the "wheelie to turn the bike around" exercise.

Then we went over to a fairly steep grassy slope and practiced riding up. Shane made the more advanced riders go around a tree and small bluff which meant going cross-slope which was really interesting. Then we rode the jeep road up to the top of the hill.
Here's an overview of the Rock Hill ranch, and you can see the "crop circles" left from our circle and oval exercises:

View more to the west:

On the way back down, Shane showed us a small cliff:

Shane invited anyone who wanted to give it a try. I probably should have, but someone had broken their leg trying to do a similar cliff in Shane's HardCore school held a couple days earlier. No-one went for it.

Then the class was over. We never did the "ride over a log" or the "cornering in ruts" exercises due to time.
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Old 05-13-2011, 09:30 PM   #4
Remarksman OP
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Location: Oregon coast
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Stupid Beta

My love affair with the Beta 250 has gone past the honeymoon stage, and is now in the "don't you ever put your dishes in the dishwasher?" stage.

At some point on Saturday it started leaking oil from above the kick-starter. Notice how there is one really clean-looking part of the engine:

There was an almighty CLANK once while riding up the hill on the motocross track Saturday right after lunch. I thought the chain had eaten a rock or something, but nothing looked wrong until later on, when the oil started appearing.

And this is after going TO the class with a slow oil leak from the countershaft seal. Fortunately, the Beta dealership I had called about the seal didn't even call me back, so now, once I take the clutch/kick-starter cover off to see what is happening underneath, I can order EVEN MORE PARTS.

On the bright side, if I hadn't needed a new countershaft seal before the class, I probably would have needed one afterwards since the mud packed into that area amazingly.
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Old 05-13-2011, 09:55 PM   #5
Remarksman OP
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Shane has an impressive ability to recall individual actions and give feedback per person after exercises. It was truly incredible to watch him conclude an exercise by pointing out different errors made by 10 different people, and trying to make them "learning moments" for everyone.
In fact, it impressed me that he could talk about a certain exercise or technique in depth for five or ten minutes with no notes or anything, yet he always seemed organized and orderly. He really can be a very effective instructor.
And don't forget that he's pretty amazing when demonstrating the techniques!
Overall, it is a good class that I recommend.

As I said, he can be a very effective instructor -- it was a little disappointing to miss some of the techniques because of the location chosen for Saturday morning exercises. Things will also depend on your class-mates -- if other students are crashing all the time and/or having mechanical issues with their bikes, you're going to get less instruction. Not too much you or Shane can do about this.
If I had it to "do over" I would try to take the class when it comes back to Oregon in September (already sold out), or try to take it in a drier climate (Luke tried that).
I would also have tried to be in even better riding shape. I ran out of steam on Saturday around 3:00, and the class continued to 4:30. The first time I dropped the bike was around 3:15. Also, watch where he holds his leg on the cornering in the video, then practice that for a couple hours. I had sore hips for several days from holding my inside leg up. I got pretty drained for a while on Sunday, then seemed to get some energy back later on, but I wish I had been "right there" all day.
You'll definitely want a hydration pack and probably some snacks. The lunch break (which is the only break) is not very long, and it's up to you to sip some water and rest or snack while Shane is in lecture mode.
Finally, I have messed about with the accelerator pump engagement on the Beta, but I would have gotten more out of the class if it was carburetted better. Make sure your bike has good tires and is running well.

There are some other good write-ups here on ADV about this class if you'd like more opinions:
DC950 Gets Professional Help - Shane Watts' School
SMIB's doing the Shane Watts 2 Day Dirtwise Class (particularly post #4 - Dorito and adforsyth have some useful comments)
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Old 05-13-2011, 10:14 PM   #6
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Originally Posted by Remarksman View Post
In any case, my off-road skills could use improvement, and CrazyBrit talked me into taking the class :-) Then he went and pulled a neck muscle or something, so I ended up taking the class without him.
Alas, a little beyond a pulled neck muscle Great write up. FYI some of the pics aren't working. You should shoot that Beta, though with all the oil leaks, the bullet would probable richochet off
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Old 05-13-2011, 10:28 PM   #7
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I actually just heard about this place from a co-worker on Thursday and drove by it today. Talked to the owner and his son. They are open on the weekends rain or shine. $20.00 entry fee. Seems like a nice place with nice people. They say on a sunny Saturday they get anywhere between 25-35 riders out there. Their web site is
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