Sunday, May 6, 2012

Jimmy Lewis, God of the Machine: Day 1 - Skills Class in the Dry Lake

I woke up, and while I had gotten everything organized the night before, I was completely unprepared for the heat.  It was twenty degrees hotter than normal, and afternoon temperatures were forecasted to get into the high 90s.  (Upon returning home, I looked online, and Saturday, Sunday, and Monday all broke records).  It was way too hot to use my First Gear riding pants, and I felt silly, but wore jeans, jiu jitsu knee pads, and a street bike jacket.  I could have only been more unprepared if I had showed up with a BMX.

Jimmy and Heather live a few miles from the whore house, and when I pulled into the driveway, there were three big-ass duel sport motorcycles parked in a line, and three students milling about in the garage.  One dude was 60, just retired, and riding a BMW 1200GS. Another dude was in his 50’s riding a KTM 990.  The last guy named David was in his early 40’s, a violist in the Philadelphia Orchestra, riding a BMW 1100GS that he had personally put more than 100,000 miles on.  Also, this was the second time he was attending the Jimmy Lewis off-road riding school, and any pictures in this post that do not suck are courtesy of him.

KTM, BMW, KLR:  Side by side in perfect harmony
Everyone checked out each other's motorcycles, discussed upgrades, and used mechanical terms I was unfamiliar with.  I must have said “I don’t know.  It was like that when I bought it.” a half-dozen times over the course of the weekend.  I looked a little bit out of place, particularly with my jeans, and I think it became immediately clear that I didn’t know what I was doing.  I explained that the closest thing I'd ever been to off-road riding was taking my Jeep Cherokee on a gravel road a couple of times.

Jimmy quickly covered the basics, beginning with an explanation of why off-road riders stand on their foot pegs (this was the first time I was introduced to this concept, and finally understood that people standing up while off-roading were not merely posing for pictures) and gave a city-mandated lecture about an endangered desert tortoise, and what to do if we encountered one.
Endangered tortoises doing their part to carry on the species
He explained how to cover the clutch and break with two fingers, and to get out of the street-bike habit of placing both feet on the ground at the same time (aka the Harley Waddle).  It was really interesting, particularly because I had taken the motorcycle safety course ten-years ago, and had developed some really bad habits, in part, because of the instruction I had received.

Before I knew it, we were all riding down the road, and then suddenly, off road.  I stood up on my pegs and felt my motorcycle respond to an uneven and constantly changing surface.  There were rocks big enough to have a gravitational pull on my front tire.  I instinctively chose lines based on the path of least resistance, and often did not come anywhere close to my intended path.  When I felt a little bit out of control, I instinctively sat back down.  My feet cramped and my body was completely stiff by the time we arrived at the dry lake 15 minutes later.  It was also the most fun I had ever had on a motorcycle.

Satellite view of the road to dry lake (upper right)
On the way to the dry lake
We went through a ton of drills that morning.  Jimmy and/or Heather demonstrated a technique, and then the students practiced the technique while Jimmy and Heather rode around watching us and giving us pointers.  I absolutely loved the way they did not hesitate to point out our mistakes, and even when we ignored their advice repeatedly, they would still correct us.  The drills had multiple levels of difficulty enabling more experienced riders to develop advanced skills.

Together, Jimmy and Heather made a great team.  Jimmy communicated very directly, which I thought came across as a little blunt, but I appreciated that he was less concerned about sparing people's feelings than making us better riders.

Heather is very cerebral, technically focused, and more soft spoken.  At one point, when I repeatedly botched a drill on proper enduro turning, she took a video of me doing it wrong on her iphone, then took a video of Jimmy doing it right so I could watch, and correct my mistakes.  Both took their time working one-on-one with us.  The drills enabled me to appreciate and understand my motorcycle, its capabilities and limitations, and made me feel, for the first time in ten years of riding, that I was only now beginning to learn how to ride.  It was  fun, after so many years riding cruisers and getting used to babying them on the road, to really push a motorcycle in every way possible.

The beauty of the dry lake captured by a disposable camera.  (It's not the camera, it's the photog)
Just before lunch, we drove across the dry lake one by one, open throttle, in first gear, until the “revlometer” (I have no idea how to spell this) kicked in.  When I arrived at the other side of the lake, Jimmy pointed out that my muffler had blew out on the way over.

When we arrived back at Jimmy and Heather's place, Jimmy took off my can (from what I can gather, this is what the kids call "mufflers"), laughed out loud, and showed it to me.  I had no idea what I was looking at, so I laughed out loud along with him.  He told me it was missing the packing (I had no idea mufflers had packing), and that Big Gun exhaust systems sucked (confirmed), and I should have it replaced when I returned home.    He had me call the local Kawasaki dealer and ask for four-stroke packing, which they luckily carried.  So while everyone else dug into lunch, I went on a drive to Pahrump, bought the packing, drove to Home Depot to buy screws, and then rode back.

Heather had prepared a truly tasty lunch.  There was plenty left for me when I returned, and I ate with gusto as Jimmy fixed my muffler.  I imagine this would have cost me at least an hour of a labor, or $90, if I had to have the repairs done by my mechanic.  One of the guys looked on in awe at the effectiveness of Jimmy's packing skills, and commented that Jimmy was really good at stuffing holes.

After lunch, we returned to the dry lake for more drilling.  I have to point that Jimmy would sometimes demonstrate advanced techniques to make a point, and his control of all of our motorcycles was truly awesome.  He is god of the machine.

Motorcycle on the dry lake
I made it a point to stay as hydrated as possible throughout the day, but it was extremely hot, even under the pop up shade they brought to the dry lake.  Between 4pm and 5pm, my body started cramping pretty much everywhere, and I while I was still having fun, was ready to call it a day.  Jimmy on the other hand, appeared willing to stay until the sun went down.

Afterwords, we met up at a Pahrump BBQ joint and ate ribs, drank $2.50 micro brews, and traded stories, my favorite of which was when Jimmy ran into the back end of a cow in the dark.  Heather and Jimmy picked up the tab, which was a surprise to everyone.  Upon arriving back at the whorehouse, I once again  avoided eye contact, went straight to my room, and immediately fell asleep.

Jimmy Lewis Riding School:  $600 |  Total Cost:  $6563

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