Review: BlackSwanMoto ADV Basics Course by Jill Dunphy

When I decided to dip my toe into the adventure-riding pool, I started searching for classes where I could learn the basics. I wasn’t sure if I’d even like this style of riding, so I didn’t want to invest too much time or money into my initial endeavor. Lucky for me, I live about 10 miles from Prairie City SVRA near Sacramento, CA, and BlackSwanMoto offers ADV training courses there at least twice a year. As part of my new year’s resolution to push my comfort zone, I signed up for their ADV Basics course held on March 3-4, 2018.

Despite the growing number of women ADV riders and the increasing industry acceptance of our invasion into the sport, I was a bit apprehensive about taking this class. I was worried that I would be the only woman in the class, that my limited dirt bike skills and experience would be a hindrance to the other students, or that there would be a lot of ego or ‘out to prove something’ mentality. Nothing could be further from the truth!

When I arrived on Day 1, I was immediately greeted by two other women; an experienced rider from the San Francisco Bay area, and a newer rider who flew into Sacramento from Arizona. The men soon filtered in, and we all introduced ourselves. Although all of the other participants brought larger ADV motorcycles, I know my learning style, so I chose to take the course on my Honda CRF230M. I wanted to learn the techniques without worrying about the weight of my BMW F700GS. This how I got comfortable on the street, so why mess with success?

Instructor Del Christensen demonstrating proper body positioning (photo by instructor Michael Spencer)

Our three instructors, Del Christensen, Mark Stickelmaier, and Michael Spencer, greeted themselves and began going over curriculum and expectations. They offer two courses concurrently; the ADV Basics course and Advanced Rider Training Skills (ARTS). Both are exactly as they sound, the Basics course is for folks like me that know how to ride a motorcycle but have little to no experience in the dirt, and the ARTS class is for people that want to expand their existing off-road skillset. We did an initial group skills assessment first, so the instructors could see if we signed up for the right course for ourselves. I think they moved one person from the Basics to the ARTS class before getting started. Throughout the rest of the weekend, the instructors gathered both groups together for lectures, but broke us into our two groups to practice skill building drills appropriate for our experience level.

For those of us in the basics course, much of Day 1 was about getting used to the difference in traction on unconsolidated material versus pavement. We practiced basic turns, braking, clutch/throttle control, and skid management. Day 2 challenged us to bring these skills together, tightening our turns and overcoming physical obstacles working toward the ultimate goal of increasing our confidence. The day culminated in rides on the training trail, which is protected from other SVRA visitors. I felt like a kid who repeatedly rides a roller coaster after learning that they are fun – not scary!

Instructor Mark Stickelmaier addressing the Basics class under an ominous sky (photo by Michael Spencer)

The instructors were always encouraging and supportive; they’d offer us positive feedback when we nailed a drill, and worked with me individually when I found myself struggling with something. I felt that the drills were tailored to our abilities as a group, rather than forcing us to master a drill that might be a bit over our heads. A perfect example is the obstacle drill. Several of us were struggling to get over the log after the first few rounds, so Mark and Michael broke down the steps and had us concentrate on one step at a time. We all got it! What I most appreciated was that I never felt in over my head, and never embarrassed or shamed if I didn’t catch on to something as quickly as the others. The other students in the Basics course seemed to share the same concerns and apprehensions as I did, so we all cheered each other on and encouraged each other throughout the weekend. My confidence rose as I understood how the motorcycle behaves in different situations, and how I react; panic subsided as the unexpected became expected, and I knew what to do.

Student safety factored into the weekend drills at all times. It had rained pretty hard in Sacramento in the days prior to the class, and showers were expected over the weekend. While we lucked out for most of Saturday, dark clouds loomed a few hours after lunch. It eventually started to rain, but they moved us inside for more lecture when that rain turned to hail. Although Sunday brought much nicer weather, the trails at Prairie City SVRA can get very muddy, and the rocks slippery. This day was no exception, so the instructors pre-rode all planned trails to check conditions, and tailored Sunday’s drills accordingly without sacrificing our ability to learn and practice. Coming from an industry with a strong safety culture, I was thoroughly impressed by BlackSwanMoto’s attention to student safety throughout the weekend.

Both the Basics and ARTS courses are $750 each, which includes snacks, drinks, and lunch for both days, as well as admission to the park. The registration form includes a section about dietary restrictions, and they did not go overlooked, whether the student was vegetarian, vegan, or gluten-free. They even provided coffee – a much appreciated “perk” for everyone on those chilly mornings!

The instructors even organized a dinner at a local restaurant on Saturday evening. While the cost is not included, it was nice to socialize with our classmates and instructors off the range and without helmets on!

Upon completing the class, students also receive a t-shirt. Obviously, this is included in the cost of the class, but you can’t help but feel like you EARNED that tee shirt after two days of intense skill-building! Even better, BlackSwanMoto offers ladies-fit tee shirts as an option, earning them a special place in my heart.

BlackSwanMoto’s ADV Basics was an absolutely amazing experience for this newbie! I learned a ton, challenged myself, and best of all, I had FUN. I have ventured beyond the pavement several times since completing my class, and these rides were exponentially more fun than my previous trail experiences. I knew what to do, what to expect, and how to handle the bike, which gave me a level of confidence that I never had before. I’ve even begun taking my BMW F650GS off the pavement!

Jill looking ahead through a gentle curve (photo by Michael Spencer)

If you’re interested in off-road or ADV riding, completing a training class will increase the fun factor because of the confidence you’ll gain from knowing the proper techniques. You might even see an improvement in your street skills! With the surge in popularity of the sport, training opportunities are popping up all around the country. BlackSwanMoto offers their Basics and ARTS classes multiple times throughout the year at both Prairie City SVRA in Northern California, and Hungry Valley SVRA in Southern California, and they often host clinics and short courses at various ADV events and rallies across the USA. If you’re in the market for top-notch ADV instruction at an affordable price, check them out at!