Looking to improve your dirt bike riding skills? A visit to Southern California’s Champ Factory Motocross School is in order.
How do you improve your skills in your favorite sport? For some it’s accomplished through relentless practice, while others seek advice from a friend or expert. Then again, one might prefer to pickup up a book or magazine and read how it’s done from the pros. While any one or a combination of these techniques may work, when it comes to sharpening your skills in the sport of motocross nothing replaces proper education – especially when that instruction comes from a two-time World Champion. Accordingly if you wish to evolve your moto game we recommend a visit to Sebastien Tortelli’s Champ Factory Motocross School.
The clinic is held primarily at Perris Raceway, Southern California’s premier motocross facility. Classes are also held at other select California tracks including the recently opened Pala Raceway. Additional stops throughout the U.S. will be added for 2010 (check out the Champ Factory schedule). The school is open to all riders regardless of age, gender, or even skill level. The only prerequisite is the willingness to learn the correct way to ride a motocross bike.
Students in our small five-person class ranged from a 10-year-old racing youngster, to a 20-something mother seeking to master a new challenge. Another rider, along with his family, traveled all the way from the small island of Guernsey in the English Channel during their summer holiday. Riders are responsible for bringing bike, gas, and riding gear, however, the school offers a limited supply of KTM 250 and 450 SX-F bikes for an additional fee. We utilized a 2009 Kawasaki KX250F (Learn more about Team Green’s 250F class moto bike in the Kawasaki KX250F First Ride review.) Primarily Champ Factory offers two-day camps but occasionally a three-day program is available, we experienced the latter.
Easy as it Looks?
The Champ Factory curriculum focuses on correct body position thereby minimizing rider effort and maximizing motorcycle performance.
Anyone who has watched a dirt bike race on television can attest to how easy pros like James Stewart and Chad Reed make dirt bike riding seem. The truth is motocross is one of the most technical forms of motorcycling. Contrary to a road-going motorcycle where the rider is sitting inside of it, whistling blissfully while enjoying the scenery; on a dirt bike, you’re blasting around an ever changing course, constantly adjusting the position of your body, and manipulating each of the motorcycle’s controls in order to maneuver in and around bumps, berms, ruts, and jumps. It’s this biomechanical science that is the primary focus of the school.
“Motocross riders are lazy,” smiles Tortelli. “We don’t want to work any harder than we have to. That’s why you need to use your body correctly so the bike does what you ask of it.”
Ingredients for Speed
The school is broken down into three primary categories: braking, cornering, and jumping. Race starts from both dirt and concrete are also covered. Class begins at 9:00 a.m. with an hour-long lunch break around noon. On the first day, class kicks off with an introduction by Tortelli as well as each student. Then, Tortelli briefs the group on how the next few days are going to go down. After, you move right into drills.
Here Tortelli instructs the class to use the dirt wall as a berm to keep the bike on line through the corner.
Oddly enough, a good part of each day is spent in the open parking area adjacent to the track. Here, Tortelli breaks down each action (braking, cornering, and starts) into individual movements i.e. letting off the throttle, standing, squeezing the machine, moving your body, etc. This allows students to better comprehend the physical mechanics behind each action. Although some of the movements may feel awkward at first, remain patient as Tortelli methodically chisels away at each and every bad habit one may have acquired of the course of their off-road riding careers.
Having grown-up riding street bikes without any formal dirt riding instruction, I was amazed not only by how much body language is necessary to get the bike to do what you want, but how crucial it is to do each motion in order, and, at the right time. However, when done properly, it’s ridiculous how much better the motorcycle responds. If only I had learned this stuff like 10 years ago, I would have considerably less crash evidence tattooed on my body.
During the drills, the class relentlessly practices technique amidst Tortelli’s attentive eyes. While these drills can seem repetitious, it’s this repetition that helps train your brain, ultimately helping make these actions second nature.
When you’ve nearly had enough of making passes back and forth in the makeshift parking lot track, Tortelli moves you onto the racetrack where you practice what you’ve learned during a 20-minute moto. Afterward, the class rejoins for a pow-wow-style debriefing where each person discusses how things went. From then on, the day is spent shuffling between the parking lot track and the real thing, with each lesson building on the previous one until the day ends at 4:00 p.m.
Throughout the six-hour class you get plenty of riding on the main track. Besides lunch and the occasional water break there isn’t much downtime. However, if you haven’t quite had your riding fill, at the end of each day students are free to stay and put in laps until the track closes, which at Perris, with its full lighting set-up, can be as late as 9:00 p.m.
Class regroups the following day, and after a good night’s rest many of the methods taught on the first day really start to make sense. Tortelli performs a quick refresher during a morning warm-up on the track, where you carry out all the techniques gained on the first day before moving into the second day’s lesson.
With so many instructions, thoughts and ideas being thrown at you over the course of the program it can be difficult to decipher it all, let alone put it to use. Tortelli, of course, understands this and encourages students with his unique blend of patience and effective communication. He constantly keeps you in check, calmly critiquing where you’re right on the money and reiterating each step when you eventually make a mistake.
Another one of Tortelli’s training tricks is to use a digital voice recorder. When the pupil makes a pass during drills or out on the main track, he’ll record some notes. Afterwards, each rider has the words played before them which outline what went wrong and the proper steps needed to fix the problem.
Here Tortelli plays back his note from a voice recorder outlining what you did during your last drill pass. This technique helps the rider memorize what they need to be thinking about when riding.
While it’s hard to argue with either Tortelli’s teaching methods or class structure one thing that could really help improve students would be to incorporate video recording in order to help show the student what they’re doing wrong.
Case in point: Of all of the lesson categories, the most difficult for me was jumping. The primary issue I had was achieving the correct body position. Tortelli thoroughly explained the technique needed to jump safely, problem was I just wasn’t getting it. I was unable to manipulate my body in the correct way on the bike. A student in this situation could benefit by being recorded with a video camera, so they can see what they are doing wrong and visualize how to correct the problem.
Next to the cost of your motocross bike and safety gear, there’s zero doubt in my mind that a visit to Champ Factory is the wisest way you can spend your cash if you’re serious about dirt biking. At a cost of $250 the price is a value based solely on the outright level of instruction provided by Tortelli. Factor in the safer bike handling skills and subsequent drop in lap times and the price suddenly becomes a bargain. If you’re looking to ride your bike more effectively, with reduced effort, and ultimately more fun, than do yourself a favor and sign up for Champ Factory.