MotoVentures Training

Text: Greg Smith • Photography: Greg Smith

Old hands will tell you that their experiences on dirt roads or tracks helped to make them better street riders. Many successful professional road racers got their start in the lowly dirt, learning to handle the vagaries of less than perfect traction and control their motorcycles in unusual attitudes and situations. But where, when you're ready to follow their lead, do you go to safely learn these skills today?

Some of us are constantly working to keep our skills up to date and expand our motorcycling knowledge. This means studying books, reviewing videos, or even attending a Motorcycle Safety Foundation course. Some take that thirst for knowledge to the track in the form of a track day or they enroll in courses at one of the many high-speed riding schools available. But for many riders, the quickest and most enjoyable way to enhance skills as a street rider is to get dirty.

The best way to learn any new riding skill is from an expert. On a secluded ranch site in the desert of Southern California, former professional dirt and trials rider Gary LaPlante operates MotoVentures, a dirt bike and trials rider training center. Gary's students range in age and experience, from complete novices to expert trials riders and motocross racers. The instruction is topnotch and tailored to the needs of the individual students, who are allowed to use their own gear and motorcycles. Or the school will provide full gear and use of a dirt bike.

The site is a dirt bike and trials paradise, with spectacular scenery, boulders, trails and challenges galore. Novice riders are introduced to the world of dirt bike riding and given a pre-course safety briefing that Gary calls his riders' meeting. Although students are contacted before arriving to determine skill and experience levels, this last-minute briefing serves as a great grounding. Topics cover the list of safety elements, as well as Gary's philosophy about why dirt bike riding makes one a better street rider.

Gary makes a great case for why street riders should learn in the dirt. Riding in the dirt helps enhance the ability to think ahead, to visualize and recognize hazards, conditions and the factors that can influence riding decisions. Conscientious street riders are constantly scanning all around to assess road condition, traffic and possible dangers, and to think far enough ahead to plan for them. Using dirt riding techniques, a rider learns very quickly about spotting hazards, changes in traction, or loose impediments, and picking proper lines through turns. These mental and visual skills translate directly to the street. By practicing them in the dirt, riders gain confidence and learn to handle traction issues in a relatively safe environment.

Riders taking the MotoVentures course also learn how to help the motorcycle help them. They experience how even small changes in body position, weight adjustment and movement can affect the ability of the motorcycle to carry the rider over obstacles, or manage traction. Gary is often heard to tell students that there is no such thing as moving too much on a dirt bike, and many of the exercises and skills practiced demonstrate this. Riders gain confidence, especially in handling slower speed, tight turn or limited space maneuvers. And breaking out of the passive mode of simply letting the motorcycle carry them along, they quickly learn to participate actively and work with the motorcycle to overcome challenges.

Dirt riding also helps riders explore the limits of their skills and the motorcycle in a relatively safe and non-threatening environment. Let's face it, crashing can be the ultimate learning tool, and many riders learn the lessons taught in a crash the hard way. In a dirt environment (with the proper gear of course) riders can experiment with little to fear. Students experience lean angles they never thought possible, discover braking techniques they won't get in an MSF course, and push the limits of traction in a far safer environment than pavement.

Along with helping you find your limits and actively participate with the motorcycle, Gary and his team show a rider how to more effectively manipulate the controls. Exercises in the course help fine tune motorcycle control inputs, and the course allows students to master the controls in low-stress surroundings.

All of these lessons build a street rider's confidence and directly contribute to creating a well-rounded, more capable rider in any situation. Riders come away from a two-day course with far more knowledge, capability and readiness to ride than they had when they arrived. On the bottom line, for the amount of learning derived in a short stint of professional instruction in the dirt, the payback for the time and cost involved is immeasurable. Not only that, but dirt bike riding is a great way to enhance your overall physical fitness and stamina, while providing a thoroughly family-friendly adventure.

The MotoVentures curriculum includes the fundamentals, such as counter weighting tight turns, straight-line braking and other critical skills, and puts riders through their paces in many drills not found in any MSF course. The principles and effects of body positioning, counter balancing, and extreme braking techniques are also covered. Braking to the point of lock up, students are expected to stop at specific points using rear only, front only, and both brakes in successive stops. Instruction consists of discussions, demonstrations, and thorough explanations of each exercise. And all students receive enough coaching to ensure that they fully understand and benefit from each exercise.

Other critical skills include how to counterweigh the bike on a severe off-camber slope, such as traversing the side of a hill. Students also practice techniques for climbing and descending slopes. One of the most interesting aspects of the course involves how to handle the hill that you can't climb. Using a K-turn, students successfully stop their bikes, turn around and ride back down the slope safely.

After most exercises, the instructor leads the students on trail rides around the ranch. During these rides, students practice their techniques. This reinforces the skill-set training and really brings the lesson into focus. As the course progresses, trail rides get longer and more complex, incorporating more and more skill reinforcement. The exercises are terrific, but those trail rides really ingrained them!

There are several ways to experience the fun of riding a dirt bike at MotoVentures. The Basic Skills course (Level 1), an introduction for novice riders, lasts six hours. The Level 2 course, the Skill Builder class, builds upon the basic course instruction and improves the performance of the rider with a solid foundation. The Level 3 course, Advanced Rider Training, is utilized by the racer looking for an edge, or by more advanced riders looking to move up to the next level in personal skills. The Advanced Rider Course can include flat track, single track, or even trials, as well as handling jumps and slides. An Ultimate Package is also offered as a two-day course to enhance basic skills, build a solid foundation, or for experimentation with new skills in a controlled environment. The key to success with this sort of training is that all of it can be tailored to the needs of the individual student. MotoVentures also provides guided one, two and three day dirt and dual sport treks through California, Arizona and Colorado. Riders can get a skill "tune up" beforehand to boost confidence and gain more enjoyment from the trip.

One of the more interesting ways to expand your skills at MotoVentures is to spend a little time on one of their trials bikes. Riding Trials is a unique and highly technical skill that relies on extreme counter weighting, exceptional balance and very slow speed. Riders surmount incredible obstacles (such as hopping from one big boulder to the next) while keeping their feet on the pegs. If you haven't seen a trials rider, you're in for a treat watching Gary, a former nationally ranked professional trials rider and multiple winner of Arizona state trials championships, in action. The Trials Experience is world class and one of the few courses available anywhere for learning how to ride a trials bike; and if you're up to the challenge, this course is worth every bit of your time and energy.

Interested parties should contact MotoVentures on the web at
www.motoventures.com,
or call 951-767-0991.