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Jimmy Lewis Off-Road Riding School

by Martin Hackworth 

Photos: Heather Lewis, Martin Hackworth




 
Jimmy Lewis Off-Road

Jimmy Lewis Off-road       Let's get something straight right off: Jimmy Lewis is one bad dude. I'm talking way, way bad. Lewis is a racer and an educator with a level of skill and knowledge that's either astounding or incredible, whichever you think is better. Lewis probably needs an entire storage unit to lay out the hardware he's earned at Baja, Dakar, the ISDE and about every place else he's put down a track. If you look up "bad" in the urban dictionary, Lewis is one of the guys waving at you. Honest and no lie. You want some? Go see Jimmy Lewis.

     Despite all of this, Lewis begins the first session the first morning of his school by introducing himself as a "washed up ex-racer and former magazine editor" - and that's about all you are going to hear about his glory days in the game during class. Everything else you get over the next two days is about how to control an off-road motorcycle.
Lewis prefers demonstrating cred over talking about it. If a picture is worth 1000 words, a demonstration is worth, I'd say, at least a few orders of magnitude more. And yep, it'll come to you pretty quick that you ought to holster that pea shooter. Lewis is kind of good.

    I've been to several on and off-road riding schools in the past decade as both a journalist and as a racer wanting to improve my meager skills. In keeping with our review philosophy, there are no previous reviews of riding schools on this site (Note: we have not attended schools by Shane Watts and Rich Oliver, but we are looking forward to it very soon). Jimmy Lewis Off-road Riding (JLR) is the first school I've been to in many years that is absolutely worth the time and money. Jimmy and Heather Lewis (who is an integral part of the school and a formidable presence in her own right) have put  
Jimmy Lewis Off-road
Jimmy Lewis Off-road together a well-conceived program that for the cost of a set of tires and a service will make you a much better off-road rider in just a couple of days. Big bike, small bike - run what you brung. If you are serious about improving your off-road skills, JLR has the goods. All you have to do is find your way to the dusty foothills just west of Pahrump, NV and sign on the line next to your name. 

     I've attended schools run by high-profile former racers that were big on elbow time and anecdotes, but not so much on teaching me anything about my own riding other than the fact that I suck compared to the pros - not exactly a novel concept. If I just wanted to hear racing stories, eat rich food and get an autographed t-shirt, I'd be content to dispense with the appurtenances and just spring for dinner. But If I'm going to spend money on tuition, board and travel to attend a riding school, I want to come   
away with more than just pics of me next to the famous guy. I want to ride better. JLR, fortunately, shares this philosophy. JLR is a blue collar, beans and rice experience, in a sea of beluga caviar. So what do you want, a foo-foo appetizer or a full meal?

     The problem with learning from really accomplished individuals is that lot of very high level performers are simply not good at communicating to those less accomplished exactly what it was that boosted them into the stratosphere of their profession. I worked for over a decade as a ski instructor and saw this from top-level racers who retired into instruction. The movement pattern that earns one a bronze medal in an Olympic downhill is very difficult to teach to ordinary skiers, and doesn't happen without some thought and effort. It's the same at my day job as a university lecturer. A lot of brilliant scientists and mathematicians are flat-out terrible teachers. Who'd of thought that?

     To be successful at teaching difficult concepts, you have to have the ability to break big, complex things down into very small pieces, and then line them up so that a reasonable person can get from one to the next without getting discouraged. The rule of thumb is that you can't make things too simple. The corollary to that rule is that you can't make the progression from one step to the next small enough.

     Motorcycle skills are particularly difficult to teach. A good instructor has to be able to accurately diagnose and identify the elements in a student's movement pattern atop a dynamic platform, figure out where the student is in a skill progression, then articulate a reasonable, comprehensible sequence of exercises that will transition the student from where they are to where they need to be. Though learner motivation is typically high, so is their level of apprehension - and getting past this is crucial to progress. Juggling all of these elements is no small feat, and only a few individuals have the right combination of knowledge, skill at communication and patience to pull it off.
Jimmy and Heather Lewis have got all of this knocked.

     The broad picture at JLR is control of a motorcycle. Students learn this via a set of well-planned exercises that emphasize very basic things: starting, stopping, turning and balance. Each exercise is non-intimidating, simple to understand and easy to perform at a basic level - but more   
difficult to perform at a higher level with precision and control. This allows for more advanced riders to work on honing an important skill with the same exercise that a less advanced rider first learns to recognize the skill. The teaching terrain for these exercises, a vast dry lake bed just west of Pahrump, is ideal. It's also very beautiful - which takes a little of the sting out of the reassessment of your skills that will probably occur there. If your ego is going to go small, it might as well happen against a spectacular backdrop.

     Day two consists of some trail riding interspersed with more drills. Jimmy and Heather have a cast of characters (and I mean characters) on hand to lend a hand, and
everyone gets in a full day of riding at any level they feel comfortable.
Jimmy Lewis Off-road
Jimmy Lewis Off-road      I got more out of the two days I spent at JLR than I have in any other two days on a motorcycle that I can remember in my entire life. My personal improvement was huge. As a ski instructor, I used to give up a big old "booya!" when I was able to get a student to make even some very small improvement during the course of a two-day, one on one clinic. At JLR, I saw students make monumental improvements in their riding skills, in their confidence and in their ability to control a motorcycle. In my book that's a pretty good ratio of investment to return. 

     The time and money that you'll commit at JLR will almost certainly yield results as long as you have a desire to learn, a pulse and a bike with round wheels and an engine. The class I attended was filled with predominantly big dual sport bikes, but I learned a whole lot about controlling my CRF450X that I didn't know before. I cannot possibly recommend JLR highly enough. 
Jimmy Lewis Off-road

Cost: $600 for two days of instruction and meals (pretty good stuff too).

Lodging is not included but is available at relatively low cost in nearby Pahrump at several hotels and RV parks.

The Good: Will make you a better rider in two days, guaranteed.
The Rad: Don't ever put both feet down at the same time.
The Gnarly: A straight shot of bourbon whiskey in an umbrella drink world.

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