CHOOSE TO CRUISE Indian Scout Sixty £8999 How will an adventure bike rider cope?
Kawasaki ER-6 Lightweight TT race bike and any sportsbike
KTM 250 EXC-F, £7449
Dreams and reality don’t often match, which is usually my experience of off-road riding. I’m drawn towards the exciting images in KTM’S catalogue and watching inspiring footage on Youtube of ultra-skilled riders tearing up dunes or ripping through dense forest. However, as someone who road races in his spare time I only get the chance to try off-road riding in winter – and usually end up cold, wet or worse – in A&E. I’ve broken more bones during my few attempts to ride on mud than I have in close to 10 years of racing at Scarborough’s Oliver’s Mount road circuit.
But I’m willing to give it another go; to get out of my comfort zone. Today I’ve chosen one of the least intimidating bikes in KTM’S vast range, their four-stroke 250 EXC-F. Now it might only be a 250, a learner bike for some, but make no mistake this also has the potential to be race competitive straight out of the box.
It takes some getting used to as it has been close to a year since I’ve (deliberately) ridden off-road. Standing up on the pegs, letting the front naturally feel its way through deep ruts while the rear Maxxis tyre finds endless grip, it’s complete overload for my brain; there isn’t even a familiar speedo or ignition! My aging body isn’t coping well either as I’m holding on like a koala in a hurricane. Within 20 minutes I have solid muscle lock on both arms.
However, you soon to learn to relax and let the KTM do all the work. At less than 100kg dry it’s incredibly light compared to a road bike and the single-cylinder power is smooth, with impressive low speed fuelling. It will pull away from a standstill in second or even third gear, allowing the rear tyre to find grip no matter what the conditions. The front is equally impressive: how it manages to find any grip in sloppy mud is unbelievable and flatters an inexperienced rider like myself.
After two hours of riding I’m exhausted. I can’t feel my arms, my boots are full of water, I’ve lost count of the number of scary low speed moments I’ve had and I’m covered in odd smelling ‘mud’, but I can’t hide my beaming smile. I have the grace of a swan trying to land on a frozen lake and I don’t think I’ve got out of third gear all day; but what great fun. I can see why so many get hooked on the sport.
But I still won’t be running down to my local KTM dealer and hanging up my race leathers just yet. At £7449 the 250 EXC-F is an impressive bit of engineering, but it is expensive. Luckily KTM do have a range of offroad riding experiences to choose from – that’s where my money is going this winter.
‘I’m holding on like a koala in a hurricane but soon learn to relax’
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