With holiday season among us, the struggle to find the perfect gift for that special motorcycle junkie in our lives can be a daunting task, but rest assured RideApart has found the answer! Dirt First by Motoventures.
As the name implies, the Dirt First program emphasizes building skills and exploring the envelope of motorcycling in a relatively safe off-road environment. Not only does this allow for a car and truck-free environment, but the loose surface lends itself to much lower speeds than road and track riding while still being able to explore the limits of grip and, most importantly, the limits of your abilities.
The Dirt First concept capitalizes on the widely accepted fact that the best way to improve your riding safely and affordably is through off-road riding, a concept that many riders have undoubtedly heard before. Because of this, countless riders have gone out, grabbed a dirt bike and some gear and loaded up for the desert or nearest off-road park, only to realize they may not be very good at it, have little idea what to improve on, and in many cases, abandon off-road riding completely.
With the exception of MSF-style, beginner focused off-road schools and full on motocross racing academies, there really aren’t many out there providing off-road training for everyone in between. The Dirt First program provided by Motoventures provides the perfect avenue to improve their off-road riding skills and have an absolute blast doing so from zero-time riders to desert racing champs.
Motoventures began about 17 years ago as a full-time business focused on providing off-road training and adventures for all kinds of motorcycle enthusiasts, and the Dirt First program consists of a variety of different curriculums that suit any rider and their skill level. Owned and operated by long-time industry professional Gary LaPlante, Dirt First brings together years of experience and expertise in order to break down off-road riding to a science. Their step-by-step programs are also brought to you by quite literally the company that wrote the book on How to Ride Off-Road Motorcycles.
Each program follows the principals and activities outlined in Gary’s book entitled just that, and focuses on giving riders the skills and tools to continually improve even after the day is done. This helps to avoid that plateau and keeps riders hooked.
To give a little bit of background on my two-wheeled experience, I'm what they call fairly “green,” having spent a majority of my moto time on a fair variety of vintage dirt bikes, but mostly ripping around on old Honda Z50s. (As a side note, probably the cheapest fun you can have and it never gets old.) So in other words, I was in that grey area where I knew enough to get myself in trouble but nowhere near “experienced.”
Pretty much sums up my riding experience...Honda Z50's: Fun for all ages.
9:30: Anza, CA on a Beautifully Crisp Winter Day
When I arrived at Gary’s location in Anza, CA (admittedly, with a head full of cold medicine), I was greeted with some protective gear, a nice line up of Yamaha’s finest, and we went right into things! After just a little bit of an overview on how the day would go, we broke up into our two groups (beginners “Level 1” and slightly less beginners aka “Level 2”) and were on our way.
Warming-up And Starting To Think
After a short little follow-the-leader to loosen us all up, Gary took us over to do some laps around a couple cones to practice some basic cornering techniques. After rushing through a few laps and getting some feedback, I began to see the carefully broken down science to this. Brake, downshift, weight the front, lean her over with some counter-balancing, and squeeze the throttle on the way out.
Every drill throughout the day began with a perfect step-by-step breakdown and demonstration that drove everything home for me. Nothing leaves me more confused than that, “I don’t know, you just do it” answer, and thanks to the years of experience at his disposal, Gary was able to define every scenario and quickly identify each of our individual difficulties.
The Drill I was Certain Would End with a Face Full of Dirt
As soon as we were all getting the hang of our docile little oval loop, it was on to the next: hard braking. We had a smooth section of dirt and got up to the top of 3rd, sometimes 4th before going hard on the clampers. The goal was to come to a complete stop at a marker with the front wheel locking up in the last foot or so to be sure we were “threshold braking” as 4-wheeled road racers call it. For someone who doesn’t have all that much experience—and especially not on a bike with disc brakes—getting a feel for grabbing a fist full of front brake took a few runs to even come close to the marker.
Another one of those "I'm guaranteed to end up on my ass" moments came when presented with "the board." About as wide as the rear tire, keep both wheels up on top of the board at just above idle speed was by far the most challenging maneuver all day, and I'm happy to say all five of us made it across at least once!
Never a Dull Moment
After a short trail ride and a quick break, it was back to the bikes, and this was when things started to ramp up playing with cambers and turning on hills. Counter-balance. Counter-balance. Counter-balance. As soon as we left the “warm-up” activities, the remainder of the day was spent standing and constantly focusing on where to position our weight depending upon the situation.
The Motoventures facility provides the perfect learning environment for this type of school, with a wide variety of terrain options stemming out from a wide flat basecamp. This is perfect for beginners and any activities requiring a consistent surface. The network of single-track trails that surround this area also include a great mix of off-shoots, which are perfect for any skill level and include a variety of hill climbs and even a long sand wash.
After a few quick runs through the soft stuff and a pretty tricky hill climb, the day concluded with a nice trail ride that wrapped around the perimeter of the facility and brought the entire day to a perfect closing as we brought together every skill we learned having a blast through the local landscape.
The site also features a couple small tracks on-site and a wide range of obstacles for those guys on the funny little trials bikes that hop around and go out of their way to make life difficult for themselves. If you’re a little bit nuts like I am, Motoventures is one of the few schools in the country that provides trials training as well, and I cant wait to get back out there and have a go at it one day!
I really can’t say enough about the quality of instruction I received and witnessed with a real hands-on approach from both Gary and his son in the Level 1 and Level 2 courses respectively. The entire day was an absolute blast, and thanks to the roughly 5:1 student to instructor ratio, it was an extremely productive and practical day on two wheels.
If you or anyone you know is looking to improve his or her skills on a motorcycle, just remember Dirt First. With pricing as low as $160 for beginners with their own bike and up to $335 if you’d prefer to use theirs, Motoventures is the best investment to not only make you a safer rider, but also make the experience that much more enjoyable.