Let’s go flat track racing! Day at the Royal Enfield Slide School by Dirt Craft

Visordown head out to rural Lincolnshire for the Royal Enfield Slide School by Dirt Craft, to learn the basics of flat track racing & get that back end out!

Royal Enfield Slide School Dirt Craft Visordown

FLAT TRACK racing has been about for donkey’s years, and as a sport is heralded as the origin story for many manufacturers’ heritage lines (see Harley-Davidson & Indian). The outright style of Flat Track is not one to miss, but more than that, the art of mastering a slide is quite simply addicting.

Joining forces this year, Dirt Craft and Royal Enfield have developed the UK Slide School for those who want a taste of the sport on a 1-day course. Designed to teach the fundamentals & technique of the slide, you’ll be riding on the purpose-built FT411 flat tracker, derived from the Himalayan adventurer.

Visordown were invited out to the Greenfield Dirt Track in the middle of rural Lincolnshire for an intro to one of the fastest-growing motorsports in the World - how could we refuse such an offer!

What’s Dirt Craft & Royal Enfield Slide School all about?

Hosted by reigning 2019 European flat track champ & 2021 DTRA UK racer Gary Birtwistle, there couldn’t be a better man to learn the basics of Flat Track from.

A session at Slide School gets you a relaxed & social day in a group setting with plenty of track time - around 4 hours out of the 5-hour session. You’ll learn the basics of flat track, breaking down the whole slide technique from the best of the best, and how to get around the dirt oval as quickly as possible with the tool at hand.

It’s a simple track, but there is loads to learn and master, with these skills transferring across to your everyday riding as you learn new limits atop a bike. Worth mentioning that some of the top riders in the world, including Marc Marquez, Jack Miller & Valentino Rossi amongst many other riders, (plus legends like Kenny Roberts) either started their careers on the dirt or are known to partake in a bit of flat track during the off-season to build on already unfathomable riding skills.

Going into this, I had thoughts of sending it full-pin, back-end completely out, stopping for no man…. nope, this isn’t speedway. Flat Track bikes are heavier and more powerful than their slender cousins, and more importantly, have a rear brake allowing for a refined cornering technique. It’s more about braking into the corner and skidding out, as opposed to just broadsiding the entire way around with no brakes.

What were we riding? Purpose-built Royal Enfield FT411 flat trackers

Built from the Royal Enfield Himalayan (and hardly recognisable from the adventurer) the Royal Enfield FT411 is powered by the 411cc single-cylinder engine with around 24BHP, but tuned with an S&S kit for flat tracking with two gears, wide bars, and 19” wheels running low pressures for blasting around with maximum grip. 

Jumping on the FT411 for the first time, I found a superbly well-distributed weight with a flat, low and hard seat and no front brake.

Nothing intimidating when letting rip, the cutdown Himalayan is quite rudimentary yet predictable, with smooth power delivery giving you precisely what you want from a flat tracker for beginners on a changing slippy surface. Sounds exceptional with that S&S exhaust, too.

Let’s get sliding

Being a total beginner to flat track, it was quite the relief to be joined by a fellow group of journos all in the same boat; all flat track novices with varying degrees of experience on dirt.

First up, getting geared up. Wear anything protective that you have. MX gear, ADV gear, or even racing leathers.

Essential is over-ankle boots and a full-face lid. Provided by Dirt Craft and vital to the whole process is the steel-skid-shoe that’ll adorn your left boot, letting you get a bit of weight on your inside leg as you hurtle around the track.

Forget what you know about riding, start from the basics.

With our borrowed steel boots selected and fitted, we shuffled over to the bikes at the mini oval to get going. Our collective inexperience was matched with eager enthusiasm, leading to a hint of nervousness that lingered in the overcast stricken air.

Teaching us everything he knows from the basics and beyond, Gary Birtwistle is as superb a teacher as he is a flat track conquerer. We’d congregate around Gary over the day for more wisdom, breaking down each step in perfect detail for us to attempt. I found it’s all about positioning and having your weight in the right places, and just going for it.

Amongst the other tips, I was trying to sit upright and forward in the saddle, with raised arms to keep weight on the bars for the most control and feedback. Pushing the bike away and beneath you in a corner with your “crack on the crack”, whilst holding the throttle like a screwdriver not flat on. 

You’re almost sat ‘unmoved’ and always atop the bike, and the steel-skid-shoe comes in as you keep your left leg stretched out and planted in a corner, but back on the peg on the straights - otherwise you’d feel it in your hips (I felt it in my hips).

It all sounds easy enough but get on track and instinct soon starts to take precedent. The above tips forced me to go against everything my road-riding-brain was naively telling me to do, so having a top tutor for the day is vital to doing well.

With every lap it started really coming together, our fledgling group collectively picking up confidence and pace as the day progressed. 

Easy to ride, hard to master

Just as the clinking of trepidatious steel boots came to a brief halt for a guide on how to read the track surfaces, we paused for a coffee & a tasty lunch. Whilst covering a few pointers on corner entry & exit, there was the chance to quiz Gary on some flat track tips he’s picked up on the way. You could almost hear the clogs in our heads whirling with excitement from the new cornering tips just covered, eager to get out there and get going again.

Unfortunately for us - as Gary was previously explaining how to spot a slippy patch on track and how you may alter your racing line accordingly - the heavens opened. Our day was curtailed just as the group really started getting the hang of it. Although the track does benefit from a bit of watering, not that much - it was like a giant clay ice-rink!

All I can say is: get booked in.

The beauty of flat track racing is in its simplicity. It’s easy to go around an oval track, but absolutely an art to master doing it with any grace & decorum (and not like a reversing dump truck without wheels on). Plus it’s ridiculously addicting trying to perfect that slide, or get sliding in the first place.

Whether you’re looking to kick-start a career in flat track or not, this is a fantastic experience. As well as learning to push a bike in ways you’ve never thought possible, it’s a top day run by the brilliant guys & girls at Dirt Craft, who couldn’t be any nicer or more helpful as you ride in & slide out.

Royal Enfield’s FT411 is a brilliant place to start too - and speaking of brilliant starts, Gary has kicked off Royal Enfield’s inaugural 2021 DTRA season with a win! 

It just so happens that the DTRA championship returns to the same Greenfield Dirt Track for round 2 of the season this weekend (June 12th & 13th).

If you’re interested in a day at the Royal Enfield Slide School by Dirt Craft, there are dates coming up in Devon, Lincolnshire & Middlesbrough (with other locations throughout the year). It’s only £160/day for the full experience, so grab a few like-minded mates and go have an unreal day. 

Get more info, or book your slot, at dirtcraft.co.uk.

Huge thanks to Gary Birtwistle, Royal Enfield & Dirt Craft for having us!

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