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Mud and two wheels makes for a great day

By Staff Life  |  Posted: October 10, 2012

By Stephen Sinfield

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Take a remote farm in Northampton, plenty of mud and one of the best adrenaline rushes you can imagine.

I didn't consider for one second that I would enjoy zipping through fields, over ditches and through woodland on a motorcycle quite as much as I did — this sport is addictive.

Maybe the reason I wasn't expecting to have so much fun was because it has been drilled into me by the media and dogooders that off-road riding is dangerous, expensive and mostly illegal.

Having spent the day under expert guidance from some of the best riders in the sport, I am now keen to blast away the many misconceptions surrounding off-road riding.

As usual, a few youths on a beat-up motorcycle tearing up a farmer's field or almost running you down on a country lane give off-road riding a bad image.

My off-road riding day had been arranged by the Motorcycle Industry Association (MCI) with the help of Enduroland — a specialist off-road centre based at Manor Farm in Adstone — noted for offering one of the best off-road loops in the UK.

Keen to learn how to ride off-road and pick up some new skills, I found myself stripped to my underwear in a farmer’s field.

There was a very good reason behind this show of flesh, Kawasaki — my team for the day — were about to kit me out in full head to toe off-road clothing.

I’m used to wearing armoured jackets, gloves and trousers for my normal road riding but this was taking things to a new level. Starting off with knee and elbow pads the next step was a full plastic body armour, extremely rigid knee-high boots, goggles and helmet all topped off with Kawasaki’s distinctive green livery.

The off-road day had brought together some of the biggest names in off-road riding and my instructor for the day representing Kawasaki was former British motocross champion Geoff Mayes.

Other top names helping on the day included former top British Motocross rider Barry Johnson representing Yamaha and British enduros champion Ady Smith from KTM.

You didn’t need any previous riding experience to take part in this special taster day, and so our instructor Geoff left no stone unturned. Front brake, back brake, gears, emergency kill switch — everything was discussed in detail.

So far things were the same as an onroad bike — but this is where the similarities ended. Geoff spoke about our riding position which was much further forward than a road bike and explained in detail how to ride with your nearside leg outwards when corning.

Although I was assigned to the Kawasaki team for the equipment and safety briefing it didn’t mean I had to ride Kawasaki bikes all day and so my first off-road experience was on an AJP bike — Portugal's only motorcycle manufacturer.

Taking into account the different abilities of riders, the day was arranged around different coloured wristbands. The three circuits we would be using varied in difficulty and you could only progress from one wrist band colour to the next after proving your competence.

My fellow team Kawasaki riders were all experienced road riders and therefore it only took five minutes on the first grassed circuit before our entire team had moved onto the next stage.

This first circuit was a short simple loop used to show that you can control the bike and were able to ride around corners with one leg protruding.

The second circuit was slightly longer and incorporated some hidden dips, tighter corners and rougher terrain — but again nothing too challenging and the coloured wristbands were soon being swapped.

Having proved competent with the basics, the final circuit was the full Enduroland route as used by serious enthusiasts and pro-riders.

The change in difficulty was a baptism of fire as I was suddenly faced with some seriously rutted land, tight treks through woodland where I had to navigate between trees and some extremely steep descents and ascents coupled with tight bends.

After one full lap of the circuit it was time for lunch and to reflect on what I had learned so far.

Before I arrived I had only ridden road bikes on firm asphalt and now I was zipping through woodland and over ditches.

Along with a team of expert trainers, this MCI day also brought together some of the best riders in the sport today.

Our team of pro-riders on hand to entertain included British championship enduro racer Jack Rowland, former XFactor contestant and British championship enduro Racer Katy Bullock and former British MX2 champion Carl Nunn.

Although entertaining, there was a serious point to be made from the skills shown by the professional riders.

Off-road riding may be fun-filled and energetic but it is also a life-saver.

For remote and isolated villages in Zimbabwe, the Gambia, Lesotho, Nigeria, Kenya, Zambia and Malawi, the only way health workers can visit is via bike.

The skills and experience we were learning were similar to what health workers from the Riders for Health project have to learn to deliver medical support in Africa.

Lunch over and it was time to be let loose on the off-road circuit yet again. Earlier I had been riding bikes from manufacturer AJP so I now took the opportunity to zip around the course on bikes by Yamaha, Honda, Kawasaki and KTM.

I won’t deny that I still have a lot to learn when it comes to off-road riding — this was only my first time.

Yes it hurts (a little) if you fall off — which I did more than once — but afterwards I was soon back on the bike and thanking my lucky stars for standing in a farmer’s field half-naked earlier in the day so that I could get kitted out in head to toe armour.

What the day taught me as well as how much fun this sport is, was how wrong and misconceived public opinion is when it comes to off-road biking.

It’s no wonder with such bad publicity that off-road sport is under threat. Mainly from the closure of venues and denial of access to facilities.

Such restrictions on motorised off road sport are often motivated by concerns about the environment and excessive noise that can be generated through irresponsible or unregulated use.

Often, it’s badly organised events which create local problems which give the sport a bad image. And irresponsible illegal riding by individuals can taint an entire community's view about off-road motorcycle sport.

Properly organised off-road sport can be a major asset to young people, families and local communities. The sport is also a place where the sporting stars of tomorrow 'cut their teeth', people who sometimes end up representing their country at the highest level.

I am certainly hooked for more . . .

 

Interested? Where to start . . .

Off-road motorsport is exciting and challenging at all levels and abilities — for both men and women. It also offers an exciting route to fitness.

There are many types of off-road sport with a range of disciplines and machines. The main ones being:

Motocross: Purpose built circuits, fast paced, with man-made jumps and waves. Limited to smaller numbers (max of 40 riders) in short races (15 minutes duration) giving you lots of races in a day to enjoy.

Enduro/ hare and hound: Races are several hours long (usually three) across varied terrain with laps often miles in length. Riders go through woodland, quarries and over rocks.

Trials: A very technical sport ridden at a slow pace. Riders compete across ‘sections’ while trying to balance their machine. Immense skill is required to balance the machine over logs, rocks, or even buses.

Supermoto: A combination of on and off-road racing. Machines will start on road, before moving onto a motocross style track and back to road.

Trail riding: Specialist form of touring on off-road bikes. Bikes are designed to be manoeuvrable but are road legal with lights and number plates.

Grass track: Running on oval tracks up to 1,000 metres in length. The machines have no brakes!

Clubs and training

There are various training schools set up nationally and supported by the main manufacturers in the sport. Training schools often supply you all the kit, and the bikes, plus with experienced coaches to provide you all the support you need have a go and see if you like the sport.

To search for your nearest club visit:

ACU clubs — www.acu.org.uk/Centres-Clubs/

AMCA clubs — https://secure.amca.uk.com/directory/?dir=2

BSMA clubs — http://bsmamx.co.uk/clubs

Fact File

Motorcyle sport is greatly misunderstood. It often fails to grab the media spotlight for the benefits it provides yet receives the full glare of the media when negative criticism needs to be dished out.

The main motorcycle sport bodies, the Auto Cycle Union (ACU) and the Amateur Motor Cycle Association (AMCA) have created a partnership with the Motor Cycle Industry Association (MCI) to create an initiative called the Motorcycle Sport Political Strategy (MPS).

The MPS is working towards creating a better understanding of motorcycle sport, its current and potential social contribution to society.

The MPS has key aims for the off road motorcycle sport which is designed to bring a greater understanding of its benefits and also to address some key challenges.

The MPS is calling for a new approach by both central Government and local authorities to motorcycle sport — a new motorcycle sports strategy.

MPS key objectives:

1. Create public understanding about motorcycle sport.

2. Demonstrate that motorcycle sport has a value to society at several levels.

3. Achieve integration of motorcycle sport within wider Government sporting objectives.

4. Create socially responsible common standards for organised licensed competitive motorcycle sport events.

5. Improve the level of information and dialogue with Government and also with local authorities and local communities, so that problems can be addressed and motorcycle sport can develop in a sustainable way.

Practical outputs sought by the MPS: 1. Review of regulations which relate to the responsibilities of 'licensing bodies' under the Road Traffic Act — a reduction in negative impacts from ad hoc event organisation.

2. A common code of practice for the sport.

3. A UK strategy for motorcycle sport, developed with the appropriate Government departments.

4. More public understanding and support for motorcycle sport events.

For more information visit their website or Facebook page.

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