My wife, Kim, and I attended Rich Oliver's Mystery School this past weekend and I thought I would give a quick report.
Specifically we took part in the 1 day Off Road Challenge Course.
First, a bit about us. We have both been riding motorcycles for less than a year so we are noobs. My first bike was a
KTM 640 which I later sold and am now riding a 1200GS. Kim rides a 650GS Dakar, yeah, the typical girls bike (sorry
Larry). We've been venturing off road on our bikes and enjoying it but neither of us really knows anything about riding
in the dirt. Kim was out with some girlfriends recently and one of them was wearing a fleece that said "mystery school."
She asked the girl what that was and that's how she found out about Rich's school. She came home all fired up and
said she really wanted to go take the class so we looked into it and signed up. Did I mention how lucky I am to have a
wife how begs me to take her to dirt bike school?
At any rate, Sunday morning found us at Rich's house in Auberry,about 30 minutes outside of Fresno. After
introductions the day started with some stretching and then it was off to get suited up to
ride. There were 8 riders in our class and I believe Rich limits his classes to this size to keep the group small. You can
bring your own dirt bike for the course or use theirs. We elected to use their bikes which are Yamaha TT-R 125s. I'm
6'4" and Kim is 6' tall so these little 125s felt like toys to us at first. The proved to be excellent bikes to learn these
skills on as they are super light and easy to maneuver and as Karen Oliver (Rich's wife) said, little bike, little fall. And
yes, I crashed a few times so it's good not worry about going down on your own bike.
The first riding exercise was a simple braking drill. We rode around a short oval track, braking at the appropriate spot
along the way. I guess Rick starts all of his classes this way, gotta prove we can ride a bike and stop safely. Next we
rode around a tight circle, concentrating on shifting body weight to the outside peg and controlling the sliding rear tire.
We went around the tight circle in both directions. This was all new to me as my instinct is to lean into the turn, so
putting my weight on the outside of the turn took some getting used to. We then took this a step further and rode
around the small oval, flat track style, focusing on braking as we entered the turn, turning the bars and accelerating
out of the turn, all while controlling the slide. Again we did this in both directions around the oval. It was definitely more
challenging in the clockwise direction as you are using that right foot both for braking and putting down in the dirt. New
concepts to me but good stuff.
After a short break in the shade, we were off to the woods course. This is a fun exercise where we need to put
together our new skills in a challenging course over Rich's property. This course is very tight and technical and
rewards good technique. There are some fast straight-aways but the majority of it is weaving though the dense tree
sections. We got to ride the course for a while and then after this practice, each rider got to do 3 timed runs on the
course. The objective was to improve your time each run. After each run Rich would critique you and give you pointers
on what to work on for the next run in order to improve the time. This was very cool and added
a bit of competition to the day. After this we took a break for lunch.
After lunch we headed over to "Matthew's Course." This is basically a BMX style course with 3 jumps, some whoops
and some tight, twisty turns. This course was a blast! I've never jumped a motorcycle before and I was surprised at
how easy it was. We got to play on this course for quite a while and everyone was loving it. Rich demonstrated
some techniques to us and had us work on specific items. After riding this course for a while we did something called
a "team challenge." All 8 participants became a team and we had to ride the course in relay fashion for time. We took
turns riding the same bike and each rider had to alternate directions on the course. This means when you finished
your lap and you were handing off to the next rider, either you or the next person has to do a u-turn so the next rider
can go the other way. We did this exercise one time without any strategy and got our time. Then we discussed
techniques and strategies in order to try and improve the time. On our next round we improved by about 30 seconds
We ended the day with two other specific skills. The first was learning to rider over obstacles. We rode through/over
some large rocks and then had to ride over a log. Rich demonstrated proper technique to get the front wheel to clear
the obstacle. After practicing this many times we moved on to the stream crossing. This wasn't an actual stream but
more of a man made puddle in a sandy, rutted area. Here we dropped down into a depression, made a tight turn to the
water obstacle, rode through the water and then up a steep, muddy hill section to get out of the depression and do it all
over again. This was good practice, especially for my wife as she has had a mental block about water crossings. She
was tentative the first time through and then charged it over and over. I was proud.
This wrapped up our day. We started at 9:00am and ended about 5:30 so it was a pretty full day. In retrospect I'm very
glad we went. I have no dirt bike experience and learned a ton. Rich is a believer of getting in as much riding time as
possible to learn rather than spending time in a classroom setting and I think this is a good philosophy. Rich is a very
down to earth guy who was patient and explained each learning objective. After explaining he would then
demonstrate the drill on his bike. Throughout the day he would critique each individual rider appropriate to the level he
or she is at. In my opinion his school is well organized and professionally run. Both he and his wife were super nice
people and encouraging throughout the day. I would recommend this class if you are new to riding off road or want to
improve your basic skills. If you are more advanced he offers classes tailored to different skill levels.
I know that I will be more confident in the dirt now on my big bike. I'm not related to Rich in any way, just a satisfied
customer. I hope this report is useful to folks in the group! See you on the trails!
Dan & Kim
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