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.
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.
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]