Green Roads are a great way of exploring some of the most remote and picturesque parts of England and Wales. The bikes we use to access these come in all manner of shapes and sizes, from old school classics to modern enduro machines. When we are all kitted up with our protective gear it can be a challenge at times to differentiate the rider who is out for a laid back journey through the countryside from the racer on the track.

Central Bristol TRF have worked with their local enduro circuit to try and bridge this divide, giving riders who are looking to develop their skills the space and freedom to test themselves in a fun environment that doesn't spill over onto public byways. We caught up with Stephen Harrison to find out more...

TRF:

Hi Stephen. It looks like the riding season has officially started and Central Bristol TRF are out in full force. What was the event you just attended?

Stephen:

We set up a TRF Display Stand at Mercian Dirt Riders practice day at the Wickwar Enduro Track in South Gloucesteshire. A fantastic venue that we have run an actual event at previously. We were armed with our club pop up gazebo, some great artwork, banners and leaflets and a few key members to man the stand.

The venue is great, it’s got it all, stream sections, gullies, technical sections, woods, log piles, obstacles, an old school MX track with berms and jumps leading to some faster paced open field sections… it’s a really great mix of stuff with many alternative routes marked hard, easy or extreme. Its like a good old hare and hounds track. It has a main loop that you can bimble round if you like or you may choose to forge a more challenging way round. We like it because it cuts its way through a beautiful naturally hilly terrain and gives you pretty much everything you’ll come across out on the trails or Green Roads, so it’s a great training ground in that respect. There is a paramedic and catering on site too.

Usually these sort of venues are more inclined towards the hardcore competitive riders, but this time it was aimed at all abilities and disciplines, i.e. suitable not just for enduro bikes but also MX, trials and trailies too. Generally at these venues you’ll get the more competitive enduro and MX riders hooning round, which can be a bit intimidating to the, lets say ‘less competitive TRF rider or happy hacker’… so it was a bit of a social experiment in the making.

Running the Track myself and being an active TRF member I see things from many different viewpoints. But I know what it means to be unsure of yourself out on track and feel like you’re in a war zone and maybe out of your depth. I recently took the opportunity to take more control over how and at ‘who’ the event is aimed and marketed, trying to encourage people at all levels and with all types of bike (its not really one for the big GS’s though), especially encouraging the Green Roading community and the TRF.

Ok so we got our heads together with some of our club members such as Alciun Wilkie, Andy Howes, John Hewer, Mike Clements, Clive Hunt Watkins and talked about a concept for making the venue more ‘friendly and open’. The Wickwar Enduro Track recently partnered on this venue with the race club Mercian-Dirt-Riders, run by two guys, Clive Hunt Watkins (TRF member) and Aaron ‘Crasher’ Smith (yet to be converted) that run a successful enduro club using many different race venues. I was really into the idea that the practice day format could prove to be an incredibly useful training ground for the TRF members that can be used to the slightly more sedate style of riding. A quick chat with Jimmy Kawasaki at a Wiltshire TRF meet on the concept confirmed “they need it!” (tongue in cheek? you decide). I also had a long chat with Martin Keswick of Somerset TRF about their excellent Exmoor Forest ride days and it really hit home about the importance of the basic loop on a track with plenty of passing places and pull-ins on the narrow technical areas to prevent less experienced riders feeling intimidated by faster more seasoned riders.

A lot of work then took place making changes to the track, making it much more open and friendly with multiple passing places and cut-throughs on the tougher stuff.

TRF:

Some people might be confused by the TRF taking part in a ‘race’ event. Do you think there’s conflict there?

Stephen:

It was a Practice Day, not a race, there is of course a conflict between the mind-set of a racer and Green-Roader indeed the venue has been used as a Sprint Enduro track which is great but its just too stressful all-round so the decision was made to only do practice days.

Initially we guessed we’d get the more hardcore riders, and that doesn’t always mix well, they can be hard on your tail blipping the throttle as a warning that they want to get by, but that’s where we tried to make the difference, by pitching it at TRF and Green Road users in general rather than the racers, (many of those guys will come anyway) everyone is welcome, but we made it clear it is meant to be a relaxed day… there is plenty of space and safe overtaking so it really wasn’t an issue.

To be fair a lot of the people I ride with in the TRF have been riding for many years and come from an MX, enduro and even trials background, so their influence and experience has helped shape the track layout massively, and these guys are out on track on the day too as travelling marshals, very much with a courteous and respectful attitude that you would expect from the TRF.

I posted a vid on the Wickwar Enduro Track FB page that has a clever Dashware overlay showing your position on the track and a speedometer amongst other features (prior to track changes). Because of the track layout you can’t reach crazy speeds that much, so it has a lot in common with getting out on the lanes. Obviously the TRF code includes a sensible speed limit and respect for other road users, so what the practice day offers is a chance to hone your skills and let your hair down a bit as it were, and ride perhaps a little ‘in the spirit of competition’ but we really impress upon everyone that ‘its not a race’ and to be respectful and give your fellow riders plenty of space, after all, you get 5 hours on track!

TRF:

Do you think events like this are a good way of reaching a wider group of trail riders?

Stephen:

Yes, absolutely. The event was advertised far and wide into the trail riding communities with a big fat TRF logo on it alongside the Mercian Dirt Riders Logo and we had an overwhelming response. I’ve often chatted with some really experienced riders at enduro events and practice days about Green Roads and what the TRF does and what it means to me.

I’m really surprised how little people know about the organisation and the untold fun to be had ‘out there on the Green Roads’ with a bunch of fellow ‘like-minded’ motorcycle enthusiasts, and when they hear some of our stories it encourages them to join up and get off that ‘hamster wheel’ occasionally!

So the idea of having a TRF Display Stand was initially to introduce ourselves to the vast ‘untapped market’ of potential new members, but also to encourage our TRF members to come along and mix in and show them our road-going dirt bikes to prove they could just as easily join up and come on some adventures with us! We had a good turnout of TRF members from other clubs so it also doubled as a TRF meet and greet social. I like to think we’ve bridged the gap a bit and showed that were not so different.

Our club has been doing a stand at the Bike Night at Western-Super-Mare for a while now and I think many of us feel that going along to competitions and venues such as this practice day is a really positive way to put a face to the TRF in a way that just can’t be achieved by the usual “club night meetings” because they really rely on people having already sought you out. We want people to know that the TRF is a national organisation full of great characters doing really positive things for the cause but also we have a great community spirit and supportive atmosphere.

TRF:

I guess there’s always going to be a bit of unease around the way racing is perceived in relation to trail riding. What is the message that Central Bristol is trying to promote?

Stephen:

If anything we are showing riders from both camps that they both have much to learn from each others disciplines, after all we’ve done our best to promote the venue as an ‘inclusive anybody and everybody welcome’ practice day, but we also wanted to impress upon people the importance of riding safely and considerately. It is important that TRF riders up their skill levels to allow them to more ride safely and confidently but equally important that those joining the TRF from racing understand the code conduct of enjoying the Green Roads and countryside responsibly! Keep the racing on the race track!

With this in mind key member and senior ride leader Andy Howes and Chris Baker organised an escort service out on the track taking ‘newbie riders’ round and giving them some help and support where needed to hopefully give them the confidence to get stuck in… after all, we’ve all been there, a bit wobbly, perhaps feeling slightly intimidated by the faster and more confident riders. We joked that we could get hi-vis with 'L' signs on, and later we actually thought, its not a bad idea. We are planning some training days that would give newer riders the opportunity improve confidence greatly.

Another way of looking at this is the trail riders get to see that racers are not that intimidating and actually some of them are not very good riders – with the knock on effect that more trail riders will enter competitive events. Whilst conversely the ‘racers’ see some very good trail riders and realise that trail riding does wonders for your riding skills. A classic win-win situation. I think that we’ve done our bit to put a positive face on what the TRF is about, that its not some weird religious and exclusive cult full of oddballs with strange secret handshakes… oh wait…

Images courtesy Chris Baker & John Hewer

Would you like to get involved in practice days like this?

Why not connect with Central Bristol TRF to find out more.