CHRIS BIRCH ‘SAY NO TO SLOW’ ENDURO CLINIC
BY: CHAD DE ALVA
In October of 2022, I had the opportunity to attend a Say No To Slow Adventure Bike riding clinic with Chris Birch in Richfield, Utah. Issue 75. Over the course of this two-day clinic, Chris proved to be one of the best instructors I’ve ever had the opportunity to learn from. He has a strong passion for motorbikes and combined with his outstanding ability to relate to and communicate with his students, he was able to help each student in his class further their riding abilities. Chris also coaches Enduro (dirt bike) bike riders, and when his 2023 USA clinic schedule was posted with an Enduro Clinic, I made another trip to Richfield, Utah, to brush up on my dirt bike skills.
Most riders know of Chris Birch for his exploits aboard KTM Adventure bikes, and a quick search on the YouTubes for Mr. Birch will turn up all sorts of awesome riding content on adventure bikes, enduro bikes, and even some mountain biking. A couple videos that will get you particularly stoked to ride are his Sea to Source and Mud Bath Mountain films. Keep scrolling through the search results and you’ll find sample episodes from his Say No to Slow Adventure bike and dirt bike instructional video series. Both of these video series are great resources, and you can learn more about them by checking out saynotoslow.nz, and our tested on the series in Upshift 63. Prior to attending the in-person adventure bike clinic with Chris in 2022, I studied the adventure video series and found this very helpful in getting the most out of my in-person time with Chris. Whether you’re looking for a great instructional resource you can reference at any time or want to prepare for taking a class in-person with Chris in the future, I can’t recommend the instructional video series enough.
On a bluebird day just outside of Richfield, Chris started off his clinic by asking his students what they’re hoping to learn about. Rather than simply marching through a preplanned curriculum, Chris genuinely wants to engage with his students and help them with their specific needs, and the students responded with a few requests that Chris was happy to entertain. Yet before we got into any particular riding techniques, we needed to start with the basics, and that meant covering proper bike setup.
Improper bike setup can make a bike handle poorly, more dangerous, and harder to ride correctly, so ensuring that your bike isn’t working against you is imperative. Chris covered proper bike setup before starting to help students ensure their bikes are setup correctly with the help of his friend, rockstar rider, and co-instructor Chris Whitehouse. A great example of proper dirt bike setup is rear brake lever position. This should be set high enough so that the rider can fully apply the rear brake with only their foot, and not by having to move their knee forward on the bike to get enough ankle extension. Handlebar position and lever position are two more critical setup items, and soon everyone was turning wrenches and dialing-in their setups.
Once the students’ bikes were setup correctly, it was time to cover body position. Birchy used several interactive demos to make it very obvious just how important correct body position matters. One demo had a student try to push Chris off the seat of his bike to show how much stronger a rider is with their elbows wide and their hips rotated forward than with elbows down and hips rolled back. With proper seated body position the student couldn’t move Chris on the bike. With lazy form, it’s a different story.
Chris has a powerful example to explain proper foot position on the pegs. You can try this one right now: stand up and try jumping off the ground with your ankles locked out. No cheating here – weight those heels if you keep trying to pivot your ankles. Next, jump off the ground normally. I bet you jumped higher when you could pivot your ankles. Standing on your bike’s foot pegs with the arch of your foot over the pegs takes your ankles out of the equation. Just as you can’t jump very high, you can’t absorb impacts or weight your suspension very well when you can’t move your ankles. Standing on your bike’s foot pegs with the balls of your feet allows your ankle joints to pivot. With ankles that can pivot, you can jump higher off the ground, and you’re better able to do things on the bike, like load the suspension and soak up the hits. Birchy has tons of these little demos that explain the how and why of core concepts, and they really help students understand big ideas, like why body position matters so much.
After covering standing body position for accelerating and braking, it was time to start riding so that students could begin to apply what had been taught. Birchy lead the class around a large paddock and demonstrated how, with proper body position, you can hold on to the bike with only one hand and not crash while accelerating and braking aggressively. As the students peeled off on their own to practice these techniques and drills, the Chrises bounced around between various students to help them refine their practice.
Proper body position is a fundamental skill, and something that’s required to learn effective obstacle crossing techniques. Chris designs the flow of his courses in what he calls a decreasing level of importance and an increasing level of excitement. Topics like body position are critical, but they’re not as exciting as obstacle crossing. Using a standard issue railroad tie and a big round of an oak tree that’s half a wheel high, Birchy covered a number of different obstacle crossing techniques. He demonstrated the safe way to cross the log, how to cross the log at race pace, and how to cross the log at an extreme angle, which as anyone who has ridden in the woods can tell you is quite helpful, as trees do not always fall perpendicular to the trail. With techniques explained and demonstrated, it was time for the students to have a crack at it. Again, Birchy and Whitehouse worked with individual students to help them refine their technique, and the students were quick to gain confidence and improve their obstacle crossing ability.
After several hours of working on drills in the paddock, it was time to head out on a ride to apply the skills the class had been learning all morning to some real-world obstacles. A section of single track wound its way down a gully, and delivered the class to an area with a number of hill climb lines. Birchy ran through hill climb techniques before sending it up the most intimidating line on the hill. From the top of this spicy looking climb, Chris covered descents because reaching the top is only the halfway point when you’re climbing a mountain. The students sessioned a few different hill climb lines before continuing on with the ride.
For the next couple of hours, the class rode miles of trails that were intentionally selected for the learning opportunities they provided. At several key points, Chris stopped the class to explain relevant techniques, and other important considerations when encountering similar obstacles and sections of trails. The ride culminated in a run up a wash that had a little bit of everything: some ledgy obstacles to climb, plenty of off camber sections, and all shapes and sizes of corners that provided great opportunities for students to apply the day’s learnings and just enjoy open OHV riding in Utah.
In-person instruction is one of the best things a rider can invest in to further their riding skill-set. Being taught a concept, seeing that concept performed, and then getting immediate feedback on performing the technique yourself in an environment where you can ask questions at every step of the way is a learning opportunity that can’t be beat. Even as someone who has taken a class from Chris Birch in the past, I still gained valuable perspective and understanding from taking a successive class with Chris. Don’t think of learning from a pro rider as a one-and-done thing. Think of it as a continual process. Go take a class. Actually practice what you’ve learned. Then go take another class and learn more. A good instructor can teach riders at any level, and if there’s one thing I’m certain of at this point, it’s that all riders can learn something valuable about riding from Chris Birch.
Chris Birch will be back in the United States teaching more adventure bike and enduro clinics in 2024, but you don’t have to wait until then to start learning from Chris. Visit saynotoslow.nz to check the Say No to Slow instructional video series for adventure bikes and dirt bikes, check out his curated selection of parts that he has helped develop, and keep up to date on future clinics in the US and all over the world.