MSF – Intro to Trail Riding

Despite not having any time lately for anything but work or house build related activities, I’m really glad we made time last weekend to travel to Georgia for another moto riding clinic.

2016-07-31_MSF ITR A_sI’ve been pretty good about sticking to my “at least one moto riding class” a year goal. This year, since off-road riding is definitely my weakest area, I wanted to find an off-road oriented class. Its harder than you’d think. Most dirtbike classes are for kids, or are more moto-cross oriented, which is a bit different than what I am looking for. Trail and/or adventure riding is a slightly different skill set, and there are now several famous courses that are all available in various western states. Since we can’t make a western trip happen this year, I thought I was out of luck. Then I discovered that the MSF (Motorcycle Safety Foundation) has an Intro to Trail Riding class. That’s exactly what I was looking for. The MSF requires students to take the CRE class first, so I found some dates where we could take both classes back to back. It worked out great; we had a great trip, rode motorcycles, learned a few things, and really enjoyed our little mini vacation.

About the Classes
Day 1 was the CRE (Closed Range Excercises class), held on the fenced dirt range. The day started slow for us, with exercises on operation and clutch control geared towards beginner riders. It picked up for me when we started the turning exercises that focused on off-road body position, and especially all of the exercises involving standing while riding, a tool I need in my toolbox if I am going to ride with confidence off-road. I have very little experience or practice with standing while riding, and having the instructor teach correct body positioning, correct me, and then practicing the off-set cone weave and turning around a cone on a hill exercises in particular imparted noticeable improvement for me. Day 2 was the actual Intro to Trail Riding class, and is when we got to apply the skills we had practiced on Day 1. After warming up on the range for a few minutes in the morning, we spent the entire day having a blast riding around trails in the woods.

The good
I find two days of back to back instruction more helpful than one. Learning some new skills, sleeping on it, and then practicing those same skills the very next day works much better to reinforce and retain new information than a single day of instruction. (If you have enough energy to make it two full days – definitely make sure your fitness level is up to the task:)

The bad
The first day (beginner dirtbike course, CRE, for Closed Range Exercises) was too beginner even for me, and especially Kevin. The Day 1 class was a really mixed group of adults and kids, some of whom were just learning to ride. While we both benefited from some of the closed range exercises later in the day, we would have preferred an adults only class that moved a bit faster and covered more material, and allowed more time to practice the harder drills.  The curriculum was a strange mix for us of benefiting from maybe half of the material, and the other half being more “learn to ride,” which doesn’t help us improve. After taking both classes, I understand why the MSF insists that you have to take the CRE class first, and I don’t think I would change that. I just wish there were a variant of the “beginner” course that allowed an adults only class where riders with some experience could be pushed harder and get more out of the first day.

The excellent
The Intro to trail riding class on the second day was excellent. It was perfect for us and the skills we wanted to learn. It was also TONS of fun. While I am not ready to race the Dakar any time soon, I do feel much more confident in going trail riding, and also understand where my weaknesses are, and how to practice to improve them. (I apparently can’t use the clutch while standing up. Its the strangest thing. I have acceptable clutch control while seated, but as soon as I stand, all that muscle memory somehow goes out the window. I don’t know. I’ll just have to practice.)

The instructors! We were mostly taught my Michael on both days, and he is an excellent teacher. More than once he was able to identify where I was struggling, and was able to help me improve. We also got lucky; the other people signed up for the ITR class didn’t show up, so we had Micheal all to ourselves. We basically got private lessons, which really allowed us to get the most out of the class.

The MSF/Honda facility. The classes are located at the Honda rider training facility in Alpharetta Georgia. This has to be one of the nicest rider training facilities on the planet. It was like moto heaven. There was a nice, air-conditioned (really appreciated on 90°F+ days) building. In addition to offices and classrooms, there was a cafeteria that overlooked the dirtbike/offroad range (they also have ATV classes) in one direction, as well as overlooking the large streetbike range in the other. They had a gear room full of all the safety gear you could want to borrow (helmets, gloves, goggle, jerseys, pants, armor, boots, all neatly organized). The gear room had changing rooms and a washer and dryer. The separate garage was absolutely full of Honda motorcycles for use in the various classes, on and off road, all newer models no more than 3 years old, and all in excellent condition. The dirt range was large, nicely groomed, had a hill, and various “logs”  (mostly 4x4s) for use as obstacles.  Oh, and it had stadium lights for riding at night (that may have been the street range only, I don’t remember now).

The trail system was simply fantastic. A moto trail riding playground. They only have about 4 miles of trails, but those trails are packed full of obstacles for practice: hills, rocks, mud, water obstacles, a pea gravel section (training for sand riding, but apparently maintaining the sand pit was prohibitive), logs, whoops, woods riding, single track, etc. You name an off-road riding condition, and they have it packed into that 4 miles of trail system somewhere, and I got to ride and receive instruction on all of it. Absolutely first class.

All this, and both classes were less expensive than all the other options I’ve researched. I wish I had some pictures, but they didn’t take any, and there wasn’t a reasonable way for me or Kevin to carry a camera and take photos of each other. We were too busy riding.

In sum, I definitely recommend the MSF ITR class for those without much off-road riding experience who want to get into adventure or trail riding. Two thumbs way, way up for this experience.

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