Mid-December, my friend Kyle “Lollipop” Schirrmacher started a thread in the ‘Racers Section’ of www.bayarearidersforum.com asking the opinion of others on the benefits of riding dirt as it relates to road racing, it started;
Why Ride Dirt?
After racing the last AFM round I was feeling great about riding and wanted a way to continue through the winter. Fast forward 2 months and I haven't missed a weekend of riding at Hollister. It's addicting.
The faster I get, though, the more confused I actually become about why this is supposed to benefit me when it comes to road racing. Can anyone really quantify this? What should I work on more? Certainly the really nasty rutted single track stuff with roots that will castrate you won't do much but of the 'typical' terrain, which would translate better into road racing? Are TT and flat track more useful than trail riding and MX?
In general, the responses pointed out that dirt riding offers benefits in the way of being more comfortable on a bike in general; fine tuning your throttle modulation, brake control and use of the clutch, engine braking, etc. It was also pointed out that dirt riding can help your confidence and reaction to the bike when it gets a little loose or out of control, that you can gain a better “feel” of the bike when you are at the limits of traction, and generally on the dirt it is done at slower speeds than you would be able to do on your road bike. The other common reason for riding dirt was that it is simply... fun.
I got my start riding bikes on the trails and about a year later found myself entering my first motocross race. I raced MX for a few years and I did ok, but was never really good at it. What I did learn in those early years of dirt biking was a lot about bike control, and that foundation helped me develop the reactions needed to save what otherwise would have been a few nasty road race crashes over the last few years of road racing. One particular incident that stands out was a tank slapper I had coming down the straight between the carousel and Turn 7 at Infineon. I was in my first ever AMA qualifying session, on new tires that I had never tried before, and I didn’t have the suspension dialed in yet. The front end was too light, as I crossed the asphalt seam in the middle of the track, the normal small wiggle I feel on any normal day was exemplified into a wicked bar swap. They banged back and forth several times and my reaction to stay loose and keep the throttle steady allowed me to ride out the bucking bike… then going into Turn 7 I pulled in the brake lever to realize I had no brakes, the pads had "slapped out". I was able to keep the bike up-right and bring it to a stop as I used the rear brake while I pumped the front brake lever several times to get the brake pads to bite. I am sure that my years of trail riding and racing MX were helpful in my ability to deal with this unexpected situation.
Kyle posted this thread during the off-season when we were all craving a little time on the bikes and around this same time I found out that McAllister Motorsports (Brok McAllister) had done quite a bit of work on the dirt track he was running at Prairie City and that it was quite awesome. Our friend and fellow AFM racer, Martin Szwarc, offered to let Jason and I share his mini-bikes so we could go out and give it a try. The first thing I learned about flat tracking was that it was F-U-N. Who knew going in a circle could be so challenging and so much fun? We made a couple more trips out there and I started to feel like I could use some coaching on how to ride around in circles properly. :) Like he was reading my mind, Brok announced he was going to be offering Saturday classes at the track to learn more about dirt tracking and bike skills in general... I signed up immediately.
I have now been to 6 Saturday classes and I continue to learn, building on my skills consistently each week. Last Saturday, after my turn at the oval drills, one of the great instructors for the classes, Pucho Bagnis (legend of USA Supermoto and World Superbike) came over to me to compliment me on how much I have improved since that first day. In reality though, this is a compliment to the classes and instruction that they have been providing me. Despite the fact that I have been riding and racing bikes for nearly 8 years now and despite the fact that I know I can “ride out” of a lot of situations on my bike, I found that I still had fears about the bike sliding and moving under me and I ride conservatively from that perspective. The instruction I have been getting from Brok and Pucho, along with Garrett Willis (AMA Road Racer and Flat Traker) and Brok’s son Gage McAllister (USA Supermoto Champion and rising moto-star) has helped me to incrementally build on my skills, and more importantly on my confidence, over the last 6 weeks. When I started, I would ride the bike around the oval as fast as I could within my comfort range; which equaled rolling off the throttle too soon, coasting mid-corner, not getting back onto the throttle soon enough and going slower when the bike would start to slide.... so that I wouldn’t slide. (ha!) All of these instincts had me going slower than I was truly capable of. This team of instructors has been helping me each week make improvements with all of these issues and more. It is such a cool feeling to be able to use the throttle and the rear tire slide to turn the bike, which I just started to learn this last Saturday.
I feel more prepared than ever and when the 2012 road race season to starts in a few weeks, I am confident that these skills I have been learning while riding dirt will translate to the pavement (and have even started to try them out on a supermoto bike) which will help me become an even faster racer. The only thing I wish was that I had learned this stuff when I was just getting started in road racing 5 years ago. But it's never too late. :) I will keep going back to the flat track out at Prairie City to continue building these skills with this team of great people.
Thank you Brok McAllister, Pucho Bagnis, Garrett Willis and Gage McAllister for all the coaching and support. Let’s Ride!
One of the three well-known California road racing clubs; AFM offers a place where you can participate in races, watch as a spectator, or even take part as a turn-worker on the course. There are competition classes for almost all motorcycles; you can race what you own, build a bike specifically for racing, or maybe even pick up a pre-set-up bike through member want ads. Competing in expert club racing can be used to qualify for a pro racing license. Explore the website for further information.
Women race with the men?
Yes, races are structured by bike size. Women race in the same classes as men that have the same sized bike. However, there is a growing interest among women in racing , so many racing clubs have added a women’s class to encourage the ladies to give it a try.
Formed in 2001, SMUSA is now the premier Pro/Am supermoto series in the country. Many of the well known American road racers such as Bobby Fong, Joey Pascarella, Cameron Beaubier, Elena Myers, Tyler O'Hara, Garrett Willis and others all competed in Supermoto USA's Nor Cal Championship where they developed their skills.
PC Dirt Track in Sacramento, Ca holds a series of the oldest and most traditional type of motorcycle racing, flat track - sometimes referred to as “dirt track” racing. A uniquely American type of motorcycle racing. Riders finesse their machines sideways through the turns, just inches apart from each other.
Since 1924, the AMA has protected the future of motorcycling and promoted the motorcycle lifestyle. AMA members come from all walks of life, and they navigate many different routes on their journey to the same destination: freedom on two wheels. The AMA sanctions more motorsports competition and motorcycle recreational events than any other organization in the world. No one who has ever seen an AMA Pro motorcycle race ever forgets it.