OK so you want to have a go at trail riding, but don’t have a bike? What are your options?
Well you could just jump in and buy a bike and hope it’s the right one and that you enjoy it. Or, if you are in the UK you could book yourself into an Enduro Experience Day with the Dave Thorpe Off-Road Centre. For a smidge over £200 you get the chance to ride box fresh Honda CRF250Xs in stunning private forestry, taking instruction from experienced off-road riders. Sounds a better plan that an eBay gamble …
So with this in mind, Ride Expeditions own enduro monkey Julian loaded up the car and headed south for another day of dirt biking in the sun. It’s a tough gig …
GOODBYE WALES, HELLO SOMERSET!
We’ve ridden with the guys from Honda on a number of occasions in the past, from the epic Africa Twin Experience to previous enduro days on the CRFs. Each time it’s involved a trek into the Welsh Valleys and the achingly beautiful scenery at the base of the Brecon Beacons National Park. But it’s all change for 2017.
While the Africa Twin’s stay in Welsh Wales, the Enduro operation has crossed the water to Somerset and to it’s new base a few miles from Minehead. It’s a stunning part of the world, and with majority of the Dave Thorpe staff and racing operation based in Devon, it makes a lot more sense.
But the real beauty of the new venue is that it’s entirely based on private land. The team have joined up with a local land owner who just happens to own seven vast woodlands in the area, all of them offering fantastic off-road riding, from dense forestry to flat out stony trails. And being private, riders don’t even need a bike licence. Genius.
START YOUR ENGINES
With all the riders suitably attired in the correct gear, there’s a briefing from eight-time British Motocross Champion Stephen Sword, just to run through the basics of the day and explain the format. We choose our bike from the line of identical CRF250X and after a quick blat on the tarmac for those with licences – all but two – we stop at a clearing at the top of the first woodland.
Sword is joined by another former motocross rider Luke Hawkins and Events Manager Danny Sansom, and after a brief show of hands, the group is spilt into the more and the less experienced. Luke takes us with the more experienced group while Stephen and Danny take the off-road newbies for a gentler start of the day with far more tuition and coaching.
The morning passes quickly as we scoot round the vast forest, tackling tricky forest climbs, open going and rocky descents. The guys have set up a series of loops within the woodland and we traverse all of them in either direction. If you are a regular off road rider, there’s nothing here to tax you, but for the majority of the road-based riders, it’s plenty challenging enough. When we meet up with the newbies, a few of our group move across realising that they might have over played their experience and opt for a bit more guidance and help.
For lunch we head back to the pub where we started for a small buffer, nothing too heavy to sit in the stomach for the afternoon. Half an hour so later we’re back on the bikes and heading for another plantation on the other side of the valley from out morning location. The going is more taxing, with plenty of steep climbs and cross camber traverses through the dense coniferous forests. One hill defeats almost the entire group, with stalls and falls blocking the route and causing a comedy pile up at snail’s pace. Luke is on hand to retrieve the bikes and get then to the top, and with that we are back on the trails again.
All to soon it’s time to head home and although the more regular riders have more riding in us, the less frequent pilots are feeling the burn in arms, legs and bums. With a twist of the throttle and a few upshifts, we’re back at the truck, enthusing about the day and ready to go home. The bikes have been faultless, the weather unexpectedly wonderful and the riding fantastic.
What a cracking way to spend a day!
For the Honda Enduro Experience day we were joined by the Ride Expeditions Christmas competition, Freddie Weaver. Freddie entered our yuletide Promotion in conjunction with the Honda Adventure Centre simply by sending his details to us.
“ It was literally the easiest competition I’ve ever entered,” says Freddie as we meet up in the car park at the start of the day.
Despite his relative youth in terms of most adventure riders, Freddie is no stranger to Adventure motorcycling, having ridden his BMW across Bolivia and toured northern India on Royal Enfield. He’s joined by his mate Alex for the day, and although both are good riders, neither has spent much time on a dirt bike. Their smiles are a mixture of excitement and trepidation as they kit up in the top of the range Fox gear that is all part of deal for the day. Both need informing that the knee pads go on the inside of their riding jeans – great start guys …
We caught up with Freddy and Alex at the end of the day, muddy but grinning from ear to ear.
“It’s been an absolutely awesome day – great fun but absolutely exhausting. I haven’t dome much off –road before but nothing like a full day. I started in the more experienced group but that was maybe a bit optimistic! It was an amazing experience – I had really good tuition from Stephen and Danny to help me throughout the day and they gave us all plenty of tips to make things easier. It definitely makes me want to do more of this type of riding. I need to get my self a bike – and maybe a forest too!”
So Who’s this for?
With quite so much land at their disposal, Danny and the team can plan the day and the terrain covered to fit with the experience of the group. As the group we joined varied from little experience to a bit of off-road time, the route and the trails were kept to the manageable end of the spectrum. If you have a group of seasoned off-roaders, they’ll be happy to take you places that will have you sweating like a fat lad in a sauna as soon as you hit the dirt. You want hard – they got hard.
THE OFF-ROAD NEWBIE
Clare had travelled from Portsmouth for the day in Devon. As a relative novice to almost all things two wheeled, she’s only recently taken here CBT and hadn’t yet bought a bike.
“ I don’t really know what type of bike riding I want to do, so I want to try a few different types before I buy anything. I don’t really want to road ride and I’ve recently tried motocross, so I thought I’d also like to try some off road too, this was the ideal starting point for a complete beginner.
“The tuition has been great – I’ve been lucky today as Danny took me and another novice so we had almost one to one tuition. There’s been plenty of opportunity to ask questions and ride at our own pace without any pressure from more experienced riders.
“I really feel that I was able to progress throughout the day and became more confident. I tend to feel that bikes are always too big for me, but now I feel far happier with the bike – it’s still a bit tall for me but I’m not intimidated by that after having proper tuition from the guys here – it’s been a great day.”
THE MAIN MAN
As the man on the ground taking charge of the riding on the day, Stephen Sword wad as calm and professional as he always was in his racing days – he’s clearly enjoying his role with Dave Thorpe’s team. We asked him about the new venue.
“The Welsh venue has been fantastic for us and we’ve still got the Africa Twin venue up near Merthyr Tydfil, but we are looking to move the whole operation over to this part of the world. We’re based just over an hour away from the Exmoor venue here. So the travelling will be far easier, and we’ve got something quite unique here with the land we can use.
This is only our third event here, so we’ve still got lots of work to developing the other forestry areas – it’s really exciting because there is so much potential here in terms of the riding and the area we’ve got to choose from. The only thing we are lacking is a suitable motocross circuit that we has over in Wales, but we’re speaking to local clubs to get that in place so tat we can run that side of the training too. With reduced operating cost we can bring down the costs to the customer, which is always a good thing.
“We tend to get a lot of road bike riders rather than existing off-road riders. That forms about 80% of our client base and many of them are regulars, they come half a dozen times a year – they don’t want to but a bike, just come here to get their off-road fix.
“We can tailor for any level of rider, but if they haven’t ridden at all we will steer them towards a track-based day so that they can learn in a controlled environment and do lots of repetition. People tend to learn more that way.
“This type of terrain can be difficult f you are still learning how to ride a bike, and as people get tire it becomes even more so, so we tend to steer the complete riding novices to another course and the off-road novices come here. It’s a tiring day if you are not used to it, so those new to the dirt will be going home happy tired today!”
A GRAND DAY OUT
In reality, the clients that the Dave Off-Road Centre get tend to be guys that don’t have a dirt bike currently. Some are trying it out, some just getting a regular dirt fix and who return three of four times a year. And for those guys, the day can’t be faulted.
However, as something like a stag-do or a weekend away for a group of existing off-roaders it makes a lot of sense too. They provide bikes, the kit and the stunning riding, and the end of the day you can go out on the beers in Minehead leaving the cleaning to Danny and the team.
For £225 , that sounds infinitely better Paintballing ..
For more information or to book – click here
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