These days there’s no shortage of motorcycle riding schools to choose from. But for those seeking a unique experience, one where banging ‘bars with friends during the day followed by some friendly trash-talking at night is as essential as honing your riding skills, there’s Colin Edwards’ Texas Tornado Boot Camp. Part riding clinic, survival camp, and motorcycle-riding frat house, Edwards’ four-day camps are a place where fun trumps all… Where success isn’t measured by how many times you avoided hitting the dirt but how big your grin is when your head lands on the pillow at night… don’t say we didn’t warn you.
Situated near Houston, the Texas Tornado Boot Camp is a product of professional American road racer Colin Edwards II, and his close friends and family. A two-time World Superbike champion and MotoGP competitor for nearly a decade, Edwards, established the school in an effort to share some of the riding secrets that afforded him success.
“It’s why I bought this piece of property years ago,” says the 38-year-old world champ of his 20-acre slice of heaven. “Then Mike [Myers, Colin’s long-time friend, racer and Camp Director] conned me with ‘Why don’t we do something like this for everybody’.”
Fast forward to today and we’re at Edwards’ compound for a four-day overnight camp ($2250). But this isn’t just any camp, it’s one devoted exclusively to a few lucky service men and women from the U.S. Army and Air Force that won a Monster Energy promotion, a contest ran inside Army and Air Force Exchange Service retails stores on base. The contest was created by Monster not only as a “thank you” for serving our country, but also to educate soldiers on how to safely operate a motorcycle (see sidebar).
The main TT track measures 300 by 150 feet and features overhead lighting so students can ride after dark.
The camp kicks-off Thursday afternoon when a smiling face from the Edwards’ clan picks you up from Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental airport. After a 45-minute drive you arrive at the doorstep and begin registration with Donna, Colin’s mother-in-law. In fact, many of Edward’s family and friends play an active role in the school says Alyssia, Colin’s easy-on-the-eyes wife of 14 years:
“That was the goal and the vision when it all started coming together. He wanted a close knit group of people that he could rely on. Colin didn’t just want his name on it and then not be here. He wanted to be a part of it. So our first thought was to employ our friends. Some of the instructors were already our friends. Now it literally is like a family.”
Many of the staff’s kids, including Edward’s six-year-old son Hayes, participate in the school, cutting skids alongside students. It’s actually crazy how skilled these youngsters are—especially Myers’ son, Taylor, 13, and Jay Newton—son of Jimmy, the cook. Without a doubt these could be the stars of the future learning the fundamentals of riding on little air-cooled dirt bikes the same way Colin did years ago.
During check-in you’re issued head-to-toe riding gear (if needed) from One Industries and Sidi, and a Yamaha TT-R 125LE motorcycle to ride. A few TT-R 230s are also available for larger riders, if needed. All of the motorcycles are stock except for the addition of a LeoVince pipe and a DOT-legal Bridgestone rear tire. The reason they use a street tire as opposed to the standard knobby is that it allows easier and more consistent rear wheel slides which help riders understand the essence of throttle control. You’re also assigned a shared room to sleep in and after arguing with roommates on who gets dibs on the top bed bunks it’s time to gear-up and ride.
Before anyone turns a wheel each student makes a quick introduction followed by a brief run-down by the instructors of how the next few days will go. They also go over some basic etiquette and safety rules. The schedule is flexible and students are allowed plenty of freedom in what they choose to do whether it’s riding until almost midnight (the primary TT track features overhead lighting that performs as good, if not better than day light), kicking up their feet and watching some TV, playing pool, squeezing the triggers of Colin’s vast collection of firearms, or any of the other assorted activities.
Students are provided three square meals a day prepared onsite and if you need some energy in between, there is unlimited water, soda, snacks, Monsters and even frosty cans of beer, if one so desires. Only rule is that once a beer is cracked open you’re done riding and shooting for the day.
Actual motorcycle riding experience is a common prerequisite at most riding schools… but not at the Texas Tornado Boot Camp—a fact proven by a couple of soldiers who hadn’t as much sat on a motorcycle let alone ride one, including Steven Sims, Sergeant First Class, U.S. Army. Others including, Charmaine Moss, an E6 Tech Sergeant from San Angelo Goodfellow Air Force base, had ridden but never on dirt.
“I’ve never experienced anything like this,” shares Moss who rides a 600cc sportbike at home in Texas. “The turning motions—the slowing down, body positioning and braking that is different. I haven’t really ridden a dirt bike so it’s new to me.”
“I just recently got my motorcycle license,” explains fellow E6 Tech Sergeant, David Cameron, from Sheppard Air Force Base in Wichita Falls, Texas. “Being able to come out here and ride their bikes and learn some skills that you won’t normally learn on your own… it’s one of the best experiences I’ve had.”
Credit goes to Edwards and his crew of handpicked instructors. Some of the guys, including Mike Myers and Lead Instructor Joe Prussiano, have been lifelong buddies who like Edwards cut their teeth at road race tracks throughout Texas long before this school was even a gleam in any of their collective eyes. Then you have Steve Bodak, who helps get newbies up to speed. He also knew Edwards growing up but never raced, instead just riding for the thrill of it. Bodak also played a pivotal role in the construction of the camps facilities which include three different tracks and a Wild West themed lodge that can accommodate up to 30 overnight guests.
The younger instructor demographic is represented by Shea Fouchek and Merle Scherb, both fast racers in their respective disciplines (road race and flat track). Being from the south, all these guys are well-mannered good ol’ boys who have heaps of patience and the willingness to explain in detail the intricacies of riding motorcycles. And it’s this human-element that separates Colin’s school from others. It also doesn’t hurt that the guys are incredible storytellers and revel in idle chat while tipping back cans of brew as much they do a fist full of throttle.
Fun is the primary ingredient at Edwards’ school. Whether it’s riding bikes, shooting guns, or talking some smack at night—it’s all about smiling and having a good time.
The meat of the curriculum begins each morning after breakfast. Following a few minutes of stretching and calisthenics to get the blood flowing, everyone hops on their Yamaha and spends the first 15 minutes or so riding and getting use to the feel of the bike/tires and surface of the clay. (Each evening the track is prepped, but due to the constant barrage of spinning tires and evaporation of moisture, etc. the level of grip changes throughout the course of the day.)
Each morning is spent working on a specific set of drills that help students grasp the essentials of motorcycle control. Things like body position and throttle control—and how it affects both traction and handling are demonstrated then repeated by students under the watchful eyes of the instructors. It’s funny, because you’d assume since you’re riding a bike designed for kids there wouldn’t be much crossover to the full-sized machine you may ride at home. However, regardless of engine displacement, a motorcycle is a motorcycle. And if you can master the art on a 200-something pound bike you’ll notice even bigger gains when you’re riding a heavier, more powerful machine.
“I learned some things that I can take back and apply both on the street and when I go on my next dual-sport ride,” agrees Greg Todd, retired Army, who rides a Suzuki DR-650 from the Fort Hood, Texas area. “The 125 was a little cramped for me, and they saw that as well, so they put me on the 230. I was surprised how much pep considering how big I am (5’10”, 260 pounds).”
“Riding a quad is easy but when you get on two wheels that’s another story,” muses Sims whose motorsports experience has been limited to just ATVs. “I’ve learned how to take corners better, shift and how to throttle the bike properly.”
During the course of the day tip-overs and small accidents happen, but since you’re riding on dirt and moving at a slower speeds (compared to a big bike), not to mention donning proper safety equipment including full-length motocross-style boots, elbow and shoulder pads and of course a helmet, the chance of injury is mitigated significantly.
Although the Texas Tornado Boot Camp has a relaxed atmosphere there is plenty to learn and no shortage of riding time.
“Knowing I have to wear the proper safety gear helps too,” Sims says. “Normally when I go riding quads back home I don’t wear any safety gear. And I think the equipment is needed. I think it will even make me a better rider on the quad [smiles].”
Lunch is served around noon each day allowing students to catch a breath and fuel up on delicious yet healthy grub. Afterwards Colin breaks out a few weapons from his gun locker. Both Mr. and Mrs. Edwards are big into shooting and have an extensive firearm collection ranging from pistols and shotguns to even a mighty .50 caliper sniper rifle. Considering many of the students have logged extensive time at the gun range during their 9-to-5 day job they are just as excited as us civilians to smell gun powder and squeeze the trigger a couple times.
“In my line of work we shoot a lot of weapons so I’m pretty familiar with that,” reveals Nicole Amstutz, a U.S. Army Captain from Fort Hood, Texas. “But I got to fire some weapons that were unique to me and that was great.”
The first day starts off with pistols at close range targets. The next day you move to long barrel shotguns with the goal of blasting as many clay pigeons out of the sky as possible. After you’ve aced that, you move to the big stick aka the .50 caliber rifle. It’s a scary weapon, one so powerful that it startles you each time it’s fired—even when you’re expecting it.
After filling the humid Texas air with gun smoke it’s back on the motorcycle for another round of drills. The beauty of the school is that each lesson builds on the previous one and with three tracks that can be run in a multitude of configurations, riding always feels fresh and exciting.
In order to accurately gauge each rider’s progress Edwards’s spends the final hour of each day putting students through “Superpole.” Similar to final World Superbike qualifying (something the two-time World Superbike champ knows a thing or two about) the objective is to put in one flying lap, as fast as you can, with the least amount of mistakes. And if that’s not hard enough you’ve got to do it while everyone is staring at you… talk about pressure. The three tracks are linked creating one large circuit and a makeshift starting line is drawn in the dirt. Colin mans the stopwatch and records each rider’s time on a big dry erase board for all to scrutinize. Baseline times are registered on the first day and each day after the goal is to shave time off the clock. Even the instructors get in on the action in hopes of having bragging rights that night over beers.
The Texas Tornado Boot Camp uses electric start-equipped Yamaha TTR-125LE motorcycles to help teach the basic fundamentals of riding.
The Superpole experience really helps put all the weekend’s lessons in perspective. Where on a larger, more powerful motorcycle you could perhaps come away with a faster time just by man-handling it and by riding aggressively, on the TT-Rs it’s another story. Here it’s all about being smooth and as delicate on the controls as possible. Here momentum and body position is the name of the game. Since there isn’t a whole lot of grip available from the back tire or acceleration force from the eighth-liter air-cooled engine you really need to be mindful of the throttle and try to avoid excessive wheel spin. Yet it’s still important to get on the gas early in order to help steer the bike. It’s a delicate dance but once you find a rhythm it’s a rewarding and insightful experience that really drills all of the day’s lessons into your head.
“Before I came here I went on a basic rider course and I used a motorcycle cruiser. It was pretty difficult so I got discouraged,” tells Amstutz. “Their wealth of knowledge is amazing [the instructors]. They were patient and can just teach to any level you’re at. They look for where you’re weak and they really help you hone your skills.”
“You need to control the bike and not let it control you,” says Cameron. “And I think that has a lot to do with how you sit on the bike and the weight transfer. That’s when of the biggest things I’ve taken away from this experience.”
The end of Superpole signals it’s grub time and each evening you’re served a tasty dinner that will have you going back for seconds and maybe even thirds… hey, riding bikes and shooting guns all-day works up an appetite. However, if you’re a foodie the real treat is Saturday night’s barbeque in which Jimmy Newton starts smoking and slow cooking the meat before you even hit the track that morning. Fast forward the clock 10 hours and you’re dining on some of the best BBQ we’ve ever sampled. After dinner, if you have any energy left, you’re free to ride, but most prefer to indulge in a cold brew or three and re-hash the day’s events.
After four straight days of flogging dirt bikes the improvement in each student’s riding was obvious according to Lead Instructor Prussiano:
By visiting the Texas Tornado Boot Camp these military men and woman learned some motorcycle control skills which will make them safer riders when they’re riding at home.
“I know we have a big problem with the guys overseas fighting for our freedom and then they come home and get street bikes and go ride. And there is an old saying, you learn on the dirt and show what you’ve learned on the asphalt. So to be able to be a part of this program and teach these guys some new skills in order to help keep them safer on the street—I’m honored to be able to help.”
We also felt honored riding with the men and women who dutifully serve our country and for the chance to hang out with the Texas Tornado and clan. We received a heavy dose of Southern hospitality, honed our riding skills to a fine edge, enjoyed a few frosty Lone Stars and heard a few Texas tall tales at the funnest boot camp around.