When the instructor line-up for the 2013 Ricky Carmichael University was announced some months ago, I found myself gripped by an irrational desire to take part. However you consider it, this was never going to be a cheap day’s riding. I decided therefore the best approach was to write the cheque as quickly as possible and send off the form, then try to justify it at some later date. In the end I tried not to consider it too much, but likened it to a cheap week’s holiday that just happened to only last a single day.
The day in question finally arrived and the packed schedule meant a very early start. The prospect of a mid-week skive day to ride with RC and friends more than made up for that however. Jamie Dobb was on hand to greet all the riders at signing on, a concern I had beforehand regarding age was soon dismissed as there were riders taking part of all ages from 5 to 50. By 8:30 everyone was kitted up and being introduced to our instructors for the day, Ricky Carmichael, Jeff Emig, Jamie Dobb and Dean Wilson. After running through some of the basics we’d be studying later it was off to the track for a quick warm up ride. Riders were split into four groups of roughly 15 depending on age and ability.
At this point the reality of the Fatcats quickly set in. Riding mainly in the South Midland Centre means having to deal with two types of track depending on the weather, bumpy hard pack or mud. Deep sand never factors into the equation, and proved quite a challenge on its own. Fortunately I was prepared for the jumps after riding Milton MX Park the weekend before, but the sand was something else. Still I couldn’t let it show, particularly as I was sharing the track with the most successful US racer of all time. Ricky’s style and speed were breath taking, whipping it upside down on all the jumps before landing inch perfect and railing the next corner at ridiculous speed. After a good warm up session the track was divided into three sections with an instructor assigned to each, Fro’s starting techniques section not being part of the main course. Each rider group then took it in turns to visit each section.
Up first for us was Dean Wilson’s section. Dean was brought in as a surprise instructor at the last minute. As he’s still on the injured list he was unable to ride himself, but his results and experience riding in the AMA speak for themselves. Dean’s section looked at a difficult inside corner line, and a sweeping fast corner. We spent a while riding each, while Dean looked on and mentored as necessary. We also spent a fair amount of time attempting to rail corners standing up Everts-style. A factor of the whole day was just how approachable and helpful the instructors were. Any of the riders could stop them at any time and they’d spend as long as it took advising on whatever it was the rider needed. In my case as this was the first session of the day Dean spent quite a while explaining basic sand riding techniques as well as the more advanced stuff. Each section also had a welcome supply of cold bottled water, essential on such a hot day.
Next up we visited Fro for the startline session. With a freshly groomed start gate to work from and Jeff’s expert tuition, we were all soon hurtling towards that first corner much more convincingly than before. His simple advice and years of perfecting it really worked and although I’d never started like that in my life, I could definitely understand the logic and feel the benefits. After many practise starts and a few overheating bikes the session was over. Time for lunch.
The RUC chefs cooked up an excellent lunch of Fajitas, with copious amounts of fruit and a never ending supply of cold drinks. Sitting down at the large communal tables a few places down from Jeff Emig, to my surprise I was lucky enough to be joined by Ricky Carmichael. That gave me the chance to chat with him about anything and everything. Approachable and friendly he was just happy chat, and on this rare occasion he actually had the time to do so. The last time I’d spoken to him was at the famous Matterley Basin MXDN where Everts rode around James Stewart on the pegs. He’d been injured just prior to the race and so was unable to ride. I was interested to hear how it might have gone had he been fit. With unwavering self-confidence he explained not only how he would have beaten Stefan with ease, but also the plan that he and James had hatched by which they both would have done so. Whilst the race itself was probably Everts’ finest ever performance, it’s difficult to argue with what might have been had Ricky been fit that day. There then followed a light hearted Q&A session in which all riders and guests were encouraged to ask the instructors a wide range of questions and a group photo shoot, before it was time to return to the track.
After lunch we moved onto the Carmichael corner clinic. Here we learned how to go fast by going slow, how to carve new tighter inside lines, how to protect the berms and how to brake correctly approaching turns. With the aid of cones and demonstrations we all focussed on what Ricky was teaching and soon started to get the hang of it. Like Fro before, his years of experience mean he is able to pass along his knowledge and techniques in a way that is fun and informal, but also memorable and effective.
The final tutorial session saw us tackling a fast whoop section with Jamie Dobb. Jamie explained not only how to ride the whoops, but how to approach them from the corner before. With plenty of relevant examples of how for instance Jeffrey Herlings approaches the same kind of obstacle, it all made perfect sense. We practised under his watchful eye, as he took it in turns to pull in riders for extra advice and encouragement. Last ride of the day saw us back out on the full track for another free ride session, once again joined by RC and JD. Now was the time to put what we’d learned into practise, hopefully stringing together all the tips we’d learnt for each section into a smooth coherent lap. After a good long session on track it was time to pack up. I never did learn to whip it over the tabletop like RC, maybe he saves that for an advanced course.
Then we all headed back to the pit area for the graduation ceremony where we were presented with certificates and free Fox backpacks stuffed with useful goodies and discounts for selected suppliers. Reflecting on the day I was extremely impressed. The access we had to the instructors was remarkable, it’s difficult to imagine any situation other than the RCU where they’d have so much time to discuss things and help with your riding. They were all faultlessly friendly, approachable and open on any subject. The atmosphere was brilliant and the tips I’ve learned will hopefully stay with me for ever. The trick now will be to practise these techniques enough, so that they move from my head into subconscious reactions. If I can achieve that, then it will have been worth all the expense and a lot more.
Words by Fraser Law
Image courtesy of Fraser Law