Boothy went to the Brecon Beacons to get down and dirty at Triumph’s new adventure centre.
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.
Boothy doesn't mind getting his hands dirty... or his face.