Dusty Wessels, co-founder, off-road training coach and axis of awesome at West38Moto, has been training riders since 2012. Dusty doesn‘t have a motocross racing or rally background, and his training differs from others: it‘s all about balance, finesse, and confidence.
“I learned to ride as an adult and never raced. I was always a casual rider, only riding for fun and joy. This allows me to have a different mindset. I’m not on a bike to race, I’m on it to relax, enjoy, have an adventure, slow down and take my time, enjoy the scenery, you know? And this is what I teach in my classes and rides”, – Dusty says.
So what’s it like being an off road coach? I chatted to Dusty to find out.
What does a typical training day look like?
We meet up at the location, have a chat, talk about the day ahead, answer questions and requests, and begin the training.
I see off-road training as building blocks: we start at the bottom with the very basics, then build on that and finally, incorporate everything into riding situations. It’s very important to me that people thoroughly understand things like balance, weight, body position – I never start with any cool tricks or more advanced techniques because good, solid foundation is key.
Once you really get the basics, it’s much easier to build on that, and then use it in everyday riding situations.
What are the biggest challenges when training riders?
Not having enough time afterwards! Ideally after a training day or weekend you want at least a two-day ride to really cement those new skills, because it can make a big difference. But most people just can’t afford to take off for more than 2-3 days, so it’s not always possible.
What are some of the most common problems people encounter when they ride off-road?
I think it comes down to three major challenges:
- The fact that off-road, the bike moves underneath you. For people who are just starting out, this can be scary, and there is the mental aspect of trying to control the bike when you should be doing the opposite and let it move.
- Clutch and brake control; good finesse and technique with the clutch and brakes is important, and a lot of people don’t have that
- Body position – lots of people don’t understand the effect of shifting their weight when stopping and going, and general riding
Does everybody need off road training?
Not necessarily. You can do a lot on your own! First and foremost, get used to your bike. Take your time, learn and get accustomed with your clutch and brakes, and just ride. Often, people think they’ll take the bike off a showroom, get some training, and be great. That’s not how it works! Ride the bike first and get used to it.
The thing about off road riding is that we’re all very different. Some people learn faster, some slower, some are more athletic while others aren’t – there are lots of varying factors.
Regardless of whether you’re a newbie or a seasoned rider, off-road training can be very beneficial, especially on bigger bikes. If you want to ride your large capacity adventure motorcycle off road a lot, especially on more technical trails, training can be incredibly beneficial.
Some people who have been riding for years come to my training and after the session, they tell me “wow, now I finally get it, now I understand!”. So often it’s not about the saddle time but the quality of that time, you know?
What’s the best thing about your job?
Sharing knowledge and experiences, and witnessing people go from scared beginners to confident riders! That’s such an awesome feeling.
I think confidence is huge for people who are learning to ride or are trying to progress. And that’s why it’s so important to really understand the basics, because then people really, truly understand the mechanics of it all and are able to use that knowledge.
After the training, everybody leaves with a lot more confidence than they came to me with. And that’s crucial because when you have confidence, not only you’ll use your new skills, but you’ll be a lot more likely to try tackling new challenges along the way. Instead of looking at an unfamiliar obstacle and saying to yourself, “I haven’t done this before, I should turn around”, you’ll say “I haven’t done this before, but I’m willing to give it a try and figure it out!”.
And the worst?
With the internet, it’s now easier than ever to google stuff, including off road riding techniques – and that’s great. But at the same time, there’s a lot of misinformation out there, and it can be counter-productive sometimes. It’s great to do research beforehand, but if you go to training, be open to what your coach is saying to you!
What would you say to riders who want to get off the road for the first time?
Relax. On an off-road track, you don’t have the traction that helps you on paved roads anymore. This means your steering will be very different, and your bike will move under you. That’s OK. Relax, breathe, go slow, and do not try to grab and hold the handlebars. Don’t worry about sitting or standing just yet. Just get used to the feeling, relax, and ride.
What would you say to people who want your job?
Spend a lot of time riding! Just get out there and practice on your own.
The same skill or piece of information can be taught and explained, and understood, in ten different ways. So you need to really understand it yourself very well, otherwise you won’t be able to explain it to people. You always need to have knowledge and experience at least one level higher than the people you’re trying to teach. If you’re teaching beginners, you need to be at an intermediate level yourself, and so on.
It’s not about terrain, it’s about technique and skills.
And that includes people skills! You’ll be spending a lot of time talking to people, and you really need to like them, too. You must be very emphatic, because you can easily kill people’s desire to ride if you’re a jerk to them, especially beginners. You have to care about them and their progress and be kind to them.
To get into coaching, reach out to companies or trainers you want to work with, find somebody local ideally, and see if you can get an assisting job. In the beginning, just tag along and help out, be useful. If you click, chances are you’ll progress with the company or the individual coach and join the existing team – or, who knows, maybe create your own!