Door to door big bike adventure

Big bikes are built for circumnavigating the globe, aren't they? They're definitely no good for our tight twisty little green roads...

Gloucestershire TRF member James Osborne must have missed that email as he recently put together a 4 day adventure through rugged Wales on a posse of big BMW's. Would men, women and machines make it?

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Back in April a post went out on the Gloucestershire TRF Facebook saying there would be a TRF BMW GS Big Bike Ride in Wales. That sounds interesting I thought, so quickly made some enquiries, invited along three friends and soon there were six of us signed up to a couple of days guided riding in Mid-Wales.

The riding was to be Tuesday 13th and Wednesday 14th May. Since Wales was some way away this soon grew into a riding day there and another back, so now we were looking at a four day ride, with the middle two being guided trail rides by Marianne who does this as a business and knows all the trails and scenic routes that are to be had in the area, and that’s a lot.

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Italy? Croatia? Sweden? No, just good old Wales...

Cliff (Yamaha XT660) and I (BMW GS 650 Sertao) rode out from Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire and took in a few new trails on the way as well as lunch at a lovely cafe in Hay-on-Wye. We were the nearest of the six. Jocke and Caz (Both on BMW GS 800) also rode from Oxfordshire but didn’t take the whole day to arrive taking major roads. Max and Chris (Also both on BMW GS 800) had come up from London and clearly travelled the furthest to be there. The whole ride existed because it was Max’s idea to get some practice before another Wales trail ride he was doing later in the year on his BMW.

As it turned out Chris hadn’t done much trail riding previously and the bike wasn’t his. A friend was loaning it to him! Very generous.

We all met up on the morning of Wednesday 13th at about 9:30am at a small village just outside Llanidloes, ready for some riding. These were ‘Big Bikes’ so we were looking for easy trails, however Marianne was leading us on a Honda CRF250L. Having just bought one of these myself I was very interested to see how the enormously different bikes would get on as part of the same ride.

As I am not familiar with the lanes I can’t name the ones we rode on, however we covered a lot of ground, over 120 miles each day. On Wednesday we headed South around Clywedog reservoir and on through Llanidloes, Llangurig, Rhayader and on to the Elan Valley.

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Already the scenery was stunning and we were riding in glorious sunshine. Water was flowing over the Claerwen Reservoir and life was good.

We made our way to Pont-Rhyd-Y-Groes for a quick cafe lunch by an old waterwheel. One of the locals came out to have a word with us as we had parked bikes all down the lane by the waterwheel that her husband had been keeping running. ‘It’s great to see all these bikes out’ she said. I wasn’t expecting that.

In the afternoon we got almost to Aberystwyth, rode through Devils Bridge and North past Borth, into the Dovey Valley and on to Machynlleth (I still cannot pronounce that). Then back to our start point. The Little Honda was making good progress, and truth be known at times Marianne was leaving us behind, and that was on tarmac. The Honda was running Pirelli MT21 which seemed ideal for the riding we were doing. Most of the BMWs were on TKC80s, also very suitable for the riding we were doing on those bikes. Yes we were having fun.

Wednesday evening we all went up to ‘Rock Villa’ where some of us were staying. Helen and Jason had prepared us a magnificent meal which after a physical days riding was simply the best food you’ve ever eaten. Fortunately Jocke had bought beer too. Definitely a B&B worth going back to if you want to be based in that area.

On Thursday the weather had turned and we knew we were in for some rain. Cliff had other commitments at the upcoming  Wessex Wanderer weekend and so decided to head off home. We waved Cliff goodbye, put our visors down and headed out North this time. Riding up over the mountain road to Machynlleth the wind was brutal meaning you had to have your wits about you just to keep upright. We continued North through Corris and up to Dolgellau, where we turned West and out to Barmouth.

Crossing Barmouth bridge is something every motorcyclist must do and something I can now tick off my list. Riding over the wooden sleepers can be tricky if the wind is blowing hard, which it still was.

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Max and Chris needed to get back to London that night and so left us just prior to the lunch stop. Now there were four who rode North to Coed-Y-Brenin where we stopped at the mountain bike centre. Everyone else there was wearing lycra and super light rainproof layers. We stripped off our heavy attire and tucked into coffee, burgers and welsh-rarebit (of course). It had been raining but mostly drizzle and in the Cafe we were able to dry off. If you are keen on Mountain Biking this is your Mecca.

After Lunch we headed back South and wound our way back to our starting point. Even when on tarmac Marianne knew the most scenic and interesting routes to follow. It is well worth hiring a local guide when you ride out of your own area. You get years of knowledge condensed into a day or two. Marianne is also the Rights of Way Officer for Mid Wales TRF.

So that was it. Two days guided riding over with lots of new areas discovered, confidence gained and smiles all round. No incidents, just a couple of topples and some stalls. But the ride can be summed up best by looking at the pictures.

On Friday I rode back home sampling a few more new lanes, especially in the area to the North West of Hay-on-Wye, an area well worth exploring further. I found one new lane near to Baskerville Hall which turned into a steeper and steeper loose and rocky decline. When I got to a two foot rock step I though I can’t ride back up this and I don’t know what lies ahead, and so I parked my bike and walked the remainder of the trail to check I could get through safely. I could, however the walk back up to my bike was not so easy as I was all dressed up for road wind and rain and I didn’t want to leave the bike unattended for any longer than necessary. Reaching my bike I found three dogs with their walker checking to see if the bike had been abandoned. She asked if I had run out of fuel and needed any? I could barely speak, but said I was ok. Five minutes later I manoeuvred the bike over the step and continued down the steep slope and back to the main road.

That was a four day, 490 miles trail ride, from my doorstep. To me that is Adventure Trail Riding right on my own doorstep. Exploring beautiful areas of countryside, covering decent distances and using legal trails where possible.

Modern trail riding in the UK involves riding a lot of tarmac roads as well as trails and so requires bikes that are a compromise of different contradicting requirements. You’ll almost certainly do many more miles on tarmac than off it. Any bike that can cope with both to an acceptable degree with a decent fuel range can take you on an Adventure Trail ride. Incredibly the BMW GS 800 and Honda CRF250L are both suitable candidates to take you on these adventures. So not so different after all.

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Caroline and the guys looking fresh to go riding


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James used Facebook to organise the ride out. It's a great way of stay connected with other TRF members. Some TRF groups have public Facebook pages and some have private groups. Get in touch with your regional group to find out if there is a TRF Facebook community in your area.