Hi Sam. What an adventure, and a great film that really captures its spirit. It looked like quite an ordeal, not your typical trail ride around Wiltshire! Perhaps you could tell us a little about how the trip came about?
I’ve commuted on two wheels almost every day for some 23 years. I’ve also enjoyed some touring and track days but I hadn’t thought of trying trail riding. My interest in trail riding was sparked in April 2015 by a guy who regularly pulls up outside our local pub on a vintage trials bike. Initially I thought I wanted to get into classic trials but following some internet research I quickly realised I wanted the thrill of riding trails.
The TRF site was one of the first I came across on the internet and I joined my local group, Wiltshire. I was immediately directed to the Facebook group where I was given a warm welcome and some great advice on how to get myself into the sport.
I didn’t have a clue about off-road machines, the kit nor where I could or should not ride. My fellow members were terrific, they directed me to several private ads for the right type of machine, coming from the road I had assumed power was everything and had been looking at minimum 450cc machines. After only three days after joining the TRF I was the proud owner of a 2005 WR250f and a load of second hand gear to protect me from head to toe.
In September some road-riding pals and I were talking about doing a road-bike trip over a pint and a packet of pork scratchings (hence the reference at the end of the film). Initially we thought we’d ride the length Vietnam on something interesting. I started looking at YouTube footage of similar trips and found that compared with what I was doing every weekend with the TRF it looked really boring. I did some more research and found a load of YouTube off-road footage that inspired my plan, we would ride off-road across Cambodia!
Cambodia offered good varied terrain (dirt roads, trails, savanna plains, jungle, rocky climbs, river crossings), few ‘tourists’ and essentially, off-road bikes for hire. All I had to do was convince my pals, who had never even sat on an off-road bike let alone ridden a trail, to join me.
I met up with the guys and pulled out a map of Cambodia with very few roads and a red felt-tip line carved through the landscape. I told them about my weekends in Wiltshire showed them the YouTube footage and they all said ‘yes’ straight away.
We had just one major problem, how would we get a boy’s trip of this scale past our other halves? We would raise money for a good cause. We all have kids so Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital seemed a great choice.
We selected and sourced all our kit and were introduced to training schools by the Wiltshire TRF group. We also got excellent guidance on planning and what to expect on the trip from people who’d done similar things themselves.
I think a lot of UK based riders are tempted by the idea of riding further afield. What are the logistic challenges of getting yourself off on a bike in Cambodia?
It goes without saying that travelling to tropical places carries an inherent risk of infection and disease. These risks are significantly magnified when leaving the usual tourist destinations to ride through agricultural land and remote jungle. Not to mention the risk of food poisoning and or being bitten or stung by anything from an aphid to a Cambodian Green Pit Viper.
Notwithstanding the health risks above I had three main concerns when planning the trip. Before turning up some six thousand miles away I wanted a level of confidence about a) how challenging the riding would be, b) how good and reliable our suppliers were i.e. bike hire operator, guide etc., and c) what happens if something goes wrong i.e. accident, injury, legal problem etc.
I spent a lot of time watching YouTube video’s of Cambodian off-road trips which provided some good insights into some of the challenges that would face, specifically the type of terrain which was extremely varied, the heat (34-39oC) and humidity (we drank at least 3 liters of water with electrolyte per day while riding).
I contacted every operator with a half decent website and positive TripAdvisor comments. We spoke to four operators and initially went with one outfit but after three skype calls and just before we were about to send our deposit I lost confidence in them. We ultimately hired machines from http://www.motorcycletourscambodia.com
who also provided a local guide. The bikes were a bit tired but were generally as described in the marketing materials. The guide was very professional and clearly knew his stuff. The costs were exactly as quoted.
We took out Adventure Biking insurance which covered us for third party claims, legal costs, full repatriation, medical emergency and medivac costs. The policy was expensive at £235 for the 10 days but worth every penny.
The film made the trip look like an incredibly challenging ordeal at times. Do you think this was partly down to the fact that many of the riders hadn't ridden trails before or were the conditions just too much?
Prior to leaving for the trip the other riders managed to get between three and five days intensive off-road training with Desert Rose Racing
and Trail and Off-Road
. Both provided excellent training but we couldn’t cover every type of terrain. Sand was a big surprise for some members of the group.
Before leaving on the trip we had seen several films showing how extreme heat affected off-road riders. We took electrolyte with us which helps the body absorb water more readily and we each carried three litre bladders and two further litres of bottled water. We thought we were well prepared. But in these sorts of extreme conditions unexpected events can compound resulting in massive unforeseen consequences.
The surface of the trails in one section of the jungle was fine compacted clay with a sort of mould on the surface which, when wet, became very slippery. The night before we rode this section it rained, you couldn’t even stand without slipping over. The going was impossibly slow with regular tree-fall across the route which the bikes had to be lifted over or hauled sideways under. Rocks and boulders were like ice and most members of the group had several pick ups.
Water equals power and our intake was double normal so consequently we came close to running out of water. This is never a life-threatening consideration where I ride in the UK, there’s inevitably somewhere to get water but that’s just not the case in the jungle. You need to be doubly prepared for any eventuality.
You cannot underestimate the effects of a bad stomach. It doesn’t matter how experienced a rider you are the impact of diarrhoea can be totally debilitating. It’s essential to carry a hydration kit and something to treat it as soon as you see the symptoms.
I highly recommend wearing Lycra running shorts and take anti chaffing cream. Brilliant!
I hired a brand new water cooled WR450 while the others rode older air cooled XR250s. I had a ball on the red dirt roads, open plains, sand tracks and rocky gnarly trails. But, when it came to picking our way through the hot and humid jungle the air cooled machines left me standing in a steaming cloud of radiator fluid vapor. Think very carefully about the machine you choose.
Members of the team that did any sort of endurance fitness training really saw the benefit after eight, ten, twelve hours in and out of the saddle.
Of course the bigger the challenge the bigger the reward. You must have some fantastic memories from the trip.
My ‘stand out moment’ is captured in the film. We were on a rope ferry crossing a breathtakingly beautiful lagoon. The jungle reflected perfectly in the oily water and the vibration of the bush hummed around us. You could only get to this place on foot or on a bike, we were literally in the middle of nowhere. It was like watching a movie that you were in. I can’t wait to find that place again.
We have been back a month and we are all still on a total high. Emails flow every day recalling the time that this or that… We set out to do something life changing and we absolutely got what we asked for. We’re now planning the next adventure.
Other than memories, what else have you brought back with you? Anything that adds to your enjoyment of riding in the UK?
My riding skill and enjoyment has definitely improved following the trip. I particularly notice that speed is not so important now but I seem to be enjoying more technical riding.
Making the film has also given me a new perspective which I think will shape the sorts of adventures I want to go on and share with pals in the future. It’s terrific to be able to share what you’ve experienced with family and friends as if they were there.
The main thing I’ve taken from this is that anyone can do something like this. One day five ordinary guys were sitting in a pub having a pint and a packet of pork scratchings. Three months later we were riding through the Cambodian jungle having a proper adventure.