Photos by: Scott Canto
Looking out over the Pacific Ocean, six months into a ride across the Americas, I found myself attending The Cold Start, an off-road riding clinic in Ensenada, Mexico. This may seem like an odd way to spend finite travel funds, but the rewards for this type of investment are surprisingly numerous.
I hate to pass up an opportunity to learn, and when I heard that The Cold Start aligned perfectly with my route and time frame, there was no way I was missing it. Why would anyone who has been riding adventure bikes for several years, all across the United States in sand, mud, rocks, and more decide to pause in the midst of a journey to go back to the basics? Besides a nice break from the constant moving of an overland moto trip, there are actually quite a few reasons why any experienced rider should still enjoy clinics and workshops. Firstly, no one is infallible on a motorcycle, not you, not me, not even a Dakar Champ. Secondly, dedicated practice time is invaluable and too often put on the back burner by a lot of us. Thirdly, a outside perspective is one of the best tools out there for improving body positioning. Finally, but most importantly, what better way to meet other riders? The Cold Start not only checked all of these boxes for me but helped me adjust to riding in a new country, all while feeling like I was on vacation the entire time.
Cold Start Off-Road Riding Clinic & Culinary Experience Set To Kick Off Feb. 2022
No One Is Above Learning
If you ever meet someone whose ego is so large that they no longer need to learn anything new on a motorcycle, run away. Even riding daily does not mean there is nothing left to learn, and these skills are perishable, like any other. Many folks go into hibernation during the cold months and could benefit from re-learning a few things. A flexible two-day clinic seems to be just the trick. Morning drills to reinforce clutch control, practicing full lock turns and braking, followed by an afternoon ride with a competent instructor will have most people close to their peak riding in no time.
Year-round riders may not feel the need to attend clinics for the sake of a refresher, but as some absurdly smart scientist once said, “The more I learn, the more I realize how much I don’t know.” This definitely could be said of my approach to riding. Feeling confident on pavement? Try dirt roads! Got that down? Let’s tackle some sand! Feeling Zen? Find some single-track. On and on it goes, in a lovely downward spiral of exploring different styles of riding, different terrain, and learning about yourself.
Have you ever heard that working out in front of a mirror is good for your form? Sadly, this doesn’t work for motorcycling. The best you could do is grab a drone or set up some other camera to record yourself riding, and then play it back after. I suppose you could get a brutally honest buddy to offer up some critiques, but I hope they are more knowledgeable than you are. Having a set of professional eyes to evaluate you and correct your body positioning is a much more efficient approach. Small adjustments that I would never have noticed, even if I did record myself, can be glaringly obvious to the trained eye. Many riders pick up bad habits during the riding season as a way to get through difficult situations that an instructor is generally all too happy to point out.
Dedicated Practice Time
Not all of us are blessed with a large yard to play in: some of us live on the East Coast where it can be hard to find a simple dirt lot to work on skills, and believe it or not, practicing wheelies in a city park is generally frowned upon. Even if you do stumble across the perfect space to practice, time becomes an issue. Those precious weekends that we set aside for riding are generally spent actually riding to a destination, be it a coffee shop, a campground, or just completing a set route. Convincing your friends to ride around in circles all day in that dirt lot you found is a bit harder than one would think. Of course we all want to improve our abilities, but most people just assume that simply going out riding is enough to make it happen. A clinic can be a great balance between practicing skills in a controlled environment, then applying them on the trails.
Don’t get me wrong, I bought small cones once, with the grand idea that I would spend so much free time practicing, and I did practice a few times. After less than an hour of going through various drills in a random order, I would inevitably get distracted and go off in search of tacos and promise myself that next weekend I would practice more. Ultimately, I found that the lack of structure in my practice sessions led to very slow improvement. When you attend a riding clinic, whether it’s part of a larger expo or an event centered around instruction, you get the benefit of a course that is already set up with drills in a structured order so that they build upon each other. Many clinics also include a ride to take those building blocks and apply them while they are still fresh with the added benefit of a safety net of instructors and volunteers.
Nowadays, as a traveler, I am trying to get to a certain point, fully loaded, with a finite quantity of gas. Diverging off the trail to practice for a bit is not frequently an appealing option under those circumstances. As counterintuitive as it may seem, motorcycle travel seems to reduce that skill building time even more. The risks of damage to the bike, luggage, or rider have very heavy consequences in the middle of Mexico, with vast distances between even small towns, and a not so surprising scarcity of KTM dealerships.
The folks who put these events together dedicate an immense amount of time not only to that dirt lot, but also to scouting trails to ensure that students are challenged, but not in over their heads. The burden of navigating, finding lodging or food, or the literal burden of all the things we carry on our bikes when traveling is erased for a few days and replaced with dedicated time to focus on building much needed skills.
People frequently ask about how to meet riding buddies, and clinics are my favorite way to go. There is a bond formed over dropped bikes that is not easily forgotten. During travel, it can be hard to create and maintain friendships, and pausing for a clinic was the perfect way for me to reconnect with the motorcycle community. At The Cold Start, complete strangers got together over tacos on the beach, and confessed their riding strengths and weaknesses, with the intent of building each other up. Our clinic was then built around our discussion, in a way that showed our instructor Donni was genuinely invested in us. We were all uncomfortable at some point, but we were all prepared to encourage each other at every step. These are the sorts of friendships that riding clinics can throw in our paths, and I have yet to walk away from one without at least one new riding buddy. Over the years I have stayed in touch with instructors and students alike, exchanging tips, stories, and making plans to ride together again.
While many things could be added to this list to suit any rider, I daresay most would agree with these common denominators. I personally could think of no better way to get used to a new country than by having routes and terrain scouted for me, personalized coaching to help me adjust, and pre-arranged riding buddies. Events like The Cold Start have so much to offer new riders and experienced riders alike.
Odessa Winter is a Backcountry Discovery Route Ambassador and member of the REV’IT! Women’s Team focused on encouraging women around the world to get out and ride through photos and stories. She is currently riding across the Americas with her boyfriend and their canine companion. Follow along with their adventures at advgoats.com
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