Words: Andrew Boss Photos: Richard Seck
|After Mr. Boss is encouraged to “slap it on the table for all to see”, Clinton offers up some free ‘marital’ advice.|
Remember my last confession? I opened the motard article revealing that I had never raced before. Well, here’s another: I have had no motorcycle training either. Learning to ride was like learning about sex — gleaned from the pages of glossy magazines and the watching of others.
With that in mind, who will undo my decades of poor technique and bad habits? Clinton Smout, of the Canadian Motorcycle Training Services, that’s who. Well, the motorcycle techniques part anyhow.
CMTS is located on a few picturesque wooded acres just north of Barrie, Ontario with a full range of off-road motorcycles, quads, and even trials bikes, to sample and/or bend, as your heart may desire. Fortunately for CMTS we brought our own CMG long-term Yamaha WR450F and a KTM 450EXC that we wanted to test-compare it to.
|It’s all blue … except for that white one, and the yellow one. Oh, and the red and green ones …|
The WR450F was quite at home in the sea of blue training bikes; Yamaha provides a good variety of models for the school, which is a smart move. If a youngster is having their indelible first motorcycle experience on a Yamaha, chances are some of that will rub off when they take the plunge into buying their first bike. Same goes for the veteran street rider who succumbs to the allure of off-road riding.
Smart grass-roots marketing, no?
|Clinton shows the gang how to calm an enraged Yamaha.|
The friendly CMTS staff this day consist of a veteran trials rider, a former MX racer and Clinton Smout, who — despite his protestations of a gleaming safety record until CMG showed up — can suspiciously assemble an ice pack faster and more effectively than any of them fancy-pants doctors on ER. But more on that later.
Things kick-off with a pre-ride meeting, covering the upcoming day’s events, after which the all-important injury waiver is signed.
Let’s get at her then!
We commence with the fundamentals in an open field, which start with controlled braking exercises. This involves riding directly at Clinton who signals braking, standing and sitting commands as you approach. This is slightly weird. While you follow the instructions, in the back of your mind you can’t help but think “Don’t nail Clinton.” I never did, but I didn’t perform very well either.
Still, the staff remained upbeat.
|“No, my left”. Clinton stares death in the face.|
Next, we tried evasive maneuvers by riding directly at Clinton once more, only to counter-steer past him on his last-minute hand commands, again without trying to hit him. Thankfully, I didn’t nail him, but I did knock down a few pylons.
The staff nodded encouragingly at me.
After that it was stoppie time, err, threshold braking exercise time … Now I’ve never done one of these before, but if the good Editor ‘arris can do ’em, then I sure as hell can! Nope, I could launch the rear wheel a little into the air, only to slowly fall over on my side when the bike came back to earth.
The staff gave me the thumbs up even so.
|Someone had a camera to document the infamous Seck stoppie.
Photo: Not Mr. Seck
Now, Mr. Seck had never done stoppies either, so I looked to my brother-in-arms for some moral support. But, that big KTM went vertical every time he tried – Holy Moley!
Later, as I was once again picking up the WR, another student rode up and alerted me that Mr. Seck had finally pushed it one degree too far and crashed. Well, big surprise there. The difference between 90 and 91 degrees is uh… one degree! I found him being tended to by staff, looking dazed and confused, wondering if anybody had gotten the crash-shot. Gotta love the mad-artist in that bald-headed bugger.
A visit to the doctor several days later revealed yet more cracked ribs from jamming his elbow into himself when the KTM pounded down on top of him. You have to wonder what conclusions a future society would conclude about our times if they ever dug up the shattered skeletal remains of Mr. Seck. Probably that we lived in a very violent one, with weapons made from a variety of motorcycle parts (the BMW ‘Boxer’ head being one of the most effective). Despite this we both agreed that learning to do stoppies was worth the price of admission alone.
|Getting over (and not getting stuck onto) the fat end of the pole is always tricky.|
After our mixed success, Clinton felt that we now needed to learn how to ride over obstacles (other then just ourselves). So off we went to find some logs. Simple weight transfer fore and aft, along with some clever application of the gas, just prior to the obstacle did the trick. I even learned how to clear the fat end of a downed hydro pole. In the woods, until now, an obstacle of this size would have sent me simply looking for another route, or worse still, perched atop – bike firmly stuck on the cases.
The staff had a distant look after the successful completion of this exercise – knowing they now had to set us free in the woods!
A PAINFUL WOODY
|Putting theory into practice – CMG style (i.e. resulting in injury).|
This is where you bring all the fundamentals together — well, the theory anyway. A staffer leads the group, setting the pace, while a sweep rider ensures no one gets lost, left behind or decides to just ride home on their new dirt-bike.
After this introductory woods’ ride, we headed back to base-camp for a hearty barbecue lunch. Clinton’s helmet cam provided an entertaining replay of our morning’s (mis)adventures.
We headed back to the woods after lunch, the afternoon trails offering a wide variety of terrain, scenery and sensual stimulation; tasting the purity of Artesian-well water, smelling the pungent pine of freshly logged trees and feeling the pain of whacking a tree, sans hand-guards.
Let me elaborate …
|CMTS emergency ice kit doubles up as a drinks cooler.|
Eager to sample variety, I made the mistake of commandeering the KTM from Mr. Seck, which (unlike the WR) wasn’t equipped with protective hand-guards. While following Clinton along some tight single-track trail, happily digesting lunch, and enjoying the sensations of the forest, I made my second mistake; I lost focus and smacked two consecutive trees with the bars, softening the blow with the middle finger of my right hand.
I heard audible cracks on both impacts, and then ended up on the ground — with the KTM perched on top of me. I knew I was in trouble when I didn’t have the strength to push the starter button afterwards. A tender ride back to camp confirmed that my day was done prematurely. Bummer!
Mr. Seck, always sympathetic, twisted the knife a bit more by telling me how many trees he had hit too, and what a good job I had done fitting the WR’s bash-bars. On a more helpful note, Clinton conjured up his best Marcus Welby M.D. impersonation and patched me up enough to get me on my way. I knew something still wasn’t right though, and a subsequent medical visit revealed that a bone in my right hand was well and truly broken.
A LESSON LEARNED
I found initially it somewhat unnerving for my riding to be critically observed. Being a hotshot CMG guy and all (that’s meant to be funny btw), and just my nature in general, I’m not great with receiving criticism (damn, if only I’d known that a few weeks ago – Editor ‘arris). Even so, it helped that I understood that my bad habits needed a tune-up, and also that I was already doing many of the fundamentals correctly, albeit unconsciously (shouldn’t that be subconsciously? On second thought … – Editor ‘arris).
The newly learned fundamentals will take practice, but will no doubt improve my dirt-riding. Next time it’s bash bars for me though. Oh, and if you are riding with Mr. Seck, ask him to do a stoppie for you, just be sure to have the camera ready!
If you have a yearning to try off-road riding, or want to add to your existing skills, the folks at CMTS will happily meet your needs. They are qualified, non-judgmental (to your face anyway), and genuinely nice guys who love motorcycles too.
CMTS and Clinton Smout for making the day a possibility and fixing us up when we hurt ourselves.
Yamaha and KTM for the use of the bikes.