Learning to ride off road*

I knew I wanted to learn to ride off road in preparation for my trip to India (little did I know at the time that the journey to India will be 99.9% tarmac). I spent a few months lurking on various forums and reading reviews of countless bikes. I visited a few bike shops looking at off road bikes and stumbled on a bike that was in for a service at High Peak Motorcycles in New Mills – the owner of the garage said the bike was currently for sale, that he knew the owner well and that the shop had always looked after it. A week later, it was mine – a 2003 Suzuki DRZ 400s. Already prepared for off roading, with aftermarket Acerbis plastic bodywork, protective guards on the handle bars and a metal bash plate to protect the engine. It also had the added benefit of having all the original Suzuki bodywork, in protective bags and boxes, just in case I wanted to return it to a road bike. In fact, the bodywork is still in the same bags and boxes in the garage.

DRZ 400 off road DRZ 400 road bits

Thanks to the wonders of the modern world I can pin point the start of my off road career – 5th August 2012. I arranged to meet up with some lads from the ABR forum at a cafe in the Peak district. I was clueless. Yes I had an off road bike, but I had none of the right gear, and knew nothing about riding off road. I’m the rider in front for the first minute or so of this clip – virgin off roader – wearing road boots, road trousers, road jacket and road gloves – I think I’m even wearing a fleece in case it gets cold.

I fell off on the first trail and managed to brake my ribs – no, I had no idea about body armour. I dropped the bike riding over a stream over concrete – managed to drown my iPhone and smash my Sat Nav at the same time. In fact I lost count of the number of times I fell off that day, but I do remember I decided to call it a day when I crashed on one lane – I was riding in a rut, the bike jumped from one rut to another (quite a difficult thing to do!) and then wheelied into, and onto a dry stone wall. The bike was left balanced on top of the wall and I was on my knees. Knackered.

Undeterred, I bought some gear (a bit at a time; body armour, new helmet first, some army surplus boots). Crucially I booked a day’s off road tuition with Gary at Adventure Bike Warehouse. A day spent learning the basics; handling the bike, slow speed manoeuvres, braking, body positioning, picking up the bike has proved invaluable. Yes I still fell off a lot (although less and less as time goes by) and yes I was always the slowest rider in the group – but it gave me the confidence and the basic skills to tackle most trails.

IMG_1875-small IMG_1838-small

Over the last two years I’ve had a ball. Maybe only 6 -10 ride outs a year (most publicised on the ABR forum, some on the TRF forum, some just arranged by word of mouth), a few weekends away and a newer more powerful bike in 2014. OK, I’m still not the fastest. OK, I still fall off from time to time. OK, I’m not a group leader. But I’m good enough – good enough to tackle any trail, and crucially good enough to ride the 0.1% of roads that aren’t tarmacked between Manchester and Manali.


[* Technically, it isn’t ‘off road’ all of the experience above was had on lanes and trails which are technically roads. For more info, take a look at the Trail Riders Fellowship website. Join the TRF kids – they are fighting to keep green lanes open for us all to enjoy]




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