As long as your bike is road legal, you are insured and you wear a helmet then the rest is entirely up to you. On any given weekend you will find anything from a Honda C90 courier bike to a KTM 350EXC enduro bike to a big BMW 1200GS adventure bike out on green lanes. It truly is different strokes for different folks and the TRF welcomes all. That said, there are of course some bikes that are more suited to trail riding than others. The more people you ask the more variety of answers you will get. Some love 2 strokes for their lightness and agility whilst others love 4 strokes for their tractability and stability, some prefer the long service intervals of big bikes, some the punch of small single cylinders. The TRF forum is a good place to start and the chances are there is already a mountain of answers to the question you are thinking of asking. In the mean time, a few points to get you going:
There is no perfect trail bike nor a perfect definition of a trail bike. A Trail Bike is essentially any motorcycle that can be ridden on multiple surfaces. Just as motorcyclists choose their own make and model, old or new, tourer, sports or commuter for the road, almost any motorcycle can be ridden on the trails and so it is up to the owner to decide what suits them and how much setup they will alter to suit their trail riding needs.
Having said that the most popular trail bikes are smaller lightweight single cylinder models, with 18″/21″ spoked wheels and knobbly treaded tyres. Surprisingly many of the most popular trail bikes are also old models no longer produced like the Honda XR 250 / 400 or Yamaha Serrow 225. Road Legal enduro bikes are also very popular due to their light weight and excellent suspension, but be warned these can also be high maintenance. Large single cylinder dual sport bikes like CCM 404, Honda XR650 or Suzuki DRZ400 / DL 650 are popular choices. Many adventure bike riders also take to the trails with KTM 690 / 990, Honda Africa Twin and even the odd BMW 1200GS gets dirty.
If you can’t decide you need more than one bike!
The worst sort of bike you could get is one… which stays in your garage, for whatever reason. So try to get a good condition bike that you can maintain and which won’t let you down. Electric start is less common on the old bikes but can be very useful if you fall off a lot. Small lightweight bikes will usually win on the trails and larger adventure bikes dominate on the road. The trick is to find the correct balance for you and how and where you will ride.
Trials bikes are not often ridden on the trail because they have very limited fuel capacity / range and are not designed to cope with the tarmac roads in-between. Motocross bikes made road legal are best avoided all together as they are usually far too race-oriented and noisy to make a worthwhile trail bike, they are best left for a race track.
Riding a small trail bike, even just a 125cc, can be extremely rewarding learing slow speed riding skills and finding you can easily match other larger bikes when the terrain gets difficult. Trail riding on big 1000cc adventure bikes is a great way to learn to ride your bike in preparation for that ‘big adventure trip’.
If you are new to green laning (and even if you are not!) the chances are you will be falling off the bike quite a lot. Most often these tend to be slow speed falls on technical trails, but never the less it’s only a matter of time before bits of the bike bend, crack or snap off. You may have an AA card in your pocket but if you are 5 miles from the nearest road then having a decent tool kit with you is a wise investment and many riders carry a rucksack or strap a small bag to their bike with the essentials to keep them going. The more you ride the more you will get a feel for what you need to take with you (and how temperamental your bike is), it’s often a balance between being prepared and saving weight. You could probably find the following in most riders rucksacks:
- Range of spanners/sockets to fit popular size bolts
- Spare tyre or puncture repair kit, including tyre levers and pump
- Cable ties – the most useful emergency repair item you can carry
- Screwdriver and pliers/mole grip
- Liquid metal or equivalent
- Split link for chain
- Spark plug socket
OS 1:50,000 maps are a good way of planning your route. You will need to refer to the definitive map for your region to be 100% accurate on the legality of lanes, but once marked up they will go in your bag and can be used as required. They don’t run out of batteries however if you need to stop and check your location on a regular basis then a portable GPS unit is far more convenient. The TRF has it’s own App that can be downloaded for iPhone that provides access to routes, alternatively there have been many Christmas deliveries of top end GPS devices in the last few years. Ultimately, the best navigation is local knowledge, either by riding with someone who knows where they are going or learning yourself the hard way, backed up with up to date information provided by the local council. Your regional group has a Rights of Way officer who should be able to point you in the right direction to your definitive map.
In the good old days, a half face helmet and a pair of wellies was about as much protection from the elements as you were going to get. But that was when men were real men. Nowadays there’s no shame in making sure you can go to work Monday morning. There’s every kind of body armour available at every budget, from cheap motocross gear to expensive lightweight rally gear. As ever, different riders have different attitudes towards protection, but boots, gloves and helmet are a minimum, knee protection is advised and many extend to body, shoulder and elbows. Unlike road riding where it’s only really your tyres and the bottom of your boots that come into contact with the ground, trial riding can be far more physical, from falling off to riding through overgrown brambles to getting covered in mud or roosted by gravel. Your gear will take a pounding and it’s not uncommon for riders to invest in the protection under their trousers and jacket in the knowledge that the outer layers will at some point be ripped wide open.