West 38 Moto Intermediate Off-Road Training
Flashy power slides, wheelies, jumping off things, climbing rock steps, and riding the notorious Black Bear Pass like nobody’s business—that’s more or less the image that comes to mind when I think of the words “intermediate” and “off-road training.”
And, that’s roughly what I expected to learn when I signed up for West 38 Moto’s intermediate class in Ouray, Colorado. Having done W38M’s beginner training course in May and ridden over 20,000 miles of varied terrain over the summer, I already felt fairly confident and competent taking my bike off road and pushing my own limits. However, beautiful visions of Dakar-style riding paired with Charley Boorman-like antics seemed too seductive to pass up, so after a brief chat with Dusty Wessels, the heart and soul of W38M, I was sold.
Your bike can. Can you?
Dusty is everything that a brilliant off-road coach needs to be: professional and talented with great people skills, a relaxed sense of humor, and a passion for motorcycles. But he also gets it. Not all people grow up riding dirt bikes or are natural-born motorcycle virtuosos, and not all riders excel at the same pace. In fact, Dusty says, “I learned to ride as an adult, so I love showing people that it doesn’t matter whether you start when you’re 8, 28, or 68, riding motorcycles off road is a skill that can be mastered regardless of your experience, age, or gender.”
The motley crew that showed up for training in Ouray was a perfect example of just that: people from all walks of life, ranging from 27 to 65 years old riding Suzuki DR650s, BMW 1200GSes, Africa Twins and a sporty KTM 500, with as little as one month and as many as decades of riding experience. True, gender variety wasn’t as impressive—I happened to be the sole female among 11 men—but Dusty’s tone and everybody’s friendly attitudes made me feel as welcome as any other rider.
Talking us through each task, Dusty sent us on different challenges throughout the day: balance exercises, experiments with rear and front wheel skids, different brake techniques, a brief stint in the rock garden, and a variety of drills teaching us to swing the bikes around corners using power slides and rear brakes. In the afternoon, we went for a short ride on steep, rocky trails and gravel roads to put our newly acquired skills to the test, and to become more comfortable on our motorcycles.
“Off-road riding isn’t about trying to muscle your bike around—that’ll never work, and it will exhaust you quicker than you imagine. Balance, finesse, and planning ahead are your best tools if you want to become an expert dirt rider. Get very familiar with your bike, hone your skills so they become second nature, and pick your lines instead of charging mindlessly ahead. Learn to evaluate the terrain in front of you, use your body weight for acceleration and braking, look where you want to go, and don’t be afraid to blip that throttle when needed! These techniques will help you so much more than sheer muscle power. Don’t fight with your bike—it’s bigger and heavier than you,” advised Dusty.
Corkscrew, Hurricane, California
On Day Two, it was time to test our bikes and ourselves out in the real world. Rocky Mountain passes are an ideal playground for dirt riding. Offering a variety of difficulty levels, terrain, and weather conditions, these mountain tracks would decide whether we were up to the task—Dusty had picked Corkscrew, Hurricane, and California Passes for the day’s training.
After a brief heads-up and some last-minute advice, we set off to tackle Corkscrew first. Steep inclines, rocky terrain, and thrilling switchbacks provided a great exercise in throttle control, line-picking and brake policy. Gathering storm clouds sent us scurrying up and down Hurricane, negotiating sharp boulders and rock steps, even steeper ascents, whirling snowflakes, and gravel trails; California met us with drizzling rain and rocky tracks, and when we finally took a short break in a gold mining ghost town, everyone had big dorky grins on their faces. Slower or faster, keeping our bikes upright or dumping them a few times, calm and calculated or breathless and excited, we all made it!
“For some of you, this was a two or three out of five difficulty levels. For others, it was a mere one and for some, a whole five—but the point is, you all took your bikes over those passes! You all let the motorcycles do their thing and used relaxed technique, controls didn’t freak you out, and by the end of it, you all were so much more confident in your riding,” encouraged Dusty.
Exhausted and hungry but smiling from ear to ear, we piled into Silverton for a hearty lunch. Finishing our ride with three hours of colorful Colorado forest tracks, we rolled back into Ouray for celebratory beers.
Apart from power slides and rear wheel skids, we didn’t learn any of the flashy tricks I was initially hoping to master. No wheelies, no stunts, no badass jumps. Instead, we gained something a lot more valuable: a tremendous confidence boost, new techniques and finesse in handling our motorcycles, and a cool, collected approach to challenging terrain. Dusty explained, “If people have at least one light bulb moment, if, at some point, they go, ‘Aha! I’ve got this now,’ then my job is done. I’ve trained hundreds of people this summer, and every time this happens, I’m just over the moon.”
So am I. Although I still aspire to the Boorman school of semi-serious riding, I now feel 100% ready to take on the whole world. As we turn our tires south and head for the Mexican border, I know that I may not be an expert on every single off-road challenge, but I now have the tools to confidently face those challenges, do my best, and learn as I go along. West38Moto.com