Royal Enfield Slide School, UK Report
Words: Natasha Farrar
If you want to get a feel for what it’s like to be buzzing around an oval with a proper flat track bike, without all the argy-bargy of a competitive racetrack environment, then going to Slide School is the perfect, low commitment, first step. If you’re not new to the sport then you shouldn’t need much convincing to spend a day with full access to a track, advice from a man currently winning everything, and brand new bikes that you don’t even have to clean or maintain at the end of it.
I’d recently watched round one of the DTRA flat track championships and quietly wanted to give it a go. Compared to the rest of the world of motorsport, flat track is pretty accessible, but you’ll first need access to the right bike and be bold enough to jump in at the deep end at practice days. I don’t own a bike, or tons of confidence, so I took advantage of the chance to go.
I got to Greenfield early for the compulsory tea and coffee drinking that comes with all British bike events, and after some low-key sussing out of the other riders in the group, we got to meet the main attraction, Gary Birtwistle. Sorry, I mean the new Royal Enfield FT411s.
There were ten nearly new bikes lined up in front of us, so it was hard not to want to save all the chit chat and just jump on and have a go. With our eager eyes fixed on the bikes, our hastiness was sensed and Gary reassured us there’ll be lots of bike time, but we’d start by getting the low down on what flat track is about and a bit of knowledge about the bikes.
After we’d been introduced to the bikes and talked about flat track as a sport it was time to give it a go. We clinked onto the oval with our borrowed steel shoes, and the anticipation of riding new bikes with strangers brought about an air of nervous tension. A bit like a first date before the Dutch courage. Perhaps that was just me and my own fear of being a flop, but the group fell quite silent, so I sensed I wasn’t alone. I’d tried flat track before, so it wasn’t totally alien to me, but I’m still a beginner.
If any of you do like to jump straight on to a bike, then do your arse a favour and refrain. I did it out of habit from riding tall enduro bikes with plenty of suspension to catch me. No such luxury on the barely-padded FTs. I soon learned there’s not much time sat up right on the seat, you’ll be riding the bike crack to crack (not my words) in true flat track style.
The weight of the Enfield is evenly distributed, but felt pretty stiff and a bit clunky with a big petrol tank, compared to the playful bouncy Tigger I have at home (a KTM EXCF350). Despite the first impressions, it didn’t take long to get a good handle on the bike and after few laps around the mini oval I found it pretty easy to trust. It’s essentially the Himalayan with a few small changes (if you want more details Sideburn 39). It’s beginner friendly, tame but with room for modifications for the more technical riders.
Once we’d got a feel for the bike Gary talked about the specifics of flat track’s riding style and demonstrated a few key things he wanted us to focus on. Many of you reading may already know these things, but will almost definitely forget to do most of them when you’re flying round the oval. We’d do a few laps, re-group and are reminded of those key elements of the perfect riding position. Gary would really labour the points, at times I’d be thinking, ‘He’s already said that’, but you’d be surprised how much goes out the window while you’re having fun going as fast as you dare around a track.
If you’re lucky you may get those moments where your brain and body all work together in perfect synchronicity, and you feel you’re riding like a goddess in the wind. For me those moments don’t last long but are where all the joy is found, which alone makes a day like this so worth it. Even if they’re always followed by getting it all wrong on the next lap and sheepishly rejoining the group hoping they’d only seen the good laps.
If it wasn’t for the heavy rain cutting our riding time short we’d have gone on to work on riding lines and corner entries and exits. Instead, we took cover and picked Gary’s brain with our FT questions and curiosities. We were still able to talk about how to read the condition of the track and all the little, but important things that get you ahead in a race situation. Personally, I had nothing sensible to ask, I was just thinking about what mates I could get together to come with me next time, how long it would take for me to save for a new bike and if I really had ridden like a goddess or was just deluded by my own sense of fulfilment and heightened adrenalin.
Royal Enfield’s FT411s and their Slide School with Gary’s Dirt Craft are the latest in a global endeavour to get more people into flat track, and it’s fair to say when you sign up you know you’ll be in good hands. Greenfield Dirt Track is a friendly place that invites good vibes only, everyone there involved with Dirt Craft and Royal Enfield were genuinely happy to be there and cared about making it a good experience. The combination of that and the unexpected catharsis of going round and round an oval me feeling almost zen for my three-and-a-half hour drive home.
You may wake up the next day and not be able to lift your left leg out of the bed or sit comfortably on a seat but you won’t be the only one. Three days later and I still wince when I sit down. You’re welcome for the heads up.
A day's tuition at the Royal Enfield Slide School, presented by Dirt Craft, is £160. They visit different tracks around the country. For more information, or to book, go to dirtcraft.co.uk