Where we work on our off-road riding.
WORDS & IMAGES Michael Hilton
I’m sipping coffee in my truck, watching the sun rise over the dusty dirt track. Today, I throw a leg over a dirt bike and dig into some terra firma. It’s my first time, and I’m having grandiose visions of how the day will go when my Iron & Air colleagues, Jon and Rian, arrive. They’re just as stoked as I am; Rian keeps chirping about learning to wheelie, Jon says something about him being lucky to stay right-side up, and the full-on shit talking starts. This is going to be fun.
Located 40 miles south of Boston, Planet Dirt is one of New England’s premier dirt bike schools. We enter the humble office and are welcomed by our MSF-certified instructors, Dino and Mark. They ask what are our goals are for the day. Jon and I mutter about learning the fundamentals, and Rian keeps harping on how he wants to wheelie. We’re led out to the track and told to choose a bike. I settle on a sweet little Honda CRF230F and hop on.
First up, proper riding stance. Head up, elbows out, knees in tight. Alert and aggressive. We use our legs to raise and lower ourselves off the seat. Up, down, up, down, again and again, over and over as we slowly ride in circles. The sun is getting higher in the sky, and I feel the sweat soaking my socks and my underwear. It stings my eyeballs as it rolls down my forehead. I knew I should’ve worn goggles.
We take a much-needed water break and discuss the next objective: standing on the pegs and steering with our legs. It’s a battle at first but I soon stop fighting the bike, relax, and find a nice, mellow rhythm. Once we get the hang of that, Dino and Mark carry pieces of lumber, big and small, out onto the track and teach us how to ride smoothly over them. Then a 10-foot-long wooden beam, just four inches wide, is placed in front of us. Dino says we’re going to ride straight across it, like a tightrope. “Keep your head up, look out ahead, and trust yourself,” he says. I’m tense but force myself not to look down at the beam as I pop the front tire onto the wood. Eyes up, light inputs to the throttle, and before I know it I’ve ridden across the four-inch-wide piece of spruce.
All the pieces of wood go away when we learn how to do a gnarly pivot turn. Starting at a standstill, I plant my inside leg heavy on the ground, turn my head in the direction of the corner, and then give a quick, hard pull on the throttle. The rear tire tosses up dirt, and the entire bike spins 180 degrees. We practice these for a while, first going left then right. I’m feeling pretty confident until I goose the throttle coming out of a turn, high-side, and hit the ground face shield first. I guess it’s not really dirt biking unless you get some dirt on you, right?
To develop good clutch control and balance, we engage in a hotly contested race of “Who Can Ride The Slowest?” My technique is horrible, and I don’t get very far. “Bring your knees in tight and keep your focus way out ahead of you,” Mark tells me. This helps tremendously and I take the “lead”, but then I hear Rian heckling me, riding right on my ass. “Stay the hell away from me!” I yell, but his distraction works and he wins the race.
For last half hour of the day, we test our new skills with an exhilarating free ride, ripping up the track, trails, and even getting a little air (emphasis on little) off the small kickers. We snap some photos and thank our instructors. Rian never does learn how to wheelie, but we all leave Planet Dirt with a whole new bag of riding skills. It’s been one hell of a good day learning to ride a dirt bike.