As someone with limited dirt experience and decidedly marginal skills, I can assure you that Oliver's method flat works. Beginning with the basics of how to properly sit upon, start and shift (without the clutch, up or down) the minibikes, Oliver talks you through every step of the way: first verbally, then with a riding demonstration, and finally with valuable one-on-one coaching. The efficient Oliver training complex offers four different track configurations run in both directions for a total of eight variations. Top speed is 33 mph in third gear on the fastest straight.
As in many dirt bike schools, students are expected to crash. Thankfully there are no damage deposits; Oliver assures us that "dirt bikes are designed to handle falling down." Rich and Karin are very safety-conscious, frequently reminding students not to ride over their heads and issuing warnings when they feel it's warranted. Despite this, one unfortunate student in our class suffered a fractured collarbone, but it's a rare occurrence. The Olivers tell us that with more than 300 students attending the Mystery School annually, they average less than one incident a year requiring outside medical attention, typically fractures or bad sprains. You can expect minor bumps and bruises, however.
With fewer than 10 students...
With fewer than 10 students per course, everyone gets plenty of personalized attention from Oliver and his wife Karin, both on and off track. With five to six hours of seat time per day there's plenty of opportunity to put his teachings into practice.
Student Margo King shows the...
Student Margo King shows the beginnings of proper fundamentals: outside elbow up to best control the throttle, even at more extreme lean angles, and inside arm straight, pushing the bike down to initiate a slide.
While our class had students...
While our class had students from 12 to 59 years old, you couldn't tell them apart once the helmets were on. Everyone learned a lot, rode till they were worn out, and no one could wipe the smiles off their faces. If there's a safer, more entertaining way to learn how to slide, we haven't found it.
Riding drills start at the most basic level of braking and build over the course of two days to individual time trials and finally fun, informal, five-lap mock races that bring all the skills together. Oliver staggers the starts to minimize risk and give students of all levels a chance to win. Our two-day course culminated in a 25-lap race that was impressive for many reasons. Not only did my wife Margo beat all us guys to become the first female in the history of the school to win the main event, but we also all made it through the whole race without a single crash. Of course the miniraces were laugh-out-loud fun, but the improvement in everyone's riding abilities (especially the much-reduced fastest-to-slowest-rider variation) was truly astounding.
At the conclusion of the class, students were asked what they had learned to apply to their streetbike riding. The overwhelming answer was confidence. Not that anyone in their right mind will intentionally dirt-track a streetbike, but for those rare exceptions when traction goes away on one or both of your tires, how valuable is it to have the proper reflex-quick reactions at the controls to give you the best possible chance of saving it?
Answer: Priceless. For more info on the Rich Oliver Mystery School, log onto www.richoliver.net