So where do you go if you want to try off road riding for the first time? Or maybe you need to take your enduro riding to the next level? Perhaps you just want to learn to ride somewhere it doesn’t hurt when you fall off. If you live in the UK, then the Yamaha Off-Road Experience is the place to do it.
When Ride Expeditions wanted to test the 2017 WRF450, we headed straight up to Llanidloes in mid Wales to do just that. We joined a party of guys from the world championship winning Mercedes Formula 1 team who had booked themselves a well-deserved away day messing around on bikes. With a range of abilities from seasoned regulars that bought up their own KTMs to road riders that had never set a foot off-road, it’s a pretty standard party for the Off-Road Experience and the lads were looking forward to a day on the Welsh hills.
Heading up the training today is Dylan, one of the Jones dynasty that has been part of the British enduro scene for decades. Geraint – the 10-time British enduro champion that set up the facility, is on hand but today he’s wrangling sheep on the vast farm rather than riding bikes. Dylan is assisted by John Begley and Kev Wallace, both ex-military men with years of off road and training experience.
First part of the day if for everyone to get kitted up. For some it’s familiar territory, for the newbies it’s more like fancy dress as they put on the Centre’s motocross jeans and Alpinestars for the first time. Suitably dressed, Kev takes the group through the basics – how to start the bike, basic riding position and an essential safety briefing. One of the best bits of information comes in the advice of how to pick up a dropped bike – something that comes in handy for as few throughout the day. There’s a range of bikes to choose from, between the novice friendly TTRs right up to the fiery WRF450. But for the F1 boys, it’s WRF250 all round.
After the briefing, the bikes are fired up and all the group are asked to ride out of the farm yard, across a wooden bridge and back again. It’s as much about the riders familiarising themselves with the bikes as it is for the instructors to see whether there are any real beginners in the party.
With everyone back unscathed and grinning madly, Dylan leads us out of the yard again, following a trail up the steep sides of the valley before breaking out onto open farmland. The sheep keep on grazing as the fleet of WRF250s blats past, the more experience boys heading to the front and giving it a handful over the shaly track we are following.
Soon we dive down off the hill towards the forestry where most of our riding will be. It’s narrow and tricky single trail most of the time with the occasional bit of fire road to stretch the legs. If the weather had been more usual, then it might have been harder work, but the unseasonably mild weather has left the trails relatively dry and easy – ideal for the less experienced.
We stop for a breather and a chat as the novices shake out their arms from holding on to the bars far too tight. Dylan dispenses a little more advice on how to make things a bit easier but with everyone grinning and chatting excitedly about the bikes and the trails, the talk is kept to a minimum. We set off again. With a few more tricky trails, slowly building the confidence of those who are new to all this and allowing the better riders to tackle the trails with a bit more gusto.
BACK TO SCHOOL
After a while we head into open country and to a vast army firing range. Dylan goes on ahead to ensure the guns are not in use today and then we head to the side of the open area for the more detailed training.
Kev takes the group through from the very basics of how and why to stand, how to use body position to control the bike. We’re sent out onto the motocross loop to show what we can do before regrouping to break down what we are doing wrong! Between Dylan and Kev, the finer points of riding effectively off-road are expertly explained and demonstrated, covering everything from cornering to power sliding. Vic does most of the talking and Dylan does the demonstrating on his crisp enduro spec YZ250.
The lads are allowed to give it all a try and there’s a noticeably step up in confidence and competence from everyone. OK there’s not going to be an ISDE Gold medal, but as a group, the training has improved us all.
We split into two groups to give the faster boys some harder stuff while the novices continue to get the hang of the terrain and the bikes. After an hour or so, we head back to the farm for lunch, taking some more cracking trails through the forestry – it’s a bit like the enjoyable bits of the Welsh 2 Day Enduro compressed into one trail ride.
After refreshments we head back out, and split into two groups again, each time taking on tougher sections. The instruction is kept to a minimum; it’s more about having fun on the bikes. We meet up with the other group to ride a great little loop within the dense forestry, before setting out for the rest of the afternoon. As the light fades we take the trail back over the top of the hill and drop down into the farmyard, following the sheep back home.
As the guys take of their kit, its big smiles all round as they recount the high points of the day and laugh about the handful of crashes that have occurred out in the forest. This is a great way to spend the day and you can see it on everybody’s faces. Thoroughly recommended.
In the novice camp, Stephen Lord had never ridden off road before coming to Wales. His normal ride is a BMW R90, so taking on a Yamaha WRF250 in quite challenging terrain was a big leap of faith. Yet at the end of the day he’d been throughly converted to the dark side.
“The bike took a bit of getting used to – just how much it moved around underneath you. The tuition was really fantastic too – it’s nice to come somewhere that they are considerate of people who haven’t ridden very much and take the time to teach you properly.
“I had a bit of an off that bashed my confidence a bit, but I slowly got it back together and really enjoyed it.
“I loved the bike – it was super. I never really realised just how much these bikes do for you and how advanced they are now. It was fantastic – I’ll definitely be back.
Leo Stephens came to the Yamaha Off-Road Experience with his work colleagues as one of the more experienced riders in the Mercedes F1 group. In the garage back home there’s a KTM and he’s a regular enduro rider.
“My colleague had been here a couple of times and really enjoyed it, so he organised a day for all of us to come up. It’s been a really good way to end the F1 season to have all the lads together.
‘The bikes are just brilliant. The tutors are sound, really helpful and gave us good pointers on the track a. If you’ve not done anything like this before they give you all the tuition you need. Splitting into two groups takes the pressure of those who are just learning and allow the faster guys to just plough on and get stuck in
“And the setting is just awesome – it’s the best place I’ve been riding – a fantastic day all round and really good value.”
THE MAIN MAN
As the man on the ground at the Yamaha Off Road Experience, Dylan Jones is continuing the work started by his father Geraint.
“The centre started back in 1994 and we’ve been with Yamaha all the way through – that’s nearly 23 years with them. It’s great that we now have the totally redesigned WRF250 for customers to ride. We have many repeat customers so it gives them a chance to try the new machines, and it also gives that chance to riders who are considering moving over to a Yamaha to try out the bikes before putting down the cash. It also means they can try both 250 and 450 if they are uncertain which one will be the right one for them.
“For the UK market the 250 is more popular just by nature of the terrain and events in this country. Most people have come to the conclusion that for most situations in this country a 450 is just a bit too much.
“In terms of our day-to-day customers, we can go from those who have never ridden before right up to seasoned off-road boys. The majority are road riders, groups of friends who are looking for a fun day out and want to come and experience off-road riding. Like today you get groups with all abilities with some that have their own bikes to others who have never ventured onto mud. If everybody is experienced we can do an advanced day, the Off-Road Plus option.
“Our main season is April through to mid November, and then over the winter we run enduro training schools for more experienced riders, generally on their own bikes. This allows people to improve their skills with proper tuition.
“Most of all, we aim for people to leave having enjoyed themselves. Looking at the lads today, I think we’ve done our job.”
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