A motorcycle parked in front of a tent on a pleasant green campsite

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Off Road Bumble-Foolery

Ride Date 20 June 2020

There remains a yawning chasm betwixt my ego and my ability. What is worse is I still choose to ignore this. 

I have an "Adventure" motorcycle. I wish to use the off-roading abilities of said adventure motorcycle. I believe doing so will improve my riding skills and prepare me for forthcoming trips that may lead me to the back of beyond where those off road skills will be put to use.

The reality?

I have a road bike with off road styling and a modicum of gentle gravel track capability. I have next to zero off road experience and I am at best an average road rider. I fundamentally lack the braveness and balls required to a) ride off road properly and b) actually take on a trip where I might find myself in the back of beyond. 

Never-the-less I'm not going to let the reality of this situation interfere with my ill-founded dreams of being a Paris-Dakar style motorcyclist cruising over sand dunes and tackling gnarly rock-strewn mountain trails! No, all I need is practice.

In search of practice I've been scouring online maps to find legal trails on which I can pretend I am indeed a hero without fear of having the motorcycle impounded or even encountering the firm but fair wrath of an irate farmer. Aha! There's a bona-fide legal "Byway Open to All Traffic" (BOAT) in Haslingden, not too far from home. The sun is up, the day is mine so I'm off! 

I arrive at said B.O.A.T. with keenness in my heart. My first problem is to get between 2 small lumps of rock. In my head I would lighten the front with a flick of the throttle and bounce over them. I delicately paddle between.

I gingerly ride along the narrow track, bouncing over the stones for 50 metres till I am stopped once more. There's a hump across the path, built to divert rainwater into the sides thus preventing the path from washing out. Hmmm. It's rather big. I'm not sure I have enough ground clearance. 

Once again I paddle, legs out, feathering the clutch and get the front wheel over. I have just, JUST *JUST* enough clearance to get over it. Phew. 

Watching this is a dog walker. I stop to let him pass, mostly out of courtesy, yet also out of fear in case I hit a stone and steer right into them. The conversation goes roughly as follows.

"I don't see many bikes like that down here, it's usually off roaders"
*thinking* Cheeky swine, this *IS* and off roader
"No, well this is classed as sort of an off roader, adventure bikes they call 'em"
"Yeah I know, I do a lot of 4x4, I'm familiar with them. Still, seems a bit big and heavy for this trail"
"Oh right"
*thinking* Dammit he knows his stuff
"Mostly up here it's crossers, 250s, 400s that sort of thing. I've seen a Landy struggle up here once"
*thinking* Crap, if a Land Rover struggles I've no hope. But I am a hero, I'll be fine.
"Oh OK, well I'll carry on, I should be fine"
"OK, well enjoy it, it's a lovely day"

He walks away as panic starts to settle in. No, no, I am if nothing else ingenious and determined and I am here to learn. Crossers, PFFFT!

The track starts to head downhill. OK. The stones become small boulders, pushing the wheels this way and that. I hate it because if the front or rear even twitch on the road then it's a very clear sign I'm at the edge of grip. I have limited gravel experience and I am trying, desperately trying, to learn to accept this movement, to gain the understanding that is is OK, to become comfortable with these unusual sensations.

As the track steepens there's another big hump. This hump is bigger and I'm fairly sure I don't have the ground clearance. The side of this now narrow track has big boulders and thick hardy grass. I could, perhaps, maybe just squeeze by? I stop to assess the situation. It's steepish and beyond this hump it gets steeper, more rocky and I can see further down are more large humps. 

Aaaah. Right. Yes. It's at about this point my ego crashes into reality. 

If I were on a lightweight 50cc genuine off-roader (or a push bike) I might have been able to paddle my way down and get over the humps. I am however aboard a 500cc lump weighing over 200kg (with accessories) with insufficient ground clearance. If I were a genuine Paris-Daker rider even with this limited machinery I could skim the humps but I am a now somewhat scared 48 year old road rider worried about broken bones and how my bent and broken motorcycle would be recovered.

Some would say I chickened out. I would say "I'm not quite ready for this, I need (much) more practice. Discretion is the better part of valour. Ahem."

This wise, sensible, reasonable decision is not without its own minor problem. Well, problems, plural. Firstly I might have the embarrassment of passing by that dog walker and having to swallow the last remnants of my shattered pride. More pressingly now though I have to work out how to turn the bike around.

I am facing downhill. The track is curved convexly, high in the middle sloping down to the sides. The sides are where rainwater washes down leading to exposed boulders then rising steeply in grass to stone walls. The track is narrow, a little wider than my motorcycle is long. I am it seems trapped.

I can do this. I shall point the front into the "gutter" at the side. Heave the bike back until the rear is in the opposite "gutter". Repeat until I am facing uphill then ride away. A 51 point turn in a very narrow road if you will. I'll be fine.

Front wheel into the "gutter". Heave. HEAVE GgggggnnngNNNNGGGgRRRRR! HEAVE! No. 
Remove helmet and jacket, take a breather. 
Heave. HEAVE GgggggnnngNNNNGGGgRRRRR! No. 
Stop, catch breath, think, move bars, remove stone behind rear wheel. 
Heave. HEAVE GgggggnnngNNNNGGGgRRRRR! No. 
Stop, catch breath, start to shake with exertion, panic some more. 


I wonder how much a nearly new 125 trail bike is? Mind you there's very few on the market these days. CLR250? I really miss that CLR1215 City Fly I had, I should have kept that really, but then the CBF125 has been great. I wonder if I could have gotten the CBF125 down here? It is a shame Honda haven't made an adventure version of the CBF125. Ooooh imagine that! 

It's funny what you think about when you're stuck. And the panic is rising.

I suppose I should wait for some walkers to come along, they could help. Be rather embarrassing though wouldn't it. Urgh, I feel queezy thinking about that, more queezy as I already feel somewhat turgid after straining myself. No Ren, pull yourself together man, you got yourself into this ridiculous pickle and you need to learn to get yourself out of it too. You can't ask the world for help you have to help yourself. Mind you I'd need a lot of help if I'd crashed halfway down this hill. FOCUS boy focus.

HEAVE! HEAVE!! Grrnnng! HEAVE! GRrrrnrnnnrGGGGHH! Nope. Poop.

Oh yeah. I am a dunce of the highest order. A fool among fools. An idiot extraordinaire. 

The bike is already back on the side stand while I rest. The ground is plenty firm enough. I heave the bike into myself and with the additional slope of the hill it is but a minor effort to spin all 200+kg around on the stand. I am facing uphill, I am facing in the required direction. Success! Still, I shall berate myself for not thinking of this sooner, much sooner. Pillock.

Be helmeted and kitted up I ride without issue back to the sweet, smooth, firm, flat tarmac. I do not pass the dog walker, I have not shamed myself with the help of passers by, my motorcycle is free of damage and I am, although rather shaken, uninjured. 

On my return journey I have a meeting with my internal executive team to discuss the recent events. I might possibly perhaps need to accept at the age of 48 if I am not a heroic Paris-Dakar world travelled gnarly off road guru by now it is unlikely that I am to become one in this lifetime. However. One shall continue to seek out off-road experiences because it is not too late to learn new skills and there is the added bonus of exploring, which I enjoy. 

It is also acceptable to say "Nope! That is beyond my bravery/skill level/fear of injury/fear of damaging the bike." There, my ego has been massaged back from the brink.

You might ask why there's no images to illustrate my foolish expedition. The use of a camera was not on my mind during those moments. Sorry.

If you run an off-road training school... nah, forget it, there's no hope. Contact ren@bikesandtravels.com

Reader's Comments

Upt'North said :-
Thanks for the titter Ed, I'm laughing with ya not at ya. Well, a little bit at ya.
Off road skills don't come easy and mistakes are painful in more ways than one.
We used to ride 250 Kwak'ers and 400 Honda's. The XR400's were fabulous machines but the Kawasaki 250's were just overweight road bikes with no real off road ability, unless your surname is Lampkin.
Can't remember the model of Kawasaki but it would be a mid nineties trail bike in black and purple much like your body after riding one.
The "off roaders" were responsible for more I'll health retirements than the Toxteth riots.
Enthusiasm over Ability is never good, but get it right and it can be a good day out.
01/07/2020 10:02:08 UTC
Ren - The Ed¹ said :-
Cheers Upt'. I'll keep on practising and one day I might even succeed in being average on hard-packed gravel. In the meantime - where have all the on/off road 125s gone? Honda lists nothing. Suzuki, nope. Kawasaki, nothing and the UK website is AWFUL to use. Yamaha, zip. Keeway offer the TX125 which looks OK and the price is good. You can get competition 125 sans lights and clocks etc. There's very little on the used market too these days.
01/07/2020 12:31:40 UTC
CrazyFrog said :-
A word to the wise - don't ever go on your own, particularly if you are a beginner. Imagine being in some out of the way place, lying half way down a scree slope, trapped by your bike, obscured by bushes and injured. Unable to reach your mobile because it's in your pocket and you are trapped by the bike and possibly bleeding profusely or with broken limbs. Doesn't bear thinking about does it?

My only off road experience comes from doing some green lanes on my little VanVan 125, with a similarly mounted group of people, which was fun. Having done that, I went on a trail riding weekend with the TRF on my DR350. The DR350 is by no means a heavy bike, but by the end of the 1st day, I'd picked it up so many times that my arms had turned to jelly. On the Sunday, which was meant to be another full day, I wimped out at lunchtime as I was totally exhausted.

Lessons learned - I had just about the biggest, heaviest bike in the group - most others were riding CRF230's or Yamaha Serrows. I was also the only one (out of perhaps 50 odd) who rode to the event carrying all camping gear, everybody else trailered or vanned their bikes to the event. On the Saturday evening a lot of people removed chains and wheels from bikes so they could clean and grease the chain, wheel and suspension bearings. It was at this point that I decided off roading wasn't for me, and I retired to the pub and left the bike to look after itself. I'm glad I tried it though - definitely an experience.

The main thing I remember from the TRF event was the constantly repeated advice to never venture off road on your own...
01/07/2020 12:42:44 UTC
Ren - The Ed¹ said :-
It's funny you mentioned that CrazyFrog. While scouring the net for trails I saw a forum comment along the same lines - "Don't go on your own!" At first it seemed somewhat overprotective and nanny state. I reflected on it later though and there is a great deal of wisdom in these words.

On a gravel farm track and a warm day when the walkers are about then being alone would be an acceptable risk to myself. Anything more gnarly than this would cause me to rethink. It is part of the reason I chose to stop and consider my actions on the day above. I had mistakenly assumed a genuine "BOAT" would be a wide smooth track and therefore "safe". I was wrong.

In terms of riding with others, I fear I may struggle. As you suggest the TRF are way more off-road than my skills and machinery allow. I don't personally know anyone in my locale with similar machinery and a similar lack of skill.
01/07/2020 01:44:27 UTC
Upt'North said :-
Ed, I know you are a fan of the tiddler, the sprats of motorcycles and there's nothing wrong with that, indeed many would argue there is very much right about said sprats.
BUT, off road on a 125 would be very limiting. IMO anyway.
I think any bike labelled as Adventure is probably going to be too heavy and cumbersome for such Tom Foolery, but the problem with the likes of XR400's is the price and what they've done before. Many say that a little in reserve can get you out of trouble, although it's probably nonsense, but off road a little to carry you over steep rises and being able to lift the front wheel easily over rocks etc is very handy. Also when you get it horribly wrong bikes like these bounce well.
I would think it is almost guaranteed that anyone starting off on the green lanes etc will fall off on a regular basis, I certainly wouldn't use an expensive to repair road bike. It'd spoil the fun.
01/07/2020 04:33:55 UTC
Bill said :-
You don't need an enduro bike to trail ride but lack of experience unsuitable tyres and being on your own is a bad combination. I have ridden off road or on trails since childhood but I would not venture down an unknown BOAT on my own. My trail bike is a well sorted Honda crf230 but even as light as it is I have been trapped under it in a position were I could not lift it off unaided. You have to use common sense and also remember if your going down you may have to come back up the same route.if you contact your local trf most have beginners rides and big bike rides.They also have the local knowledge to take you somewhere suitable for you and the machine. It's a pity you are not more local as I could take you on some beginner routes in my area.if my scooter can make it I am sure your adventure bike can.
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01/07/2020 10:12:15 UTC
Bill said :-
But some trails you wouldn't want to try as beginner or on your own
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01/07/2020 10:18:42 UTC
Ren - The Ed¹ said :-
I'm quite fancying the idea of an off road adventure scoot Bill! With them little wheels and road tyres that must be hilarious... ish. How'd you get on getting out of that muddy mess?

Before you get carried away I'm not presently in the market for an off-roader or indeed any other bikes, simply because I don't have anywhere to put another bike. But out of academic curiosity I did an autotrader search of 30 miles around my postcode. The first off road style bike I came across price-wise was a Keeway TX125 at £1900. There's a load of Chinese 125s then and the first 250 is a 2004 XR250 with 17k on the clock and faded red paintwork for £2,500.

Sheeez! I guess off-roaders hold their value and are not "in vogue" presently. Or is it a North-West thing? Is it an insurance thing as these things are prone to going missing? I was kind of expecting loads of £1500 to £2000 fair condition 250s and 400s.
02/07/2020 07:54:08 UTC
Upt'North said :-
I had a quick look out of curiosity yesterday Ed, prices are steep, agreed. Plus unless you knew the bikes history why wud ya.
I wonder if this damn bug will see lots of bikes coming on the market, if so there might be a price correction. Its about time the price of Ferrous Oxide and Rubbish came down a bit.
I think you can put Sharon's fame down to pure unashamed sexism, although she is obviously the brains of the operation, and the beauty and the common sense and the boss, BUT you're in charge, right. Transgender is a big thing at the moment Ed, apparently, although not locally as far as I've seen; that could be your door into fame and fortune.
Get done like a randy dog and wear a frock, you don't even have to change the logo, Bikes and Transgenderists. You'd be batty not to. You can have that idea for nothing Ed. The image I have in my head is rather disturbing.
02/07/2020 09:11:09 UTC
CrazyFrog said :-
An alternative is to go to one of the many off road schools which operate. They provide the bike and enough basic instruction to get you going and give you a bit of confidence. It's also a great way of dipping your toe and finding out if it's for you without breaking the bank by buying a bike. I'm sure Sharon will get you a days course for your next birthday or Xmas, if you say pretty please....
02/07/2020 09:49:39 UTC
Ren - The Ed¹ said :-
I'm not quite there for transgender Upt', but as for wearing a frock and sexy lingerie, well, they call me Renée at weekends...

There's a company locally I'm familiar with who do off-road experience days. Sharon best be saving up tho CrazyFrog.

02/07/2020 12:22:08 UTC
Bob said :-
Just get a KLX250 and go for it :o)
02/07/2020 12:49:57 UTC
Upt'North said :-
Saw one or two KLX's yesterday Bob, they look a very handy bike.
But I still wouldn't want to throw anything that good up a stoney trail. But I suppose that is the point of them.
02/07/2020 01:13:23 UTC
Bill said :-
The tyres are Heidenau K60 on the scoot they are a 50/50 tyre and very capable for anywhere you would take the scoot a Yamaha BWS 125 they have a big following in USA known as a Zuma.
To get out the mud that's why you ride with friends and have a comparatively light crf 230. Once they finish laughing they usually help. You never know how deep the mud is and someone has to go first.
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02/07/2020 02:26:37 UTC
Ren - The Ed¹ said :-
There's a lot of merit in the KLX250 Bob, particularly as I now know how to service the motor having done Sharon's. It seems a good motor so far too. The only downside is, well, you know, it's just not Honda enough. Mind you the list price is £750 less than the Honda. And more ground clearance than the Honda. And 8kg lighter. The seat height is taller and I am a short-ass. Meh, it's all irrelevant, I have nowhere to put another bike so SHHH!

You do have a selection of great pics Bill! Yet having seen these I'm feeling less convinced regarding your offer to take me off-roading. By the looks of it I'm going to need scuba gear not motorcycle gear. I'm not sure they do a snorkel kit for my 500 either.
03/07/2020 08:02:42 UTC
Bill said :-
Don't worry Ren the mud and water is by choice, plenty of dry gravel tracks suitable for bigger adventure bikes. Contact your local trf in the linked article they mention newbie rides
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03/07/2020 11:12:30 UTC
Ren - The Ed¹ said :-
They meet just up the road from Pocketpete's place, about 25 miles for me. I reckon I'll drop 'em a line. Cheers Bill.
03/07/2020 12:25:30 UTC

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