The term “boot camp” conjures up images of drill sergeants badgering recruits into submission, but that’s not what the Texas Tornado Boot Camp is about. Yes, the TTBC includes some intensive training and even morning calisthenics, but you are always treated kindly and never pressured to do anything you’d rather not do.
This boot camp is a friendly dirt riding retreat for adventurous types who want to advance their riding skills while also getting a real taste of Texas. The remote 20-acre facility is owned and operated by ex-World Superbike champ and MotoGP star, Colin Edwards, a.k.a. the “Texas Tornado.” The camp is situated 40 miles north of Houston and includes a Wild West-style building that is a bunkhouse, dining hall, game room and community space. Out back is a shooting range and three distinctive dirt tracks, one covered by a massive pavilion.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that this camp is geared toward training the next crop of young-gun dirt racers, but the truth is that it caters to all types and levels of motorcyclists. Yes, you should expect to ride hard, get dirty and maybe fall down a time or three (at relatively slow speeds). But, anyone in reasonably decent shape with the desire to improve his or her overall sense of motorcycle control should put the Boot Camp on their bucket list.
The camp I recently attended consisted of riders spanning a wide ability and age range. Among the two-dozen riders was a 9-year-old boy accompanied by his father and 14-year-old brother. There were five women and the rest of us were 30-to-60-something men, some with little-to-no off-road experience. The friendly and immensely knowledgeable staff is able to teach to all levels of ability with zero pressure. The laid-back atmosphere dissolves any feelings of intimidation, and personal coaching is available for the asking.
The four-day camp is all-inclusive with a bunkroom bed (single rooms are available at extra cost), food, towels, riding gear and motorcycle all provided. Beverages and end-of-day beer is also included. The food is served buffet-style and ranges from sandwich fixings to lasagna to genuine Texas BBQ brisket, slow-cooked on premises. Meals and meetings are held in the large common room, which echoes with lots of moto-talk and plenty of laughs at day’s end.
TTBC provides riding gear, so you could easily arrive with just your toiletries and clothes. The Arai helmets, Fly Racing apparel and Sidi boots are clean and in good condition, but the basic shin guards and well-used gloves made me wish I had brought my own.
With bunks assigned and everyone outfitted, we moseyed (this is Texas, after all) outside to pick from a line of nearly identical Yamaha TTR 125s. You may think these little ponies wouldn’t be adequate for grown adults, but you’d be wrong. The well cared-for 125s are indeed diminutive, but have plenty of giddy-up and are unintimidating; perfect for learning. The bikes are shoed with a knobby up front for grip in the dirt and a nearly treadless street tire in the back to allow easy rear tire slides.
Wait. Did he say, “Easy rear tire slides?” Yep. A bike with less rear tire grip forces you to manage traction with refined throttle control. While control is always the goal, learning to corner while flirting with the limits of traction at relatively low-risk speeds teaches you a lot about handling a motorcycle. It is easy to think that a weekend riding dirt bikes would have little benefit to the average street rider. But, I contend that the lessons in motorcycle control and traction management transfer to pavement riding, including minimizing the likelihood of panic in the event your bike slides on a wet or sandy road.
To prepare us for three days of riding dirt bikes, instructor Joe Prussiano begins with a lesson in proper off-road body positioning. This includes sitting forward on the seat and “counterweighting” when cornering so your body remains upright while the bike leans beneath you. This creates vertical force that keeps the tires from sliding out.
With this first lesson complete, we fire up our mounts and are led around each of the three freshly groomed, clay-covered dirt tracks; an eighth-mile oval, a TT “road course” and a large flat area under the 300- by 150-foot pavilion. This is not enduro or woods riding; there are no logs to jump or rocks to climb, nor is it motocross. This is flat-track riding on a relatively hard and smooth surface that constantly changes with use. The challenge is not in surmounting obstacles or doing sweet jumps, but simply managing traction and balance.
After an hour or so of free riding, we line up to run against the stopwatch during our first “Superpole,” where each rider is sent out individually to do a single lap on a course that combines all three tracks. This first Superpole lap time is recorded and used as a baseline from which to measure progress.
Timing and recording our laps for all to see may not seem appealing if you’re not the competitive type. But a healthy taste of friendly rivalry spurs learning through good-natured fun. Superpole, slow races, drag-race stopping drills and a team endurance race are fun and purposeful “games” that give the lessons meaning.
Each of the next three days start promptly with breakfast and a riders’ meeting outlining the day’s agenda, followed by free riding and drills designed to teach us about visual skills, cornering lines, traction management, throttle control and balance. After lunch, we head to the firing range where we get a chance to shoot various handguns at metal targets and fire a shotgun at flying clay pigeons. Like I said, this is a real taste of Texas.
Soon, we are back in the saddle for some afternoon riding before we end the day with Superpole. With our lap times posted on the “pole” many riders call it a day, while others stay for some extra-curricular shenanigans under the well-lit pavilion. After the dust settles, we meet up for supper and beverages. Before hitting the hay some partake in a boisterous pool table game that involves running around like a bunch of kids. Fun!
Our final day starts with a few awards followed by the morning briefing before we suit up to run an early Superpole to take advantage of the freshly groomed track. Throughout the weekend, each rider’s lap times steadily improve, confirming the effectiveness of the curriculum. We finish the day riding some of the most fun drills of the weekend, including brake-sliding exercises and optional lessons in wheelies and donuts. By 5 p.m., everyone is tuckered out. We get cleaned up and exchange contact info with new friends before hitting the road.
The Texas Tornado Boot Camp is about learning to be a better rider, but it’s also about having a good time on a motorcycle. Think of TTBC as a sort of moto-dude ranch that immerses you in the Lone Star experience where you get to ride as hard as you want, shoot some guns, eat Texas BBQ and spend time making new friends around a campfire. Yee haw!
Learn more at texastornadobootcamp.com.