Feelin’ Kinda Dirty: Garrahan Off-Road Training’s Intro to Dirt Class

Bungee Brent’s Backroad Bash, June 2015. The last time I rode a dirtbike in the dirt. First time too, actually. My KTM 525 has been parked since then, the roll chart still in the spot where I gave up trying to figure out where I was. Chain still muddy, front wheel still slightly off-center from lowsiding in probably the easiest spot on the whole damn ride. 

It’s not that I hated it. I had fun. I’m not sure why I parked the KTM when I got back home and never got back on it. I suck at dirt riding, for sure—but I suck at lots of things and that’s never stopped me before.

So when Editor GS Aerostich dropped a couple of CityBike stickers on my desk and said, “These are for your dirtbike,” I replied, confused, “What dirtbike?” He limped away, grumbling, but an email appeared that afternoon with my latest assignment and a link to GarrahanOffRoadTraining.com.

Oh, that dirt bike. Shit.

I went to the website. Classes for kids, adults, and racers. They even offer a ladies-only class—no details on whether it’s suitable for old, out of shape ladies, but OK. They have gear and bikes to rent if you don’t have anything, but want to learn some skills. I’ve got gear, I have a bike—might as well get some use out of it.

I signed myself up for the Intro to Dirt course at Prairie City. 

Some background: Garrahan Off-Road Training was started by Brian Garrahan in 2011. Brian is a national hare scramble champ three times over, having raced most of his years on knobbies. He started riding as a kid and moved into professional racing soon after. He boasts a lengthy list of championships and medals, including nine ISDE Enduros, six of which were for the Team USA World Trophy Team. The medals? Five golds, one silver, and one bronze.

On the website, I found a video of one of his hare scrambles—all mud, trees, dirt, rocks. The carnage that unfolded in that video was nothing short of spectacular. I figured if he can handle that, he should be able to handle me on an closed course for a few hours.

GOT normally runs classes at Carnegie and Metcalf, but after some requests from folks here in the Valley, they have begun hosting classes at Prairie City. It takes a brave person to schedule anything outdoors in Sacramento between May and October, bike or no bike. Hell, I don’t even like to walk out to my garage during summer in the Sac.

I got lucky with my June date: temps in the seventies—cloudy, perfect weather. I showed up early, but there were already two kids there, dressed and unloading their bikes. Their serious gear told me they were not beginners, and by the time I’d pulled my gear out of the truck they were out on course tearing things up. 

Ahhh, youth. Maybe they’d tire themselves out. 

My class was made up of the two tiny tornados, three women, and one man, with a wide range of skill levels, from a just-learned-how-to-use-the-clutch beginner, to street riders new to dirt. Then there was Erica, the other coach. She arrived a few minutes late, and had to do twenty push-ups right there in the dirt. 

At that moment, it became clear that I should not have canceled my gym membership.

Brian ran us through balance, body positioning, and bike setup. On the closed course, we started slow: standing on the pegs, then cornering, along with shifting, braking, and just getting accustomed to the feel of the loose dirt. 

At the end of the morning, we hit the trails for the first time. It started out easy, but got really rocky fast. Large, loose rocky. I was expecting something different—easier, smoother dirt trails, I suppose. But after spending the morning getting comfortable standing on the pegs, I was better prepared for the trails. As a pure street rider, that was something I’d struggled with on my first Bungee ride—I rode that whole first day on my ass. 

I felt like standing on the pegs through most of the trail riding was a breakthrough for me. 

After the trails, we broke for lunch. While us older folks were already getting a taste of the pain we’d be feeling the next morning, the two tiny tornados barely slowed down to eat and quickly went back to tearing sideways around the cones. Damn kids.

Back out on the course after lunch for some flat-tracking technique: sitting on the bike, foot out into the corners, breaking the back loose, kicking up some dirt, going around in circles. This was my favorite of all the things we learned that day, and not just because I could finally sit down. 

By my final run, I was riding straight, standing on the pegs, then dropping to the seat, leg out for the corner, then back up on the pegs straight for the other cones. After that I started to hit a wall, not literally (fortunately there are no walls on the course), but physically. The group headed out for another trail ride, but some of us stayed back and talked about the day.

I really enjoyed the class. Brian’s no-nonsense approach makes him easy to understand, and with his demonstrating while Erica told us what was happening with him and the bike, it was easy to make sense of this new form of riding.

I’m still not convinced dirt riding is for me, but GOT’s Intro to Dirt class gave me some specifics to work on, and with some practice I think I could actually enjoy riding some trails with the rest of the Wrecking Crew instead of just following the guy in front of me while hanging on for dear life. Garrahan got me comfortable standing on the pegs, shifting and braking in the dirt, and that alone was worth the price of admission—which, by the way, is $200, $375 if you need a bike and gear. 

This story originally appeared in our August 2017 issue, which you can read in all its glory here.

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