Seat Time: Getting an A+ in Enduro

Kyra Sacdalan
by Kyra Sacdalan

In a world where everyone is trying to outdo each other, if not themselves, learning/growth never stops

Photos by Justin W. Coffey & Matthew McNulty; Provided by Anastasia

[Kyra, KS] My Hard Enduro journey started with a crash. A big one. I didn’t break or tear anything, but I’ve done what is (so far) lasting damage to my sternum or diaphragm or somewhere in the chest cavity. An injury which still seems a mystery to my physician. That fateful moment, sprawled out in the middle of a dirt road in Baja, set off a chain of events which led me to become the rider I am today: a mediocre, albeit eager… kook. But a kook with better posture, focus, and sight, as well as significantly greater confidence. Time will tell if the latter is growing faster than my skills. Nonetheless, I’m still learning. However, my technique is tenfold what it was during my pivotal collision with the ground. And with every training session, each clinic, and all those drills take me yet another tire rotation to my goal. Towards the finish line at Romaniacs (*cough* 2025).

This story is all about the value of training. So, silence those phones and take some notes!

[Anastasia, AL] Yes, you can learn to ride dirt bikes yourself or try to chase faster friends on trails – and many people do just that. But I believe if you really want to get to the next level, having a good, credible coach significantly reduces the learning curve and makes it all a bit less painful (to be clear, there’s still plenty of pain). Before even thinking about racing, I figured out the hard way that I’d need off-road training. In my pursuit to reach the Hell’s Gate in Turkmenistan on my Transalp, there were many challenges I faced which I didn’t have the technical knowledge to cross. Like falling in sand 10 times because I had no idea how to ride that kind of terrain.

Trainers can reduce the learning curve and make riding less painful. Or rather, still painful but with a more positive attitude!

Edu-Macation (Get a Coach)

Left: Destry doing a quick demonstration for Kyra on a steep downhill to practice body position. Right: Kyra making a feigned attempt at looking cool like Destry.

[KS] “Education is key.” Had I known this phrase applied to enjoyable experiences as well, I might have paid more attention in school. But as I’ve learned over the years, anything worth having is worth working for. And when it comes to riding a motorcycle – on- or off-road – guided practice, evaluation, insight sharing, and homework are the fundamental elements of training with a professional. And honestly, in such an individualistic activity, experiencing it with other people can add in the fun-factor you didn’t know was missing, even with a trainer. (If you truly vibe, of course.)

This is enduro education in a nutshell. (The hat says it all…)
It’s not just about the drills. Lead-follow rides allow a student to mimic the instructor’s movements in real time.

There are many constituents which together have helped me achieve little successes along the way, but ask anyone I ride with, nothing has affected my overall competence on a motorcycle like legendary off-road racer Destry Abbott. My coach. We’re still in the early phases of our lessons, not yet reaching the “hard” part of enduro. But he’s been systematically breaking my bad habits, adding skills to my short-list of talents, and crushing my absolutely unnecessary fears. There are necessary ones that still exist, yes. But each time we accomplish something together, I pack away my anxieties in place of more useful emotions like excitement, intrigue, eagerness, and joy. The ones that keep people like me moving forward.

Coach Destry showing us how it’s done at the MX track. Kyra’s almost at his level.

[AL] My first trainer was Alexei Moshok, who would rent dirt bikes and teach people how to ride them. He taught me the basics: correct body position for accelerating and braking, turns, and so on. Most importantly, he opened my eyes. When a regular person looks at the mountain, they enjoy the view. When dirt bike riders look at the mountain, they are constantly searching for “the line” – however steep and crazy the incline might be. That was the most useful thing Alexei showed me. To know that everything is rideable...if you’re brave enough. Thanks to him I took my shot at the enduro racing series he organized, Enduro 4 Seasons, enduro championship of Belarus. And each event would expand my horizons, because when you are pumped with adrenaline, you do things you wouldn’t do outside of a competition.

Ana listening in disbelief as her trainer directs her up a crazy hill climb.

My second coach was Alex Grudo. Not a professional athlete or trainer, however he won this championship one year, and could wheelie anything from his Super Tenere 1200 to a Road Glide. He was educated as a musician and a mechanic by trade. On the side, he would also teach me about riding and racing. Perhaps the most critical thing I learned from him was maintenance. He would make me change the tires and learn as much as I could about my motorcycle. When I planned to race Malle Moto for the first time, my left arm was still in plaster cast. Alex gave me a crash course on how to preserve my 450 during a 10-day rally raid, as well as what I could potentially troubleshoot. He instilled a valuable piece of knowledge: don’t use up your physical and mental reserves unnecessarily by constantly working on or picking up the bike. Be thoughtful, think twice, and find the least energy-consuming way.

Anastasia attending a mechanic’s crash course courtesy of Alex Grudo only two months before the race. Luckily, the information stuck.
Ana found out firsthand that motocross creates an excellent foundation for any type of off-road riding.

Alex Patskevich taught kids and adults motocross, and I met him after I’d already put in some hours at the track and had raced some enduros. He helped me to bring my riding to yet another level. He pushed me on the motocross track and helped to find my finesse. All these small details that you don’t pay attention to when you “already know how to ride.” With him, I was surprised to see how these small things can make you faster!

The More the Merrier / Group Clinics

[AL] Motocross provided me with a completely new riding repertoire and a fresh perspective. And it was at this apex where Artsiom Kuntsevich stepped in. I joined his group enduro classes more than 10 times, where we would work on slow drills like pivot turns then apply them in our rides in a fun but practical way. It was Artsiom who helped me develop as a teacher and step into more guiding roles. He had won 3rd place in Romaniacs in the Bronze class on a Chinese bike (because riding a 300cc 2-stroke was too easy). One day, the group would have a small race or a hole-shot competition. Another day, we’d play hide-and-seek. He not only gave me new skills and confidence but reminded me that it’s not only about achieving victory; it’s about enjoying the process. Why do we need to take it all so seriously?

Belarusian MX and enduro champion, Artsiom Kuntsevch, generously shared all his pro tips with Anastasia.
After this day of enduro training with the group, Anastasia lost all fear of sand pits.
Donni running uphill as Kyra gracefully ascended the infamous “Goat Trail” – a rocky piece of single-track cut into the side of a steep cliff.

[KS] I’ve trained in group classes a couple of times so far. First, after my incident, with friend and all-around badass, Donni Reddington. Her Skool of Moto focuses on empowering women to be competent, confident, and passionate, if not savages, on the trails. I invited her to Ensenada, where I live, to teach a little intro to dirt biking class, which evolved into a culinary experience as well. I really didn’t have the right mindset or the best bike for the job, despite the amazing teacher and helpers who tried to get through to me. But I did learn a bit about my tolerance. How much punishment I could put myself through (a lot) and keep going. That alone made me proud and taught me something important: I don’t scare easily. That fact is what has dragged me along this journey so far.

This mini moto and meals event with Donni resulted in The Cold Start, an experiential company serving communities in-motion around the world. We’re even hosting an enduro clinic and culinary getaway in Ensenada with coach Destry April 18-21, 2024. It’s an opportunity to learn from the best, sharpen your enduro skills, then eat incredible meals and explore one of Mexico’s outdoor gems.

Donni shows the class a proper technique for picking up most motorcycles.

Far too long after that, I attended my next clinic by Max Gerston of Max Off-Road. I had been riding single-track more often – and seen my new enduro coach once (building my confidence maybe a tad too high). So, with some convincing, Max allowed me into a more advanced class than “intro to off-road”, his foundational course. While I was immediately humbled by my lack of technique and waning self-assurance, Max still offered me priceless information about calming your mind, finding rituals that will center your thoughts around the tasks at-hand, and how to keep breathing. These are not things you’d expect in a “race prep” curriculum, but they are essential. And heck, it was still seat time! I saw firsthand what the next level looked like from my classmates, so I was able to make new, achievable, goals.

A quick fan of Max Gerston, Kyra’s Beta 300 XTrainer decided to wear a matching signature mustache for the clinic.

Self-(ish)-Taught / Do Your Homework

[KS] I’m not trying to start a fight, but homework exists for a reason. Athletes don’t jump into a race, or a fight, or a game without practice. Nor are their practices just simulations of the real thing. Experts of all disciplines reach goals by doing drills, focusing on the little or seemingly insignificant parts of their field. They don’t rehearse the competition over and over expecting different outcomes. They use their time off the field, so-to-speak, laying a foundation working on the fundamentals until they can do them perfectly while they aren't under pressure. And this can’t always be with your coach. So many hours of the day would be wasted if you waited until your teacher was there for you to train.

The drills and positions taught during a lesson are invaluable pieces of information which a rider can take home – using them over and over to refine their skills.

Doing your homework – in this case drills with cones, looped routes so you can track your progress, cold-engine balancing or positioning sequences, or even just maintaining your fitness, nutrition, mental health, breathing, and so on – is the determining factor. It’s the clincher for greatness. There’s no excuse to be doing nothing. Nor is there an excuse to say you don’t have the time to fit in “training” because that word encompasses a plethora of micro-tasks that lead to your progress. Did I say all that as a stern reminder to myself? Yes. Because that’s part of the take home test as well. Being able to cheer yourself on, pull your gear on, or put the phone down.

Racing is also great training if you can handle the added stress and lower (severely in some cases) expectations.

The strategies, the procedures: those are circumstances for which people can actually control and plan. And once each process becomes second nature, there’s no need to think about those maneuvers once the stress is added to the equation, then dialed up to the max. A point when athletes, musicians, hosts, actors, and racers alike must reach to save their critical thinking for the unpredictable elements of their discipline. Drivers don’t think about driving. Boxers don’t think about punching. Coltrane didn’t think about freestyling on his saxophone. It’s a sort of self-induced instinct. And for a motorcyclist dedicated to detail, the sequence and outcome are no different.

Ana might look like a natural, but her grace on a bike took years of hard work, and hard hits.

The Buddy System / Social Tutelage

[KS] A great way to book-end your formal training opportunities is, yes, to obsess over drills and, sure, to watch first-person POV videos so you can better visualize picking lines and being badass. But even when it’s just for fun, riding with people who’ve had some formal training, having been coached by a professional in some way, can provide another opportunity to absorb knowledge from a new angle. In pairs or in groups, we can all gain something by the mere act of chasing each other down, let alone when helping to overcome challenges. Your buddies might not be certified teachers, but if they’ve become proficient via an educator, then whatever advice they will inevitably offer should come equipped, at a minimum, with some merit. It’s expertise by proxy.

A Perpetual Motion Machine

The lesson is to never stop learning. To be a perpetual student because no challenge is unachievable or record unbreakable. It’s only what a person is willing to put into the process and how much they want that dream which makes a target “impossible” to hit. As in our case, a racer who truly invests in their aspirations doesn’t merely rely on one ingredient when cooking up a tasty scheme. Not just practicing or working with a riding coach, but also paying keen attention to their mental health, fitness, nutrition, presentation, and who knows what else. We’re not even touching on publicity and fundraising (that’s a different article entirely).

Kyra attributes many of her newfound skills to riding with Anastasia. Together, they can inspire and encourage each other to push limits, if not teach each other valuable techniques.

When Ana raced 10 to 20 events a year, her trainer kept her in top shape to endure the punishment. Before exercising five days a week, Kyra could hardly pick up a dual-sport once during a ride. Now, she’s able to pick up her Beta 300 XTrainer infinitely, to her chagrin. The point here is not to shy away from help. It comes in many forms; it works in many ways. Take advantage! “The most effective way to do it is to do it.” As Amelia Earhart once said. So, when the goals are set, start going and don’t look back. Because training, preparing, and dedicating yourself will never end. You have been warned.

“So we’re going to do this gnarly hill climb…”
“Sorry, what was that?”

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Kyra Sacdalan
Kyra Sacdalan

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  • Duken4evr Duken4evr on Mar 31, 2024

    Enjoyed the article!

    As a lifetime (51 years of off roading this year) dirt rider, it is amazing how one never stops learning. I reached my competent level of mid pack "B" rider / desert racing mediocrity some time ago when it comes to going fast, but at my age I don't want to grip it and rip it like I used to.

    At this point I'm more about technical riding and have worked on that. I live in CO and ride a 300 XC, so there is plenty of opportunity to ride over rocks, logs, hills etc. Have ridden 5 Miles of Hell in Utah a few times. The takeaway from that for me was to be assertive and maintain enough momentum and trust the process. I will admit there were a few times I momentarily closed my eyes - the bike knew what to do!

    As a rider there is a database in my brain, I call on it when confronted with situations and a lot of it is muscle memory and automatic, much like an experienced musician playing their instrument. The connection from brain to instrument (or bike in this case) is "direct" with little actual processing needed. You practice, gain experience and then it's just in your riding DNA. That is a cool place to be.

    I recall one time while riding the "Devil's Punchbowl" in Crested Butte that the section, which was downhill, had weirdly angled rock "striations" on it pointing toward a cliff and the water filled punchbowl way down below. I stopped as that terrain didn't compute, had never seen anything like it before. There was no entry in my personal database to draw on for that weird rock formation, and the stakes were rather high.

    Proceeded and learned it was just ordinary corrugated rock and as usual carrying some speed to load the suspension and get it moving smoothed things out, it was no big deal at all. I remind myself when helping less a experienced rider that the bit of uncertainty I felt on the punchbowl is where they are at a lot of the time, but the uncertainty and fear can be minimized with patient instruction and showing them what to do.

    In a lot of rough terrain I ride, I find that 10 MPH is as slow as one can go. Slower than that and ya just get beat up and there is not enough momentum to get the bike up and over obstacles. I normally ride faster, but last time out, a new riding friend was having a hard time. I rode 10 MPH and told him to ride right behind me. He did a lot better after that as he saw what I did and was going just fast enough to make it, but not too fast where it scared him. It takes guts to learn something new and difficult, but it is worth it.

    Dirt bike riding has absolutely been the joy of my life and the lessons learned on the bike translate to life. Life is like riding in the sand. We can plan and direct, but can't fully control our lives. In the sand and in life, stay on the gas, hold on loose but firm, keep charging forward, and don't worry about it if it kicks a bit and wiggles around some 😉

    comment photo
    • Kyra Sacdalan Kyra Sacdalan on Mar 31, 2024

      Words to live by. I haven't spent quite as much time on a bike, but I do feel like I've acquired so many great lessons already. It's always reassuring to hear different people's experiences navigating the off-road space -- or motorcycles in general. It's not meant to be easy, but it's certainly fulfilling. Hoping to just keep pushing from here on out. Progress is inevitable if we just keep moving forward, and sometimes, for me at least, that's the biggest hurdle.

      Thanks for taking the time to read our story. And furthermore, leaving a comment and sharing your experiences.