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IAM RoadSmart

Not all roads are black

Have you ever considered developing your off road riding skills? The club were due to travel to Spain for our first off roading trip at the end of March, but obviously cancelled due to the current restrictions. So I thought I would share my experience of moving off the black stuff and onto the green lanes of Surrey and Sussex last year. So often we see the marketing pictures and You tube videos, well, this is my warts and all account of me stumbling my way into trail riding, sometimes literally!

Over the last couple of years I have tried off roading twice, on a DRZ400 through the rainforest in Australia and then a day off roading in Spain on a CRF250. Both great fun but it was clear I had no idea what I was doing and frankly glad to end the day in one piece. How could I do this in this country as these holidays are few and far between. So last year I bought an old BMW F650 and decided to have a go.

I joined the Trail Riders Fellowship ( TRF ) which is an organisation dedicated to keeping ‘Green Lanes’ open in the UK. These are Byways open to all Traffic ( BOATS ) and Unclassified Roads (UCRs). My first experience was riding with experienced off road rider Mark Russell on the Surrey lanes in the late summer last year. I soon discovered my road riding skills were not only useless, but in fact unhelpful, and I soon made a few unscheduled dismounts. Here I learned my first important lesson, ride a bike you don’t mind dropping!. Fortunately, parts for my F650 are cheap and plentiful. Then as I picked myself up I learnt my second important lesson. Only ride a bike off road you can pick up while sliding about in mud, and be able to do so a few times. This is not defeatest thinking, just the reality of being new to off roading. This I could do, just about, but soon realised it would be a lot easier riding a smaller 250cc. This has also been told to me several times by other trail riders. But I want to be able to ride to my destination rather than using a van and anyway, its the bike I have so I just had to get on with it.

Anyhow, back to my first ride with Mark. It was good fun but to be honest I was feeling knackered and stressed, not used to being unskilled on a motorbike. Then, nearly back home, Mark suggested a small river crossing near Ockley. Outwardly, I feigned enthusiasm, inwardly I groaned with smatterings of fear bubbling up. We arrived at the crossing and I looked at the deep mud and ruts leading out of the river ( well, small stream really ) and had serious doubts. Mark, on his KTM, led the way, effortlessly, and came back to help me. So off I went, across the water fine, then as I came up the bank and into the mud, my back end started fishtailing and I came to rest on the side of the lane. Mark helped me out of the mud and I set off again with Mark shouting ‘get up on the pegs’ as I waddled my way out of the mud. Lesson number 3 learnt, tyres are everything off road. I had Metzler Tourance on my F650, fine for light gravel but that’s about it. Sussex Mud 1 : Metzler Tourance 0.

After this experience I realised I needed to change my tyres and decided to go for Continintal Twinduro TKC80s and they were reported to be good on the road and reasonable off road.

Mark was great in showing me how to change tyres and then we went back out again to tackle the trails. But I hit the same problem of having no idea what I was doing. Intially I was fine, and was pleased as I made a steep hill climb on chalk confidently. But then riding straight into a large bomb hole full of water at speed I flew out the other end and ended up face down on the trail again. This really knocked my confidence and by the time we stopped at a garage later I decided I needed to call it a day. Perhaps this trail riding wasn’t for me.

But then the Surrey TRF offred a newbie run on a saturday morning so I went for it. We gathered at Rykas and one look at the others on their trail bikes and I knew I was most definitely at the bottom of the food chain. The riders who identified themselves as beginners then starting talking about motocross and ‘that time I was riding in Morocco’… heart sank. They were really friendly, but I was soon at the back of the group and not long after stuck in the mud. To make matters worse I hadn’t realised I had bent the rear brake lever so kept stalling. I waved the group on and one other rider stayed back so we could effect repairs. The two of us then stayed on easy trails although the final descent in Shere down a wet chalky and very steep hill with ruts through it was hard going. By the time we reached Newlands Corner I was knackered. The afternoon was a ride with two other competent riders and we did some challenging ( well, they were for me ) rocky sections and some sand. I left them at this point and limped home. Apart from a hot bath, clearly training was needed.

In my next installment, find out what happens when I go to Wales to train at Sweetlamb training centre and go out again with the Sussex TRF.