Biking in Wet Wales.
A group of mates take a wet weekend in Wales to learn to ride off road.
Welsh rain always seems, not just more persistent, but somehow wetter than the rest of the UK. It penetrates even the best of waterproof clothing, trickles down the back of your neck and then takes longer than average to dry out.
I have recently had first hand experience of this when five pals and myself completed a two day B.M.W. off road riding school run by Paris Dakar hero, Simon Pavey, in the Brecon Beacons. In the footsteps of Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman, we swapped four wheels for two in an attempt to improve both out motor cycling skills and our off road techniques. This cross dressing amongst the staff of Land Rover World is not unusual. Editor John Carroll has a house full of Harley's and fellow photographer, Wayne Mitchelson has a lovely KTM 600 Rally Raid bike. I nervously potter round on a 750 Cagiva Elefant.
After a spot of form filling and gear sorting we were introduced to our instructor for the course, Tony Woodhome, the most flexible fifty something bloke I have ever met. Tony started us off with some basic stretching routines, then introduced us to our bikes. Our group favoured the Dakar GS 650 singles. These are a fairly light bike which, as we were going to drop them a fair bit, would be easier to pick up. Two retired Paras on the same course took the much bigger GS1200’s, but they were real men!
I’ve had the pleasure of teaching a few people how to drive Land Rovers off road and enjoyed the experience. It got me to think about why I was doing a certain manoeuvre in a certain way and then how best to explain that to someone more used to driving a normal car on tarmac. Tony was doing the same with us on the bikes. We started by just riding them around a gravel car park to get the feel of the bike and where the controls were. Practised braking on a gravel surface and turning in tighter and tighter circles, stood up on the pegs to build confidence. It was all very, very, different to road riding, but with practise we cracked it albeit with a few tumbles.
Now nicely soaked to the skin it was time to head off into the woods and learn how to stay on, when the terrain is doing it’s best to throw you off. It was interesting to see just how much riding had in common with driving. The first discipline was a failed hill climb. Tricky on two wheels and minus a reverse gear. Fortunately the hill was nothing like as steep as you would attempt in a Land Rover. It his cockney twang Tony advised us to “Use graver-ee as your friend’. So you stall, sit there and assess the situation, then dismount on the uphill side and using a combination of clutch slip and front brake inch the bike around until it is facing roughly down hill. Restart the engine, hop on and ride down. Sounds simple enough, but cold wet and bruised from a few previous tumbles it took a few goes before we could say we’d cracked it. We then progressed to using momentum to carry you over the brow of a hill. Just as in a Land Rover, get enough speed up to crest the brow, but not so fast that you are out of control and can’t stop if there is a hazard ahead.
Next it was ruts. In a Land Rover you’re either in them or out of them. Too deep and you’re stuck, too wide apart and you can’t decide which rut to drop your wheels into. Sod’s law it will be the rut that gets deeper and muddier. On two wheels you have to throw balance into the equation and realise that a boulder in the rut will probably have you off. It was in such a rut that I had a major off. I had been doing well. Managed to balance and stay in a fairly wide rut, until I hat a big wet boulder which seemed to launch me and the bike into a tree. The plastic headlight cowling buckled and I was turfed off into a puddle, much to amusement of my mates. Fortunately it was only my pride that was damaged and the rest of the day was spent riding the trails and practising what we had been taught.
Back at the caravan we had the opportunity to ride any of the bikes back to the Industrial Estate where the course is based, some 10 miles away. In the rush for GS 1200’s I missed out. Simon Pavey noticed my quivering bottom lip and offered me his very own GS 1200 with all the kit on. The difference was like stepping out of a Series Land Rover and into a new Range Rover. Left me thinking that if I sold this and stuck that on ebay I just might be able to get one of my own, then I could fall off in even more spectacular style.
Copyright Toby Savage 2.10.2006