Dirty Week­end

Boothy went to the Bre­con Bea­cons to get down and dirty at Tri­umph’s new ad­ven­ture cen­tre.

Fast Bikes - - CONTENTS - WORDS: BOOTHY

Rid­ing bikes off road is great fun. I ab­so­lutely love it, but like most of us, I wish I was a bit bet­ter at it. Due to my lack of skill, it was mu­sic to my ears when I heard Tri­umph have just opened a new Ad­ven­ture Rid­ing Ex­pe­ri­ence (ARE) in the Bre­con Bea­cons, in Wales.

The all-new fa­cil­ity, headed up by ex-Dakar racer Nick Plumb, of­fers train­ing pro­grammes for all lev­els of rid­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, as well as ded­i­cated ‘ladies-only’ days so the girls can get stuck in with­out feel­ing quite so in­tim­i­dated by a bunch of big hairy blokes.

The train­ing pro­grammes are all car­ried out over two days, with ac­com­mo­da­tion in­cluded, but if you would just rather ex­pe­ri­ence the thrill off off-road rid­ing in the beau­ti­ful Bre­con Bea­cons you don’t have to sign up to a two-day train­ing pro­gramme, oh no, ex­pe­ri­ence days on the Bon­neville Street Scram­bler, Tiger 800 XCA and Tiger 1200 XCA are also avail­able.

Now, I’d been to the Bre­con Bea­cons be­fore and I knew first-hand how beau­ti­ful a part of the world it is, so it didn’t take

me long to get my name down for a

place on one of their Tiger Ex­pe­ri­ence Days.

I ar­rived at the ARE HQ first thing in the morn­ing and was greeted by a friendly Welsh girl who showed me into the build­ing, brought me some cof­fee and gave me a form to fill in. And it wasn’t a drafty old barn with a tin roof and saucepans on the floor col­lect­ing the rain­wa­ter, it was a clean, tidy, stylish busi­ness unit with am­ple room to sit down and sign your life away.

Pa­per­work done and cof­fee supped, we were ush­ered into the next room where we were shown a short video star­ring Charley Boor­man, of The Long Way Down/Round fame, giv­ing a quick safety briefing and an ex­pla­na­tion as to how the day would un­fold. Some of us were there for the Tiger Ex­pe­ri­ence and oth­ers for the Scram­bler Ex­pe­ri­ence, so we were split into our groups and sent to get our kit on.

It doesn’t mat­ter how work­ing class you think you might be, get­ting un­dressed and into your off-road kit out­side, in the back of a van or in cold damp shed is no fun, so when I walked into a lovely clean chang­ing room at the ARE, I was more than happy to strip off to my pants, in front of a hand­ful of men that I had never met. In fact I found it quite en­joy­able.

Kit­ted up, we were shown out­side to the bikes, which were all lined up and look­ing lovely. I opted for a Tiger 1200 over the 800 be­cause A – I’m try­ing to make up for some­thing and B – there are a lot of hills in the Bre­con Bea­cons and I’m not as slim as I used to be.

The Tigers’ lair

We did about 10 miles or so though the beau­ti­ful Welsh coun­try­side be­fore ar­riv­ing at the fa­cil­ity. And what a fa­cil­ity it is; the off-road area is mas­sive. About 1000 acres of wood­land, quarry, rolling hills and fire roads – an off-road rider’s wet dream. The land is pri­vately owned by an en­ergy com­pany (who have a whop­ping great open-cast mine in the cen­tre) that have an ar­range­ment with Tri­umph to use it for their Ad­ven­ture Train­ing and Ex­pe­ri­ence Days.

The first part of the off-road ride wasn’t too ex­treme. We rode the Tigers round some cones that had been set out so that Nick and his team of in­struc­tors could as­sess our abil­ity, or lack of it. I was given the choice be­tween the be­gin­ners or the ad­vanced group so, not one to pass up a chal­lenge, I opted for the big boys’ group (plus there was an old man in a Parka jacket in the other group and I didn’t fancy spend­ing too much time knock­ing around with him).

1000 ACRES OF WOOD­LAND, QUARRY, ROLLING HILLS AND FIRE ROADS – AN OFF-ROAD RIDER’S WET DREAM

On the ride up the arena I had won­dered what sort of off-road rid­ing we would be do­ing. The Tiger 1200 isn’t a mo­tocross bike, it’s not even an en­duro bike, but that didn’t seem to bother Nick, who we were fol­low­ing over rocks, through deep muddy pud­dles and up and down near-ver­ti­cal hills. I wasn’t only im­pressed how var­ied and ex­treme the ter­rain was that we were be­ing lead over, but at the pace that we were be­ing led over it. I was call­ing on all my school­boy mo­tocross ex­pe­ri­ence in an ef­fort to keep up with the other lads. Grandad Parka jacket wouldn’t have stood a chance.

Af­ter a de­cent blast over the open hills and fire roads, we headed to a cabin near the en­trance of the site for a bit of much needed nose-bag. The nice Welsh girl from the morn­ing, you know, the one with the cof­fee and the forms, had laid out a lovely spread of sand­wiches, crisps, pork pies and stuff, so we all got stuck in. It was great to get the chance to chat to all the other guys, who all had re­ally var­ied lev­els of rid­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, both off-road and on – one or two were Tri­umph owners, the ma­jor­ity weren’t, but ev­ery­one was im­pressed with what the bikes could do.

Fed and wa­tered, it was time to get back out on the arena. This time I de­cided to give the Tiger 800 a go and I was glad of it. Parts of the morn­ing’s ride had been tricky but the af­ter­noon’s was a real test and had I been on the big­ger, heav­ier 1200, I think I might have strug­gled. That said, there was never any pres­sure to at­tempt some of the more chal­leng­ing bits, and there was no rush get up, down, over or through any of the many ob­sta­cles that stood in our way. The ma­jor­ity of the rid­ing in the af­ter­noon was in the forests and wooded area on the pe­riph­ery of the arena, where we took on some re­ally rather knarly trails. There were slippy, boggy bits, then there were deep rut­ted bits, there were some steep up­hill and down­hill sec­tions, and tight bits through trees with low hang­ing branches that you had to duck your head un­der and weave your han­dle­bars through. Some­times off-road rid­ing ex­pe­ri­ences can be a lit­tle tame, but tame this was not.

My per­sonal favourite sec­tion of the af­ter­noon ride was a long hill that got steeper and steeper. You had to re­ally con­cen­trate on keep­ing the bike rolling. I didn’t make it up the first time or the sec­ond time but af­ter some words of wis­dom from Nick, it was third time lucky and I sailed all the way to the top. None of the other lads got up the first time ei­ther.

I couldn’t be­lieve how well the big (well big­gish) Tiger 800 coped with the stuff we were tack­ling on it. It was stuff that nor­mally I wouldn’t dream of at­tempt­ing on any­thing other than a proper en­duro bike. There didn’t seem to be any­thing that the Tiger wasn’t ca­pa­ble of, it re­ally was rather im­pres­sive.

We were all hav­ing so much fun, the in­struc­tors in­cluded, that no­body wanted to go back to base, so I seized the op­por­tu­nity to have a go on one of the Street Scram­blers the other group was us­ing. And what a laugh those things were. Again, a far cry from an out-and-out off-road bike, but they weren’t half great to throw around. You re­ally felt like you could be the boss of them… al­though there were a few oc­ca­sions when I in­vol­un­tar­ily ended up lay­ing on the floor next to it. They’re dead sturdy lit­tle things though, so noth­ing ever got bro­ken.

The Scram­blers were great for tit­ting around on and ev­ery­one who rode one climbed off with a grin from ear to ear.

Back to base

All too soon it was time to head back to base. We’d all had a crack­ing day but in all hon­estly I think I can speak for my­self and most of the other lads when I say fa­tigue was well and truly set­ting in. It had been hard work and I don’t know if I could have gone on much longer. Nick took us on a dif­fer­ent route back to base camp so we could take in some more of the ‘Area of Out­stand­ing Nat­u­ral Beauty’ that is the Bre­con Bea­cons.

Af­ter a lit­tle while, we were all parked up and ex­chang­ing sto­ries with newly-made friends about the hill we did or didn’t make it to the top of and the ruts we did or didn’t get stuck in.

We parked the bikes up ready to be cleaned and prepped for an­other day of ac­tion, and made our way in­side to get changed. It was a bloody hot day and I’d been sweat­ing my knack­ers off, so I made a bee­line for the show­ers. In fact I was so keen to get fresh­ened up I ac­ci­den­tally ended up in the ladies – well, old habits die hard. It’s a de­cent old drive home for me, from south Wales, so hav­ing some­where to get a proper scrub-up be­fore head­ing off made all the dif­fer­ence.

Smelling as fresh as the morn­ing dew, I packed up my trou­bles in my old kit bag and was ready for home, but I was sad to leave. I wished I’d booked the two-day train­ing course, as I’m sure there was tonnes more stuff I could have learned from Nick and his crew, given an ex­tra day on the bikes. Still, there’s al­ways next time, and be­lieve me, there will be a next time.

If you love rid­ing off-road, like I do, you’d love it. If you have never rid­den off-road, Nick and the boys will help you learn to love it. And if you don’t like rid­ing off-road, well you must be do­ing it wrong – come to Tri­umph’s Ad­ven­ture Rid­ing Ex­pe­ri­ence and learn to do it prop­erly, and then, like the rest of us, you will end up lov­ing it.

IM­AGES: CHIPPY WOOD

Boothy doesn't mind get­ting his hands dirty... or his face.

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