MAX OFF-ROAD WITH MAX GERSTON
PHOTOS AND WORDS BY CHAD DE ALVA
If you watched any video coverage of the 2022 US Hard Enduro Series, you most likely saw a dude with a very strong mustache absolutely ripping a GASGAS while filming course previews, chasing the pros during the race, or otherwise working as the media guy for the series. That same rider is also known for his cowboy hat, easy-going demeanor, and his impressive racing resume, which may explain why he’s able to ride hard enduro courses while providing voice over narration without sounding totally gassed – an impressive thing to be sure. This rider is none other than Max Gerston, and if all of that isn’t enough, he also has a very successful training outfit called Max Off-Road. I recently had the opportunity to attend a two-day clinic with Max in Flagstaff, AZ, and it was some of the most valuable time I’ve spent on a dirt bike in years.
Max is the kind of guy that treats everyone like an old friend, and watching him interact with the other students in the class, it’s quite obvious how much stoke he has for dirt bikes and the people who ride them. His objective with these clinics is to help riders develop their skill set so that they can progress in a safe way. Max has an obvious passion for sharing his knowledge and a desire to see his students progress, which makes him a great instructor. Our small group of twelve, mostly local riders, covered the spectrum from new riders to veteran US and Baja racers with a number of riders who just wanted to improve, thrown in for good measure. Max is able to take this diverse group of riders with their individual skill sets and help everyone grow by teaching the how and why as opposed to just telling students how to go fast. After spending a few minutes completing introductions and taking specific requests for what students in the class wanted him to cover, Max had us all working on something every rider needs to continually practice – the basics.
Any discipline of motorcycle riding has a skill set where all of the advanced skills build upon basic skills, yet many experienced riders only work on the fancy stuff – they spend no time at all working on the foundational building blocks that are critical to all of the advanced skills. To really drive home the value of practicing the basics, Max created a course for us that had a little bit of everything.
A pair of cones marked the start and finish of the track. After a short straight, the track made a U-turn around a tree that fed into a series of cones where riders practiced low speed 180 degree corners on the steering stops. This led into two pairs of cones for practicing standing balancing. Then it was on to a turn track that, thanks to some recent rain, had perfect hero dirt and all of the traction. Through a dozen turns ranging from 180 degrees to less than 45, students had ample opportunity to work on both seated and standing cornering. The turn track fed into a high speed section that went over a few berms before returning to the start.
After a few sight-in laps to get the course programmed into our brains, Max started incorporating drills: a stop, sit, and go at the finish line helps students ensure they’re sitting in the correct position on the bike and transitioning to the proper standing position. Turning on the steering stops teaches low speed balance and control. The straight-line gates are designed to teach body balance instead of having to make steering corrections to balance at low speed. Spending even a couple of hours working on these three things would be hugely beneficial to any rider, yet this is less than half of the training track.
The turn track section is where things start to get fun. The hero dirt is currently providing all the traction, yet Max makes it a challenge by instructing us not to use our back brake, at all. This is where things get really interesting for me – I know the front brake provides most of my stopping power, but my back brake has always been there for me to help keep things settled, and to start a rear wheel slide if a last minute course correction is needed. It takes some real discipline to pretend my rear brake lever doesn’t exist, but the lesson is quite powerful – spend some time on a turn track only using your front brake and you’ll see what I’m talking about.
Next comes the scary one – no brakes at all. This drill is all about cornering properly, trusting the bike, and looking where you want to go to come out the other end safely. All the students slow their paces down to get familiar with the concept of riding without any stoppers, while Max continues to lap all of us like we’re standing still just to show that so much more speed can be carried through these corners without ever touching your brakes. The net effect is eye opening, and students are remarking left and right on the value of the last couple of hours.
After we’ve dried out the turn track from so many laps, Max moves us to another track so we can work on hills, obstacles, and whoop riding. Max watches each student as they ride through a few sections, then provides specific feedback before we run the sections again. You can almost see the light bulbs turning on as things begin to click and the students start pushing harder.
Day two of the class is all about applying the skills that were practiced on day one. Instead of sessioning a few sections to work on drills, the group set out on a trail ride that ran into a few obstacles that the class sessioned. As the group starts logging miles on single track, Max moves through the group watching each rider and providing specific coaching. When the class stops to regroup, Max shares what he is seeing with the other students in the class, so that everyone can benefit from his coaching.
Soon we’re at an obstacle – the ever-present tree down across the trail. Max demonstrates a few different techniques for crossing the tree and then explains when each of these techniques would be a good one to use. The class lines up and riders start sessioning the tree. Newer riders go for the more basic drive or wheelie, while advanced riders are looking for little rises in the trail to set up a splatter or simply jump over the tree. The recent rain had soaked the tree well past the point of being slick, but that didn’t stop Max from demonstrating how to ride down the length of it or how to cross it at an extreme angle without slipping off. The opportunity to watch a pro ride something, explain what they’re doing, and then have them watch and critique you trying the same obstacle is an incredibly effective way to improve your riding.
Taking a class from a pro rider is one of the best things that you can spend money on in all of motorcycling. Whether you’re just getting into the sport, or you’re looking to up your game for racing or general riding, the coaching and feedback that a pro can provide you is invaluable. They can help you correct bad habits, teach you proper technique, provide coaching every step of the way, and so much more. There is no shortage of things that you can spend money on for your motorcycle, but what about spending some money on yourself for a change, to make you a better motorcycle rider?
Max Gerston is a great resource for any rider interested in off road riding instruction. Even if you’ve never ridden a dirt bike before, Max Off-Road has the gear and bikes to get never-evers both young and old riding for the first time. Experienced riders can benefit from Max’s teaching as well – taking a class from Max will help riders of any skill level develop the tools they need to progress their riding. For more information on Max or Max Off-Road, visit MAXOFF-ROAD.com