I was on the cusp of turning 30 when I started riding motorcycles. In my first year, I have to admit that I was your average squid (slang for a new rider who overestimates his or her ability). I rode some of the fastest, most expensive street bikes on the market, ones that people with 10 times my experience were afraid to ride. Then, one day, my luck ran out—fortunately, it happened on a dirt track, a much more forgiving surface than the pavement. I broke one of my feet and had to stay off it for 15 weeks. I had to undergo surgery and months of physical therapy. I chose to take it all as a sign: If I was going to ride again, I would do it the right way.
It wasn’t easy getting back on the bike, because I took too much time off and lost a lot of my confidence. I started by getting a bike my size, a Yamaha TTR125. Often called a toy or kids bike, a trail bike like the TTR125 has a lower compression, making for a smoother, less zippy ride than the bigger MX bikes (such as the one I broke my foot on). To help me regain my nerve and learn how to ride it, I signed up for one of the best experiences in my life, The Texas Tornado Boot Camp, a flat track school.
Photographed by Kate Erwin
The Texas Tornado Boot Camp (TTBC) only uses TTR 110, 125 and 230s with semi-slick rear tires. The camp’s owners promise that “everything we will teach you will translate directly to whatever bike you are riding today or plan to throw a leg over in the future.” In case you don’t know, the Texas Tornado is Colin Edwards, the coolest man in Moto GP, the premier class of motorcycle road racing in the world. Edwards has won the World Super Bike championship twice. He makes his living riding the most expensive and fastest bikes on the planet, and he trains at TTBC. Flat track—motorcycle racing on a dirt oval track—originated in the U.S. and involves controlled rear tire sliding sideways through turns. American dirt trackers changed the style of Grand Prix road racing in the 70s with these skills, which are taught at TTBC.
The camp is located 40 miles north of Houston, and it sits on 20 acres of Texas heaven. There are three main clay tracks (one covered and lit), a mini motocross track, a few trails and a shooting range. The accommodations, a.k.a the saloon, consist of a variety of rooms ranging from bunks to suites with private bathrooms. All of them have comfy beds with high-count cotton sheets that you’ll melt into after a long day of riding. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are home cooked, including BBQ that will put to shame anything you have ever had before. “The camp gives you a taste of Texas and the family that we all take pride in,” says Texas native and TTBC instructor Steven Bodak.
Photographed by Andrew Northcott
All of the patient, kind instructors at TTBC are currently racing or have raced professionally in the past. People at any level of experience, from those who’ve never sat on a motorcycle to Moto GP racers, are welcome (campers have ranged from age 8 to 68). The days are loosely structured, starting with a morning ride where campers are split into groups based on their skill level. The rest of the day might be broken up with an impromptu moto scavenger hunt or target practice with a .50 caliber rifle. The latter exercise directly translates to braking on a motorcycle; learning to gently squeeze the trigger correlates to having a lighter touch on the the brakes when you’re going into a corner. Instructors, like Shea Fouchek, an accomplished pro flat track racer, might also take you aside and work on drills. Without fail, though, each day will end with “superpole,” a timed course lap that everyone participates in and watches.
As my session progressed, so did I. The camp teaches you to be smooth, and with that, your lap times decrease. I got more than I expected out of the camp and lost my ego along the way. My only regret? That I didn’t do it sooner.
Classes range from $1,320 for a two-day course (with a shared room) to $,3200 for a four-day course (with a private room).
The Best Motorcycle Gear for Women
The TTBC has gear to rent, but if you want to buy your own, here are recommendations from writer Kate Erwin:
Alpinestars Stella Bionic 2 Protection Jacket, $200, alpinestars.com.
This jacket is comfortable and has protection in all the areas that you need for dirt riding. It’s easy to take on and off, and it’s cut to accommodate women’s chests.
Alpinestars Bionic Neck Support, $290, alpinestars.com.
Riders who didn’t start out wearing neck braces may find them uncomfortable, but they can save your life.
Alpinestars Stella Tech 3, $220, alpinestars.com.
A good boot goes a long way.
Arai VX-Pro3 helmet, $560-$690, araiamericas.com.
The most comfortable helmet ever! It also fits perfectly with almost any goggle. Note: Getting the right helmet is crucial, so get sized in person.
Fox Pod K700 MX Knee Brace, $800, foxhead.com.
These are fuss-free knee braces—comfy and easily adjustable.
Smith Fuel v.1 Max Sand goggles, $50, smithoptics.com.
These anti-fog, anti-sand and anti-dirt goggles also look awfully chic.
GP Air Womens Jersey Savage White, $46, troyleedesigns.com.
Troy Lee is known for the best designs.
GP Air Womens Jersey Savage White, $138, troyleedesigns.com.
The matching pants to the jersey. They’re lightweight, breathable and fit perfectly over your gear.